Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book of Shadows on sale, 99 cents this week!

My spooky thriller Book of Shadows is just 99 cents in the US this week, with other price drops worldwide.  

"A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing "Is-it-isn't-it?"suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended." - Lee Child

Book of Shadows is about a cynical Boston cop who teams up with a mysterious Salem witch to solve what looks like a Satanic murder. 
It’s fascinating to me how when you write a book, everyone always assumes it’s about you. Few people get that sometimes, if not most times, when you write a book it’s about getting OUT of you. Just like reading is, right?

So naturally everyone who reads it assumes that I’m a witch (that’s with a "w"). Oh, the interviewers don’t come right out and say it, but you know that’s what they’re asking.

Well, I’m not. Really. Not really. No more than any woman is a witch.
But I can’t deny that writing Book of Shadows was a really excellent opportunity for me to indulge some of my witchier nature. I wanted to dive right in and explore some of those things that make some men – and a lot of women – uncomfortable with feminine power, and feminine energy, and feminine sexuality, and feminine deity.

I was working up to this book for quite a while. I’ve been around practicing witches most of my life. That’s what happens when you grow up in California, especially Berkeley. Actually the Berkeley part pretty much explains why I write supernatural to begin with, but that’s another post. Those of you who have visited Berkeley know that Telegraph Avenue, the famous drag that ends at the Berkeley campus, is a gauntlet of clothing and craft vendors, artists, and fortunetellers, forever fixed in the sixties. Well, look a little closer, and you’ll see just how many pagans, Wiccans, and witches there actually are.

I’ve walked that gauntlet thousands of times in my life. It does something to your psyche, I’m telling you.

There was also the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where I spent many summer days in my interestingly misspent youth. Renaissance Faires are teeming with witches (check out the Fortune Tellers’ Grove next time if you don’t believe me).

So even though I don’t actually practice, not in an organized covenish kind of way, I’ve been to a ceremony or two, and you could say I’ve been researching this book for quite some time. In fact, I think I’ve known I was going to write this book ever since I first saw a "Calling of The Corners," a Craft ceremony which is one of the ritual scenes I depict in "Book of Shadows." It’s one of the most extraordinary spiritual experiences I've ever had -- such elemental, feminine power.
And in everyday life, there some things that are just useful to know about the Craft.
I’m not much one for spells, I’m more of a meditator. But when I had to kick my evil tenants out of my rental house? A cleaning service was just not enough. You better believe that the second the locksmith was done changing the locks, I was down at the witch supply store, buying black and white candles (for protection and cleansing), and sage (smudge it for purification). I opened every window and swept the whole house widdershins (to the left, to dismiss) with a new broom dipped in salt and rosemary to dispel all lingering energy. Ritual works, and it doesn’t really matter what accoutrements you use; it’s really about the intention: in this case to cleanse, heal, and start over fresh.

Another concept of the Craft that I’ve always found particularly useful is Maiden, Mother, Crone. Those are the three aspects of the Goddess, and also the three phases of the moon, corresponding colors white, red and black. They represent the three cycles of a woman’s life – youth, womanhood and age – but women also pass through all three aspects every month when they’re menstruating, and knowing that has saved my life (and the lives of many of those around me) many a time.

The time right after your period is Maiden: you have a rush of estrogen, so you’re glowing, you’ve just dropped all that water weight, you have a ton of energy, and you’re – well, up for it. And men can sense it. Best time to snag a partner, although your choices might not be exactly the best in this phase of the cycle.

The Mother (also called Queen) phase of the month is around ovulation. You’re powerful, grounded, and can get a lot done, especially creatively, because of the pregnancy connotations. It’s a sexy time in a different way than Maiden, because there’s the extra knowledge 
that yes, you really can get pregnant right now.

The Crone phase is raging PMS and the "death" that a period often feels like. Wise people know to avoid you at this time unless they really want a faceful of truth, and I try not to schedule meetings, especially with men, when I’m in this phase. Best for me to be solitary and contemplative. And contain the damage.
But the things that come out of your mouth during this phase are the deep truth, even if they’re not pleasant, and if you remember to breathe, put the knife down, and pay attention to what you’re feeling and saying, you can learn a lot about your life and what you really need to be doing. Also your dreams will tend to be the most powerful, vivid, and significant in this phase. I know mine are.

I appreciate the earth/nature centeredness of the Craft. I like to be aware of whether the moon is waxing or waning, and focus on bringing things into my life during the waxing, and letting go of things (or people!) in the waning. And I like knowing that there is extra power and magic at the Solstices and Equinoxes; that knowledge makes me stop at least four times a year to consider what I really want to manifest in my life.

