Please give a warm welcome to Becky Masterman, whose novel, Rage Against the Dying, has been nominated for a 2014 Edgar Award! She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, and keep an eye on this space, because they’ll be announcing the 2014 winners tomorrow night!
Congrats on the Edgar nomination for Best First Novel! Will you tell us a bit about RAGE AGAINST THE DYING?
The story is about an FBI agent named Brigid Quinn who retires to Tucson where she’s trying to fit into the civilian world while keeping her past a secret. As Brigid would put it, “No one likes a woman who knows how to kill with her bare hands.” But her effort to remain ‘undercover’ fails when a serial killer, who murdered the woman she was training, comes back to haunt her.
You have a background in theater, but have you always wanted to be a writer? What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
The thing I always wanted to be is a reader, but they frown on that if you do it all the time. So I played games of let’s pretend, like, “I have a container of magic sand and when I sprinkle it on the ground we’ll be transported back to the time of the dinosaurs.” The first thing I remember writing is a poem for my mother. She read it and burst into tears. I thought it was a wonderful thing, to move someone to tears.
I love that your protagonist is a 59 year old ex FBI Agent that kicks quite a bit of butt! It’s funny that you mention Helen Mirren in your bio, because I immediately thought of her character in Red. Will you tell us more about the wonderful Brigid Quinn?
I get a kick out of describing Brigid Quinn as a combination character: “Bruce Willis meets Dorothy Parker,” or “Jason Statham meets Sarah Jessica Parker.” She’s tough and vulnerable, a liar when convenient and brutally honest with herself, wise to the ways of evil-doers yet stymied when it comes to cooking a meal. She’s terribly clever and makes some impulsively knuckle-headed decisions. My greatest yearning is for her to make you laugh while she’s breaking your heart, and to help you understand you’re not alone.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I do everything at once, think of a problem, create characters to throw it at, figure out what they might do, and how they are changed, then I work out the kinks as I go. It means writing seven or eight drafts, but as long as I’m writing I don’t care. I like the whole process.
Why suspense? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
Back to childhood, I’m sitting cross-wise in one of those deep plush armchairs reading Nancy Drew. She’s walking through a scary underground tunnel and her hand touches the slimy wall. Slimy wall! I had been reading for a long while before this, but it was the first time I remember being transported out of time, place, self. Oh, if I can only do that now and again for someone else. By the way, if any one knows which Nancy Drew I’m talking about I’d really appreciate knowing. I thought it was The Hidden Staircase but it’s not.
Speaking of reading, what are a few of your favorite authors?
I’m all over the place, in the mystery genre there’s James Lee Burke, Lisa Gardner, Linwood Barclay, and Laura Lippman to name just a few. Then Anna Quindlen, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, T. C. Boyle. . . But you know, just give me a book that surprises me, one I’ve never read anything like before. I’m always looking for that original story.
What are you currently reading?
I just started Amity & Sorrow, about a mother escaping a polygamous cult leader with her two daughters. It’s very suspenseful.
In your bio, you talk about the six novels that you wrote that never sold, now you’ve got an Edgar nom for your first published book! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
After 20 years I would say: First, love the writing. If you write one line that thrills you, that’s worth more than anything; your time won’t have been wasted, and no one can take it away. Then, grow comfortable with failure, for you will fail most days. Oh, and the first idea you have about anything? Throw it out, it’s not good enough. Stay tough, writing is damn hard.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I live like a monk—or would it be a monkesse? I rise before 5 AM and turn in by 8:30. I eat Progresso Soup for every lunch so I don’t have to do more than choose a can from the pantry. Over lunch my husband and I watch a Teaching Company lecture. We walk our dogs twice a day. We read between 4 and 6 pm. We talk about books. I have little niches in my world where I’m needed. I think I write during all this, even if my fingers aren’t moving over the keyboard.
What’s next for you?
I’m thrilled to be able to say that my second Brigid Quinn story, Fear the Darkness, has finally been accepted by my US publisher, and is scheduled for winter publication. Now I’m at work on my third book. On top of that, contracts have been signed with Ridley Scott’s production company to option Rage Against the Dying for a TV movie. Is this really my life?
About RAGE AGAINST THE DYING:
You have never met an (ex) FBI agent like Brigid Quinn
“Keeping secrets, telling lies, they require the same skill. Both become a habit, almost an addiction, that’s hard to break even with the people closest to you, out of the business. For example, they say never trust a woman who tells you her age; if she can’t keep that secret, she can’t keep yours. I’m fifty-nine.”
Brigid Quinn’s experiences in hunting sexual predators for the FBI have left her with memories she wishes she didn’t have and lethal skills she hopes never to need again. Having been pushed into early retirement by events she thinks she’s put firmly behind her, Brigid keeps telling herself she is settling down nicely in Tucson with a wonderful new husband, Carlo, and their dogs.
But the past intervenes when a man named Floyd Lynch confesses to the worst unsolved case of Brigid’s career—the disappearance and presumed murder of her young protégée, Jessica. Floyd knows things about that terrible night that were never made public, and offers to lead the cops to Jessica’s body in return for a plea bargain.
It should finally be the end of a dark chapter in Brigid’s life. Except…the new FBI agent on the case, Laura Coleman, thinks the confession is fake, and Brigid finds she cannot walk away from violence and retribution after all, no matter what the cost.
With a fiercely original and compelling voice, Becky Masterman’s Rage Against the Dying marks the heart-stopping debut of a brilliant new thriller writer.