Thursday, October 11, 2018

Huntress series sale, all 5 books $1.99

Anyone up for some female vigilante justice?

All five books of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series are on sale, just $1.99 each on Amazon US. The series turns tropes of violence against women inside out: my haunted FBI agent is on the hunt for a female serial killer. Who kills men. All over the country. For years.

So if you're in the mood to see the predators LOSE, here’s your chance to get a great deal.

         Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was. He was wrong.





  


Huntress Moon  - Audiobook

Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration

Audiobook junkies might want to take the sale opportunity to pick up the ebook - then add the narration for as low as $1.99.


Huntress Moon and my amazing narrator, RC Bray, won a Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration, Crime & Thriller.

Bob is also the multi-award-winning narrator of the blockbuster audiobook of The Martian, and you can hear his stellar narration in all five Huntress books.






I wrote the Huntress Moon series because I am sick to death of women and children being raped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered for entertainment in novels, movies, TV shows...
 
And oh yeah - real life. 

The Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer who kills men. A lot of them.

The fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those millennia of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say: “Enough”? And maybe even strike back?

Well, that’s a story, isn’t it? And it’s a story that needs to be told now, more than ever, given this political nightmare we’re living. The premise is a way to explore the third rail of crime: the inherent, entrenched, misogyny of the system.   

And this series is a way for me to explore SOLUTIONS. I am not writing fantasies about clever serial killers. I’m writing from real-life psychology and pathology, using real-life examples and profiling, to counter some of the absolutely ridiculous and false portrayals of this pathology that we see in film and television and books.

Serial killers are NOT criminal masterminds. They do NOT have artistic or poetic bents. They are serial rapists who have graduated to murder. It’s a facet of the male pattern violence that we are seeing revealed in the #MeToo stories and lists from millions of women and teenagers in the past few weeks. Mass shooters – that’s also male pattern violence, with domestic abuse being a key indicator of the type of man who commits this particular atrocity. 

You read the #MeToo stories - much less LIVE them! - and the totality of it seems overwhelming. The fact that we have a serial sexual predator and blatant misogynist (and racist, white supremacist, xenophobe, looter, plutocrat…) in the most powerful office in the world, determining national and international policy, appointing judges, reversing laws that protect women and children – all that is part of the totality and even more overwhelming.   

However, there ARE solutions. There are practical and actually very obvious ways to CHANGE this horrific culture of rape and predation. I've spent years now, researching and interviewing experts about real psychology, real systemic failures, and real solutions. I've written ALL of that into the Huntress series, enacted by characters who reader really care about.

One of the keys to understanding male violence is that it is NOT universal. It is a percentage of repeat offenders who commit these crimes (whether identified or not) over and over and over again. We need to be very clear on this point. The problem is not all men. The problem is a percentage of repeat offenders. 

To underscore this point, in the Huntress series, my FBI investigators are mostly men, gay and straight, different races - with one key woman on the team and lots of female leads from various social and legal and religious services. I wanted to depict the kind of men I know, that I have always known, that I personally have always been easily able to identify and not randomly lump in with criminals. I wanted to depict THEIR struggle with the overwhelming force of entrenched rape culture, and their difficult fight to work within the system to change it. I wanted the situation of their hunt for this unusual, very female killer to force them to grapple with extremely real life, practical, workable solutions to changing the system.

I cover different facets of different legal and societal systems in each of the books. And in the new one, Hunger Moon, which comes out next week, I have Special Agent Roarke and his team working toward a very explicit, law-enforcement based, multi-pronged approach to identifying and convicting serial sexual predators. 

If we ALL, male and female, binary and non-binary, LGBTQ, people of every race and variation thereof, could come to understand that we need to deal with this segment of repeat offenders, we COULD change this. We could.

It is NOT overwhelming, when we take a breath and break it down. And commit to doing better for everyone. Women, men - and especially, especially children.

 
But we need to know the facts. We need to know where the systemic failures have been. And we need to keep speaking out against EVERY predator. Always. 

Don’t give up. There is a way forward. Si se puede. We can do this.

       -- Alex 




Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: What's your PREMISE?

