Interview with Ricard R. Becker, Author of 50 States | NewInBooks
What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write 50 States?
Growing up, I was always the kid with a story. Every stuffed animal, every game, every play activity had a back story. The only problem was that I couldn’t read or write, so I’d either illustrate my stories or share them verbally. It wasn’t until I switched majors in college from psychology to journalism, with an emphasis in advertising, that I learned to write well enough to establish a career as a journalist and copywriter. However, I became so busy writing articles and commercial work that I could not focus on fiction writing.
50 States: A collection of short-short stories finally took shape when I treated it as a project to write one short story a week for 50 weeks. Every week, I would share whatever I wrote the previous week as a “first look” on social networks. The idea was to immerse myself in writing fiction by setting an actual deadline similar to those set by my clients in advertising, marketing, and media for the past 30 years.
After writing the first few stories, patterns emerged. I found myself writing about how different people in different places live through or cope with life-defining moments — some of which are grounded in reality and others better defined as speculative. It felt natural to place characters with different mental states in different physical states.
If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of 50 States, what would they be?
This is a tricky question for me because there are so many characters — one or several within each story and 50 stories. So, I’ll share a few standouts. From the story Spinning Wheel set in Florida, 1969, Luke’s theme song feels very much like Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Rauly from Bad Things in New Hampshire, 2018, fits the Dark Side of Town by The White Buffalo. And Andrea “Andy” Canton from All The Wild Horses in North Dakota, 2019, would like Wild Horses by Natasha Bedingfield.
If I had to choose only one theme song for them all, I would pick Line of Fire by Junip. It’s a song about choices, change, the decisions we make when we’re in the line of fire, and how different things look when we aren’t. It’s perfect for the characters of 50 States because while they are all different from different times and places, they are all, in their own ways, in the line of fire. They often make you ask: What would you do?
If you had to write a blurb for the last book you read, what would it say?
Blacktop Wasteland is well crafted, tightly written, and carries a cast of characters with backstories miles deep. Set in the rural South, author S.A. Cosby tells the story of an independent auto body shop mechanic who has fallen on hard times. He decides his only way out is to drive a getaway car on a heist with partners who have a bad habit of picking the wrong job at the wrong time.
This book really stood out this year. I’m glad I discovered S.A. Cosby. He writes straight, honest prose about people.
What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?
My reading habits are as eclectic as my stories. I have four books going at any given time: one on my phone, one audiobook, one that I read with my daughter, and one nonfiction I read at lunch. These books generally toggle back and forth between classics, literary fiction, thrillers, mysteries, history, science fiction, romance, fantasy, young adult, and speculative fiction. I read nonfiction titles the same way, bouncing between history, biographies, professional improvement, and whatever looks attractive at the moment. I have more than 200 books in my “to read” pile right now.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? Where did you write 50 States?
When it comes to fiction, I’m mostly a morning writer who likes to sit down at my computer in my home office with a cup of coffee and quiet. But with my commitment to these self-imposed deadlines, I found myself writing some stories outside my comfort zone. Sometimes, I would thumb draft copy on my phone between my daughter’s softball games, type pages on a Bluetooth keyboard after propping up my tablet on another sports chair, or even writing notes on napkins and Moleskine notepads.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
50 States would have never happened had I not taken my friend Geoff Livingston’s advice to work for myself first for a change.
Like many commercial writers, we tend to focus on client deadlines and allow our promotions, websites, and projects to lapse in the process. However, once I took his advice to heart, I set Monday mornings aside to start the following week’s story and a few hours every morning unless there was something urgent I had to attend to.
Not only did this provide me an opportunity to put my project first, but I also found immersion opened up inspiration, allowing me to capitalize on the creative rhythm. Sometimes I would have as many as three stories in my head at a given time, which set me up to have a few options when the next Monday rolled around. I didn’t just have one idea; I had options.