A mystical blue umbrella is torn, and a young girl suddenly vanishes through the hole.
Meanwhile, precious seconds are disappearing from the world’s atomic clock, with unpredictable results — sometimes it’s something as inconvenient as a dropped casserole, and others, it’s as tragic as a plane crash.
So begins Mike Mason’s second novel, The Violet Flash.
Set once again in the town of Five Corners and with Porter’s Store featured heavily, The Violet Flash follows most of the same characters Mason developed in his debut novel The Blue Umbrella, published in 2009.
But it does introduce a brand new villain. This one is stealing time, and should an entire minute be taken the results will be catastrophic, with nothing less than the end of the world at stake.
“I thought, ‘Might as well go for broke,’” said the Langley author, with a laugh.
While Mason’s first story followed the adventures of 10-year-old Zac Sparks, who is sent to live with his crotchety old aunties after his mother is struck and killed by a bolt of lightening, the second in the series takes up the story of Zac’s neighbour, Ches Cholmondeley (pronounced Chum-ly), whose sister Chelsea has mysteriously disappeared.
“In the first book, Chester was sort of curmudgeonly, so I found it interesting to delve into his character more, explained Mason.
“I wanted a name for the character that’s kind of preposterous because of the way he is. He’s a heady intellectual, a bit full of himself.”
Take, for instance, Chester’s trademark gesture of pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “which he does 100 times a day.”
“With one characteristic physical gesture, you can say so much about a character,” Mason said.
In addition to shifting his focus from Zac to Chester, Mason lightened the tone somewhat in his second novel.
“It was a bit dark. That was the only criticism I got of the first book. For some nine and 10 year olds, it was a bit too much, but for others, it’s fine,” he said.
When he was that age, Mason was a big Jules Verne fan, and devoured many of the classics, from Around the World in 80 Days to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Treasure Island, Dr. Dolittle and the Sherlock Holmes novels were also high on his reading list.
For him, fantasy novels aren’t about escape.
“I see it as a way to write about what’s more real. The world we see is only the surface of things,” he said.
“I believe, on a deeper level, other worlds do exist and amazing things do happen.
“There’s a reality we don’t see, and kids are very much in touch with that. They like to make up games about the struggle between good and evil.”
Something The Violet Flash includes that Mason has not seen in other books are outtakes, similar to those that often accompany the end credits of a movie.
“When you write a novel, there’s a lot that ends up on the cutting room floor — some of it, I was really attached to,” he said.
Some of these literary outtakes show different directions the story might have taken, while others flesh out characters and add more layers to the story.
“I had this material that I really liked, but I left it out to maintain the narrative tension,” he explained.
Mason, who has also written a number of non-fiction books on the subjects of marriage, family and Christian faith, said he’s learned a lot about the fiction writing process since publishing his first novel. At almost 100 fewer pages, “this is a more tightly constructed story,” he said.
And while the first book practically wrote itself, the second proved a bit more of a struggle for the author.
“It’s been written and rewritten within an inch of its life,” Mason said.
He took his third draft of The Violet Flash to his writing club for feedback, but the results weren’t exactly what he’d anticipated.
“I was really proud of it, and they tore it apart,” he said.
Mason was crushed. He put the book away for a year to gain some perspective, and turned his attention back to editing The Blue Umbrella.
The third volume, which will follow the rainbow title theme and shift its focus to another of the characters, exists only in notes at the moment and won’t be around for at least a couple of years, he said.
“I have a pile of Christmas stories I’ve been meaning to put together and I’m taking a break.
“Writing novels is much more consuming than the other type of writing I used to do,” Mason said.
“I guess as I get older, I find it daunting how much solitude is required for writing a novel.”
Unlike JK Rowling who had the entire Harry Potter series mapped out when she began, Mason said, for him it is a much more informal process.
“I seem to have to follow my nose and take it as it comes.”
Next, Mason’s nose will once again lead him to the real Porter’s Store, a coffee shop at Murrayville’s historic Five Corners, where his book will be officially launched on Friday, June 17.
Doors open at 7 p.m. and the event will include a reading and author talk
Tickets are $6, a price that includes a specialty beverage and a shot at the evening’s door prizes, including three autographed copies of The Violet Flash.
“We’re also giving away a blue umbrella, just like this,” Mason said, holding up the sky-blue object, dotted with fluffy white clouds and supported by a clear plastic handle, which was custom made for him by the third generation umbrella maker in Vancouver.
But don’t expect it to whisk you off to a fantasy world.
“This,” he said, “is the magic one, of course.”