Bobbie Mason Discovers the Shape
Of Her Story As She Goes An exclusive Authorlink interview
with the author of The Girl in the Blue Beret
By Ellen Birkett Morris
In her latest novel, The Girl in the Blue Beret, Bobbie Ann Mason tells the story of Marshall, an airline pilot who returns to the site of his 1944 B-17 crash in Europe and retraces the trail of his escape through Occupied France.
When asked to trace her past as a writer, Mason recalls reading Louisa May Alcotts Little Women at age eleven and also being inspired to write mysteries on the order of Nancy Drew.
Raised on her familys dairy farm in western Kentucky, Mason went on to earn her bachelors degree in English at the University of Kentucky in 1962. She earned her masters degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1966, and her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut in 1972.
She was influenced by the fiction of Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald in college, but didn't begin writing seriously until after completing her graduate studies. She sent those stories to The New Yorker magazine and received encouragement from the then fiction editor.
Roger Angell took an interest in my writing."
Roger Angell took an interest in my writing. For a year and a half as soon as I would get a story back from him I sent another. He was encouraging and accepted the twentieth story that I sent him, said Mason.
When her second story ran in The New Yorker she got a call from well-known agent Amanda Binky Urban, who encouraged her to develop a collection of short stories.Urban remains her agent today.
Masons first book of fiction, Shiloh & Other Stories, was published in 1982. The collection won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was nominated for the American Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.The novel was always my first real interest. Publishing short stories gave me confidence, said Mason. While she believes the scope of a novel works on the reader in a different way than the short story, Mason said the two forms require the same meticulous attention to detail and artistry of craft.
Masons other books include In Country, Feather Crowns, Spence + Lila, Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, Love Life: Stories, An Atomic Romance, and Nancy Culpepper. Her memoir, Clear Springs, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Her latest work, The Girl in the Blue Beret, was sparked by the experience of her father-in-law Barney Rawlings. He was shot down in a B-17 bomber during World War II and made his way through France to safety with the help of the French Resistance. I think now there is a scramble to get these stories from veterans before they die. These things were suppressed for so many years, said Mason. Her fictional account is set in 1980, as Marshall reconnects with the members of the French Resistance.
A lot of research went into the sacrifices of French families during the war… |
A lot of research went into the sacrifices of French families during the war, the escape and evasion networks set up by the Resistance, and the depravations of living in the war. People who went through the war had such powerful memories. Their bond with the Americans they helped and their liberators was so strong, said Mason.
She visited France several times while researching the book. An account of one visit was published in the New York Times under the title Back Home, Via France.I went in search of a sense of what it would be like to be there during the war. I went to get inspired, to know my story and to see it through Marshalls eyes.
The book took her four years to write.
For the whole thing I was in over my head, writing about a male character, the war, the French Résistance, the French language. Im used to jumping in over my head. I figured Id make my way out, she noted.
Writing depends on discovery and you find the shape of the story as you go. |
Mason prefers writing without an outline.
Writing depends on discovery and you find the shape of the story as you go, she observed.
Mason completed at least 17 drafts, reading the work over and over and changing a little here and there. Mason called the effort tedious and slow. She worked with Random House Editor Kate Medina, who helped prepare the book for publication and select a cover.
Since the publication of the book Mason has done numerous interviews and signings to promote the book. More and more this is the responsibility of the author, she said.
Mason has spent the past ten years working as writer-in-residence at University of Kentucky fostering new talent.
When asked about advice for new writers seeking an agent Mason offered her thoughts on the current state of author-agent relations. I read that agents more and more are taking on the role of editor, working closely with writers. The writer has to decide how much to go along with this and what the marketplace means to him or her. My best advice is to look for someone whose vision you can trust.
|About Bobbie Ann Mason|
Bobbie Ann Mason is the author of several novels, two collections of short stories and a memoir. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Learn more about Bobbie at Bobbieannmason.net
About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.