#crimewritersincafesprocrastinating – @MasonCrossBooks talks trains, spreadsheets and beer (and thriller writing)

Mason

Today fantastic thriller writer Mason Cross joins me for Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this feature is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.

Mason’s latest novel – PRESUMED DEAD – features one of my favourite action heroes, the mysterious Carter Blake, and is a super fast paced, page turner of a read so I can’t wait to quiz him all about his writing and procrastination habits…

Welcome, Mason! So tell me all about your latest book – PRESUMED DEAD?

My latest one isPresumed Dead. Like my other novels, it stars Carter Blake, an investigator who specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found. In this case, he has a particularly tough challenge, when the brother of a girl thought murdered fifteen years before hires him because he believes she may still be alive…

It’s a little more small-scale and contained than some of my other books, and I really enjoyed writing a murder mystery for a change. So far only one reader has told me they were able to guess the ending.

How long did PRESUMED DEAD take to write? 

I never really know how to answer this question, because I don’t know exactly what start and finish points count. It was probably something like a year from the original idea to signing off on page proofs, but there’s a lot of on/off work over that period (not to mention finishing the previous book and planning the next one)

For the initial chunk of work, probably about six months to get a draft I was able to send my editor.

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?

I can work in most places, but my ideal writing environment is definitely the train. Quiet, nice view, no interruptions, shitty wifi – it all helps me to focus on the writing.

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

Plot a bit, come up with a good opening and some key scenes, sketch out an outline, and then go for it. There’s no point being too detailed before I start work as I’ll always change things as I write the first draft.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?

Probably the middle, when it seems like an insurmountable task and that everything you write sucks. I have a lot more energy in the first few chapters and the last few. Talking to other writers, this is fairly normal. I suspect a lot of unpublished novels were abandoned at the 40,000 word mark.

Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)? 

Whichever one I’m not doing? Probably edits, because it’s easier to fix something that already exists than fill a blank page with something completely new.

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most? 

Faffing about on social media, admin, organizing stuff that has no relation to the book. I created a spreadsheet inventorying the contents of the freezer last time I had a deadline.

When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice? 

Coffee or ice tea to drink. I’m not a big snacker.

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

A cold beer and not writing anything or thinking about writing anything. It’s nice to see my family for a change, watch a movie, or read someone else’s book.

A huge thank you to Mason for letting me grill him on his writing habits and his biggest procrastination pitfalls.

PRESUMED DEAD is out now. Find out more over on Amazon by clicking on the book cover below:

CTG Reviews: THE TIME TO KILL by Mason Cross

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What the blurb says: “It’s been five years since Carter Blake parted ways with Winterlong, a top-secret government operation with a shady past. At the time, they agreed a deal; he’d keep quiet about what they were doing, and in return they’d leave him alone.

But now something has changed, and Winterlong is coming from him.

Blake may be the best there is at tracking down people who don’t want to be found, but Winterlong taught him everything he knows. If there’s anyone who can find him – and kill him – it’s them.

THE TIME TO KILL is the third book in the Carter Blake series, and it’s one hell of a read!

The story starts with Blake accepting a new job – finding an employee of an internet tech company who’s gone AWOL with a piece of ground-breaking software. But as he starts tracking his target, Blake isn’t aware that he himself is firmly in the sights of his old employers – Winterlong – and that they’ll stop at nothing to neutralise the threat they now believe him to be.

Before long, Blake’s simple ‘find and return’ job becomes a whole lot more complicated, and he finds himself on the run. As the body-count starts to rise, Blake realises the only way to end things is to get to what Winterlong want back from him before they do. Question is, can he make it across the country to where he stashed it before them?

This is a game of cat and mouse, played between a group of deadly, armed cats and one seriously kick-ass mouse! As Blake races against time across the country, a severe snowstorm descends, and the situation becomes even more dire.

THE TIME TO KILL is an adrenaline rush from the first page to the last. Blake is a terrific action hero – he’s smart, agile, and although prefers not to kill people (even the bad guys) he’ll fight as hard as it takes to make sure the good guys win.

Packed with stunning set-piece action sequences, and an emotional punch as you discover more of the rather mysterious Blake’s backstory, this cinematic action thriller is like reading Reacher crossed with Bourne plus added fabulousness.

It’s a total must read. In fact, stop what you’re doing right now and start reading it – you won’t regret it!

You can buy THE TIME TO KILL here from Waterstones, or from Amazon here 

And be sure to check out www.MasonCross.net and follow him on Twitter @MasonCrossBooks

[note, THE TIME TO KILL had a title change after the first proofs went out, so if you see chatter about a book called WINTERLONG, they are the same!]

CTG Reviews: The Samaritan by Mason Cross

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cover image

What the blurb says: “When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before – two and a half years ago on the other side of the country. A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘The Samaritan’, but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt.

That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan’s next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they’re tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him … even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.”

Since reading the first couple of chapters of The Samaritan in a teaser sampler last September I’ve been dying to get my hands on this latest book by Mason Cross. And let me tell you, the wait has certainly been worth it!

The Samaritan is packed with all the trademark heart-stopping action, break-neck pace, and twisting-turning plotlines that made Mason’s debut novel – The Killing Season – such a huge success.

In The Samaritan we also get to find out more about the past of mysterious ‘people finder’ Carter Blake (although don’t worry, he’s still pretty damn mysterious!). Jessica Allen is a great female lead – strong, determined and courageous in the face of extreme danger. She reluctantly accepts Blake’s assistance, but is less inclined to completely trust him. As they each follow their own lines of enquiry, gradually closing in on this most brutally sadistic of serial killers, they both become targets. Question is, can they get to the killer before the killer gets them?

