Thursday 24 April 2014

Publication Day


The Killing Season

is now available in all formats from all good offline and online bookstores
Hardcover | Trade paperback | ebook | Audio
Buy your copy now from:

Monday 21 April 2014

What works for me

This is my first attempt at joining in a Blog Tour, and first of all I'd like to say thanks to my fellow Orion author R.S. Pateman for asking me to join in. You can visit his blog to find out more about his writing process, and you can also pick up the paperback edition of his debut psychological suspense novel The Second Life of Amy Archer from Thursday - it comes highly recommended.

The idea is, I answer four questions about writing, and then ask another couple of writers to join in next week. Reading over a few of the offerings so far, it's fascinating and strangely comforting that everyone's techniques are so different from one another. I guess the only correct way to be a writer is the one that works for you.

So bearing that in mind, here's my answers:

What am I working on? 

I'm currently putting the finishing touches to the second Carter Blake novel, The Samaritan, and also starting to think about what's going to happen in the third instalment.

I wrote the first draft of The Samaritan in around five months, which is much, much faster than I wrote The Killing Season, so it was nice to get a few weeks away from it before turning in a rewrite at the end of January. I've since made a few more edits after discussion with my editor, and I think there'll be a few more tweaks before we lock it down.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In a lot of ways, it doesn't.

That might seem a strange thing for an author to say about the beautiful and unique snowflake he's created, but it's true. I love crime fiction and thrillers, and when I started to write The Killing Season, I consciously incorporated a lot of the classic tropes of the genre: the driven serial killer, the mysterious outsider brought in to break the case, the professional law enforcement agent caught between playing by the rules and doing what's right. I wanted to use all of these conventions but still create a story that felt fresh and contained a few surprises and made the reader want to keep turning the pages. The reviews seem to bear this out: some of them say they were expecting a solid, run-of-the-mill thriller and got more than they expected.

On reflection, I think The Killing Season contains a lot of the same elements as other books in its genre, but there's nothing exactly like it, and that seems to be its secret weapon.

Why do I write what I do? 

Short answer: because I've always loved reading crime, mystery and thrillers, and it's what I seem to be good at.

When I started out writing my own stories, I did what everyone else does and tried to write in the style of my heroes. I tried a lot of genres on for size: horror, noir, adventure, mystery, psychological thriller, even science fiction. Over time, I developed my own style and, almost to my surprise, I found that what I was best at was at the thriller end of the spectrum.

I think all of the influences from other writers and genres inevitably feed into what I do, though. I'm often told my writing is very cinematic, and I take that as a big compliment. I guess that comes from my love of cinema, and perhaps also the fact that I'm a lifelong comic book geek. Certainly, when I'm coming up with my stories, I tend to imagine them in quite a visual way, coming up with a scene or setting that looks exciting and dramatic in my mind's eye.

How does your writing process work?

I always feel a twinge of guilt when I say I plot my books in advance, because I know Stephen King wouldn't approve. I write a fairly detailed synopsis before I begin, because it's important for me to have a plan in place, even if I don't follow it to the letter. One of my favourite quotes is from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said that when preparing for battle, "plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." In fact, I like that quote so much I used it in my book.

As long as I know roughly where I'm going, I'm free to improvise and come up with better ideas as I go. The end of a book is often quite different from what I sketched out in the synopsis, because I need the weight of the book behind me to know exactly how it should end.

I have a full-time day job and three young children, so absolute adherence to a set writing regime isn't an option, unfortunately. My one rule is that I have to write at least 500 words a day. Often (particularly once I'm deep into a book) I'll aim for 500 and end up doing 1,000 or 2,000 words instead, but I find it's vital to have a modest target to make sure I fit in some writing every day.

Luckily for me, I can write almost anywhere: in pubs, in caf├ęs, in bed, on park benches, on the train, in hotel rooms... even occasionally at my desk at home.

I prefer to type because I'm one of those writers who likes to tweak as he goes, and that's so much easier when using a computer. If I'm out and about without a laptop, however, I'll happily get the words down on a notebook and type them up later that night. I have to make sure I'm quick, though, because my handwriting is borderline-illegible even to me.

