As Daniel Mason’s long-awaited new novel, The Winter Soldier, appears on the scene, Narrative has a few questions for the author.
1. Who is your favorite character in fiction; your fave character in life?
In fiction, Sancho Panza because he was the first to make us laugh. And in life? You mean he isn’t alive?
2. A line that you or someone else wrote that continues to inspire you?
“If you insist on my telling you what is the moral of the Iliad, I insist upon your telling me what is the moral of a rattlesnake, or the moral of a Niagara. I suppose the moral is—that you must get out of their way.” —Thomas De Quincey.
3. The story, book, or poem you wish you could read again for the first time. What did it teach you?
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, to reenter that consciousness of infancy, that self that hadn’t totally differentiated from the world and other people.
4. Best part of the day?
Early, before the day.
5. Your cure for when the spirit flags?
6. Ten words you use most on the page? In life?
Obidicut, Hobbididence, Mahu, Modo, Smulkin, Swithold, Pillicock, Turlygod, and Flibbertigibbet. Suum, mun, and nonny are tied for tenth. Same in life, of course.
7. What’s your current obsession?
English broadside ballads. I recently stumbled across an amazing online collection, hosted by UC Santa Barbara, of these charming, naughty, centuries-old songs: “The Maidens Frollick,” “A Display of the Headpiece and Codpiece,” “The Love Sports of Wanton Jemmy and Simpering Jenny,” and on! The world would be a better place if we still sang songs that began “I am a lusty beggar.”
8. What’s the most useful criticism you’ve ever received?
Back in college, one of my stories was rejected by a journal as “theatrical and self-limiting.” It was the first nonform rejection I received, and utterly correct. And it continues to be a reminder to always think about what a story does beyond the story itself.
9. What did you know at age twelve that you wish you hadn’t forgotten; and/or what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
How to do a backflip off the diving board and bunny-hop a dirt bike. And the lyrics to The White Album, the whole thing.
10. To quote Auden, “O tell me the truth about love.” We’re all ears.
Since so many high school students read Narrative, how about a warning? This from Chaucer, on love’s effects:
His sleep, his mete, his drink is him biraft,
That lene he wex, and drye as is a shaft.
His eyen holwe, and grisly to biholde;
His hewe falwe, and pale as asshen colde,
And solitarie he was, and ever allone,
And wailling al the night, making his mone.
Then again, I’m a big fan.
And Don’t Miss
An excerpt from Mason’s new novel The Winter Soldier.