Novel ideas: David Mastbergen discovers a niche for storytelling
RUSHMORE -- When David Mastbergen sits down with his computer at the kitchen table, he quickly gets lost in his work.
The stories flow from his brain to the computer keyboard so fast that his fingers can barely keep up. He is currently in the midst of writing his fifth book.
The most amazing part? Mastbergen just started writing his first book in February of this year.
Writing is still a relatively new undertaking for Mastbergen, a Worthington native whose first career was in the military.
"I went into the Navy halfway into my senior year," Mastbergen explained. "While everybody else was doing the prom thing, I was in boot camp. I had 20 years in, most of it in California."
Mastbergen's first assignment was as a disbursement clerk, doing payroll.
"I did that my first three years, and that was bor-ing," he said with emphasis. "So I switched and went into advanced electronics."
The new assignment required Mastbergen to take specialized training, and for that he went to Tennessee.
"I was in Memphis when Elvis died. I saw him in his casket, before they stole it," he recalled about the 1977 happening when rabid fans temporarily made off with Presley's coffin.
After seven years in advanced electronics, Mastbergen moved into data processing, and he finished up his career with the rank of chief warrant officer.
"The year I made warrant officer was the first year they gave warrant officers commissions," he noted. "So I was commissioned by Ronald Reagan."
While he was in the Navy, he earned a master's degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica and a bachelor's degree in computer science from Coleman College. Eventually, he started thinking about life after the Navy.
"When I got close to retirement, I decided I was moving back to Minnesota," he said.
So, sight unseen, Mastbergen bought a piece of land on Minnesota 60, but it was too small for a house. He looked for a different property where he could move with his wife, Rhonda, and two sons, John and David Jr.
"So I found a five-acre farm that looked like it should have been torn down, 10 miles straight south of Rushmore," Mastbergen said. "So I gutted it and modernized it. I hear the cows mooing every morning."
With his knowledge of computers, Mastbergen opened up his own business, Mast Computing, in downtown Worthington, which he ran for three years, also teaching courses through the business, community education and at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa.
"Teaching was not my bag," he admitted in retrospect. "And I had to give the business up when Gateway started up and everybody started flocking to Sioux Falls to get their computers."
For the next nine years, Mastbergen worked for the State of Minnesota in St. Paul, commuting back to Rushmore on weekends.
"I survived three layoffs," he noted. "I worked in what was called economic security. When I left, it was called DEED --Department of Employment and Economic Development. They were going through so many changes."
With time on his hands, Mastbergen began to contemplate writing. His interest is in fantasy literature, inspired by TV programs of which he is a fan.
"I watched 'Smallville,' all the episodes, and that got me thinking," he explained, referring to a television show that chronicled the adventures of Clark Kent before he became Superman. "So I sat down in February of this year and wrote all these books. I just started typing one day.
"But the story changed. At first I thought I was writing Nikki's story," he continued, referring to one of his characters. "But I got done with the first couple of chapters and thought, 'Nope. It's not going to be about Nikki.' I started out again, and the next thing I know, I've got six or seven chapters. Pretty soon, I've got book one done."
The stories seem to come easily to Mastbergen.
"The toughest part is coming up with the names of characters," he said. "So I finally went to the library and got one of those books of baby names."
He didn't have to look far to come up with his principle character's name, however.
"His name is David, so everybody thought it was about me," he shared. "But it isn't. Remember the show 'Knight Rider,' with David Hasselhoff? That's where it came from. And Nikki is a nickname for my granddaughter.
"The story itself is based right here, in our area, and parts of it take place right here in Worthington. The farm I remodeled is the setting for where the main character starts out. He lives on a farm when it starts out. Some of the chapters are influenced by what's happened in my life, but it's not about me."
While the story may have local settings, the plot line is rooted in fantasy, not reality.
"David has healing powers, and he can use those powers to defend himself," described Mastbergen. "He can read minds and can go into people's memories and take them out."
Mastbergen's target market ranges from early teens to adults of all ages.
"My dad, Hubert, read the first book and couldn't wait for book two," he said. "He lives in the nursing home in Luverne. My sister-in-law said she doesn't like fantasy, but she read it and got ticked off when she got to the end and the story was continued."
One of Mastbergen's biggest fans is his niece, Erin Janssen, who recently moved back from Illinois to become Mastbergen's personal assistant. She also has an interest in writing herself and has a couple of ideas for books floating around in her head.
"It's very captivating," she said about her uncle's writing. "I'm on book four already. I had book one read in about three days, and it was awesome."
When Mastbergen decided to pursue getting his writing published, he turned to the Internet and found Xlibris, a self-publishing company through which he retains all rights to his work.
"I've gotten two published so far, and the other two will be done in the next few weeks," he said. "It was the fastest way to do it. You buy a package from them, and they gave me a two-for-one deal, so I took that. I send it in electronically, and there's some copy-editing and paperwork and a biography."
For the covers of the first two books, Mastbergen solicited help from a nephew who is an art student in California. He and Erin have come up with their own ideas for the subsequent volumes.
Mastbergen felt a sense of accomplishment when the first copy of book one, "The Marvels of the Healer," arrived in the mail, followed shortly by book two, "The Marvels of the Healer & The Sisters of Radiance."
"It was different," he said. "Actually, it was pretty exciting when it came in the mail. They send you a hard copy and a soft copy in the mail before they do the printing process. I thought, 'This is pretty cool.'"
Because his writing was influenced by storylines from TV, Mastbergen views each volume as a year's worth of episodes in a continuing saga.
"The books take the characters from the ninth grade through their senior year. Book five is going to be more difficult, because my character is going to go bad for a spell," he shared.
Mastbergen's ultimate dream is for his books to become a TV series, and he recently attended a "pitch fest," in New York with that goal in mind.
"Publishers come in, and they taught us how to write our pitches," he explained about the event. "There were 150 authors there at one time, and whoever did the best pitch got to talk to that lady from 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire,' Meredith Vieira. I didn't get that one, not what they were looking for.
"My pitch was for the TV series," he continued. "You get two minutes per producer to pitch your story, to get them to go to the publisher and see what they can do with it. It's like speed dating --with bells and everything. It was 14 minutes of hell."
Although he's been asked to consider doing another pitch event in February, Mastbergen isn't sure he's ready to repeat the experience quite yet.
"Most of them said my pitch needed improvement," he shared, "but they said the storyline was great."
While he contemplates his options, Mastbergen continues to type away at his kitchen table, furthering the adventures of David and his other characters.
"I think I'll get the series completed and then pitch the whole series," he said, adding with a laugh, "I wasn't doing it for the money. I'm in it for the glory. ... It's something for me to leave behind for my grandkids to read."
A book-signing event with David Mastbergen will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at Lit'l Wizards in downtown Worthington. His books are also available online through Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Sears.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.