Reposting this interview with fellow crime writer Tony Forder from 2017, around publication of Don't Look For Me.
First of all, thank you so much Mason for taking part in this. You must be thrilled at the moment to have your new Carter Blake novel on release, his fourth outing.
Thanks for asking me! Yes, it’s hard to believe I’ll have four books published, as I still feel like a rookie.
I think those days are long behind you – you're rubbing shoulders with the good and the great of the crime literary field these days, and deservedly so.
So, I have to begin here: do you feel good, bad or indifferent at having Blake lumped together with the likes of Reacher, Gentry, Victor, Puller and, one of my favourites I have to say, Joe Pike?
I think it’s inevitable when you’re writing in this genre, and I am a fan of many of the above gentlemen (good choice on Joe Pike). I think there’s room for a lot of different approaches to the lone wolf genre, so I’m always a huge compliment when someone mentions my books in the same breath as Lee Child or Robert Crais.
They are all great creations, of course, but Carter Blake deserves to be right up there with them. More so in some cases.
Why did you choose to write under a pseudonym?
That was my agent’s idea. He suggested coming up with something snappy and American-sounding, and Mason Cross was the one we agreed on. I told him he could call me whatever he liked if he got me a book deal. The other advantage of having a last name beginning with C is it alphabetically places you alongside the premier league of crime writers: Chandler, Child, Connelly, Christie, Crais, Coben… it’s a good place to be on the shelves.
I guess a name in exchange for a book deal is fair enough. You know, when I first saw your name I did think it sounded more like a character than an author. And that is rather a slippery trick on the surname. Note to self: think of pseudonym surname starting with C – Leroy Cudgel… Nick Carnage…Hmm, I may just have something here.
Did you consider it a risk in setting your novels in a foreign country?
I guess there’s always the risk that you’ll get some things wrong, but I try to research as much as possible, and run drafts past my American friends. Having said that, a lot of the time I’m writing about characters and places that I’ve invented, so I know them as well as anyone. And while America is a foreign country, it’s a very familiar one, and they (mostly) speak the same language, which helps.
I think you're right – other than the precise geography, so much of which you can find on Google Maps anyway, we are surrounded by Americanisms all the time if you like crime.
Being a Scotsman, from Glasgow, were you at all tempted to add to the Scottish mafia of authors and set your work in your home country, or did you feel that you were looking for a different territory and genre to explore?
Both. I’ve written stories set in Glasgow and will definitely write a novel set there sooner or later, but I also felt it was quite a crowded market and, since I’ve always loved American thrillers, I thought I would give writing one a go. I think a lot of writers write what they like to read, and many of my influences are American.
I can understand that. I recently wrote the first draft of an action thriller, and my initial instinct was to set it in the US. I ended up writing the first half set here, and then rewrote it all again for the US, only to revert back to a UK setting. My first published short story was in an American setting, so I feel comfortable with the feel and the language, but I felt as if I was forcing it. Mind you, I've also re-written it in first person POV as well, so it would not surprise me if my UK-based third person POV first draft ended up being a US-based first person POV novel.
The action scenes feel extremely cinematic. Do you ever write something with an eye for how it might look if the novel became a movie at some point down the road?
Thank you! Obviously I would love for the books to be adapted at some point, but in fact I always tend to visualise my scenes in a cinematic way when I write them. I always think about how a particular scene would look in a movie; what actor might play a supporting character, what kind of music would complement a scene, stuff like that.
That's interesting. It certainly shows.
Who is your favourite modern day literary tough guy (and no, you can't go for Reacher!!)?
Hmmm… modern day, I’d have to go for Harry Bosch, who is tough as nails but not afraid to be a decent guy at the same time. I think Titus Welliver totally nails the character in the Bosch TV show.
I think I'd have to agree on all points. Harry is a real hard case – for me the best cop in literary fiction right now – and Titus Welliver now is Harry Bosch…minus the moustache.
The rise of independent publishers and self-publishers has seen a massive influx of crime and thriller novels available to buy. Do you think the market had become flooded, and therefore diluted?
I think there’s always been a lot of crime and thriller novels, because it’s such a classic structure. I think there’s enough room for everyone, and hopefully the very best rise to the top. It’s always been a crowded market though, going back to the pulp days – that’s a good sign because it suggests there’s still a big appetite for the genre among readers.
Agreed – given there are only so many plot devices, it's amazing how many different stories can be told.
I think fans will be interested to know – and I count myself amongst them – did you go the standard route of agent > publisher to get the first Blake novel out there?
Yes, although possibly with more luck than is normal. I was completely clueless about the publishing industry before writing my first novel, and was incredibly fortunate that a top flight agent approached me based on some stories I’d published online. I wrote one novel that didn’t find a publisher, but the feedback was generally pretty good, so that gave me confidence to write another, which was the first Blake novel, The Killing Season.
That sounds more like good writing attracting attention rather than luck, Mason.
In recent months I have read novels from mainstream publishers that break just about every 'rule' an author can break, according to agents, publishers and other authors. Do you think it is (a) true that established authors can get away with sloppiness and laziness, and (b) that the only genuine advice you can offer about rules when it comes to writing is that there are none that cannot be broken?
(a) I think that’s true to an extent, and often you’ll read Amazon reviews of the big names where people complain they aren’t as good as they used to be. Sometimes you can tell a writer is coasting and phoning it in, but if they’re selling books, they’re going to keep being published. I really admire writers like Michael Connelly and Stephen King who are still doing fantastic work after dozens of books. Ian Rankin’s most recent Rebus book is one of his best, and he’s been doing them for thirty years.