Most days, I settle down to writing in the evening, once the kids are in bed. If I've managed to squeeze in some extra writing earlier on in the day, so much the better. If not, I make sure I get some words down in a more or less coherent order before I can turn in for the night.

And that's pretty much it: I try not to look back too much and keep bashing out the words until I have a first draft. After that, I put it aside for a few weeks, and then I spend a lot of time rewriting and polishing and plugging in the necessary research. For that part, I print the whole manuscript out and go through it with a pencil and different colours of highlighter to help me work out exactly what to change, get rid of, or flesh out. That part is just like Stephen King tells you to do it.

And that's it from me. As I said earlier on, part of the deal is I have to infect two more unsuspecting authors with this blog chain, like some sort of blogging zombie, and here are my chosen victims:

Michael J. Malone's debut novel Blood Tears won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers, and his most recent book is The Guillotine Choice. Check out his blog, May Contain Nuts, for his instalment of the blog tour and lots more great stuff.

Douglas Skelton has published 11 books on true crime and history. His first thriller Blood City was published by Luath Press in 2013, the first in a series set on the tough streets of Glasgow from 1980 onwards. The second, Crow Bait, will be published in 2014. You can find his blog here.

Saturday 19 April 2014

More reviews, and picking a good reading excerpt

Incredibly, it's only five days to go until publication day, and four until the launch night at Waterstones.

The advance reviews are still coming in, including this one from Mark Timlin at Crimetime:

A debut novel that Orion Publishing is putting big guns behind is The Killing Season by Mason Cross (P/B £12.99) and I don't blame them. Carter Blake is a man of many talents, including finding people who don't want to be found, and when a serial killer sniper escapes from jail, the FBI call for his assistance which is not always appreciated by those on the ground. This really is a superb, read in one go novel, and I'm sure we'll see plenty more of Blake in the future.

Book Oxygen likes it too, and this is the first review to suggest it would make a good airport thriller, which I take entirely as a compliment...

At the opposite end of the gender divide is The Killing Season by Mason Cross, who has followed the Lee Child recipe for narrative tension.  His saviour-figure is a loner, a freelance finder of people who do not want to be found, now working with law enforcement to track down an escaped serial killer.  As I read I could feel myself being manipulated by an efficient player and didn’t mind.  For whiling away a sleepless night or an airport delay, this would be ideal.

TraceyBookLover gave me a great review with some interesting points:

This book has been lurking near the top of my to-be-read pile for some time and all the good things
I’ve been hearing about it have made me impatient to get started. I certainly wasn’t disappointed – I devoured The Killing Season over a couple of days and I’m just about getting my breath back.

The plot revolves around a manhunt for a serial killer sniper and takes place over the course of several days. The enigmatic character of Carter Blake and the FBI’s Elaine Banner team up against a formidable opponent’s seemingly unstoppable killing spree.

I found The Killing Season reminiscent of early Alex Cross books by James Patterson, but with the action ramped up to the maximum. There’s a fair amount of graphic violence which can sometimes turn me off a book, but the quality of the writing kept me on board. I lost count of the clever plot twists and the action built to a gobsmacking conclusion. I’m hoping this is the start of a series and if so I’ll look forward eagerly to the next instalment.

Highly recommended

Finally, I got my first print review today in the Daily Record, which made it the lead review in their book club and gave it a great write-up...

I'm so glad people seem to like the book, though I'm sure I'll get some negative  reviews once it comes out.

I think I've selected an acceptable excerpt to read at the launch on Wednesday night. It's surprisingly difficult to find something that fits all the necessary criteria: not too long, not too short, action without spoilers, something that gives a good taste of the whole book... but after trying out a few candidates, I think I've picked a chapter that will work.

Okay, now I need to go and practice reading it out loud...

Sunday 6 April 2014

Reviews and previews

You can now read a free exclusive extract of the first three chapters of The Killing Season via my publisher's website by clicking here.

Some more great reviews have appeared online, I'm really glad the advance readers seem to be loving it.

