#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’s FIRST TIME “ON AIR”: TWO CRIME WRITERS AND A MICROPHONE PODCAST

copy-of-2crime-writer-1-1

 

This week I was totally excited to join the awesome Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste on their brilliant TWO CRIME WRITERS AND A MICROPHONE podcast. Their hilarious show is a must listen for crime fiction fans – the guys are very funny and totally knowledgeable about all things crime and thriller – I’m usually laughing out loud as I listen!

Anyway, having been an avid listener of their weekly show, I was thrilled to be invited to take part, alongside my dynamic publisher Karen Sullivan, and uber blogger Liz Barnsley. It was a lot of fun to record, so I hope it’ll be fun to listen to …

Click HERE to go to the TWO CRIME WRITERS AND A MICROPHONE podcast site.

I totally recommend you listen to all the episodes and sign up for the weekly downloads.

And also be sure to follow them on Twitter @TwoCrimeWriters and like them on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/twocrimewriters/

#ColdMoon Blog Tour: CTG interviews author Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Alexandra Sokoloff to the CTG blog as part of her COLD MOON Blog Tour. Alexandra is the Thriller Award-winning, Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of The Huntress FBI series. As a screenwriter she has sold original scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios, and teaches the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops. 

And so, to the interview …

Your latest book in the Huntress Moon series – COLD MOON – is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

Cold Moon is the third in the Huntress series, and I highly recommend that new readers start with Book 1, Huntress Moon, because the action is continuous, really a binge read! – more like a serial than a series. The books are intense psychological suspense, and take the reader on an interstate manhunt with a haunted FBI agent, on the track of what he thinks may be that most rare of killers: a female serial. But here’s the thing. Arguably there’s never been any such thing as a female serial killer in real life. The women that the media holds up as serial killers actually operate from a completely different psychology from the men who commit what the FBI calls sexual homicide. I wanted to use that psychological fact to turn the cliché of the serial killer novel and the tired trope of “woman as victim” completely inside out. Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.

How did you get into writing thrillers – what was it about the genre that attracted you?

I have to admit, I love a good adrenaline rush in a book (in fact I pretty much require them, repeatedly!). And I’ve always had a dark turn of mind – I’ve always read and watched and written a lot of psychological horror, too. But a good thriller is so much more than that. I agree with Val McDermid that crime novels are the best way to explore the deep issues of society. I’m very passionately political, and I have a lot of social outrage built up from years working with abused and incarcerated kids in the California prison system. I learned a lot about what seem to me to be clear-cut issues of good and evil. And thrillers are a great vehicle to explore the roots of evil in a very emotional, visceral way. As long as you’re delivering great suspense, you can ask the hard questions – in the context of such a exciting story that people don’t even realize what you’re doing until they’re too hooked to put the book down!

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first or dive right in?

I’m a total plotter. I use index cards and a three-act, eight-sequence story structure grid to start brainstorming a plot. I was a screenwriter for ten years before I wrote my first novel, and the index card method is a very common plotting technique in Hollywood because you have to come up with full story ideas so quickly, sometimes literally overnight.

trifold_story_board

But it’s also the fastest and deepest way I know to outline a novel, and a lifesaver if you’re writing thrillers with lots of subplots. I teach the method in my story structure workshops, on my blog (http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/) and in the two Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks that I’ve written, and I definitely practice what I preach!

What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?

How much time do we have? J The best and truest advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer was from Willam Saroyan: “Find a small room in a big city and put your desk in front of the window and sit down in front of the blank page. And when you stand up ten years later, you will be a writer.”

The trick, of course, is that you have to STAY in the chair. For ten years. That’s not usually what people want to hear. What people want to hear is more like this: Find a system. Read a lot of books on writing, take a lot of classes, and when you find a writing system that makes sense to you, follow it. And then expand on that. There are some very, very good teachers out there, and some not so good, but you have to decide for yourself who is the best teacher for you at a certain time.

