Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who, US? It's all fiction, really it is....

HANK PHILLIPPPI RYAN:  What is “moumiophilia”? You’ll know in a moment!

Yup, he's reading  a book Becky edited!
But first, there are many things that bring crime fiction together—and one of them is the stuff we all think and talk about—and how disconcerting it can be to those who don’t realize why we’re doing it.

One of my favorite examples happened once at dinner, at a lovely restaurant, as I was saying to Jonathan: ‘Well, you can’t just throw someone off a bridge to kill them. They wouldn’t necessarily die, and someone would probably see you.”

And then the waiter—who happened to be standing there and had overheard me—said, “Um, ma’am?”

So you can imagine the conversations Becky Masterman has had. And one was about moumiophilia.
Becky Masterman and friend
So:  true story, and one to remember—Masterman says when she was sending queries  about her book starring a retired FBI agent main character, she sent one to an agent who responded, “Nobody is interested in a woman older than thirty."

Wrong. She exploded onto the crime fiction scene last year with the Edgar-nominated RAGE AGAINST THE DYING—one of those books that instantly sets the standard. Publisher's Weekly starred review said: "one of the most memorable FBI agents since Clarice Starling, as well as a killer debut thriller."

Now she has a new book—FEAR THE DARKNESS--that’s getting equally universal acclaim.

And starting our week looking at “reinvention”: Becky Masterman didn’t start out as a crime fiction author. She started as—well, let her tell you. And that’s where the moumiophilia comes in. 


 “. . .a first novel that reads as if Masterman’s been sitting for a long time on some truly ugly secrets.”

My response to that review was, “Who me? Come on, it’s not that bad, is it?”

You see, for fifteen years I worked as an editor for a reference publisher, commissioning books on forensic science.  

 I discussed blow flies over dinner, and whether or not the blood spatter on the wall beside the staircase resulted from an accidental fall.  Frankly, when I first
started this job I felt like the girl in the playground being chased by a boy with a frog.  I felt as if these guys were testing my gag reflex to see if I could take it.  I sensed that being able to talk about murder over a meal without dropping my fork was critical to my success as an editor. 

I got used to the grisly, the shocking, the macabre.  So when I started my crime series about a retired FBI very special agent named Brigid Quinn, I found myself privy to a whole world of resources.  Like Brigid, I didn’t know much about forensic science, but I knew everyone who did. 

Mostly I’ve dealt with authors who know me as their editor, so when, for my first book, Rage Against the Dying, I contacted my paraphilia expert and asked him what the word was for someone who was sexually aroused by mummies, he didn't hesitate.  He answered, “Ah, I have a list of 547 paraphilias, but that is not one of them.  I will create a new term in your honor, moumiophilia!”

Dr. Aggrawal understood why I was asking him about mummies.  While researching Fear the Darkness, however, I was talking to a medical examiner I had just met at a conference.  All intent on getting some information critical to my plot, I asked, “Say, if I killed someone by pressing on their carotid artery, would you be able to tell the cause of death in the autopsy?”  The medical examiner narrowed her eyes and responded, “And you want to know this. . .why?” 

But I think the story that most personifies what it’s like to work in the world of forensic science is when I was having dinner in the elegant restaurant of the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville.  Another author of mine, who is a forensic anthropologist, was explaining to me over cocktails how she had been asked to examine a head that had been encased in concrete.  She was amazed at how beautifully preserved it was.  I was rapt.  The waiter came to our table at that moment and apologized for interrupting what appeared to be an intense conversation.

“Oh, no problem,” I said.  “It’s just girl talk.”

HANK:  Have you ever been “overheard,” Reds? DO you think readers are interested in women over 30? (::ducking::) And any questions for Becky? Pssst. Ask about the fine for killing a--cactus. Yup, a cactus. 

(And a copy of FEAR THE DARKNESS for one lucky commenter! ) 


  1. While I can't say as I've ever been overheard having discussions such as you've noted, I certainly chuckled over the retelling of them. And the moumiophilia story is just great!

