Having been a track & field coach for many years, Elliot Mason was eager to spend more time with his family. His wife pleaded with him to find a job that didn’t require his full attention at all times. He turned to two lifelong passions – writing and history. Below Elliot discusses what lead to his first book, a historical fiction novel set in present times and based around events that took place during the Civil War. His novel is called The Arlington Orders.
When did you begin writing?
I have been writing since I was in high school. It started out mostly with things like poetry or my thoughts on what was going on in my life at the time. However, most of it never saw the light of day. I was too embarrassed to let anyone read anything that I produced. So oftentimes, I would write something and then it would end up in the trash or stuffed in a drawer somewhere. I had hundreds of little bits of paper scattered throughout my room with various things scribbled on them. Sometimes my parents would find them and when they did, they would frequently praise my writing abilities. But of course, I would not pay those compliments much heed. Like most kids, I thought “That’s just mom and dad, what do they know.”
However, I became more interested in writing when I entered college. I continued to write creatively but became bolder in my approach and a little less shy about sharing my work in my English and writing courses. That really was the first time I began to realize that people were taking notice of my work. I even had a couple of professors pull me aside to let me know how much they enjoyed reading my essays. Probably the most memorable time was when one of my history professors told me that he was really impressed with what I wrote, even though he didn’t agree with a word of it.
What did you do before you began writing novels? What inspired you to initially begin writing the book?
I was a college track and field coach and an events director before I began writing novels. I also ran a website that covered the college running scene. I probably was producing about four or five articles a week for the website and other blogs. However, most of it was done from a journalistic or reporting aspect. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for creativity, at least not how I saw it.
What really inspired me to start writing as a profession was my desire for a career change. Coaching is an all-consuming profession. Most people don’t realize that the actual act of coaching your athletes only encompasses a small part of a coach’s responsibility. I was missing out on so many things, and quite frankly, I did not have the same passion for it that I once had. I had been in the profession for over two decades and I was getting burned out. I also realized the negative impact it was having on my family.
I voiced those feelings to those close to me. But it was my mother who finally said to me that I needed to write a book. My first reaction to her was “That’s easy for you to say”. But she stayed on me.
I pondered the idea for a while, quite a while, but had no idea what I would write about. I had written many things over the years, but it was always in short-format writing and the material I produced for the public was always trade or reporting related. It was not something conducive to a novel and certainly not a fictional novel. I finally made the decision that if I were to write something, that I wanted it as far away in subject matter from my previous profession as possible.
I spent several months struggling with what I may take on as a subject for a story. I was a history major in school and have always been fascinated with how our past seems to dictate or at least influence our future. One night, I was doing what I am sure many former history majors do, watching the History Channel. I was viewing a program on a little known and discussed incident that happened during the Civil War called the “Dahlgren Affair”. Watching that program became the impetus for the book.
Readers will discover that your characters have a certain, unique depth to them. What inspired your characters and their motivations?
I enjoy writing characters who are multi-faceted, regardless if they are considered the hero or the villain in my stories. Though I wanted their motivations to be different and I do have definitive heroes and villains, I wanted each character to be shaped from both good and bad elements.
My two main characters, Des Cook and Madison Callum, are historians who stumble upon clues they think can lead them to the lost Confederate treasury. To them, it is a way of giving their dull existence meaning. Yet, they don’ realize that there are others looking for it as well with completely different motives. One is a federal judge who wants the treasury not only for its monetary wealth, but also the notoriety it would bring him. He pools his talents with a rather disheveled young man, William Hatton, who only talks about the treasury’s intended use. It becomes a very dangerous game in which the ultimate goal of finding the lost Confederate treasury could not only be lethal but change the very future of the nation.
The depth of my characters stems from the very controversial issues of the Civil War itself. Many of these topics are discussed and argued about by my characters. The issue of the immorality of slavery, the issue of greed, the issue of glory, the issue of wanting a better nation built on its founding principles and what that would look like, can all be found in elements of my characters. Each one of them represents something different. I was hoping to develop their attributes by embodying these issues, but at the same time, not limit certain issues to the heroes and others to the villains. Both sides have positive and negative qualities. I believe there is something to be said in creating an internal conflict within the reader. I also think it is always better to create antagonist that do the wrong thing but for the right reasons or vice versa.
In developing these people, there were many incidences that I would try and take an honest look at myself and place my own quirks into my characters. I tried to sprinkle it around liberally, oftentimes inputting my experiences into the back stories of Des, Madison, the Judge and William. In doing so, I was hoping to make them more relatable by using my own personal struggles in creating the motivations for both hero and villain alike.
Do you plan to continue to write within the historical fiction genre? What initially drew you to this genre?
I greatly enjoy writing historical fiction and am certain that in the future, it will always be a part of my repertoire. History was always my favorite subject in school. When I was young, I was the nerd who read the history textbook for leisure and later, I decided upon majoring in history in college. I guess it has always interested me in not only learning how people lived in the past, but also how their actions and decisions affect us today. Plus, there is just an endless array of stories and people from our past that I feel I can create stories around.
Are there any other genres you would be interested in exploring?
I recognize that my strength is in suspense writing. I would love to be able to write comedy. But that requires a specific talent that would probably be best left to others. The nice thing about writing suspense is out of that intensity, it creates opportunities for other elements such as personal struggles, social interactions and even romance.
Yet, I don’t want to only focus on the historical fiction genre. I do want to tackle current issues that would not be classified under the pure fiction/suspense label and have begun to do so. Even though my current writing can still be classified as historical fiction, most of my stories deal with how history impacts issues in modern times as the setting for my stories are usually in the current day. So I have not really ventured into writing the traditional pure historical fiction novel.
Can you tell us anything about what you're currently working on?
I have completed my second book, which I am hoping will be released next year. It covers a very controversial issue that has arisen in today’s political and social discourse. The story and the topic unfold through the pursuit of a serial killer.
I also currently have two other books in the works. One that is a suspense thriller that deals with the pharmaceutical industry. Another could be classified along the lines of an historical fiction story in that it deals with real historical events, but in which the majority of the story takes place in modern times. It begins with the dismantling of a terrorist cell and how their goals tie in with and mirror the goals of a group in our not so distant past.
To find out more about The Arlington Orders and Elliot’s upcoming novel The Legal Killer, check out his website: https://www.elliotmasonbooks.com/. The Arlington Orders is also available for purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Arlington-Orders-Elliot-Mason/dp/1644628619.
In the dying days of the Civil War, an assassination attempt is made on Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Faced with this ongoing threat, the decision is made to evacuate the Southern capital of Richmond, Virginia. Everything must be moved, including the Confederacy’s substantial gold and silver reserves, which must be kept out of Union hands. Thus, a covert plan is devised to transfer it to a secret location. However, during the move, the treasure vanishes without a trace.
One hundred and fifty years later, two historians, Des Cook and Madison Callum, stumble upon clues that could solve one of the war’s greatest mysteries while leading them to the richest and most significant find in American history. But others are searching for it too and will do anything to obtain it.
Now, Des and Madison find themselves entangled in a race that, if they fail to win, would not only result in their deaths but also change the very future of the country.