So you've had some time to ponder the question of What is a Good Story Idea?


 Today we're going to talk about PREMISE (again), because what we really need to start looking for in all the brainstorming you did is actual STORY LINES.

And it's possible that the best way to recognize stories in your own ideas (that is, STORIES, as opposed to IDEAS) - is to do some practice on PREMISE.

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

One of the most frustrating (and sometimes amusing, in a morbid kind of way) things for me as an author and teacher is how difficult it can be sometimes to get a writer's story out of them.

It should be simple, right - to answer the question: “What’s your book about?”

But writers who are used to being in the thick of writing sometimes have only the vaguest idea of the big picture.

So the conversation often goes like this:

Me: "What's your book about?"

Aspiring author: “Oh, I can’t really describe it in a few sentences – there’s just so much going on in it.”

Worse - these conversations often happen at conferences where aspiring writers are being equally vague if they happen to be lucky enough to get into a conversation with an agent or editor.

(On the other hand, I was thrilled to have so many people who've read my books and follow this blog come up to me at RWA Denver and pitch me their perfectly honed and commercial premises!)

The time to know what your book is about is before you start it, and you damn well better know what it’s about by the time it’s finished and people, like agents and editors are asking you what it’s about.

You will learn a lot more about what your book or film is about as you're writing it. But you need to know what you think it's about before you start that draft.

And here’s another tip – when people ask you what your book is about, the answer is not “War” or “Love” or “Betrayal”, even though your book might be about one or all of those things. Those words don’t distinguish YOUR book from any of the millions of books about those things.

When people ask you what your book is about, what they are really asking is – “What’s the premise?” In other words, “What’s the story line in one easily understandable sentence?”

That one sentence is also referred to as a “logline” (in Hollywood) or “the elevator pitch” (in publishing) or “the TV Guide pitch” – it all means the same thing.

That sentence really should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre. And – it should make whoever hears it want to read the book. Preferably immediately. It should make the person you tell it to light up and say – “Ooh, that sounds great!” And “Where do I buy it?”

Writing a premise sentence is a bit of an art, but it’s a critical art for authors, and screenwriters, and playwrights. You need to do this well to sell a book, to pitch a movie, to apply for a grant. You will need to do it well when your agent, and your publicist, and the sales department of your publishing house, and the reference librarian, and the Sisters in Crime books in print catalogue editor, and that Amazon KDP screen asks you for a one-sentence book description, or jacket copy, or ad copy. You will use that sentence over and over and over again in radio and TV interviews, on panels, and in bookstores (over and over and OVER again) when potential readers ask you, “So what’s your book about?” and you have about one minute to get them hooked enough to buy the book.

And even before all that, the premise is the map of your book when you’re writing it.

So what are some examples of premise lines?

Name these books/films:

- When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.

- A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.

- A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.

Notice how all of these premises contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out. Another interesting thing about these premises is that in all three, the protagonists are up against forces that seem much bigger than the protagonist.

Halloween is upon us, so here’s my premise for my ghost story THE HARROWING:

Five troubled college students left alone on their isolated campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a mysterious presence – that may or may not be real.

I wrote that sentence to quickly convey all the elements I want to get across about this book.

Who’s the story about? Five college kids, and “alone” and “troubled” characterize them in a couple of words. Not only are they alone and troubled, they have personal demons.  

What’s the setting? An isolated college campus, and it’s Thanksgiving - fall, going on winter. Bleak, spooky. Plus – if it’s Thanksgiving, why are they on campus instead of home with their families?

Who’s the antagonist? A mysterious presence.

What’s the conflict? It’s inner and outer – it will be the kids against themselves, and also against this mysterious presence. What are the stakes? Well, not so clear, but there’s a sense of danger involved with any mysterious presence.

And there are a lot of Clues to the Genre – sounds like something supernatural’s going on, but there’s also a sense that it’s psychological – because the kids are troubled and this presence may or may not be real. There's a sense of danger, possibly on several levels.

And you can see how that premise sentence inspired one of the major planks of the selling campaign for that book (and any book) - the cover design, one of my favorites. (The UK edition, from Little Brown, the US edition, on Amazon.)

