Author Jack Massa has studied writing and other forms of magic for many years. He lives in Florida, USA, but wanders in many places. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.
Hello! My name is Jack Massa. These days I write fiction, mainly fantasy in different subgenres—heroic, historical, urban, YA paranormal. Over the years, I’ve also published science fiction, poetry, and lots of nonfiction.
I grew up in suburban New Jersey, near New York City. I was raised in a working-class household with three siblings, an Irish mother, an Italian father, an Irish grandmother and her third husband, a Russian Jew. My grandmother also had a parakeet. I’ve been married to the best woman in the world for many years and we have an adult son. We live now in Southwest Florida which, except for overcrowding and the occasional hurricane, is certainly paradise.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been a writer all my life. (I think I was a writer in other lifetimes too, but let’s focus on this one.) I started telling myself stories when I was three years old, playing with my toy soldiers. I made some of them superheroes and used my stuffed animals as monsters they either fought or made friends with.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was privileged to attend a small, radical liberal arts college. “Radical” in that the institution largely made students figure things out for themselves. I tried a lot of things and decided writing fiction was for me. I wrote a magical realist novel as my senior thesis. The college validated that I was a writer by giving me my degree.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
I’m presently working on the third of the Abby Renshaw adventures, Ghosts of Lock Tower. It is a fantasy tale involving chaos magic, a Nazi ghost, an ancient Mesopotamian Goddess, and monsters that manifest from Internet memes. (Perhaps you can see why I’m still working on it.) I hope to release it in Summer, 2019.
Meantime, let’s talk about Abby’s first adventure, Ghosts of Bliss Bayou.
Abby is a typical girl from New Jersey with a propensity for the strange. (You might notice similarities to the author.) In Abby’s case, she tries to be a normal high school student, does well in school, runs on the track team, awkwardly tries to have a social life. (I know, I know, just like the author. I can’t help it.)
Abby’s problem in Ghosts of Bliss Bayou is that she is subject to hallucinations—scary ghosts and creatures popping out of her nightmares into waking life. Her quest is to solve the mystery of where these things come from and why they’re threatening her. The story takes her to her roots, in a small town in rural Florida, where she was born and where her grandmother still lives. There, she learns the hallucinations are in fact real and linked to her family’s history.
What inspired you to write this book?
Oh my! Lots of things. I gather inspiration the way a lint brush picks up lint—No wait, there must be a better analogy…
I’ve always been interested in reading about magic and mysticism—Tarot Cards, Kabbalah, spiritualism, you name it. I was especially fascinated by the so-called “occult revival” in the late 19th Century, when mediums became a big thing and educated folks in Europe and the U.S. joined secret societies to study magic. All of this worked its way into the backstory of the book.
Also, my wife and I love visiting places in “old Florida,” especially spots that were tourist destinations when we were little kids, but are now largely bypassed. I had an idea for writing a ghost story set in one of these places. When we visited the town of Micanopy, then took a boat ride on the amazingly beautiful Silver Springs, it all came together.
Do you have a specific writing style?
That really varies with the type of book. The Abby stories are first person, present tense, with lots of focus on what she’s feeling in the moment—as befits YA fiction. My other books are third person, past tense, even with some “omniscient narrator” to give a broad and epic sweep.
In all my work, I try to write with immediacy and vivid visual detail. I think it was D.H. Lawrence who said, “First, I wish to make you see.” I like that.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The Reality we think we know is only one small piece of a much larger moving picture.
As one of the characters, a retired Anthropology professor, puts it, “the Universe is vast and incomprehensible. To try to understand it, the human mind creates maps. Science is one big set of maps. Magic is just another set. Both kinds of maps are valid in different ways. But the Universe will always be bigger and stranger than any map.”
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
To this I will only say: Like Abby, I’ve always had a propensity for the strange.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Wow. Way too many to name.
Shakespeare first, always.
For delving into the depths of the human soul, classic authors such as Dostoevsky, Conrad, Emily Bronte, and Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba the Greek).
For fantastic adventure and sense of wonder, Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Kim Stanly Robinson, Robert E. Howard (author of the original Conan stories).
Among newer writers, I really admire Cassandra Clare, Maggie Stiefvater, and NK Jemison.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Literally, I had a mentor, a writer named George Cuomo. He was a professor in my MFA program in graduate school. He was not at all into fantasy and science fiction, but he made it his business to encourage me and help me build my skill. He also helped me get my first novel published.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Ida Jansson of Amygdala Design. I found her by online searching.
The cover was actually a collaboration between Ida, myself, and my wife (who is an artist). I usually come up with design concepts and sketch them out in PowerPoint, then rework them with my wife. Ida was very flexible in working with us.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Choose your goals. Decide what defines success for you.
As a business, writing is a very tough game. Simply put, there is way more supply than demand. In other words, there are many more capable writers than there are paying readers to support them.
If you want to write for money you’re going to have to work really, really hard. You’re also going to have to learn a lot about the business of publishing (which is changing all the time). Also, you’re most likely going to have to adapt what you want to write to fit a profitable market niche. And again, the market is always changing. Did I mention it’s a tough game?
So choose your goals. You may want to write for your own satisfaction, or just to reach a few readers and say something of value to them. That too is a worthwhile goal. You will have created something and added to the human conversation.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Enjoy yourselves. The Universe is wider and stranger than we can imagine. As a friend of mine who is a bard likes to say, “Live well and in wonder.”
Ghosts of Bliss Bayou