Thursday, February 19, 2015

Women in Horror

This month is Women in Horror Month.  Don’t ask me how these things get decided!  But since February has Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and Leap Day, and is also the shortest month of the year and the only month of the year that actually changes in number of days – and is closest to a true moon cycle! - I guess there’s some kind of psychic sense to it.

Actually I never remember it’s Women in Horror Month until I start getting Google Alerts because I’m showing up on the lists of female horror authors to read.

Obviously this is something I’m very grateful for, but it always surprises me these days, because I’m not writing horror any more – something I’m not really sure people in the horror community know, because that community tends to be sort of insular. Maybe all genres are sort of insular.

As a matter of fact, I had a very short tenure writing horror. My first two books, The Harrowing and The Price, are really the only books I’ve written that I could classify as horror. My third book, The Unseen, was really a mystery/suspense - with poltergeists. My fourth, Book of Shadows, was when I really started moving into crime, although there is a strong possibly supernatural element in that book as well.


I started moving away from horror as a genre because I didn’t feel comfortable being associated with a lot of the books in the genre. I was actually having this conversation quite recently with another one of the female authors who always gets on those lists this month. We had the exact same very strong feeling about it: the horror genre – in all media - has been brought to a very low, base level by torture porn and rape, with overwhelmingly female victims.

I find it disgusting and harmful and it doesn’t deserve to be listed with the true psychological horror of Jackson, Lovecraft, Shelley, DuMaurier, King, Poe – the great explorers of the dark side.

(I am often asked to blurb books and I find it surreal that I have had to start telling male writers up front: “I won’t read or review anything with rape scenes - unless you’re honestly exploring your own fear of male-on-male rape.”  Same goes for torture. There is somehow not even the basic awareness that scenes like that would bother me.)

There’s also a widely acknowledged bias in the industry against female horror authors (probably one of the reasons there’s a Women in Horror Month to begin with.) That bias didn’t ever affect me in a practical sense because I quickly moved into writing and publishing very dark thrillers rather than overt horror. Quite possibly being a female author in a male-dominated genre got me more attention for my first two novels than I might have gotten if I were writing straight mystery or crime, because so few women were writing full-length horror at the time. But that attention was probably cancelled out by the fact that horror is a lesser-read genre which doesn’t pay as well as the crime/thriller genre.

I love both genres. I went back and forth and crossed the two as a screenwriter, too. But I’m a full-time writer, so I’m not going to struggle against a genre that brutalizes women AND doesn’t pay as well as the thriller genre.  What possible sense would there be in that?

And practicality aside – I find the crime genre a better fit for my own themes as a writer. My writing is largely an exploration of good and evil, and nothing supernatural could possibly be more horrifying to me than the evil that people do.  And I mostly mean what MEN do: serial killing, rape, child molestation, torture, genocide, war crimes. These are largely male crimes – so why aren’t we being honest about that fact? How can we prevent and heal the ravages of those crimes without being honest about root causes?

Those are questions I’ve found I can explore more fully in a crime novel. I can use the examples of real crimes. I can hint at practical societal solutions.

But I also think that my tenure as a horror writer taught me how to bring that sense of true evil into my crime novels, and continues to help me provide a touch of the sensual thrill of the uncanny – that sensation I love in a good psychological horror tale. It was the right place to start, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be tempted back to the dark side again.

So readers – do you read in the horror genre as well as in crime, suspense, mystery and thrillers? Or does the genre give you pause, maybe for the same reasons I wrote about above?

And authors, have you dabbled in the dark side? Or, horror aside, have you made a genre switch for practical or thematic reasons?

     - Alex


For Women in Horror month, my boxed set Haunted is on sale - three complete scary novels for $5.99.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Top Ten Romantic Movies

by Alexandra Sokoloff

And no, That Movie is not one of them. Although it's hard to ignore it skulking around out there in the zeitgeist. Knowing a bit about that world, I can't help but ponder the statistic that 90 percent of people are actually sexually submissive - only 10 percent are naturally dominant. So who exactly is going to be doing all of the tying up, duct taping and handcuffing that is supposed to be happening all over the world this weekend?