The best way to learn how to write a good premise is to practice. Take that list of ten books and films I made you do here, that are in the same genre as your book or script - preferably successful - or that you wish you had written! Now for each story on that list, write a one-sentence premise that contains all these story elements: protagonist, antagonist, conflict, stakes, setting, atmosphere and genre.

If you need a lot of examples all at once, pick up a copy of the TV Guide, or click through the descriptions of movies on your TiVo. Those aren’t necessarily the best written premises, but they do get the point across, and it will get you thinking about stories in brief.

So there are three exercises I'd like to suggest for you to try.

1) Take your master list of ten books and films and write a premise sentence for each. Share a few here if you care to - it will help other people and that's good karma!

2) Write your OWN premise, for your WIP or potential project.




Be sure your premise includes 

Who's the story about?
What’s the setting? 
Who’s the antagonist?
What’s the conflict? 
Clues to the genre  
 
And 3) harder, but really, really worth it - look at your mass (or mess) of brainstormed ideas and see if you can pull and/or create ten (oh, all right, five) complete premises out of that list.


Or do three this week, three next week, three the next...

And that third option is something I'm saying TO MAKE MYSELF DO IT, too, so no whining about how I've completely gone off the deep end. I have, of course - but I also think the story ideas that would come out of really taking that last exercise seriously would raise anyone's writing to the next level. And perhaps yield something exciting and HIGH CONCEPT.

But if you're not familiar with writing premise lines, the most important exercise for you right now is 1) - write the premise sentences for your own master list. It's like doing piano scales. Repetition is the mother of skill.

- Alex

=====================================================

All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.


                                           STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:



Friday, October 05, 2018

Sexual assault, fraternity culture, and judges - in HUNGER MOON (part 2)

Readers are writing in to me this week to comment on the eerie similarities between the plot of my last Huntress novel, Hunger Moon, the misogynistic culture of all-male prep schools and fraternities, and the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.  

(Part 1 is here).

Hunger Moon focused on the rape culture in fraternities that teaches privileged white boys that they can sexually assault girls and young women with impunity, and speculated that the accused sexual predator in the White House might well try to appoint a frat boy sexual predator to the Supreme Court.

I based the book on several real fraternities, including the one Brett Kavanagh belonged to at Yale. The frat has a long history of being suspended from multiple campuses for sexual assault and proposals of sexual violence, racism, dangerous hazing rituals, and alcohol abuse. The Yale chapter was notorious for its initiation chant, "No means Yes, Yes means anal." 

If you've been wondering how such a phenomenally unfit candidate is being forced onto the Supreme Court, consider this:

  • Of the nation’s 50 largest corporations, 43 are headed by fraternity men.
  • 85% of the Fortune 500 executives belong to a fraternity.
  • 40 of 47 U.S. Supreme Court Justices since 1910 were fraternity men.
  • 76% of all Congressmen and Senators belong to a fraternity.
  • Every U.S. President and Vice President  born since the first social fraternity was founded in 1825, except two in each office, have been members of a fraternity.
  • 63% of the U.S. President’s Cabinet members since 1900 have been Greek. 
(This is a list posted on dozens of university websites, attributed to the North American Interfraternity Conference.)
Are you beginning to see the problem?

In the Huntress books, women rise up to take action against sexual predators. The first step in eliminating misogyny is confronting the roots and extent of this scourge.

Here's another scene from the book that I based on the frat Kavanagh belonged to.

And in case you're wondering if I exaggerate misogynistic dialogue for effect - every bit of dialogue in the scene is based on real conversations between frat brothers.
Please don’t forget to register to vote.
-      -  Alex



The Basement was deep under the house, a huge three-story clinging to the cliff edge in a row of oceanfront houses along Del Playa. Outside the wall of windows and a sliding glass door, the long, well-used wooden deck overlooked the Pacific Ocean, and the sound of the surf was a constant rhythmic rumble.

The room inside was lit only by strings of Christmas lights and occupied by the shadowy figures of nine or ten young men in the prime of their lives. They were uniformly handsome: chiseled chins, silky tanned skin over taut six-pack abs, strong thighs. Any one of them could make decent money modeling for an ad depicting the Southern California experience.

