Jamie Mason has garnered much attention with Three Graves Full, a novel about an average guy, Jason Getty, who commits a murder then buries the body on his property. Unfortunately for Getty, two corpses he’s not responsible for turn up soon after. The book, told from multiple points of view, including a dog’s, is well paced and filled with well-defined characters and a macabre humor found in the best Hitchcock films. Her friend and colleague Mark Pryor, author of The Bookseller, will interview Jamie at her MysteryPeople signing on April 9th, but we wanted to get some questions in beforehand.
MysteryPeople: This is a great premise. Did it develop in any particular way?
Jamie Mason: It did. I love the inception story of Three Graves Full. It had great kindling. I was having fits with another manuscript. It just wasn’t working. A writer friend, Graeme Cameron (you don’t know him, but you will) suggested that I put aside the going-nowhere piece and skip the part where I gnashed my teeth right out of my head. He offered an exercise in its place: for me to hunt down a list of interesting headlines culled from various newspapers, online or in newsprint.
I was under strict instructions not to read the articles. I had to pick one, then write a story that would result that headline. The one I chose read: Landscapers Find Skull In Mulch Bed. I still don’t know what real news story (and presumably tragedy) sparked that article. I never read it. But what I was left with was Chapter One.
MP: You sometimes end up feeling for Jason in the book. Was it a challenge to make a killer sympathetic?
JM: Only in trying to make sure that the reader had the same experience of Jason that I did. I always sympathized with him. I knew that even though he was often frustrating, Jason’s frailties wouldn’t be alien to all of us. (The killing part would probably be a bit out of our experience, though. Thank goodness.) All the non-ultra-Alphas out there would hopefully recognize his soft spots. I reached for the common ground where Jason’s weaknesses and avoidances would ring familiar with people who have disappointed themselves, at times, by not being as strong as they should have been. It goes wronger for Jason than it ever would for most of us. And yes, I’m sticking with “wronger”. It sounds righter there.
MP: You have a wicked sense of humor that runs through your book. Is that important for you to have when dealing with grim subject matter?
JM: I think so. I have a mad-scientist/pharmacist in my head who rewards me with endorphins for finding the funny, wherever it hides. Much of Three Graves Full felt like that pitiful giggle fit that that seizes you when you’ve banged your elbow or fallen down the last three stairs and thoroughly busted your ass. It’s awful, but it’s quite funny how wrong things can go − and how damned fast it can turn that way.
MP: As a first time author, where there any influences you pulled from?
JM:The answer has to be “yes” doesn’t it? Writing is an immersive collaboration with everything you’ve ever seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, and pondered which, in my case, involves a whole lot of books. (Note: I don’t taste my books and I rarely smell them.)
But, if that’s a way of asking who my favorite writers are, here’s a woefully incomplete list of authors whose books I can see from where I’m sitting right now: Tana French, Stephen King, Ron Rash, Barbara Kingsolver, Jeffrey Eugenides, Kazuo Ishiguro, Peter Straub, Julian Barnes, Richard Ford, and I can’t make out any more from here. My tastes are all over the place.
MP: What did you have to keep in mind when writing a dog’s point of view?
JM: You know, with all the characters’ very human shortcomings and complications, writing Tessa was like a vacation. There’s a little piece at the beginning of Chapter 8 that explains ‘the liar’s margin’ (which happened to be the book’s original title) and Tessa is fundamentally beyond such a place and all of its pitfalls. She experiences things so straightforwardly. Writing her sections was an exercise in trying to think outside of the liar’s margin for her take on what was happening. But it was that kind invigorating exercise you do just for the joy of it – like running on a beach.
MP: Can you tell us a little about your next book?
JM: I’m working on a story about a woman whose mother worked for the government – a likely secret operations player who worked from the suburban blind of their home. Dee’s all gown up now and her mother has passed away, with some issues between them restlessly unresolved. But Dee finds herself needing to get beyond the resentments of her youth once she begins to suspect that her husband wants to have her killed.
In untangling conspiracy from coincidence, Dee discovers that through the axioms and mindgames she learned as a girl, she’s always known her mysterious mother far better than she’d ever realized.
It’s sort of a spy thriller/late-blooming-coming-of-age story.