J.D. Mason is the author of several bestselling novels including, And on the Eighth Day She Rested, This Fire Down in My Soul, You Gotta Sin To Get Saved, and Somebody Pick Up My Pieces. J.D. has been nominated for The Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards in the African American Fiction and Best Contemporary Fiction categories. Her latest Beautiful, Dirty, Rich is the beginning of a new series about scandal, sex, intrigue and secrets in a small Texas town called Blink.
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say:
Families torn apart by greed and duplicity, characters driven by blinding passion, toe-curling sex, and a moral compass that goes with the flow: Mason (One Day I Saw a Black King) doesn’t disappoint with this soap opera yarn of an everywoman wrongfully convicted of murder 26 years earlier. Now, with a $20 million inheritance in the bank, Desi Green wants to tell the truth about the sensational Blink, Tex., murder case that left Julian Gatewood dead and Desi’s mother, Ida, Gatewood’s lover, loaded. “All anybody thinks is that she was a home wrecker, and he was a cheat who had the misfortune of getting shot for his troubles.” But Desi knows, “There’s so much more,” including a murderous judge, a slave-trader cop, and bribes to convict Desi of killing Gatewood, “that beautiful, dirty, rich bastard” whom Desi and Ida adored. Desi and conniving pal Lonnie go up against Gatewood’s scion Jordan—a J.R. Ewing for the 21st century—and addled widow Olivia to expose family secrets and find the real killer. Mason’s characters create an addictive drama with universal themes of laying claim to family—and to truth.
I’m delighted to share this Q&A with J.D. about creating compelling characters and stories using “a true and honest and fearless assessment of self.”
In Beautiful, Dirty, Rich, you really keep the plot clipping along. When you revise, what kind of stuff do you cut to keep the manuscript lean and mean?
Most of my manuscripts start out pretty lean, and I end up having to add content in order to make them decent sized novels. My writing mantra is “get it out of my head and down on paper and fill in the blanks as time goes on” and that’s usually how it comes together. Besides that, I have a short attention span and the content has to hold my interest before I can feel comfortable that it’s holding my reader’s interest. The devil’s in the details, sure enough, but I try to be conservative in how I approach those details so as not to overwhelm the audience. My stories can get pretty complicated and I get character happy, and something’s got to give, so I try not to bog the story down with more than it needs.
Your books are plot-generated, yet you draw characters really well. You have a pretty big cast of characters and you succinctly describe them. We get just enough history and description to know who they are. How do you do that?
Actually, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a character-driven writer. My plotting skills are not my strong suit, so through the years, I’ve learned to pay more attention to them and really work hard at fleshing out the story. Most of my earlier books focused on the characters who I depended on to tell the story, and it worked. I love getting inside my characters’ heads and I’ve found that all it takes is a thought or a single action from a character that helps give readers an idea of who that person is. It really is the subtle things that tell the truth about an individual, and that applies not only to fictional characters, but to real people as well.
What do you think makes a compelling character?
One word–depth. We are three-dimensional beings and when it comes to creating people on paper, I think it’s important to remember that. Creating compelling characters starts with a true and honest and fearless assessment of self. You have to be willing to acknowledge that you, as a person, are not 100 percent good or bad, right or wrong, happy or sad. At any given moment, any of us can be all of those things or none of them, and so when it comes to creating characters, the author has to be fearless enough to be honest and to be brave enough to show the truth about who/what that character’s nature is down to the core.
What do you think keeps a story moving and what slows it down? And what do you do to keep your stories from losing momentum?
Action definitely keeps it moving, and that action can come from more than one character in the book. It’s easy to bog a story down with too much, though, so writers need to try and strike a balance and not write action for the sake of it alone, but keep it organic to the characters and the story. I always try to fill my books with interesting subplots, which can be challenging for the plot-challenged writer like me, but if I can do that, then it seems to help keep things moving.
How do you write so quickly? Please share some tips, strategies, advice.
I used to think I wrote quickly, but I really don’t. I rewrite–a lot! Every first draft I’ve ever written has ended up deleted and rewritten in its entirety. With Beautiful, Dirty, Rich for example, I completely rewrote that book five times over the course of almost two years before I finally felt that I had a story that I could live with. So, my fast writing is really nothing more than an illusion and a lie that I’ve convinced myself was true.
When you get stuck, what do you do to get unstuck?
I go back and reevaluate what I’ve written from the very first chapter. In most cases, I’ve found that the reasons behind my being stuck have to do with me losing the momentum and feel of a story because I’ve taken too much time to get the main concept down on paper. Usually when that happens, I start over from scratch, which is horrible and probably unnecessary, but stories have to come to me in one cohesive wave and I have to ride that same one to the end or I get hung up.
Thanks J.D.! You can learn more about J.D. Mason on Facebook.