Set in Florida and California, The Samaritan showcases some great locations (including one very creepy and atmospheric one that I can’t mention – sorry, it’d be too much of a spoiler) to create a vivid backdrop to the story.

With great characters, fab locations and a super-twisty plot, The Samaritan is an absolute page-turner. And I already can’t wait for the next Carter Blake novel – I think this is a series that’s going to run and run.

A fabulous must-read for thriller lovers – and one of my top reads of 2015 so far – I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

 

[with thanks to Orion Books for my copy of The Samaritan]

 

 

CTG Reviews: The Killing Season by Mason Cross

 

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season was one of my top reads of 2014. It’s now out in paperback, and to celebrate I thought I’d re-run my review …

What the blurb says: “When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.”

The Killing Season has everything I love about action thrillers – the intrigue, the danger, the chase and the multi-layered characters. And, it’s Mason Cross’ debut novel, which makes it all the more impressive.

The main character, Carter Blake, is something of an enigma – charismatic, highly skilled, and at the top of his game. But he doesn’t let power and politics get in the way of his investigation, and he makes sure justice is brought, whatever the personal cost. So pairing up with Elaine Banner makes for an interesting working relationship – she’s career-driven and has her eyes on the next promotion, working with a talented maverick like Blake gives her a set of problems she can well do without.

The antagonist – sniper Caleb Wardell – is a smart and cunning adversary, engaging Blake and Banner in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The tension is high from the get-go and just keeps on rising.

So as Banner and Blake pursue Wardell, following the evidence, trying to find a pattern and anticipate his next move, the body count continues to rise. Blake’s the only person who is able to get close, and Banner starts to realise that sometimes the only way to get the job done right is to step away from procedure and follow your instinct.

As Blake and Banner get closer to the truth, they become targets – in the sights of Wardell and someone in the Agency itself – question is, can they get to them both in time, and get out alive?

I cannot sing this novel’s praises highly enough – it’s a joy to read, utterly engaging and kept me hooked right from the first page to the last. There’s high stakes and high tension, and the chemistry between Blake and Banner sizzles off the page.

If you love action thrillers, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to Orion for my copy of The Killing Season]

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CTG Interviews: Mason Cross author of The Killing Season

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

After his Saturday morning panel at CrimeFest, I met up with the charming and rather mysterious Mason Cross – author of The Killing Season.

Over coffee in the rather fancy drawing room of the Bristol College Green Marriott Hotel we chatted about his fabulous debut novel – one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far – his writing process, and geeked-out about our mutual admiration for all things Lee Child and Jack Reacher.

Here’s the interview …

So Mason, firstly, where do you write?

Lots of places. In the house – at my computer surrounded by CDs and a huge pile of washing. I find it’s really important to have a writing space, like Stephen King said, you need a place to go to and close the door. Also, I travel a lot for work. Commuting into Edinburgh on the train is the optimum place for me to write as there’s no distractions just so long as I don’t get WiFi. Having a full-time job I’ve learnt to grab writing time whenever and wherever I can, so I can write in all different places – pubs, cafes, a park bench.

I find it important to write every day, even if it’s only 500 words. Those 500 words will turn into, say, 3000 words in a week, and in a few months a whole lot more.

Are you a planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

I always feel guilty admitting to plotting! But I do start out with a fairly detailed synopsis, with the key beats outlined. Right now, I’ve got a five page synopsis for the next book, but I know that as I write the plan will change. So I’m flexible, but I have a path to wander from. I use Powerpoint to plan – one slide per chapter – and build up from there. I find it’s a good way to keep track of the action as I write, and also keep track of the different timelines.

And when it comes to writing when are you most productive – are you a lark or an owl?

An owl – I’m better at night, definitely.

So what about research – do you do it, and if so how and how much?

I tend to research while I’m redrafting. It’s mostly internet based research, so for The Killing Season I looked up the FBI website, read books on serial killers and snipers including Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, which was really helpful on the history of the FBI. And, of course, I read a lot of other thrillers.

Carter Blake is a very mysterious guy. Are you like him and, if so, in what ways?

Like a lot of other thriller writers say about their characters, I think Carter Blake is a cooler, taller, better looking, better in a fight version of me. He tends not to talk about himself, which is something we share, and he’s methodical, which I tend to be too. But the green eyes? They’re completely different!

Actually Banner, the female FBI agent that Carter Blake partners-up with in The Killing Season, is similar to me is some ways too. She has a full-time job, she’s balancing family life, kids alongside – having to sort out a babysitter and get to school play while also doing her job.

Who would play Carter Blake in a movie?

I didn’t really have a person in mind as I wrote. Carter’s still quite a mysterious character even to me!

What authors do you read – who are your inspirations?

I take something from most books I read. My favourites? I guess they’d be Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, John D MacDonald. Oh, and Raymond Chandler – even after all the years since his books were first published they still seem so fresh and the writing is so good.

What’s your favourite all time book?

Must I pick one?! [I said, okay, two then] Well then, The Big Sleep and The Shinning.

What’s your favourite drink?

A Mojito.

And finally, what have you got planned for the rest of 2014/15?

Well, the next book is due out in Spring 2015. It’s called The Samaritan and is set in LA. I’ve also sold a story to Ellery Queen, which I’m really excited about, and it should be out soon. For the rest of 2014 I’ll be promoting The Killing Season.

 

The coffee was finished. The interview was over. And Mason was off to cram in some more Lee Child facts in preparation for his event the following day – Criminal Mastermind.

A huge thank you to Mason for letting me interrogate him!

To find out more about Mason Cross, Carter Blake and The Killing Season, hop over to this website: http://carterblake.net/

And read our review of The Killing Season click here