(Obviously I used all of that Moon knowledge and more in the Huntress Moon series, too…)

Let’s face it: I also like the clothes. With my hair, I’ll never be able to pull off the tailored look. I love lace and fishnets and velvet and sparkles and corsets and big jewelry. I love the candles and the scents and that every day has a color (today is white, if you’re wondering).
And there is another aspect of the Craft that has been truly important to me, spiritually. It’s about balance. I have never, ever bought the idea that God is male. It runs contrary to my entire experience of reality. I love you guys, really I do, but you’re only half the equation. I can’t see how an ultimate power could be anything but BOTH male and female. So the notion of a Goddess, in all Her forms, to me, completes the equation.

And a Supreme Being who likes velvet and fishnets? Even better.

So how about you? What’s your take on witches? Are you familiar with the way witchcraft is actually practiced, or is that whole world completely mysterious to you? Or do you do the odd spell or two yourself?

-- Alexandra Sokoloff

Book of Shadows

Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.

The partners make a quick arrest when all evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett's case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.

All Garrett's beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.


"Sokoloff successfully melds a classic murder-mystery/whodunit with supernatural occult undertones." - Library Journal

"Compelling, frightening and exceptionally well-written, Book of Shadows is destined to become another hit for acclaimed horror and suspense writer Sokoloff. The incredibly tense plot and mysterious characters will keep readers up late at night, jumping at every sound, and turning the pages until they've devoured the book." - Romantic Times Book Reviews

"Fast-paced with strong characterizations, fans will enjoy this superb thriller, as Adam and the audience wonder if The Unseen could be the killer." - Publisher's Weekly

"A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn't-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended." - Lee Child

Monday, August 17, 2015

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: THE MASTER LIST

I’m very excited to be teaching one of the writing Master Classes for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival next month, along with the brilliant Denise Mina, one of my all-time favorite authors and a major inspiration for my Huntress Moon thrillers.

I always like to give my workshop students some optional homework in the weeks before classes, so that we get the most out of our workshop time – and also so that those of you who can’t make the workshop can play along at home!

What I teach in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops is basic film story structure: the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure.

USC film school teaches it, the screenwriting story structure gurus teach it, all film execs and producers are aware of it even if it’s only in a vague way, and even screenwriters who claim not to follow this structure pattern do it to some extent or another. And it translates beautifully to novel writing. Not only does it make writing novels much easier – this is a rhythm of storytelling that readers (and audiences) are so used to that if you aren't using it to your advantage, they’re going to feel like something’s missing! You don’t want that to happen.

But I want my students to analyze examples that are meaningful to them, so the first assignment I give my workshop students is THE MASTER LIST: a list of ten novels and films that are specific to the story and genre you’re working on, and more importantly, that have had the maximum emotional and intellectual effect on you.

> ASSIGNMENT: List ten books and films that are similar to your own story in structure and/or genre (at least five books and three movies if you’re writing a book, at least five movies if you’re writing a script.).

Or if you’re trying to decide on the right project for you to work on, then make a list of ten books and films that you wish you had written!

And you people who feel like you’ve done this for me already – remember that it’s good practice to make a master list for every new project you’re working on! Your lists will be different for different books.

It’s very simple: in order to write stories like the ones that move you, you need to look at the stories that affect you and figure out what those authors and filmmakers are doing to get the effect they do.

Every genre has its own structural patterns and its own tricks. Screenwriter Ryan Rowe says it perfectly: “Every genre has its own game that it’s playing with the audience.”

For example, with a mystery, the game is “Whodunit?” You are going to toy with a reader or audience’s expectations and lead them down all kinds of false paths with red herrings so that they are constantly in the shoes of the hero/ine, trying to figure the puzzle out.

But with a romantic comedy or classic romance, there’s no mystery involved. 99.99% of the time the hero and heroine are going to end up together. The game in that genre is often to show, through the hero and heroine, how we are almost always our own worst enemies in love, and how we throw up all kinds of obstacles in our own paths to keep ourselves from getting what we want.

So if you’re writing a story like It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s not going to help you much to study Apocalypse Now. A story that ends with a fallen hero/ine is not going to have the same story shape as one that ends with a transcended hero/ine. (Although if both kinds of films end up on your list of favorite stories, you might find one is the other in reverse. That’s why you need to make your own lists!)