And of course everyone is welcome and encouraged to check out my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog, which I have been told is a gold mine of information for free.

Lastly, I have to say – Read everything you can about the options in indie publishing as well as traditional routes to publication. I think the rise of indie publishing is best thing that’s ever happened for writers. It means that if an author is willing to work hard, they have unprecedented access to distribution, and can cut out the often crippling middleman of traditional publishing. It’s devastating to authors how much traditional publishers charge for e books. Indie publishing allows you to control your own prices. I’m both traditionally published and indie published, and that diversity has made for a much larger readership and much more stable living for me. Make sure you know the options before you sign a contract!

COLD MOON cover image

COLD MOON cover image

And, finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?

So much! Of course I’m working on the fourth book in the Huntress Moon series.

I’m also starting a new, dark crime series set half in Scotland and half in Los Angeles – I live with the Scottish noir author Craig Robertson, so I have someone to vet the Scottish parts!

In August the textbook version of my writing workbooks will be coming out – Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: Stealing Hollywood. I’ve doubled the material from the ebooks, and this version will have ten full story breakdowns. The e workbooks are being used in college film classes and it’s about time I had a full print textbook version available!

And I’m very excited to be working with a writer/producer I love and have worked with before to develop the Huntress series into a TV series. I am sick to death of the misogyny in crime series like True Detective. But I also think there is some absolutely brilliant television being made these days, on HBO and Showtime and FX, and I would so love to see a series that gives equal time and depth to female characters and deals with crimes against women and children as the evil they are. We couldn’t have made this happen just ten years ago, but I think finally, finally, it’s time.

Huge thanks to Alexandra Sokoloff for stopping by to answer our questions today. I can thoroughly recommend her excellent Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog and books – they’re packed with great tips.

Be sure to check out Cold Moon (you can read my review here) and the rest of The Huntress FBI series at

Amazon US http://amzn.to/1z3pSh5
Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1wEwxZo
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/Huntress-Moon-FBI-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B00NKTTDH4

And find out more about Alexandra and her books on her website at www.alexandrasokoloff.com and her amazing blog www.screenwritingtricks.com

You can also catch her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alexandra.sokoloff and follow her on Twitter @AlexSokoloff

Also, don’t forget to check out all these great stops on the tour …

Cold Moon Blog Tour Poster

CTG Reviews: DANGEROUS by Jessie Keane

DANGEROUS cover image

DANGEROUS cover image

What the blurb says: “Whatever the cost, she would pay it. Coronation year: 1953. Fifteen-year-old Clara Dolan’s world is turned upside down following the shock death of her mother. Battling to keep what remains of her family together, Clara vows to keep her younger siblings, Bernadette and Harry, safe whatever the cost.

With the arrival of the swinging sixties, Clara finds herself swept up in London’s dark underworld where the glamour of Soho’s dazzling nightclubs sit in stark contrast to the terrifying gangland violence that threatens the new life she has worked so hard to build.

Sinking further into an existence defined by murder and betrayal, Clara soon realises that success often comes at a very high price.”

 

Set in gangland London, this is the story of Clara Dolan, a determined and smart woman who after losing her parents at an early age, and being left to bring up her younger sister and brother, sets out to build an empire in sixties Soho for herself. But as her wealth builds, and her husbands fall by the wayside, Clara begins to realise that sacrifice and hard work aren’t the only way to get ahead. As her enemies increase, her family abandon her, and the few people she loves become targets, it seems that Clara may have taken on more than even she can handle.

This is a real page-turner of a book. It had me reading way into the early hours, and returning to the story as often as I could, eager to read more. Atmospheric and bold, showing the extremes of the social spectrum – the riches and excess of the wealthy against the filth and poverty endured by those forced to live in the slums – the story conjures up different images of the sixties from each of the characters’ points of view.