Anyway, for Valentine's Day, I thought I'd do a romantic but useful post and talk about some filmic alternatives for your VDay movie bingeing pleasure.

As many of you know by now, the first assignment I lay out in my Screenwriting Tricks workbooks, and the first exercise I make any class or workshop I teach do right up front, is a Top Ten List of favorite movies.

Because, yes, I teach story structure, but what works for me structurally is not necessarily going to do it for you. My primary goal is to teach you how to do this for yourself.

If you take the time to list, 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.

Making a genre list is particularly useful for brainstorming and analyzing the elements of a genre or sub genre that your reader or audience will be expecting in any book or film of that genre.

So in honor of the day, I'm going to do a favorite love story list.

• Four Weddings and a Funeral
• Lost in Translation
• Next Stop Wonderland
• Notorious
• Bridget Jones’ Diary  (the book more than the movie, for me)
• Notting Hill
• When Harry Met Sally
• Philadelphia Story
• Rebecca
• Bringing Up Baby
• Much Ado About Nothing
• Casablanca
• Sleepless in Seattle

(That’s a list of more than ten, just to demonstrate that the list is whatever you want it to be!)

So what can I learn about my own love story themes by looking at that list?

Four Weddings and a Funeral, Philadelphia Story, and Lost in Translation are probably my favorites of that list.

Four Weddings appeals to me on a very personal level because writer Richard Curtis, as is his wont, is not just exploring love relationships between two people, or several sets of two people, but also the group love dynamic of a posse of friends. In fact, in that movie, the group dynamic is one of the factors keeping the hero, Charlie (Hugh Grant) from settling down to marry — and has kept every single one of the others single, except for the one truly married couple in the group, the gay couple who can’t legally marry. (Wonderful, scathing truth there).

That group dynamic has always resonated deeply with me, and I imagine it struck a chord for a lot of people. Also, in terms of high concept, the film is great because most of us have experienced that totally exhausting year that every single person you know gets married and your entire social calendar revolves around weddings. I certainly could relate to Hugh Grant groaning and burying his head under a pillow as yet another embossed linen envelope arrived in the mail.

But the real beauty of Four Weddings is the underlying theme that there is something magical about a wedding that opens the door to love, not just for the couple involved, but potentially for everyone who attends. The structure of the film is a round-robin, where at each wedding at least two people find the loves of their lives, and we see one of those weddings next, or the preparation for a wedding, or at least the deepening of the relationship with a promise of marriage. This is something I think most of us would like to believe about weddings: that there is an encompassing magic there, a kairos, that invites something life-changing. That story truly delivered on that theme.

When Harry Met Sally is an enduring romantic comedy not just because of the great chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan and the charming documentary clips of elderly couples talking about how they met and fell in love, but because it explores a strong theme: Can a man and woman ever really be friends? And we experience the great treat of watching Billy and Meg first becoming friends and then  falling in love.

Next Stop Wonderland and Sleepless in Seattle are examples of the theme of the soul mate — that there is someone out there who is destined for you, and that the Universe will guide you to that person. Next Stop Wonderland shows two people whose paths cross over and over again, with all kinds of attendant signs that these two people are supposed to be together — but they don’t meet until the last few seconds of the movie. Sleepless in Seattle explores the same kind of fatedness, and similarly keeps the hero and heroine apart until the end of the movie. I admit, this kind of thing just turns me inside out. I would love to believe that there is one person who is all that, and that all of life is conspiring to help you find that person.

Lost in Translation is a bittersweet variation on the soul mate theme: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are two married people (married to other people!) in spiritual crisis who meet each other in a posh hotel in Japan. They are drawn to each other despite their marriages and the big age difference between them, and we feel a simultaneous HOPE and FEAR that they will get together. We want it at the same time we sense it’s wrong. But the story is really about — to me — the concept that we may have lived multiple past lives, with multiple lovers, and sometimes in the midst of a crisis, one of those soul mates will show up to guide you through the dark woods … but not necessarily stay with you. In the Final Battle (the film’s climax), Bill does not sleep with Scarlett, and they part ways, but their lives have been transformed by each other nonetheless.