Once you start looking at the games that genres play, you will also start to understand the games that you most love, and that you want to play with your readers and audience.

I’m primarily a thriller writer, and my personal favorite game is: “Is it supernatural or is it psychological?” I love to walk the line between the real and unreal, so I am constantly creating story situations in which there are multiple plausible explanations for the weird stuff that’s going on, including mental illness, drug-induced hallucinations, and outright fraud. That’s why my master list for any book or script I write will almost always include The Haunting of Hill House and The Shining, both classic books (and films) that walk the line between the supernatural and the psychological.

But what works for me structurally is not necessarily going to do it for you.

If you take the time to study and analyze the books and films that have had the greatest impact on you, personally, or that are structurally similar to the story you’re writing, or both, that’s when you really start to master your craft. Making the lists and analyzing those stories will help you brainstorm your own unique versions of scenes and meta-structures that work in the stories on your master list; it will help you figure out how your particular story will work. And doing this analysis will embed story structure in your head so that constructing a story becomes a fun and natural process for you.

Another great benefit of making the master list is that it helps you “brand” yourself as an author. Agents, editors, publishing houses, publicists, sales reps, bookstores, reviewers, media interviewers, librarians, and most importantly, your readers — all of these people want to be able to categorize you and your books. You need to be able to tell all of these people exactly what it is you write, what it’s similar to, and why it’s also unique. That’s part of your job as a professional author.

Remember, the list isn’t written in stone! You can change anything on it at any time. And honestly, when you’re doing these lists, it’s often most useful to write the first ten films and books that come to mind. Doing it fast and without thinking about it too consciously might show you something you never realized about what you’re writing.

And I encourage you to splurge on a nice big beautiful notebook to work in. We writers live so much in our heads it’s important to give ourselves toys and rewards to make the work feel less like work, and also to cut down on the drinking.

Do your list, and share it in the comments if you feel like it – next post we’ll be analyzing the lists!

         -  Alex

All the material from my workshops and on this blog, and much much more is available in my workbooks:  $3.99 ebook, $14.99 print textbook:

Print book US

Print book   all countries

e book

Enter to win a copy of the book!

You can sign up for my mailing list to get free breakdowns of The Silence of the LambsThe Wizard of Oz,  Chinatown, and other classic movies as I analyze them for my students and blog readers.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Summer News and workshops, STFA in print!

Yes, I’m still alive! I know, I was beginning to have doubts myself.

This year has just been non-stop. They always are, I guess, but releasing three books in a row within months of each other, and getting ready to release a fourth next month – I’ve never done anything like this before and I am TIRED, but starting to crawl my way back to the surface and start to engage with, um, people again.

So, what’s in the works?
                                           Wolf Moon 

First off, I’m writing Wolf Moon, book 4 in the Huntress series, and there’s something I have to clear up right away. I’ve come across a completely unanticipated problem: people who are reading the Huntress books are assuming they’re a trilogy - and worse – calling them a trilogy in reviews. I’m always grateful for reviews, and they’ve been almost universally stellar, thank you all who have taken the time! – I couldn’t ask for better ones!  But wow, this is so NOT a trilogy, and having that idea out there is understandably confusing to readers who pick up Cold Moon expecting an end to the series. Cold Moon is definitely not the end, and I thought it would be pretty clear in the way the book ends that there is another one coming. It’s funny, though, how there’s no real way to counteract that assumption once people start repeating it. So yeah. Book 4 is coming, and I'm not going to say much right now, but it's really different from the first three. (Why am I constantly doing this to myself? I wonder...)

Huntress Moon Blood Moon Cold Moon

And a quick note for AUSTRALIAN readers:  Huntress Moon is on sale throughout August on Amazon.AU -  just 1.99!

Next - it's nearly killed me to get it done, but yes - the PRINT workbook of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, STEALING HOLLYWOOD, will be available as soon as sometime next week. I know some of you have been waiting for this one for practically ever – well, it’s completely worth the wait! But - make sure you’re on my regular mailing list if you want to get the release announcement (and discount on the new ebook). If you're not sure, it doesn't hurt to try signing up again; you won't get double announcements, the extra email will automatically drop from the list.

For the rest of the summer (Scottish summer, that is…) - well, it’s August, so I’m taking a bit of a break next week to go down to London to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.


Sorry, lost it for a minute there. But yes, I’m so excited I can barely sleep. It's my favorite play, and there's one actor per generation who is simply born to play it. I think we have our answer here. And yes, I will report back!