    As for readers being interested in women over thirty . . . I know I am and I certainly hope they are, or they'll be missing out on some great stories.
    Having read both of the Brigid Quinn books, I have to say that I'm quite enjoying Becky's retired FBI agent's adventures.

    So what's the fine for killing a cactus?

  2. I instantly related to these stories! Have had many a waiter back away slowly with an uncomfortable smile from a conversation I've had with fellow mystery authors, especially if it directly followed a presentation by Lucy Zahray, the Poison Lady! Must get your books, Becky.

  3. Love Brigid Quinn as I'm way over thirty myself (70) and not done yet!

  4. I am a great-grandmother. Of course I am interested in characters over thirty! Men and women. My co-workers and I used to have interesting conversation at lunch. We were nurses and therapists so you can imagine.

  5. Oh,yes, nurses and therapists--I can imagine!

    I'm fascinated with the "Not over thirty" conversation.I really wonder about the genesis of that. What do you think they're thinking? Seriously--is is it about sales demographics, or...I mean, crime fiction rearers skew a liter, er, older, right?

  6. Oh yes, we have a daughter who is a nurse and especially when she was in school, she would tell us the most graphic medical stories. My husband and I would be just chewing away and we had more than few waitstaff giving us odd looks.

    Women over 30? Duh. Who of us wouldn't read about women over 30. Are any of us under 30? LOL

    Both of Becky's books are on my TBR. I'll get to them, I promise.

  7. You wouldn't want to give us the name of the man who said no one would be interested in a female character over 30, would ya? I mean, I can imagine some interesting dinner table what-ifs....

    As an anthropologist and archaeologist, I've been around forensic anthropology (and archaeology) my entire career. Nothing shocks me in terms of dinner table conversations. Don't know how I've missed Brigid Quinn--but always happy to find something new to check out!!

  8. I suspect people who say things like no one would be interested in reading about [fill in the blank] are only demonstrating their own narrow-mindedness, not any universal or even temporary truths. We all know that if the story is well told, readers will happily read about any person, place or thing.

    It is so nice to see the fools proven wrong. Wishing you continued success with your series.

    ~ Jim

  9. I LOVED Becky's debut Rage Against the Dying **because** it had an over-30 female protagonist. And she wasn't a clone/female version of over 30 males who abound.

    I really like writing seriously old women. Almost every one of my books has one in it. My new one has two. I think. If I don't change it.

    Becky, so delighted for you! The new book reviews are fab.

    I can't say that restaurants are my favorite places to get the answers to forensic questions. Queasy making. But I did interview a cyber-crimes expert over sandwiches at Au Bon Pain...

  10. One agent told me my first main character, Charlotte McNally was too old--she was 55 in the manuscript. (My age at the time, actually, so you can imagine how delightful it was to be told that was "too old." ) However--when I made he 46, that was okay. At least we know.

    But I've NEVER heard from a reader about how any character is too old. Have you? Kinda interesting..

  11. Wow, can Becky write. Just bought Rage Against the Dying for my Kindle. Thanks Hank for the intro.

  12. So thrilled to see Becky here today at JRW.

    Rage Against the Dying is a near perfect debut. The kind that when you finish it, you wonder where this author has been your whole life.

    Thankfully, she is here now and Fear the Darkness is just as good. My spoiler-free review ran on the blog last week (Here's a link: http://wp.me/p2Rj7R-12X ) and I have been telling everyone I know to read this book.

    Like Hallie, my first point of interest in Becky's work was the uniqueness of the protagonist. Not just her age, but certainly that was a large part of it. Brigid is someone who I just know I would be friends with.

  13. Becky,I look forward to reading your books.

    I really had to think about a book with a thirty-something protagonist I had enjoyed. Elly Griffths writes the Ruth Galloway forensic archeology books. Ruth struggles in her field and as a single parent. So her age is less of an issue than if she were relationship-hunting in bars, climbing the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

  14. My first husband was a cop, and in fact, we met in school, studying for careers in police science. That was a long time ago, but I can still recall some doozy conversations with classmates and instructors over beers after class, and later on, with his co-workers on the force at cop couple gatherings.