There are a few great write-ups of the advance review copies on Goodreads, and some 5-star reviews from veteran reviewers through the Amazon Vine programme. One of the interesting themes I've been picking up from the reviews is that a lot of them didn't think the book was going to be great, or thought it would be just another by-the-numbers thriller, but were pleasantly surprised.

Another thing I'm seeing a lot is that people are blowing through the book in a couple of days, even staying up late to finish it in some cases, like Sara Meredith on her Walking with Angels blog. Seeing that I explicitly set out to write a page-turner, I couldn't ask for better praise.

I'm also honoured to have the book picked as a selected title this month by none other than the legendary Maxim Jakubowski. Maxim is a towering figure in the crime fiction world, and the Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction he edited introduced a teenage me to a bunch of great classic pulp masters including Westlake, Spillane, Hammett and tons more.

Here's Maxim's thoughts on The Killing Season:

A suspenseful thriller debut introducing Carter Blake, a bullet-proof American hero in the mould of Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne, created by a new British author. Blake is a professional with a shadowy background who, for a price, will locate anyone you want, even more so if they don't wish to be found. Half on signature, half on delivery and always works alone. When an ex-Marine sniper and serial killer breaks out from Death Row, the race is on and the FBI need Carter's help, not knowing that he has crossed the killer's path once already in his past. A breathless race against time ensues with all the gilt-edge thrills and more. Relentless and no holds barred, a guilty pleasure of a read.

Saturday 5 April 2014

"If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."

Like a lot of kids of my generation, Back to the Future was a cultural touchstone for me growing up. It's one of the all-time great family movies, and I suppose that's because there's basically nothing not to like: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are excellent, the supporting cast is perfect, the soundtrack is better than any combination of Huey Lewis and 50s rock has any right to be. But it's also had a huge impact me on a writer in a couple of interesting ways.
As I got older and rewatched the film, I started to appreciate how genuinely great Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis's script is on a technical level. It's obviously strong on all the important things: ideas, action, pace, dialogue and everything else, but where it really comes into its own is in its flawless structure. There are no continuity slips, inconsistencies, or characters acting stupidly in order to advance the plot. Everything seems to happen naturally and the events abide by a clear internal logic. Considering it's a teen time travel comedy set across two periods thirty years apart, this is a remarkable achievement.
As a writer, you realise that kind of perfection can only be attempted by rewriting obsessively and really pushing yourself to make sure the story makes sense and contains a bare minimum of goofs. A lot of the time I'll be watching an otherwise great movie or TV show and some element that doesn't seem quite thought-through will spoil it a little bit. And you know that's because too many cooks spoiled the broth, or they ran out of time to tweak things, or they just got lazy. Back to the Future is the opposite of lazy. It has been an inspiration for me to try to make my work as polished and consistent as I can. 
The other thing that had a big impact on me is the scene near the end where, thanks to some meddling in the timestream, Marty McFly's father George has realised his previously-unfulfilled ambition of becoming a published author.

I first saw this film on video a couple of years after it was released, when I was around eight years old. Even back then, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and the idea of one day opening a box to find a stack of hardcover books that I had actually written really resonated with me.

Well, it came in a padded envelope, not a box, but today's mail brought with it my very own George McFly moment. 
I got finished copies of both the hardcover and trade paperback version, both look amazing

This is where my signature will go!

And there's even a preview of the 2015 book in the back

Yep, this experience feels every bit as cool as it looked when it happened to George McFly.

Thinking about it now, maybe Back to the Future had one more influence on me, even if just subconsciously. A recurring theme of the movie is summed up by Doc Brown's motto that "if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Marty quotes it to his father in 1955, and George quotes it back at him in the improved version of 1985. While it's perhaps not literally true (as anyone who's attempted to make a time machine out of a DeLorean can probably confirm), it's not a bad way to approach life.

I thought from time to time about the 1985 George McFly at the beginning of the movie compared to the 1985 George McFly at the end of the movie, and I knew which one I wanted to be: the one that got past his fears of rejection and put his work out there, and ended up holding a hardcover book with his name on it.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of what has happened to me is down to luck, and plenty of better writers than me haven't been so lucky, but I know I wouldn't have made it to this point without deciding one day to put my mind to it. And no matter what happens next, this point is a pretty groovy place to be.