Notting Hill is an interesting story because there’s no one person who’s the antagonist (even though Alec Baldwin does a charming turn as the rival, the movie star boyfriend). The real obstacle to Hugh Grant’s and Julia Roberts’ relationship is her fame, and each sequence explores a different aspect of that celebrity and how it keeps the couple apart.

Philadelphia Story has a very sophisticated underlying premise: Cary Grant knows that Katharine Hepburn will never be able to love him fully until she steps off her pedestal and has a roll in the mud. It’s only after she abandons herself and sleeps with Jimmy Stewart (oh, come on, you know they did!), that she is fully human to love Cary.

Try it with your own list!

Every time I teach a story structure class it’s always fascinating for me to hear people’s lists, one after another, because it gives me such an insight into the particular uniqueness of the stories each of those writers is working toward telling. The list tells you who you are as a writer. What you are really listing are your secret thematic preferences. You can learn volumes from these lists if you are willing to go deep.

I really urge you to create your list, and break those stories down to see why they have such an impact on you — because that's the kind of impact that you want to have on your readers.  Why not learn fron your favorite storytellers how to do it?

So of course, what I want today is love stories! What are yours? What romantic themes particularly resonate with you?

Happy Valentine's Day!

      - Alex


The writing workbooks based on this blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


Sign up for my Story Structure mailing list to receive movie breakdowns, story structure articles, and other bonus materials.

(This mailing list is NOT the same as the RSS feed of the blog - you must opt in to this list to receive the extras mailings.)
Story Structure extras

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Writing Journal, 1-29-15

Well, Thomas & Mercer has relaunched the first two books of the Huntress series this week, and I woke up  to the very happy circumstance of Huntress Moon and Blood Moon being at the top of the crime fiction charts in several categories. It's a thrill to have this many new readers being introduced to the books all at once, and I deeply thank those of you who are already following the series for patiently (or not so patiently, I know!) allowing other readers to catch up before the launch of Cold Moon.  It's been hard for me, too, but the wait is almost over, and it's the best thing to have happened for the series in the long run.

Meanwhile, for the last three months I've been crazily editing, re-editing, and doing production work to get the three books ready for the launch, along with seizing a window (or what I thought was a window at the time...) to finish the expanded and revised Story Structure workbook.  

And I've been feeling like I've completely lost touch with what I was planning to do with Book 4 of the series and my new series.  In fact, that anxiety has built to a state that I suspect is what most people talk about when they say "writer's block."

Which is a bit of a crazy thing to say, given all the nonstop writing I've been doing for months. But it's not that first draft, new book writing.  I feel like I've been away from those two books so long I've lost all momentum. I've even thought I should just start all over with some new idea.

But this week I've had the truly interesting experience of being able to go back over some of my old journals of a really bad time of my life, when I was actually starting to work on the second draft of Huntress Moon. And with that documentary proof staring me right in the face,  I've been absolutely shocked to realize that I was not in any way concentrating on writing that book from start to finish.  It was a completely chaotic process that encompassed MANY stops and starts.  I wrote a whole paranormal book on contract in between the first draft and second draft of Huntress Moon.  I also finished a second writing workbook - Writing Love, the romance-centric version of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.  And I turned in two other book proposals, AND I got four books of my backlist back from my publisher and turned them into e books, meaning scanning, formatting, covers, etc.

In other words, my actual state of being and writing was exactly as chaotic and with as many sidelines and distractions as it is right now.

I was floored.  Here I had been thinking for the last half year that I had lost my ability to write books because I wasn't writing the new project from start to finish with no detours.  Now I find that that's not how I actually write books at all.  In fact, I might actually need those big gaps between drafts to let my books simmer on the back burner.

That discovery is a huge relief (although it also makes me think I might need therapy…).  And the weird thing is - I had completely forgotten that that was my process.  Writing a book is so encompassing, and hypnotic - almost like living in a dream for the entire time that you're writing.  Afterward you don't really remember how it happened.  But in this case, I'm so very grateful that I have  those sporadically-kept journals to remind me that writing is messy, and filled with anxiety and distractions, and seems endless, and makes me kind of crazy.  I really needed to see that where I am is completely normal, in all its insanity, and I CAN do it this way, because this is the way I do it.

