Christopher Wren crossroads – 2020 Writing Week 34

Mike GristWeekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

It feels like I’m standing at a crossroads for the Christopher Wren series right now. For months I’ve been eliciting and getting feedback, working on the book, trying to increase the uptake from book 1 to book 2 and onwards through the series.

There are lots of pieces involved in this, but primarily it’s been about reducing the violence.


What if this is the wrong direction?

My earliest inclination in the marketing copy for Wren was to use lots of horror-tinged words like bloody, gory, terrifying, vicious, brutal etc… Over time I’ve been counseled not to use these, which has made perfect sense, if I was targeting the most mainstream of mainstream Jack Reacher / action thriller readers.

They are the ones I’ve been targeting. My cover screams that. My blurb has morphed to say Reacher (it’s modeled on Reacher).


Hmm. Good question.

Everything I’ve written in my career is horror tinged. Mr. Ruins is pretty horrible. The Last is obviously a gory zombie apocalypse full of horrors. Even the epic fantasy is very bleak and full of cruelty. I think in those genres, the horror nature was much more part of the package.

In thriller, your genres are diced fine. Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne, James Bond, John Milton, even Barry Eisler, they’re PG15 action thrillers.

The Wren books are R rating.

I have always felt surprised when readers say the violence is too extreme. I didn’t know what they were talking about. Today I made a list of all the violence in book 1, and stumbled over the scenese where Mason is tortured and brainwashed.

Everything else that happens, I can buy that Jack reacher or even James Bond might be involved with it. But the ‘inside the operations of the cult’ scenes are too much for that kind of reader.

Here’s the crossroads. Do I take out all the Mason interior scenes, along with all the interior scenes from all the books? I already took out the creep Charles DeVore from book 2, and could feasibly take out the interior scenes from all the others. We’ll lose a lot. Maybe the soul of the books. They’re about how cults work, how cult leaders work – that’s what fascinated me when I wrote them. How people can be brainwashed. Take that away, and what’s left?

So I felt down facing that.

The alternate is to rebrand completely. The genre the Wren books may fit better in is Serial Killer. In Serial Killer, readers WANT to get inside the killers head. they want to delve into darkness. they don’t need loads of humor or light moments – in fact they don’t want that. They want bleak, or at least that’s my impression. Look at Silence of the Lambs. Not much light-hearted jokes in that. It just gets grim.


Would this make a difference? Nobody knows. Books in this genre sell big. James Patterson comes straight to mind. Alex Cross is way grimmer than Jack Reacher. Baldacci. Vargus & McBain.

What would this shift to Serial Killer require:

  • Maybe a partial rewrite to re-embrace the darkness, remove excess humor I added.
  • Definite cover changes. Darker may be enough, though I may need a whole new cover. This concerns me. I love the current cover. Serial Killer covers are often just a dark, red-tinged street with big jaggy font. Something like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good model also. You know you’re in for darkness.
  • New blurb. Embrace the darkness. Stop talking about Jack Reacher. Talk up the viciousness and brutality as we peek into the minds of serial killer cultists.
  • New categories. Embrace the darkness.
  • New ads. Target to Thomas Harris and the like.

So this is the choice before me. Swallowing the cover change may be expensive. I’ll decide in next couple of days.

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