    I can only assume that the editor who told you that, Becky, was a man, and one who was not yet 30 himself. I think that's also the reason why so few movies are made about "our" demographic, because the ones in charge are more likely to be younger men.

    But for heaven's sake, as Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes amply illustrates, we older women have more cash (usually), and more time to read. And we're more likely to read, and to buy books than any other group. Why wouldn't we want to read about older women? We ARE older women.

    I also don't know how I missed your books, Becky, but thanks to the Jungle Reds for shining a light on them!

  15. I love catching the startled reactions of eavesdroppers to our writers' group chats about the best way to dispose of a body, etc.!

    As for narrow-minded agents, I had one tell me in an open forum for writers that it's not possible to carry off a novel in first person. *sigh* Took me months to shake off the "expert"'s misinformation on that one.

    As for the over thirty: thank you for proving that agent wrong!

  16. There's a fine for killing a cactus? Who knew.

    I've been overheard, but I think my favorite remains the question posed by my daughter last year when I picked her and a few classmates up from a field trip. I was working on a story and she asked, "So, did you figure out how to kill your guy?" The occupants of the back seat were very, very quiet.

    These sound like great books. A few more to add to the TBR pile.

  17. Oh, and doesn't a woman's life really begin at 30? What was that guy thinking?

  18. Oh, I've definitely been overheard. :) It's actually kind of fun at this point to see if we can freak out the wait-staff.

    The not-over-30 comment is ridiculous. What a jerk!

  19. Fine for killing a saguaro (the kind with arms) is $10K. Nobody cares about prickly pears or cholla, poor things. As for the over 30 thing, don't be too hard on those agents (female!). They were responding before Jack Black shouted at the 2007 Oscars, "Helen Mirren, you're hot!" They just had to catch up to us. I read all the Jungle Reds to try to keep up with what's hot.
    Thanks and love to you all!

  20. And no one has heard from the agent that made the statement about not being interested in women over 30, have they? Bwahahaha, what a goober! I can't wait to start reading this author! I'm going to look for her first book today!

  21. Glad to know things are changing, Becky. What a good sign!

  22. What a fun post -- thanks, Becky! Love the story about the head in concrete...

    Mr. Right is a doctor of natural medicine, so he has plenty of info on poisons and plants as well as the usual anatomical detail. After a cute young waitress backed away from our table, while we hatching some fictional plot, I've learned to keep those conversations verrry quiet!

  23. And frankly, I'm not all that interested in reading about women *under* thirty! (Except for actual kids, of course!)

  24. Thought the books sounded so great that I decided to start with the first one and discovered that it's available as a nook book for $2.99 - how could you possibly pass that up

  25. I don't think I've ever had any of those conversations. Then again, very few of my friends read what I do, so the odds of having those conversations in public are small.

  26. As if I didn't already know, Becky, you have sealed the deal on my what my death scene will be. Me, in my reading chair surrounded by stacks of books that I'm trying to catch up on. However, Rage Against the Dying won't be in the stacks, as I plan to fast track it.

    It's hard to believe that an agent made that remark about being over 30 as being too old. Aren't agents supposed to be more open-minded than that? I wonder if he considered being under 30 a requirement in his personal relationships.

    I love to read about how an author comes to her novel writing, and thank you for sharing your journey, Becky. Oh, and I love the name Brigid Quinn.

  27. Women over 30....what a doofus.
    We've been in the middle of interesting conversations too. Some of our friends are retired police detectives and do they have tales! They must have influenced me. I was at a deadly dull seminar for CPAs years ago and mentioned at lunch that rather than worry about IRAs and other retirement issues my husband wanted me to just dump him in the woods somewhere with a gun. I had a big grin on my face and the men at the table all looked horrified. Well. They're no fun. I'm definitely going to get a hold of your books Becky!