At the moment, though, in the shadows, faces lit by the flashing lights of the digital sound system and the screens of their smartphones, they were so wasted that they looked more like thugs. They were seated around the table, sprawled on the sofas, sloppy drunk, with various bottles and red plastic beverage cups littering the end tables, the floor. And on the low table in front of them, a mirror smudged from lines of snorted substances.

Above them, one wall of the room was completely papered in photos: a collage of naked female body parts. Shots of breasts and thighs branded with Greek letters drawn in marker on the skin. Beaver shots, anal shots. Some full-length, candid photos of naked and half-naked girls, passed out, one or two in their own vomit. In some pictures boys were having sex with the girls—in these, the boys’ faces were never shown.

One of the young men addressed the wall. “Gettin’ tired of looking at the same ol’ tits and ass. Need some fresh wallpaper.”

Another one chimed in. “Hell yeah. Pledges are getting derelict. Gotta make ’em up their game.”

The first young man spoke again. “This time next week I want to see all new booty up there.”

There was a groundswell of approval. “Fuckin’ A right. New pussy.”

A chant started. “New pussy. New pussy. New pussy.”

“We need a challenge.”

“A fucken challenge, yeah.”

Their leader stood, unsteadily. “It’s coming to me . . .” He took a dramatic pause. “Valentine’s Day.”

A chorus of groans, boos. “Fuck that!”

“Hold on. Think it through. That shit is bait for the hos. We throw a big blowout, hearts and flowers and thongs . . .”

Now hearty laughs.

“The bitches will love it, and we get our pick of the gash. A Valentine’s party for them—and a Hunting Party for us.”

The room took up the cry. “Hunting Party! Hunting Party!”

“All pledges need to bring in twenty-five points. Five for titty shots.”

“Extra points for best heart-shaped ass!” a brother contributed from his seat on the floor.

“Extra points for asses with K-Tau letters written on ’em. Brand the bitches.”

“Ten for full frontal. Twenty for penetration. And—”

“Twenty-five for anal!” a big guy finished.

“Hey!” someone else protested. “Why should pledges get all the action?”

“Anyone can participate,” the alpha said magnanimously. “Cum one, cum all.” He raised his glass in a toast.

The boys all pounded their shots, then the room exploded in drunken chatter.

“We be fucking tomorrow. Totally fucking.”

“Get some bad bitches over here.”

“Cooper be flicken mo’ bean than an epileptic Mexican chef in a kitchen fulla strobe lights.”

“I’m goin’ hunting now. Got to crank out a few so I can last longer later.”

The leader turned and looked over the table, the smudged mirror. “Oh hell. Looka that. Someone’s hoovered up all the refreshments. Cutler, Vogel, you’re up. Bring back fortifications.”



The two frat brothers staggered out of the house into the fog. At the end of the block, Del Playa ran into a trailhead, morphed into twisting sand paths through a labyrinth of beach scrub on the bluffs.

Cutler and Vogel veered onto the trail, slogging in the sand. They panted with exertion, squinting through double vision, stumbling in the dark. The dorm complexes of Manzanita Village and San Rafael were distant, blurry lights in the fog. The Kappa Alpha Tau house’s main dealer lived in San Rafe and would be meeting them in the usual spot on the bluffs.

An occasional gleam of moonlight flashed on the rumbling dark expanse of the Pacific below. Otherwise, darkness. Silence.

Vogel kept turning, glancing into the dense woodland gloom beside the path.

“Dude, what is your problem?” Cutler complained.

“Someone in there,” Vogel slurred. “Inna scrub. Following us.”

“Yer trippin’, dude . . .”

“Huh-uh. Listen—”

Both boys jumped as the carillon bells suddenly tolled from Storke Tower in the center of campus. Cutler burst into manic laughter.

“Yeah, I’m hearing it now. Totally.”

He stumbled on ahead, leaving Vogel muttering behind him. “There was. There was someone—”

He staggered on in the dark—and nearly ran into Cutler, who had stopped in his tracks and was staring out over the thick scrub truculently. “Somebody out there? Who the fuck is following us? C’mon outta there, asshole.”

