Interview with a Barefoot Writer: Becky Masterman

Becky Masterma

“Be grateful for criticism. Use it to become a better writer. Praise is useless.”
— Becky Masterman, Published Author

Becky Masterman, author of a three-book series with a forth on the way, is both a connoisseur and creator of enticing phrases and fascinating storylines.

After getting her start from a friendly NaNoW­riMo-based competition with her husband, the seed of Becky’s first published novel was born, called Rage Against the Dying. A debut thriller, Rage went on to be nominated for seven awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Gold Dagger, Ma­cavity, Barry, International Thriller Writers, and Audie. On top of that, the entertainment rights were recently purchased by Tomorrow-ITV Stu­dios. Since publication, Becky has amassed a healthy number of fans who celebrated the second and third books in her series, called Fear the Darkness, and A Twist of the Knife.

Becky was kind enough to give us an interview from her home in Tucson, Arizona, where she shared some backstory into her writing journey, including how she’s able to enjoy the (sometimes painful) process.

Born with a true love for reading, Becky is proof you can successfully pursue the writing dream at any age. Note her interesting advice on learning about the people we love most, and a clever way to go about it, not to mention her entertaining “sweater” take on the rewriting process!

Was writing a lifelong dream or something you grew into?

I only started studying the craft in earnest when I was 40, writing plays. But I think there are quali­ties that fit us for being writers from early on. A love of stories, and a tendency to ask “what if?” Being comfortable on the outside of a group, ob­serving. And those times I would make my moth­er a card and she’d burst into tears reading it. I thought that was pretty cool, being able to move someone to tears.

The New York Times review of your book, Rage Against the Dying, called it a “scorching debut” and “cleverly manipulative,” among other compliments. Did this — plus the seven awards you were nominated for — make it harder or easier to write the sequel?

Those were heady times. It was very hard to write the second book but I think if the first had been an abysmal failure that would have been worse. Because I prefer to read something new, rather than a repetition with, say, a higher body count, I tried to throw an entirely different problem at my protagonist. As a result, there are a few people who tell me they liked the first book better. I don’t feel badly about that, just grateful for their hon­esty so I can try to do better with my third. It’s not about satisfying my own creative drive, it’s about delighting readers.

A photo posted by the Facebook Community, Readers of New York, shows a woman reading your book on the subway. What does it feel like to see a stranger who chose, out of all the thousands of books out there, to read your book?

This is such a good point. Writers feel badly when their books don’t sell as well as anticipated, but I always said, hey, there are 100,000 new books published every year, not counting those pub­lished in previous years! That any one person should choose mine is a miracle.

Do you prefer reading digital books or paper versions?

I like paper at home because it’s easier to mark pages and flip back and forth. But digital is won­derful for traveling. I can take a trip and not worry about whether I have enough books packed.

You’ve said that one of the best things about writing is attending book clubs. As a writer, what do you gain from that experience?

It’s like a free focus group. Once the club trusts that they’re not going to hurt my feelings, I can ask what worked for them and what didn’t, and get better.

Where do you find the inspiration behind your writing?

You never know where an idea is going to come from. It could appear in a book, or in watching two strangers interact, or a news item, or a maga­zine article, or a friend telling you their troubles. That means you have to stay alert and ready to make that leap into story. You have to be “writ­ing” all the time.

What’s your favorite indulgence?

Going to the movie theater and bringing home a big bag of kettle corn, then watching a Netflix movie.

Your bio mentions experience as a copywriter. What kind of copywriting did you do, and does that background help when it comes to fiction writing?

It’s embarrassing to talk about this with AWAI folks who really write copy. In my job, I just de­scribed scientific reference books for catalogs. Most of the time I didn’t even know what I was writing about, like schistosomiasis (it’s a parasite) or electromagnetics. But it’s always valuable to write on deadline, and what I was able to learn in science and medicine (especially forensics) has served well in writing my stories.

Do you think someone can earn a living suc­cessfully as a copywriter by day and a novelist by night?

Everyone, at least at first, needs to have a day job. Anthony Trollope, the 19th century British author, worked at a post office his whole life. He would write from 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning, sometimes stopping mid-sentence. That’s how disciplined you need to be. It took me nearly 25 years before I was able to support myself on fiction writing alone. Besides, just think of all the great mate­rial you collect while moving through the world, working with other people, in copywriting or any other profession.

You’ve said you go through several revisions in the editorial process. What does that entail — assuming it’s more than just tweaking a sentence here and there?

In attempting to cut down to three drafts instead of the seven I was doing for the first two books, I submitted a 50,000-word rough draft of my third book. Here are just a few of the comments I got from my agent and editor: “Change the motive for the villain.” “Have a different villain, one who isn’t dead before the story starts, it’s not satisfying.” “Place the final reveal at a more dramatic mo­ment.” “Give the loan shark a bigger part to play, and go deeper into his character because right now he’s cartoonish.” “Move that murder into the second act.” You see, rewriting is more like reknit­ting a sweater from the inside out, changing the stars to polka dots. It’s often agonizing, but it makes a better book, and that’s what you want, right?

If you could time travel, where would you want to go?

I never met my husband’s parents. I would like to go back to when they were alive, and ask them hard questions about themselves that my hus­band can’t answer. Maybe this is being a writer, wanting to dig into the lives of people we love. I already asked my parents about themselves and now I understand them, and me, much better. Ask your parents the questions. Try to encourage them to answer honestly. They may be more in­teresting than you think.

What did you gain from the first six books you wrote, even though they were never published?

There’s a story about a conductor who was re­cording a symphony. After the 85th take, he said, “Go ahead and use it, but I think I could do bet­ter.” This is the glory of the creative process, al­ways reaching for an unobtainable vision. I may be a genre writer, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hack writer. Those first six books taught me the craft of character and plotting, and how, as Roger Rosenblatt says in his book on writing, how to move the human heart. I learn more with each successive book I write.

How do you measure your success as a writer?

Certainly, advances on royalties are gratifying, and I suppose that’s one way to measure success, but once you have enough to survive, the rest is a game. If money is your measure, you’ll never feel like a success because someone out there will always be making a lot more. And what felt like a lot of money in your bank account this year, next year doesn’t feel like so much. No, success is measured in those moments when you look at a sentence you’ve written and think, “Now that’s original.”

What are your future book-writing plans?

I want to keep writing about Brigid Quinn, my 60-something retired FBI agent. I just signed con­tracts for the next two in the series. I’m finishing what I hope is the final major revision of the forth book.

What’s your top advice for someone who wants to get published someday, regardless of the type of book?

Read, read, read. Did you know Stephen King reads about 80 books a year? And be grateful for criticism. Use it to become a better writer. Praise is useless.

This interview was previously published in the June, 2015 issue of Barefoot Writer. To read more interviews from fellow Barefoot Writers be sure to checkout The Barefoot Writer's Club.

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Published: December 7, 2017

1 Response to “Interview with a Barefoot Writer: Becky Masterman”

  1. Great interview! I'm looking forward to reading Becky's books, and I love hearing her perspective on writing.

    Carol HDecember 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

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