What I especially love about Jessie Keane’s books is the way she creates such a compelling cast of unique and nuanced characters. DANGEROUS is no exception, with brilliantly drawn main characters, and fully rounded supporting characters, all adding to the intrigue and richness of the story.

Mystery, fast-paced action and – of course – danger, this is a fabulous rollercoaster of a read.

Highly recommended.

 

[with thanks to Pan Macmillan for my copy of DANGEROUS]

CTG Reviews: SKINJOB by Bruce McCabe

SKINJOB cover image

SKINJOB cover image

To celebrate the paperback release of Bruce McCabe’s excellent techno-thriller – SKINJOB. Today I’m re-running my review …

What the blurb says: “A bomb goes off in downtown San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this is no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet. Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and the Bureau’s latest technological weapon. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – before he strikes again. In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private …”

Bruce McCabe has created a darkly fascinating future world. It’s similar to the world as we know it, but with many elements taken to technology-enabled extremes. Like the hand-held lie detectors that allow FBI ‘plotters’ to determine the truth of a crime at faster rates than ever before, and the new, utterly lifelike sex dolls – ‘skinjobs’ – that look, feel and act like real people (although, creepily, can’t speak), and the dramatic rise in politically active religions lobbying against their use. It’s a world where secrets are outlawed, and good law officers can lose their jobs at the beep of a device. And, as a result of this new technology, careers and fortunes can be made and lost at an increasingly rapid rate.

‘Plotter’ Daniel Madsen is part of the new world. He’s hard-working to the point of extreme, super-smart, and determined to find the truth and get justice in all the cases he works. When he’s called in to work with the local cops after a bomb goes off in one of the ‘dollhouses’ – a place men can go to have sex with dolls – he approaches the case as he would any other. But this one is different. The forensic evidence doesn’t tie up with the CCTV footage. Under increasing pressure to generate leads and suspects, Daniel works around the clock trying to unravel the truth. But there is more to this case that first appears, and some very powerful people whose reputations (and fortunes) will rise or fall on the outcome.

But the story isn’t just about technology. As well as Daniel’s quest for the truth, what makes the story even more human is the internal conflict of Shari Sanayei, local PD Viddy Ops specialist (video surveillance), who is in charge of analysing the CCTV footage, and has to watch the police officer she was having a secret affair with enter the building where the bomb detonated just moments before it happened. If she declares the relationship, she’ll be removed from the case, and she doesn’t want that. Not only is she the best at viddy ops, she’s also determined to bring her lover’s killer to justice. Even if withholding their affair costs her the job she loves.

This is one of the best techno-thrillers I’ve read. Filled with intrigue and high on action it pulls you into an artfully crafted future world and has you follow Daniel Madsen as he searches for the person responsible for the bombing. With a cast of interesting characters, and the puzzle of evidence that doesn’t make sense, it had me trying to guess the killer’s identity all the way through and still managed to pack a great twist at the end.

Reminiscent of the great Michael Crichton, this is a techno-thriller with heart. A great read, a cracking high-adrenalin story, and a future world to make you think a little more about just where technology might lead us.

Highly recommended.

 

[Many thanks to Corgi for my copy of SKINJOB]

CTG Interviews: Helen Giltrow author of The Distance

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

A few weeks ago I caught up with Helen Giltrow, author of the fabulous crime thriller The Distance. Over a long lunch, sitting in the sun-drenched garden of a beautiful Oxfordshire pub, we tried to out-booknerd each other and talked all things books and writing.

First, a quick reminder about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:

“Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

And so, to the questions …

Karla/Charlotte is a fabulous, strong female lead. What was your inspiration for creating her?

Well, originally the main character was supposed to be the hit-man, Simon Johanssen, and Karla was the character he went to for information. In the earliest draft she didn’t appear until the third chapter. Around that time I went on an Arvon writing course with Val McDermid as one of the tutors. When Val read the opening, she said that the first couple of chapters were okay, but the story got really interesting when Karla appeared.

