I first discovered the work of James Carol last year with The Killing Game, as together with my fellow readers at the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2017 Judging committee, noted at the time -
“Cunningly structured Hollywood hostage drama that boldly explores the overlaps in fame and news-making between the spheres of media and terrorism. Carol’s world is peopled with troublingly realistic characters and disturbs in its portrayal of moral ambiguity. The cinematic pace never slows; totally absorbing.”
It became one of the six thriller novels that found itself on the 2017 CWA Steel Dagger Shortlist.
So we were delighted when James Carol agreed to tell us a little about his follow-up, and how an idea can germinate within a writer.
“Where do you get your ideas” is a question writers get asked more than any other. The simple answer is that I don’t know where mine come from. Or rather, I don’t want to know. The fact that they appear at all is enough. I’m concerned that if I over-analyse things then the alchemy will stop happening. Ideas tend to pop into my head while I’m going about my day-to-day life. Some stray thought catches my imagination, collides with another thought, and before you know it I’ve got something that could maybe be a novel.
KISS ME KILL ME actually started life as a very different book. My agent was shopping around for a publisher for THE KILLING GAME, my first standalone, and needed an idea for a follow-up. I can’t remember what I was doing when the idea presented itself. Maybe I was in the bath; maybe I was out for a walk. The idea itself was an intriguing one: what if a woman woke up one day to discover her husband was a hitman, and that he was out to kill her. My agent needed a full outline to show to publishers. No problem, I said.
But it was a problem. A big one. Because that was how the story remained for years, just an outline. The way I write is to get an idea and run with it. What keeps me going through the long months of a first draft is that I’m curious to know how the story will finish. The problem here was that I knew how this one was going to end.
From time to time I’d revisit the outline, but I couldn’t bring myself to write the book because that spark wasn’t there. Then one day I was thinking about it and for some reason I started wondering if the wife might be pregnant. That was all it took to get me excited again. This one stray thought fired my imagination and took the story in a brand new direction. More importantly, though, I now had no idea where it was going to end. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Once the basic idea has been established the next stage is to choose a setting. Back in the nineties my parents lived in a small town just outside Portland, Oregon. The fact I’d been there was a bonus. I prefer to write about places I’ve visited since it enables you to get that extra layer of reality. Portland has a laidback arty feel that I thought would work really well. It’s also a very dynamic city and I wanted that energy in the book. Getting the right setting is crucial because it influences the whole vibe of the story.
While I’m working on the location I’m also thinking about the main characters. These tend to develop from the situation. With writing the trick is to create a reality that the reader can buy into. That’s the spell I’m trying to cast. With KISS ME KILL ME, you have a marriage that looks perfect on the outside but isn’t. Dan, the husband, is charming but ruthless, two attributes often associated with CEOs. That’s why he ended up running his own company. Zoe needed to be the opposite of that, so she is an aspiring writer, the artistic, creative Ying to his single-minded, driven Yang.
The story starts with Zoe at rock bottom and seeing no way out. When she discovers she’s pregnant she realises she has to do something because this isn’t just about her anymore. I love it when characters take on a life of their own and start doing unexpected things. Zoe in particular ended up being way more resourceful than I thought she would be. Put it this way, you’ll think you know where this story is going but chances are you’ll be wrong.
A lot of my research tends to be done on the fly and this is where the Internet is a godsend. With the first draft I just want to get the words down as quickly as possible; I don’t want the distraction of spending ages on research as this would disturb the flow of the story. The majority of my queries can be answered with a quick Google search, and then I can get back to the business of writing.
Inevitably though there will be something that needs to be researched in more depth. Amongst other things KISS ME KILL ME gave me an excuse to look more deeply into the Dark Web. This is basically an alternative version of the Internet that exists beneath the one that we all know and love. This is where you can go to buy the sort of things that you don’t find on Amazon. Drugs, weapons … a murder.
Every book is a learning experience and KISS ME KILL ME was no exception. It’s not just the characters who end up going into uncharted waters, I do too. Sometimes it feels like I’m just along for the ride, and I wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s usually one hell of a ride.
KISS ME KILL ME by J.S Carol is published by Bonnier Zaffre on 31st May
For More Information: http://www.james-carol.com