The shadows moved. Cutler tensed, his fists balling at his sides. The ocean thundered below them.

A figure loomed up, dark, hooded.

“Holy shiiiit!” Vogel yelped.

The figure advanced through the fog, pushing back its cowl to reveal a gleaming white face, hollow eye sockets. A skull.

The frat brothers stumbled backward, screaming, and the skeleton figure barreled toward them, implacable in the fog.

                                   ----

Fog drifts through the silent, towering redwoods of north campus in the cold, gray dawn.

A lone girl huddles into her coat as she scuttles on a meandering path through the grove, en route to a pre-class conference. Her breath is puffs of white in the fog. Squirrels scatter in front of her, frantic red zips of motion.

The path opens up in front of a looming curved stone wall, like the outside of an ancient Roman coliseum. Rough gray brick with black iron gates.

The girl halts in front of the gates, staring upward. She jolts backward . . . and begins to scream.

Two male figures hang from the arches of the stadium, by ropes around their necks.

                                    ----


All five books in The Huntress series currently on sale, $1.99.

Hunger Moon is the latest in the series, but The Huntress series is written to be read in order! Book 6, Shadow Moon, will be out in January.

 


                                                            ---- SPOILERS ----

In Hunger Moon, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists... while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

For thousands of years, women have been prey.

No more. 


;

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: DON'T start a new book! Finish the old one!

by Alexandra Sokoloff                   

I know that some people have some crazy idea that you have to start a new project for Nanowrimo. 

NO. 

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

Nanowrimo has no rules except moving the needle forward on your writing.

 
If you're in the middle of a book, you DO NOT WANT to stop to run after a shiny new idea. That is a great way not to ever get published.




I recently did a Skype session with a writing group, and I started it as I always start a workshop, with these questions: 

     1.  The genre of your WIP (Work in Progress)
 
     2.  The premise of your book - the story in one or two sentences.  

     3  A list of TEN books and films (at least five films) in your genre that are somewhat similar to your book structurally.    

Just that bit of information on my audience or students helps me focus the session or class so that everyone gets the most out of our time together. And you know what I find over and over?

Very few people can tell me about their ONE book.

Because most of the participants have five, six, seven, even eight (I’m dying here…) book or story projects going at once.

Oh. My. God.

Over the years I have been astonished at how many people in my workshops have multiple projects in various stages of completion. It's not astonishing at all that most of these people remain unpublished. 


Because published authors are writers who suck it up and FINISH their books. 

They COMMIT. They deal with the reality of what they have written instead of the fantasy of what they thought they were writing. They develop the Teflon skin that allows them to put their work out there to be criticized—and yes, rejected. Lots of rejection.

                            Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Some of these unfinished projects will never be good enough to be published. The unfortunate truth of writing is that you won't know that until you finish. But you have to become a writer who finishes what you start, even if you then have to throw a whole completed project away once in a while. That is part of the process of becoming a professional writer. You must figure out how to FINISH every book you write.

So here’s the takeaway.

     DON’T write a new book. FINISH the old one.

I am pretty sure that what most aspiring authors need to be doing for Nanowrimo - or wherever you are in the year, is to FINISH an old book.

Part of that process is picking the right premise to begin with, which we'll get into soon. But another critical part of that process is ramming your head into a concrete wall (metaphorically speaking) until you're battered and bloody but you finally figure out how to make that particular book work. Some books are just harder than others, but you must demonstrate to the Universe that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make ANY book work. It's a trust thing. Your books must trust you to fully commit to them.

And that time is NEVER wasted, even if you never make money off that book. It is professional and more importantly - CREATIVE development.

I have a book hidden in my files in the Cloud that I could be making quite a lot of money on if I just self-published it, or even had my agent go for a traditional publishing deal on it. People would buy it and a lot of readers would enjoy it. One of my trusted Beta readers says it’s her favorite of all my books.

I know all that.

But for me - it's not as good as the rest of my books and I don't want it out there. It just doesn’t have the theme, the MEANING I want in my books.

