Historically and Politically Correct - Interview with Elliot Mason
By Carin Chea
Eliiot Mason may have started off as a track and field coach, but eventually discovered that one cannot ignore one's passions.
Praised for his writing at a young age, Mason's first novel, The Arlington Orders, is a historical fiction that blends blockbuster thriller with philosophical introspection.
Mason is the kind of author whose works transcend genre; his works go beyond entertainment-value and, at its most fundamental, forces the reader to question their own
humanity and morality.
Your professional career started out as a track and field coach. How did you get into writing?
I had been writing in some form or another for some time. I started writing when I was in middle school, but I was too embarrassed to show anybody my work. In college, people were taking more interest in what I wrote in my classes.
Then I started writing for trade magazines; it was all running related. I had an online magazine that I ran that covered the cross-country and track and field scene.
Why historical fiction?
When I decided to do a career change, I wanted a complete shift. My parents had wanted
me to write a book for a long time, so when I decided to make a career change, I took on this challenge.
I have this passion for history, and that's why the historical fiction genre attracted me. I was had been a fan of Dan Brown and writers that actually use a real historical location and events. I found those fascinating and fun.
I decided to put down the trade journalistic type of approach and started with a more imaginative approach.
I majored in history in college at USC. I was one of those nerds in school who'd read the history
textbook for leisure. It's always been something I've been attracted to, from a standpoint of
where to do we come from and how do certain events affect us?'
You can write the greatest stories in the world, but nothing is more entertaining than real history. Reading about important figures such as Lincoln or Martin Luther King, I don't think there's any better story out there. Some of the stories that come out of the civil war are unbelievable - the connections between them, the narratives of the people in that generation.
Those are incredible stories. I have never found anything more fascinating than reading about
What inspired you to write The Arlington Orders?
I knew I wanted to delve into that genre, but I didn't know what kind of event I'd take on. One
night, I was nerding out in front of the History Channel - I was watching a program about the Dahlgren Affair.
What's the Dahlgren Affair?
In March 1864, a young Union colonel, Ulric Dahlgen, was killed outside of the Confederate capitol.
When the Confederates searched his body, they found orders on him that said, "You are to kill President Jefferson Davis [president of the Confederate States] and burn the capitol of Richmond, Virginia to the ground."
This breached what was a gentleman's agreement - both sides had agreed that they wouldn't kill civilian heads of state. Some thought President Lincoln ordered this hit because it's unlikely that some 21-year-old colonel would take it upon himself to do this.
A lot of people think that, in retribution, Jefferson Davis ordered the hit on Lincoln. Jefferson Davis also knew John Wilkes Booth [the man who assassinated Lincoln].
Not too long afterward, the South decided to evacuate the capitol. The hard part was getting their gold and silver reserves out, so they devised a secret plan.
They developed a covert operation where they were going to move the treasury to Savannah, Georgia, sail it out, and draw on the money when they needed it.
They implemented the plan, and in the process, the treasury disappeared without a trace. If found, it would represent the richest find in American history.
This was the impetus for the story [The Arlington Orders] - taking that actual historical event and having people in modern times stumble upon clues.
It's really more of a dark political thriller. The Civil War is unique to the American experience.
We still haven't gotten over that war. We're still fighting it 150 years later. We're still arguing over states' rights, gun rights, whether confederate monuments should still stand.
These aren't new conversations; they've been around for generations. The Civil War is one historical event we've never come to terms with.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
I draw from a lot of people in real life. In actuality, I wrote a lot of myself into the villain. I've always been fascinated with characters who are villains.
I don't like the very black-and-white villain, like the typical evil guy who wants to take over the world like in those James Bond movies. I'm interested in writing about people who do the wrong things but for the right reasons. I want my readers to feel torn. A lot of his personality quirks were coming from me.
The main villain in The Arlington Orders is called the Judge. He's a federal judge and his
personality and even his back story actually came from a real-life event that happened to me that created this maniacal drive from him. I'm not a bad guy though!
There are two heroes and two villains. The heroes - one is named Desmond Cook - he is an
Afghanistan war veteran who has decided to go back to school. He's a lost soul and doesn't
know what he wants to do with his life.
He's completing his master's thesis work in Savannah and he meets a young woman, Madison Callum, who is a 32-year-old divorcee. She's an assistant professor at Savannah State and feels her life is meaningless, as in, she doesn't feel like she achieved what she wanted to in life so far.
They're both lost souls. They both don't realize that there are two others looking for this treasure as well.
One of those people is the Judge and the other is a 23-year-old disheveled kid, William Hatton, who the Judge teams up with. William's great-great grandfather served as a courier for General Lee. He believed his great-great grandfather was involved with this missing treasury.
This becomes a race to the death, where if Des and Madison fail to complete finding the
treasure, it could mean the end of them as well as the Country as we know it. They don't realize it when they start out, but they soon find out that this is something that is more important than just treasure. It becomes a deadly chase.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
I love to meet my readers. I'm hoping that when all this [Coronavirus] madness is over I can get out there and start talking to people and going to book signings.
My main goal is that I want people to walk away from my work feeling a little bit torn. I want people to question themselves and question their definition of who we are, what constitutes complete morality and what may not constitute morality?
Who would you cast in the live-action film version of The Arlington Orders?
One of the actors I envisioned is Miles Teller as Desmond. He was in War Dogs with Jonah Hill
and he's very talented. He reminds me of a young Robert DeNiro.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw - she plays innocence very well, but Madison is also very intelligent. She becomes motivated and she's a survivor. She's vulnerable and tough at the same time.
The Judge - that's a tough one. J.K. Simmons is great.
William is also a tough one. That would require someone in their early 20s. A younger version of James Franco would do well. I love actors who are true character actors.
Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like us to know about?
I have a book that's ready to go. It'll be coming out next year and it's kind of a sequel, but deals with a completely different subject matter. It follows the exploits of a serial killer. The killer is tormenting someone in my book and the protagonist has no idea why they're being tormented.
I'm also doing a thriller on the pharmaceutical industry, and am working on another book
that deals with a man whose job it is to re-unite Jewish families with money stolen by the
Nazis during the war.
Wow, all these are very different from one another! Where did you get the inspiration for all these stories?
The pharmaceutical one came from... well, I was listening to the "Coast to Coast" radio show late one night when I was driving. It's a show hosted by George Noory.
He deals with things like Bigfoot sightings, UFO sightings -- those kind of things -- I'm not normally interested in those things, but one night he was interviewing a woman who had been investigating the mysterious deaths of certain doctors, like doctors who had been dying from strange causes - heart attacks at 30 years old or from single car crashes. There were 30 of them.
I started researching their stories and that's how I got the idea.
For more information on Elliot Mason, please visit www.ElliotMasonBooks.com.
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