(b) That’s also true. I think the old saying is correct though – you have to know the rules before you can break them.
Agreed. Connelly also takes a breath when he introduces new lead characters, such as Haller and McEvoy. There's a new one coming this summer, which I think we're all looking forward to.
I often quote a Stephen King piece from the novella, The Breathing Method: It is the tale. Not he who tells it. I believe that to be true. What are your thoughts, please?
Depends on the tale! I think a brilliant writer can make an absolutely straightforward story compulsively readable, but it’s always a thrill to read a book with a fantastic hook that’s never been done before.
Those hooks are rare, but yes they are exciting when they appear.
When reading a new novel written by a friend, do you find it difficult to be critical?
No. you can be critical without being a dick. Luckily, whenever I’ve read anything written by a friend so far it’s been pretty good. As a writer I know my own work will always be improved by people giving me feedback and telling me what they liked and didn’t like, so it’s a vital part of the process.
Yes, I think criticism is to be welcomed provided it is constructive. Sometimes I read reviews on Amazon and they are crushing for no apparent reason (not my own so far, but they'll come, of that I have no doubt).
If you were sitting down to edit The Killing Season now, do you think you would end up with a different book at the end of it?
Good question. I’m not sure what specifically I would do differently, but it would be nice to add more foreshadowing of future events now I’ve written four and a half books about Blake. I don’t think it would be radically different other than cosmetically. That first one is probably closest to the book I envisioned when I started out than any of the others.
Interesting. I wonder if you think that's possibly shared by most authors, who perhaps have pretty much the whole first book mapped out in their heads, compared to those that follow.
Do you enjoy the non-writing elements that come with being a well-known author?
Not sure how well-known I am, but yes, in general! I enjoy travelling and meeting people, so that definitely comes in handy when it comes to the promotion side of things. Even at my level, it can be quite exhausting keeping up with all of the festivals, library talks, bookshop events etc., so I have no idea how the genuinely big names manage to balance everything.
Looking on from the sidelines it does seem a little overwhelming. On the other hand, the more you do the more popular you must be, I guess.
Final one – and please elect not to answer if you find the question intrusive. I was wondering whether your lifelong friends still refer to you as Gavin, or if the persona of Mason Cross has now devoured you whole?
Old friends still call me Gavin (or Gav, actually), but a lot of my fellow authors know me as Mason, simply because it’s less hassle to stick to one name at festivals and so on. I don’t make a big secret of it or anything, but it’s actually quite nice to have the separation, so I can compartmentalise my life a little more easily. It sometimes causes a problem when I check in at a hotel and don’t know which name I’ve been booked in under.
So, a case of putting on your Mason Cross hat when writing or doing writerly things, but just Gav or Gavin at other times. Sounds like a nice balance.
And that's it. Thank you again for taking part. I must warn you, I read the latest Puller novel recently and could not finish it. If I had to read one more character 'bark' I would have felt obliged to call Battersea Dogs Home. If Blake does that to me, we may just have a falling out. I think we're safe, though – I get the sense that Carter Blake is going to be doing good deeds for some time to come.
I hope so! Thanks for the questions.
Well, my review of the book is in, so you held up your end of the deal, Mason. My sincere thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions for me.
Don't Look For Me - review
Four books into what will clearly be a long-running series featuring the enigmatic Carter Blake, and Mason Cross has so far been able to give his readers something different each time. Different, yet familiar. Opening up a new Mason Cross book is like sliding into a pair of old slippers.
Sure, you know Blake is going to be involved in a fight within the first few chapters, that he will be both hunter and hunted, and that he will not only emerge victorious but also unruffled. We know that about Bond and Bourne and Reacher, et al, but it doesn't stop us coming back for more. Wild horses could not prevent me from gaining access to more Carter Blake in the future, that's for sure. I like the fact that Blake is not perfect – he gets surprised at times, he gets hit, he gets beat up, and occasionally he loses his man. It is that lack of perfection that makes Blake all the more real, and all the more appealing.
The past continues to draw Blake back in. Last time out it was his ex-colleagues who dragged him back, and now it's an ex-girlfriend. It seems the past will not remain where he left it, but when someone is in trouble, Carter Blake steps up. No matter what awaits him in the shadows.
In Don't Look For Me, Blake has to contend throughout with someone who has a similar set of skills, a similar approach to achieving goals, and a similar method of dealing with opponents. A wily, cussed character, with an appreciation for an adroit foe. I liked Gage. I saw him as a man worthy of Blake's best efforts. Carter Blake with a black hat.
I thoroughly enjoyed the premise of this book, and in addition to Blake and Gage the two female characters were also engaging, though in very different ways. One I liked, one I did not, and I wasn't quite sure whether I was supposed to. The action is spread over hundreds of miles, mostly in Nevada and Arizona, and as usual the physical scenes are cinematic. Early intrigue leads to understanding, which in turn leads to anticipation. A couple of unusual settings here, too, and they play a role in developing a brooding atmosphere.
One of the things I admire about fast-paced action thrillers of this ilk is the author's ability to maintain that momentum and to create plenty of conflict along the way. Having written one myself recently I can attest to the fact that a lot of work goes into making it all seem effortless (something I am still striving to achieve). Mason Cross has succeeded yet again in delivering that pace and drive and character and story all in one neat package that sweeps you up and carries you along for the duration, never allowing you back down until you are sated by the ending and wishing you could go back and start all over again.
A five star read.