Shortly afterwards, I had to take an eighteen month break from writing and by the time I went back to the story I knew it needed to be Karla’s book. I found Karla easy to write, in fact I probably share a few of her characteristics – like her need for control, and her obsessiveness!

The Distance – which I loved – is set in the near future. What made you decide that as your setting rather than the present day?

The setting came out of the plot and the characters. Johanssen has to break into a prison to carry out a hit on another prisoner, but as that prisoner is a woman – and we don’t have mixed prisons here in the UK – I needed a near-future setting to make it work. So, really, it wasn’t something I chose, it came from the needs of the story.

But it’s not a futuristic novel – the setting’s only a couple of years ahead of where we are now.

You use the present tense throughout The Distance which works really well. What was it that prompted you to go for present tense?

I didn’t plan it consciously. It was just that when I started writing, Johanssen’s viewpoint came out in the present tense. I was surprised as I’d always written in the past tense before, but I found I liked it. Then, when I switched to Karla’s viewpoint, present tense seemed to work for her too.

Karla’s scenes are all told in first person – she’s the ‘I’ of the story. Again, it’s just how it came out when I started writing in her viewpoint, whereas Johanssen’s automatically came out in third person – ‘he’. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t be mixing the two, so I experimented early on, trying Karla’s viewpoint in third, but I didn’t like it – it lost so much of her intensity – so I carried on going with first.

Curiously I’ve had readers tell me that Johanssen’s story is told in first person too – which is wrong, but great! I don’t want readers to think I’m telling them a story. I want them to see it through the characters’ eyes. Of course, present tense helps with that sense of immediacy too. And it really ups the pace.

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

For you, does the creative process start with the character/s, the plot or a combination of the two (or something else)?

For me it’s character. I think even if you have an idea for something, the only way to get to it is through character – you bring out the story from the actions of the characters and what happens to them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Bit of both! From my childhood up to my early thirties, I wrote a lot without too much planning, but increasingly I felt it wasn’t working for me – the narratives were too loose. I’d have loads of ideas, then fail to tie them together. My job involved a lot of planning, so I thought I ought to be able to plot. I mean, how hard could it be? So when I started work on The Distance, I decided to do a plan. Of course, as soon as I began writing in earnest, I started coming up with ideas I liked better, and dumped the plan completely!

The lure of advance plotting is still strong, and occasionally I fall into the trap of trying to write a detailed plan. I do it because I think it’ll give me the perfect book – which would spare me so much revising and redrafting. But every time the same thing happens. I never find plotting a happy experience: it’s always an outside-in process, whereas writing’s inside-out.

Having said that, it’s hard writing into a void! I think making a plan’s really useful if it’s the thing that gets you writing, or if it helps you get unstuck. Now I tend to write a bit, and then see where I am and retrospectively plan.

What’s your favourite drink?

Oh, definitely my cup of coffee in the morning, before I sit down to work.

Where’s your best place to write?

I’m not one of those people who can write anywhere, on buses or on park benches. I’m best sitting at my desk at home. I write on my battered old laptop; I ought to buy a new one, but I’m slightly scared of changing it now, in case that jinxes me … Does that sound weird?

What advice would you give to writers aspiring to publication?

There’s all the obvious advice like ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Write every day,’ and ‘Don’t try to second guess the market.’ And that’s all valid. I also think it’s best to write what you want to write because ultimately if you don’t like it it’ll show in your writing. It takes a long time to write a book, so you’re better off writing one you want to read – that way you’re more likely to take the reader with you on the journey.

And lastly, what’s next for you?

I’m back at my laptop, writing the next book!

A huge thank you to Helen Giltrow for letting us grill her.

You can find out more about Helen and her fabulous debut novel – The Distance – over at https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781409126621 and follow her on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

CTG’s Xmas Gift Ideas (part 2): Action Thrillers

The holiday season is fast approaching, and along with it the search for the perfect gift. But there’s no need to panic. Hardback, paperback, audiobook or eBook, whatever your preferred format, books make a fabulous gift.

