Meet Becky Masterman…
Mostly I was a single parent trying to earn a living in Florida. My main objective was to raise my child with an ability to savor the good times and weather the bad.
I got more than I gave, though, when she asked to audition for a part in a children’s theater play, The Wizard of Oz. I ended up with a small part as Auntie Em. More significantly, Rebecca got the part of the lead flying monkey–the only monkey with a line.
After that I acted more, then directed, then wrote for children’s theater, then wrote adult plays. Maybe that’s why I start crafting most of my scenes by thinking of the characters talking to each other.
I got a graduate degree in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. I wrote six novels. But nothing sold. I took a job as a forensic science acquisitions editor, and got to meet (and publish) some of the most famous people in that profession.
Then I married the Reverend Frederick J. Masterman and once again I got a whole lot more than I gave.
We moved to Arizona when he retired from the Episcopal priesthood three months after our wedding. I was still working full time out of the house in Tucson. I was very busy. My husband was very retired.
Come November. National Novel Writing Month. I challenged my husband to a competition–write a book in a month. He decided to write about a plant in Belize that gets into people’s minds and turns their basest desires against them. For myself, working on the fringes of law enforcement, I decided to write a mystery. Hey, I’m a literary novelist and I know people in the FBI and Scotland Yard. How hard could it be?
Harder than I ever imagined. For starters, new husband turned out to be a writing machine. He won the race, whipping my creative ass with three, four thousand words a day. The sound of his tapping without pause on his keyboard drove me into a frenzy, and then just drove me. Even though it took me six weeks instead of four, and my book was half the length of his, I completed the earliest version of what I was calling One Tough Broad. It was a story about Brigid Quinn, an FBI special agent who only in her retirement is finally getting married, making friends, owning Pugs, trying to fit into the civilian world she always sought to protect for others. A woman whose priority is to keep her book club from finding out she can kill people with her bare hands.
I loved this vibrant, big-hearted character, at once angry and sad, so wise in the ways of evil but so stymied by cooking a meal. Also, with my having a bit of a limp due to post polio syndrome, it’s lovely to imagine a still physically powerful woman who can fight an attacker and win. Maybe somebody else would like her, too. I sent a query to an agent who responded, “Nobody is interested in a woman older than thirty.”
I waited. A few years later something happened to change the world–maybe it was Helen Mirren at the Oscars–and suddenly older women were hotter than before. I tried again. This time the literary agent Helen Heller called. “I’ve been looking for this character for years. I think you can write and if you’re willing to work hard I think this book can be something.”
Whatever changed in all the rewrites of the thriller that became Rage Against the Dying, Brigid Quinn never changed. And oh, does she rage against many things: the depravity of the wicked, the killing of innocents, the never-ceasing grief of the people who love them, not to mention her own mortality. But she will never go gentle into that good night.
Partially adapted from an article published in NewBook Magazine, December 2012