So, authors - do you keep writing journals?  Have you ever had a similar experience, of getting hope and comfort from going back over those to see what your writing process actually is compared to what you THINK it is?

And readers - do you keep journals?  There are very few therapies or recovery programs that don't advocate journaling as a tool for discovery and healing.  Is that your experience?

     - Alex

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Huntress series relaunches - win a Kindle Voyage!

Thomas & Mercer is so excited about the re-releases of the first two books in the Huntress/FBI Thrillers series (HUNTRESS MOON and BLOOD MOON) that they’re giving me enough prizes for three whole months of giveaways leading up to the highly anticipated release of Book 3, COLD MOON. Prizes include three Kindle Voyages!

 If you've already subscribed to the mailing list on this website, you’re automatically entered in each month’s giveaway.

But just so you know - being subscribed to my Screenwriting Tricks blog is NOT the same as being subscribed to my personal mailing list. I keep the two lists separate so that you all only get the e mails you want from me.

You can sign up for my thriller mailing list and enter the contest on my Contest Page.

Giveaway #1:  Enter January 1 through January 31

      First Prize: 1 New Kindle Voyage 

      Second Prize: Books 1-3 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers in trade paperback, signed by me 

      Third prize: An audiobook edition of HUNTRESS MOON (50 winners - 1 audiobook each)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review copies of Huntress Moon and Blood Moon

The first two books of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI series are now available for download on Net Galley. Librarians, reviewers, bookstore folk, or bloggers who would like a review copy of either or both of these books, please email me (Alex  AT  alexandrasokoloff  DOT com)  and I'll get you links and instructions.

Please feel free to share with bloggers, reviewers, librarians and bookstore people you  know!

Thanks a million...  Alex

On another front, I have a question about the print version of Story Structure: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.  If you're interested in buying the print book, would you prefer it in trade paperback size, or a larger workbook size, like 8x10  or 8.5x11?

I appreciate the feedback!

- Alex 

Edited to add:   Wow, I just saw that the Huntress Moon audiobook is on sale on Amazon US right now for just $1.99! That's an incredible deal.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors is coming in print!

Yes, FINALLY, I’ve done the overhaul I needed to do with that book. I’ve revised the basic sections to reflect all the great stuff I’ve learned in the last few years (teaching writing workshops and film classes), and doubled the content, including adding six more full movie breakdowns. 

And now that I’ve done that, I’m putting out a print version, because it’s the one request I get most often on this blog and in workshops.

So many of you authors and aspiring authors have said such great things about the book and my workshops, and I’d like to add some of those testimonials to the book. So I’m putting out a call for blurbs: if you’ve used my Screenwriting Tricks or Writing Love workbooks, or taken one of my workshops, and would like to say something about the books or my teaching that I can include in the print version, I would be most appreciative! And of course I’ll credit your own books (“Your name, author/bestselling author/award-winning author of……”) in the blurb.  

Just message me here or drop me an email  (Alex  AT AlexandraSokoloff DOT com) if you’d like to contribute.

(The book will release in early March, after the rollout of my Huntress Moon series beginning on January 27.)

Thanks a million!

- Alex


The ebooks will remain available at the same low price: any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Sign up for my Story Structure mailing list to receive movie breakdowns, story structure articles, and other bonus materials.

(This mailing list is NOT the same as the RSS feed of the blog - you must opt in to this list to receive the extras mailings.)
Story Structure extras

* required


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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A month of resolutions

It’s still technically the New Year and I was looking back over some of my old New Year’s blogs and realizing that I basically have the same resolutions every year. With a bit of variation, but basically, the same.

And it occurred to me that it would be really intensely focusing for me to take those resolutions – or intentions – one at a time throughout the month and explore what I want to accomplish or how I want to live in each one of those areas.

Who knows if that will actually happen, given my work schedule and the rollout of the Huntress series starting on January 27! But I know for sure I haven’t been doing enough checking in with myself lately, and this is one way to challenge myself to do that.  

So here's one of those New Year blogs I'm looking at, with 2015 updates to come.