So, if you’re looking for a few ideas for the crime thriller lovers in your life (or you’re dropping a few hints about what you’d like in your Christmas stocking) here’s a recap of some of my favourite reads from 2013 …

Today’s picks: Action Thrillers

Action thrillers top my list of the many sub-genres within crime fiction. 2013 has been a great year for them, and some of my top picks are:

GHOSTMAN cover image

GHOSTMAN cover image

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

From the opening page this story hurtles along at a breathless pace. Jack is a mysterious character. Able to change his appearance, his voice and his persona in a moment, he is a true master of disguise.

At the start of the novel Jack reluctantly agrees to sort out the aftermath of a bungled casino heist as repayment of an old favour to the criminal mastermind Marcus. His brief is simple – find Marcus’ missing man and find the stolen cash.

This rapid paced, nail bitingly tense action thriller has plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. This is a distinctive debut by 24-year-old novelist Roger Hobbs.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/02/10/review-ghostman-by-roger-hobbs/ 

The Blood Whisperer cover image

The Blood Whisperer cover image

The Blood Whisperer by Zoë Sharp

CSI Kelly Jacks has the skill and instinct to read a crime scene to rival that of Dexter Morgan (of the series, DEXTER) but without any of his serial killer tendencies. Having served her time for a crime that she still has no memory of committing, she’s picked up her life and has a job as a specialist crime scene cleaner, cleaning up the crime scenes that she once used to be working. Slowly she’s getting her life back.

But when Kelly and her work partner, Tyrone, are called in to clean a bathroom where a suicide has taken place, Kelly finds evidence to suggest foul play was involved. She questions whether the police should re-look at the scene. They don’t. But from then on bad things start to happen.

High on suspense and tightly plotted, the pace moves ever more rapidly as Kelly unravels a tangled web of lies, greed and deception that will take her from the streets of London to the world of horse racing via seedy warehouses, end-high escorts, plush offices and swanky apartments. I love this book for the pulse pounding action, the artfully woven conspiracy, and the fabulous characters.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/12/06/ctg-reviews-the-blood-whisperer-by-zoe-sharp/

NEVER GO BACK cover image

NEVER GO BACK cover image

Never Go Back by Lee Child

When I was halfway through this book I started to slow down, I was so enjoying the story that I wanted to make it last longer. Now that, to me, is a great book. In fact, I think this might just be my new favourite of the series – and that’s a tough call to make because they are all so good.

Anyway, this book sees Reacher finally getting to Virginia. Only Major Susan Turner isn’t there and Reacher is recalled back into the army to face an old homicide charge (and another, more personal relationship-based, legal situation). But does Reacher quit? Of course not, he’s going to find out why both he and Susan Turner are being held on trumped-up charges, and ensure that justice is served.

Classic Reacher. Unputdownable.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/11/01/ctg-reviews-never-go-back-by-lee-child/

UK cover image

UK cover image

DOWNFALL by Jeff Abbott

DOWNFALL is the third book in the Sam Capra series and begins with ex-CIA agent, Sam, living in relative peace, working for The Round Table and enjoying his cover life as owner of a chain of bars across the States. He wants a normal life, and this is as close to it as he’s had in a long while. But his peace is shattered when a young woman fleeing two male attackers rushes into the bar and begs for his help. Sam leaps to her aid, and in the process kills one of the men. As well as bringing him unwanted attention from the police and the media, this brings Sam to the attention of Balias – a master criminal who can make a person’s dreams come true, for a price.

As readers of the series will have come to expect, the story charges along at a breakneck pace. The stakes are high and the constant raising of the tension makes the story compulsive reading. A real page-turner of a story.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/08/01/downfall-by-jeff-abbott/

[Watch out for the next installment of CTG’s Xmas Gift Ideas: Crime in Colder Climates]