  28. Becky was terrific on the panel I moderated at Tucson Festival last year. And she's so charming and ladylike, and who would guess...? Congratulations on the second book, Becky!

  29. Bookwoman! You are such a good shopper--Becky's first book RAGE AGAINST THE DYING for $2.99 on Nook! Perfect timing.

    Kristopher--thank you! Everyone over to BOLO books to read the review...

  30. Ohh, I've been over-heard - in conversations I shouldn't have... I PREFER to read about women over 30, even over 40!! I am one!!!

  31. Rage Against the Dying is also $2.99 on Kindle--just bought it and very much looking forward to it!

    Becky, my favorite story is the time I was staying at a B&B in Somerset with writer friends Kate Charles and Marcia Talley. We were having a heated discussion over breakfast about how to run a bicyclist down on a deserted lane (in the book I was working on at the time.) The German family at the next table got quieter and quieter. Then they got up and could be heard whispering to our hostess in the hallway. "It's quite all right," said our hostess. "They're crime writers."

    As for the "women over thirty" comment, they must have been very young. I read--and write--characters of all ages. Why would anyone want to limit themselves that way?

  32. Debs: exactly.

    Just like my husband says about wasting women's brains, by limiting girls' and women's access to careers and other opportunities. Why?

  33. Becky, I could tell instantly that I NEED to read your books! And being well over 30, I prefer reading books about people in my own age bracket. This conversation reminds me that way back in the mid 1960s I read in Seventeen Magazine that teenaged girls preferred reading stories about girls who were older than the readers. So that's supposed to change as females age?? I cannot accept that!

    I've been a member of a couple of different self-help groups for people with mentally ill relatives. When meeting with friends with similar situations, I've been part of restaurant conversations about having untreated mentally ill family members. There are things we've been through that most other people think we're making up. I've attended weekend meetings at hotels where we laughed so hard that other people on elevators with us asked "what kind of club do you people belong to? You're all having so much fun; can we join?" We replied "membership is VERY exclusive and you might not want to pay the price!" In restaurants people have stared at us when overhearing some of the more unusual experiences that some of us have had.

    (Hank, I'm the one with the day of the week index card system that you asked about a day or so ago!)

  34. DebRo! Fabulous! That means I think about you every day!

  35. You are too kind, Hank. Thanks for sending folks over to BOLO Books.

    I have been singing Becky's praises for a while now. I just think Rage Against the Dying (which I also reviewed) is one of the strongest debut novels ever.

    And Becky herself is delightful. I was able to chat with her a bit before the panel I moderated at Bouchercon and couldn't have spent hours with her.

  36. Silly "no one would be interested" rules . .. like the assumption that boys won't read books with female leads. Sigh.
    I love "It's quite all right," said our hostess. "They're crime writers." I've heard similar things said about storytelling conversations. I confess, though, to moving away from a group of interns in a hospital cafeteria. Some things I don't want to hear while eating . . .

  37. SO funny! It's also "entertaining" to listen to criminal defense attorneys discuss their cases.

    They'll sometimes call their clients "My guy." As in "my guy wasn't even there." Or--you had shovel guy?

  38. I have to say, when there is a protagonist UNDER 30, I have to wonder about the validity of what she is going through. And author Randy Wayne White extols the beauty and wisdom of a women OVER 40 in his Doc Ford series...love him!

    I loved Rage Against the Dying! Looking forward to moumiophilia!

  39. Many years ago, I studied kung fu with another young lawyer who was a law clerk. I, an attorney, was in the hallway behind the courtrooms leading to chambers when I saw him coming towards me. Having not seen him with shoes on, I said "You look so much taller with your clothes on." He shrugged. But the judge who was pacing behind me, silently like a panther, craned his head over my shoulder and said "I heard that."

  40. That;s so funny, Keenan! And thank you, Lora!

  41. And the winner of Becky's book--either one you'd like! *** Margaret Turkevich**** Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!