I finished it, evaluated it—and then put it away and wrote another.

That was a big gap in my publishing schedule, let me tell you. Good thing I had some savings.

BUT—my next book was Huntress Moon, a real breakthrough in my writing. It was the book and series I was meant to write. The Huntress series combines my political and social activism, my rage at the abuse of children and women and the plain fact that we are not yet as a society committed to ENDING that abuse, and my skill at working those issues into highly readable thrillers. Because I’ve written this series, I honestly could die right now and feel that I’d fulfilled one crucial thing I was meant to do on this planet.

And, oh yeah - it's been bought for television, too.

So my putting that other book away? I don't think that's a coincidence. I think my creative mind and the Universe understood that I was finally ready to do more, mean more, with my writing.

So I beg you all, just as I am begging my workshop students. If you haven't finished the book you're on, DON'T start a new book for Nanowrimo, or the New Year, just because.

Commit to the book you're already writing, in whatever stage of the process you're at, and finish THAT one.

And then go get published.


- Alex


(This week I heard from a good friend, a fabulous director and writing professor, who says she passed an earlier post of mine like this on to a student of hers - who took the advice, FINISHED her book, and just landed an agent! Just saying....)




                                         STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

                Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns




 
My Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers is ON SALE for $1.99 each. 

A haunted FBI agent is on the hunt for a female serial killer.
This time, the predators lose. 
 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: What is a good story idea?

It's October first, and you know what that means....

It's Nanowrimo PREP month!

I always do a brainstorming and story structure review series in October, and continue throughout November with prompts and encouragement, based on my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks and workshops.

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

If you’re going to put a month aside to write 50,000 words, doesn’t it make a little more sense to have worked out the outline, or at least an overall road map, before November 1? 

But even before that, it's important to come up with a sustainable IDEA. 

When people ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” authors and screenwriters tend to clam up or worse, get sarcastic - because the only real answer to that is, “Where DON’T I get ideas?” or even more to the point, “How do I turn these ideas OFF?”

The thing is, “Where do you get your ideas?” is not the real question these people are asking.   The real question is “How do you go from an idea to a coherent story line that holds up – and holds a reader’s interest - for 400 pages of a book or seven seasons of a TV series?”

Or more concisely:  “How do you come up with your PREMISES?”

Look, we all have story ideas all the time. Even non-writers, and non-aspiring writers – I truly mean, EVERYONE, has story ideas all the time.  Those story ideas are called daydreams, or fantasies, or often “Porn starring me and Benedict Cumberbatch, or me and Idris.” (Or, speaking of Devil's Triangles, maybe both. )
 
You see what I mean.

We all create stories in our own heads all the time, minimal as some of our plot lines may be.

So I bet you have dozens of ideas, hundreds. A better question is “What’s a good story idea?”

I see two essential ingredients:

A) What idea gets you excited enough to spend a year (or most likely more) of your life completely immersed in it –

    and

B) Gets other people excited enough about it to buy it and read it and even maybe possibly make it into a movie or TV series with an amusement park ride spinoff and a Guess clothing line based on the story?

A) is good if you just want to write for yourself.

But B) is essential if you want to be a professional writer.

Let's start with  A),

The best advice I ever got about what to write about came from one of my favorite writers, Denise Mina.  I heard her say it at the San Francisco Bouchercon in 2010 and it instantly coalesced the idea for my ongoing Huntress Moon series.

Write about what makes you angry.

Now that's a theme for a rage-filled week, isn't it?

It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at the time. I find rage a great motivator. I get tremendous inspiration from things that make me angry. Social injustice especially. My supernatural thriller Book of Shadows, was partly inspired by the gross miscarriage of justice that resulted in the accusation and conviction of the West Memphis Three in Arkansas: three teenage boys wrongly accused of the murders of three little boys. 
I am especially outraged by crimes against children and women: rape, abuse, trafficking. Before I sold my first screenplay, I worked in the Los Angeles County prison system, teaching juveniles, mostly teenage gang kids and very young girls who had been arrested mostly for prostitution. Yes, they arrested the girls instead of the men who were trafficking and abusing them. The whole experience taught me a lot about the vicious circle that the so-called justice system is. We are failing our next generation, and it’s heartbreaking. I know I write crime thrillers because of that early experience, and I draw on the emotion of it – and the criminal procedure I learned during that period of my life - all the time.
 
