We asked Becky Masterman five questions (and a bonus!) about what inspired A Twist of the Knife, how she got into writing crime novels, and how she approaches suspense. Masterman will be at an IFOA Weekly event with Emma Dibdin on Wednesday, November 15th. Andrew Pyper, Author of The Demonologist, will moderate the conversation.
IFOA: What inspired the story for A Twist of the Knife?
Becky Masterman: My agent Helen Heller, who is based in Toronto, told me of a Canadian case that had haunted her for many years about two children being taken from their home and their bodies never found. That began to haunt me too. What if, I thought, you were convicted of killing your children but were innocent? Waiting on death row wondering if they’re somehow still alive and you can’t get to them and help them?
IFOA: But Canada doesn’t have the death penalty.
Masterman: I set the story in Florida, which is in the top ten states for the number of citizens incarcerated, and number 2 in prisoners on death row (386). Actually 385, because they executed a man last week.
IFOA: Is it the passion for this subject that drove you to write?
Masterman: Having worked as an editor for authors in forensic science and branches of law enforcement, I had heard a lot of stories about mistakes and outright fraud. Like the bite mark analyst who, 30 yrs after putting a guy in prison, admitted no, he really wasn’t even sure that was actually a mark made with teeth. Could have been something else. Then I started researching wrongful convictions and yes, I got riled up. But my primary objective is always to tell a good story and not fulfill an agenda. When an author does that it’s pretty obvious.
Masterman: It started as a lark, a competition between me and my husband during Novel Writing Month in 2005. I decided to go with a crime novel because as an acquisitions editor, I was working with so many authors in the law enforcement and forensic science professions, and the reality behind the TV shows was fascinating.
Plus, I had all those sources of information. I always say I don’t know anything about forensics, but I know everybody who does.
IFOA: How do you approach suspense in your writing?
Masterman: I can’t remember who advised me, “Make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em wait.” That last is the key, keeping myself from giving the secrets away too soon while creating anticipation. Smiling to think that suspense is when things don’t happen.
IFOA: What are you currently working on and what are you reading?
Masterman: I’m very excited about a story that imagines “what if Truman Capote was duped by the In Cold Blood killers, and the story he tells isn’t true at all. Capote’s book, archival material, current forensic science, and my own imagining are woven together with my series protagonist Brigid Quinn caught in the centre.
[Currently reading] Paul Auster’s 4321 because I like authors who do things that have never been done before. And I always have a chubby classic in progress, one of those big books I missed in college. Right now, it’s The Brothers Karamazov, which is a murder mystery. I began reading it last May and am looking forward to finishing it.
Becky Masterman, who was an acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement, received her M.A. in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of 2013, and the ITV Thriller Award, as well as the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony awards. Becky lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.