IF YOU ASK a group of crime novelists to list the most exciting stylists working today, Jamie Mason’s name is bound to come up. In many thrillers, the language is workmanlike — plain, even. The suspense is the point; the sentences are the delivery system. In Jamie’s books, however, the words themselves are, if not the star of the show, then a strong second lead: my copies of her books are highlighted, dog-eared, crowded with exclamatory marginalia. I want to pin her sentences to my wall so I can admire them.
She is able to land on imagery that is both perfectly apt and startlingly original, and perhaps this latter quality is one of the reasons she has been called a “writer’s writer.” Cracking open a book in a genre you write yourself is a great way to trigger a counterproductive spiral of shame and self-doubt, but I’ve never berated myself for not being able to operate on Jamie’s level. I’ve never remarked, “Now why didn’t I come up with that?” Jamie’s thoughts are just too uniquely her own.
Jamie’s newest book is The Hidden Things , an ensemble crime drama with an unforgettable teenage protagonist at its heart. In its opening chapter, 14-year-old Carly Liddell bravely fends off an attacker in the foyer of her home. In another book, this scene might be the climax of the story, the resolution of an arc, the moment when the heroine, at long last, recognizes her innate strength and manages to defeat the bad guys. But The Hidden Things , intriguingly, chooses this as a jumping-off point. When the security footage of the attack goes viral, Carly finds herself drawn into even greater danger. I spoke with Jamie about process, truth, trauma — the kind of straightforward stuff you can definitely get to the bottom of in a single interview.
In my defense, it started off simply enough.
ELIZABETH LITTLE: How does a new book idea come to you? Is it character first? Voice? Inciting incident?
JAMIE MASON: I tend to get the lightning strike of an inciting incident first. It’s practically voices in my head, describing a little scene. Or matter-of-factly reciting an opening line like that string of words existed somewhere else before the inside of my skull. It’s fun, if a little unnerving. Then it can take me just short of forever to figure out what to do with it. Once I know what kind of trouble the inciting incident is going to cause, then I start thinking about what kinds of people would find themselves with this particular problem.
What was the lightning strike for The Hidden Things ?
I ran across a video clip of a young girl attacked in the foyer of her home. Like Carly in the book, she gets away, although the eventual description of what happens in Carly’s front hallway is augmented by my own imagination and a different video I saw of a much older girl […]