My Huntress/FBI Thrillers - the books and the TV series I'm developing based on the books -  constantly draw on my rage about those crimes and my anger at society for not making their elimination a top priority.

Now, I'm a crime writer, so this works particularly well for me. Writing what makes you angry may not work for you. Don't worry, we'll talk about other jumping off points, too.

Now back to writing and calling my senators and reps.

- Alex


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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sexual assault, fraternity culture, and judges - in Hunger Moon


Readers are writing in to me this week to comment on the eerie similarities between the plot of my last Huntress novel, Hunger Moon, and the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.
That book focused on the rape culture in fraternities that teaches privileged white boys that they can sexually assault girls and young women with impunity, and speculated that the accused sexual predator in the White House might well try to appoint a frat boy sexual predator to the Supreme Court.
And here we are.
Here’s a scene from the book, in which Special Agents Roarke and Epps question a Santa Barbara attorney they suspect of organizing a nationwide rash of vandalism against fraternities.
It’s looking pretty relevant, if I do say so myself.
Please don’t forget to register to vote. And may actual justice prevail.
-       Alex


Andrea Janovy wore fingerless athletic gloves and navigated her hand-powered wheelchair expertly, taut shoulder muscles straining under her tank top. Her auburn hair was cropped close to her head, just a fuzz. 
The agents followed her up a ramp to a sleek, wide-open living space. She had gone to considerable expense to make the house wheelchair accessible. There were ramps everywhere, an elevator up to the second floor. Of course the open floor plan was to give her as much room as possible to negotiate in the chair.
 “I did go through all of this with your Agent Singh a few weeks ago,” she said over her shoulder, then spun the chair around to face a sofa, gestured for Roarke and Epps to sit. “As I told her, I don’t know who was using my ID to get into a Bay Area prison.”
  “What we’re really interested in is your expertise,” Roarke said.
            “Expertise in regard to?”
            “Fraternities.”
            Her gaze narrowed.
   Epps expanded on the question. “In many of the instances of vandalism last night, fraternities were specifically targeted for threats. We’d like any insight you can give us about why that would be.”
“In general, you mean.”
“In general, of course.”
She shrugged. “You asked for it.” She leaned forward in her chair. “If your goal is to dismantle the patriarchy, fraternities are a good place to start. That’s where all our best misogynists get trained. And of course, they’re bastions of white male privilege as well.” She looked straight at Epps as she said it. “Fraternities represent an almost cult-like white-cis-hetero-patriarchy  a closed chute that exists to isolate the sons of the privileged among their wealthy peers and keep them moving straight into the highest echelons of society. Fraternities are where the one percent systematically consolidate their wealth and learn how to keep the rest of society enslaved.”
            “Sororities are a chute into the upper echelons of society, too. The difference is sorority girls aren’t being groomed as power brokers. The Greek system propagates and normalizes female inferiority. Sexual assault is a routine part of Greek life and Greek culture. Bluntly, the Greek system is a hunting ground. We are breeding entitled racist misogynists in a petri dish of rape culture. These thugs go on to make laws and enforce laws that perpetuate rape culture.”
She looked Roarke in the eye, and then Epps. “It’s not accidental, lads. This is a finely-honed system of oppression. It’s taken thousands of years to build it. And it’s not going away without all of us using our skill sets to bring it down.”
Roarke took that in. “So your goal is to dismantle the patriarchy.”
She smiled grimly. “You bet your ass my goal is to dismantle the patriarchy. But obviously–” she gestured to her legs.  “I’m not going around scaling university clock towers to do that. I wanted to pick the biggest offender I could go after with my skill set. And that’s fraternities. I’m a fraternal plaintiff’s attorney.”
“Which means – you sue the frats? The universities?”
She grimaced. “That’s an uphill road. College administrators are incredibly reluctant to discipline Greek houses or to publicize the crimes of individual members. They’re much more likely to close ranks around them, block any outside investigation, because universities depend on rich Greek alumni. Also there are very powerful political lobbying groups aimed at protecting fraternities’ interests.” She paused. “So I go after the parents.”