And Craig and I are gearing up for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, followed frighteningly soon after by Bouchercon in Raleigh. Lots of events going on at both, and I wanted to let people know about upcoming workshops as well, since I’m doing a bit more teaching in the fall than I usually do, so here’s the lineup:

—September 11-13 Bloody Scotland
Stirling, Scotland  

I’ll be teaching a master class in story structure at Bloody Scotland, as well as a self-publishing workshop. I’ll also be paneling on Film Writing (and Film 101 for Authors!) as well as on the issue of the depiction of violence against women in books, film, and television.

Fans of Craig Robertson can also find him appearing on panels and compering Crime at the Coo: a cabaret pub night on Saturday, featuring Bloody Scotland authors performing song, dance and poetry. Yes, I’ll be singing, too!

—October 8-11
Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

Raleigh, NC
Craig and I are both on the program.

—October 31-November 1
805 Writers Conference

2-hour Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop
Ventura, CA
Craig and I are both on the program.

—November 7
Land of Enchantment Romance Writers Association

All-day Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop
Albuquerque, NM 

November 13-15
Shetland Noir

Shetland Islands, UK
Craig and I are both on the program.

Hope you're all having fabulous summers. Would love to hear what you're up to!

     --- Alex

Friday, July 10, 2015

Britcrime online crime writing festival and COLD MOON blog tour

by Alexandra Sokoloff

As I said a few days ago, I'm touring online for the print and audio release of Book 3 in the Huntress/FBI Thrillers. Today I'm at Crime Thriller Girl, talking with Steph Broadribb about the series (and dispensing advice for authors!). You can catch up with me at any of the stops listed below - comment on any blog to be entered in a drawing to win print books! And yes, you can enter multiple times.

This weekend I'm doing something a little different: I'm the lone American in a lineup of 40 British crime authors participating in the first annual Britcrime Festival,  an all-online gathering of authors, readers and bloggers in a two-day series of panels, virtual drinking in The Slaughtered Author Pub - and I suspect, some happy mayhem.

Britcrime is the brainchild of sister Thomas & Mercer author Helen Smith, and it grew out of a private Facebook group of UK authors, of which I am a member by virtue of living and writing in Scotland.  We were having such an entirely funny and fun time in this group that we wanted a way to bring some of the conversation and hilarity to readers, and use Facebook to do it because it's free and accessible to anyone who wants to stop in.

In a masterful frenzy of organizing, Helen has pulled a real festival together, with intriguing, interactive panels; reader contributions, curated reviews, podcasts, and plans for upcoming events, including online classes and a Christmas party.

One of the complaints you hear most often from authors is how time-intensive live events are - the prep, the travel, and the possibility that no one will even show up. An online festival has the potential for great reach, a more casual interaction with readers, and room to grow. I'm excited to see how it turns out!

I'll be talking about Serial Offenders on Panel #4, Saturday at 6-8 pm UK time, 1-3 pm EST, with Mason Cross, Graeme Cameron, and Emma Kavanagh. You can post questions for me and the panel in advance, here.

And for Craig Robertson fans (or the curious…!), Craig will also be talking about serial killers on an earlier panel (Helen was wise enough not to put us on the same panel about this particular topic!).
You can find him on Saturday, 1-3 pm UK time, 7-9 am EST, here: Serial Killers.

You can click through to check out the full lineup of panels, and learn more about Britcrime.

Hope you'll join us!

           - Alex

Cold Moon is out in print and audio this month and I'm doing a blog tour throughout the month of July, with lots of giveaways to celebrate!

Check the calendar listings below for where I'll be all through July, and stop by as many of the blogs as you want to read all about the whole Huntress series, and enter to win books and audiobooks.

Full Tour Calendar

July 7:

Feature article in ITW’s The Big Thrill
(Share or Tweet the article to be entered in the first drawing!)

July 8: 

Off the Shelf Books 

July 9:

Lynsey’s Books  
July 11:

BritCrime online festival: live panel discussion on serial killers
1pm-3pm EST, 6pm-8pm BST

July 11:

King’s River Life magazine

July 13:

Writing Round the Block  

July 15:

Mystery Playground 

July 17:

Books that Hook

July 19:

Reflections of a Reader

July 20:


July 21:

Crime Book Junkie

July 23:

The Book Trail

July 27:

Musings of a Bookish Kitty


Books 1, 2 and 3 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers, Huntress MoonBlood Moon, and Cold Moon are available now from Thomas & Mercer.

I very strongly recommend that you read the series in order, starting with Huntress Moon.