Intentional New Year
Hmm, wow, I get to blog on New Year’s Day.  That’s a lot of pressure!  Or not.  Maybe everyone will love me if I just speak very softly and in words of fewer than two syllables.
First of all, can I just say (for more than just myself, I know) –
I wish everyone here, and all our families and friends – and while I’m at it every sentient being on the planet – a joyful, ecstatically fulfilling, and transcendent year.
Okay, so the timing of this clearly means I was actually meant to do some actual resolutions.   But let’s say intentions, instead, because that word is more focusing for me and doesn’t remind me so much of dieting. 
What – (that is suitable for public posting) – do I really desire for this year, in the obvious main areas of my life?
- Living:  Be more conscious. 
Of everything – but what I mean by conscious is paying attention to what my life is telling me, and the Universe is telling me.   On good days I believe that the Universe is speaking to us all the time, even or especially on the bad days, and that the most fulfilling way of living is to listen for that guidance and be as much in the flow as we can be.  Unfortunately, most days I forget all that entirely as I get caught up in all the stuff, you know, the STUFF, and if you forget it too many days in a row you tend to start not believing it.   So I will pay attention to the synchronicities, and those small, insistent pushes, and those overtly symbolic dreams that scream at you in multileveled Technicolor  Stay away from that one you idiot or if you live you will regret it every day for the rest of your life  – and do my best to live every day as if I really have a purpose in life and even more importantly – that life has a purpose for me.
- Relationships:  Hmm, all right, without going into detail…
Love everyone more – but with better boundaries.  Look to recognize the god/dess in everyone.   As for the rest, sorry, but I did say only what was fit to post publicly.
- Dancing:  Dance more.  Period. 
I’m just a better person when I dance every day.  It makes everything better.
- Teaching:  Keep growing as a teacher, finding new ways to inspire people to tell the best stories they can.
But also, be more integrated about living my writing in my teaching and my teaching in my writing.  I think what I mean by this is – there’s no reason to compartmentalize.  It’s all part of the same process.   You only really teach by doing.
- Writing
Yes, this is my living, but I’ve got to say it’s terrifying to think of how many books I’ve committed to write this year.  Scary doesn’t begin to describe it – I must have been insane.   Actually, I think we’ve already established this.   But it’s too late to panic, now – I am just going to have to take it one day at a time, and learn how to not fight the process. Writing is always going to be exhausting: I like how author Joe Landsdale puts it:  “You never really rest; the synapses are firing all the time.”  But I am starting – starting – to believe I can be more gentle with myself about it and get just as much done, probably more.  Or better.   I have an inner slave driver that needs to get over itself.  I’m going to be more aware of when that self-punishing impulse in me starts to take over and just not let that happen.  I hope.
My writing intention is to write better books. 
Right – but how?  I think it has to do with committing even more to each story and the process – to recognize fear when it comes up and instead of pulling back and doing things to distract myself, treat the fear as a signpost that I’m on to something important and treat it as an opportunity to go deeper.   Again, this seems to be about being more conscious.
- Career:   Well, not like you can separate this from writing, but –
At Bouchercon in San Francisco this – I mean last! – year, I was in the bar – I mean lobby – bitching to Rob Gregory Browne and Marcus Sakey:  “I need to do something DIFFERENT.”  And Marcus said, “Honey, we’re all there.”
Hearing him say that was a huge reality check, because I realized he’s right in every way.  In fact, that’s always going to be the state of a writer’s career, or any artist’s.  We are always going to feel like we need to do something different – which means not just different, but also doing it differently.  And in fact we HAVE to always be doing something different, and differently.   It’s a good thing.
What I want to keep for every day of this year was the total inspiration I felt at Bouchercon – my sense of awe and pride about being able to live and work in the incredible worldwide community of mystery and thriller writers, to be constantly inspired and encouraged and often blown away by the creative risks my colleagues are taking, and to learn from their skill and commitment and passion to bring more depth and power to my own stories.   Lee Child says: “As crime writers we are all constantly building the genre with the work we do.”   My intention is to be more conscious that I am helping to build the genre, and to do my part with the work I do this year.   I think if I stay focused on that, the career will take care of itself.
I wish everyone here whatever is that inspiration for you.
So anyone out there want to share some intentions? 

- Alex