Nothing she had said so far had surprised Roarke. That last did.
“I’ve recovered millions and millions of dollars from homeowners’ policies. That’s how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents’ homeowners’ insurance.”
Roarke and Epps stared at her, unnerved. “You don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about penalizing the parents?” Roarke asked.
Janovy turned cynical eyes on him. “Did you happen to read the letter the Stanford Rapist’s father wrote to the judge, pleading for leniency for his rapist son? Arguing that his precious boy shouldn’t be penalized for ‘twenty minutes of action?’”
Her loathing was palpable in the room.
“Yes, Agent Roarke. I go after the parents. It’s proved pointless to ask them to instill basic decency in their sons. They won’t lift a manicured finger to stop rapist attitudes, rape culture. So I go after them the only place it seems to hurt them. Their bank accounts. Enough high-profile lawsuits and they might just start getting the message.”
Roarke had to admit it made sense. But he was after something more specific.
“Have you had, or heard about, any complaints about the Kappa Alpha Tau house in particular?”
She went still for a fraction of a second, but Roarke caught it. Then she spoke. “Specifically K-Tau? Not that I know of. Why? Do you know of something?” 
Roarke felt a warning stab at her interest. “Just asking.” 
She regarded him, unsmiling.
Roarke veered quickly to his last question. “Just one more question, if we may.
I’m wondering about the timing of all this. This huge, coordinated action. Why now? It doesn’t seem to be a reaction to anything in particular.”
            She tilted her head. “You don’t see anything significant about the timing?”
            Roarke glanced at Epps. “What timing is that?”
            “We’ve been sitting here for fifteen minutes talking about fraternities. The demonstrations targeted fraternities specifically, if not exclusively. So the Taylor Morton rape trial? It’s going to verdict any day now. Down in San Diego.”
            Taylor Morton? Roarke scrambled to identify the name. She gave him a cold smile. “Can’t quite place it? Maybe because there are so many of these cases out there. Here’s your brief. The accused is a star runner. White, upper middle class, frat boy. The judge is a white middle-aged man, Princeton law school graduate. Oh, and by the way – a Kappa Alpha Tau alum.”
“Kappa Alpha Tau,” Roarke repeated. He and Epps stared at each other.  Coincidence? Or something more?
            “Put all that together – and do we realistically think Morton is going to get jail time?” Her voice shook. “Brock Turner. Austin Wilkerson. These guys are convicted rapists and we can’t get judges to sentence them. At a certain point, you have to start asking yourself how to actually solve the problem. Because a two percent conviction rate doesn’t even begin to count. How long until we have an equal number of female judges? How long before we make even the slightest dent in rape cases? Given the political nightmare we’re now living in, what hope in hell do we have of that happening now?”
            She paused for breath.
“So yeah. I’d kind of expect something to happen around that verdict and sentencing.”
Roarke turned that over in his head for a moment. “So all of this vandalism was, what – anticipatory outrage? Or are you saying that someone has gone to great lengths to set up some dominos to make them easy to knock over when the verdict comes in?”
            Janovy leaned forward. “You keep asking me what I think. What I think is that something’s going to blow. There’s just nothing left to lose anymore. The U.S. government has declared open war on women. Officially, these fuckers are going to try to take away every right we’ve ever fought for. Women are more angry than you can possibly imagine. All we need is one last straw. It could happen any second. And then there’s going to be rioting in the streets. There’s going to be bloodshed.” 
            She sat back. “And that trial? People are watching it. You know why? That misogynistic joke of a judge is on the predator-in-chief’s short list for the Supreme Court.”

All five books in The Huntress series currently on sale, $1.99.
Hunger Moon is the latest in the series, but The Huntress series is written to be read in order! Book 6, Shadow Moon, will be out in January.

 


                                                            ---- SPOILERS ----

In Hunger Moon, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists... while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

For thousands of years, women have been prey.

No more. 


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