Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: The Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure

Today we talk about maybe the most useful thing you can ever learn about story structure. If you read any post in this Nanowrimo Prep series, this is the one!

(If you're just joining us today, you'll want to read this post first:

Brainstorm Your Book with Index Cards
So last post I asked you to try brainstorming on index cards: writing down each scene you already know about your book on the cards, one scene per card. And if you did that, I bet you came up with all kinds of other scenes, right?

You'll probably want to keep brainstorming scenes. But now we can also go on to arranging these scenes into a story.

We're going to do that on a structure grid, like this:

Yikes! What the hell is THAT?

Well, there's a rhythm to dramatic storytelling, just as there’s a rhythm to every other pleasurable experience in life, and the technical requirements of film and television have codified this rhythm into a structure so specific that you actually already know what I’m about to say in this post, even if you’ve never heard it said this way before or consciously thought about it.

And what’s more, your reader or audience knows this rhythm, too, because of all the thousands of films and TV shows we've all seen in our lifetimes. Which means your reader unconsciously EXPECTS it. Which means whether you're writing film, TV or books, if you’re not delivering this rhythm, your reader or audience (or prospective agent or editor) is going to start worrying that something’s not right, and you have a real chance of losing them.
You don’t want to do that!

                   Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

So today we’re going get conscious, and talk about everyone’s favorite subject. You know it’s true! What’s not to like about a climax?
Early playwrights (and I’m talking really early, starting thousands of years ago in the Golden Age of Greece) were forced to develop the three-act structure of dramatic writing because of intermissions (or intervals). Think about it. If you’re going to let your audience out for a break a third of the way through your play, you need to make sure you get them back into the theater to see the rest of the play, right? After all, there are so many other things a person could be doing on a Saturday night….
So the three acts of theater are based on the idea of building each act to a CLIMAX: a cliffhanger scene that spins the action of the play in such an interesting direction that the audience is going to want to hurry back into the theater at the warning chime to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Many plays have just one break, at the middle, so the Midpoint Climax is equally important.
This climactic rhythm was in operation for literally thousands of years before film and television came along and the need for story climaxes became even more, um, urgent. Not just because life was faster paced in the 20th century, but again, because of the technical requirements of film and television.
In a two-hour movie, you have not three climaxes, but seven, because film is based on an eight-sequence structure. And of course these days you'll need to factor in a teaser, something that happens in the first three minutes or so.
The eight-sequence structure evolved from the early days of film when movies were divided into reels (physical film reels), each holding about 10-15 minutes of film. The projectionist had to manually change each reel as it finished, so early screenwriters incorporated this rhythm into their writing, developing sequences that lasted exactly the length of a reel and built to a cliffhanger climax, so that in that short break that the projectionist was scrambling to get the new reel on, the audience was in breathless anticipation of “What happens next?” – instead of getting pissed off that the movie just stopped right in the middle of a crucial scene. (If you get hold of scripts for older movies, pre-1950’s, you can find SEQUENCE 1, SEQUENCE 2, etc, as headings at the start of each new sequence.)
Modern films still follow that same storytelling rhythm, because that rhythm was locked in by television – with its even more rigid technical requirements of having to break every fifteen minutes for a commercial. Which meant writers had to build to a climax every 15 minutes, to get audiences to tune back in to their show after the commercial instead of changing the channel.
So what does this mean to you, the novelist or screenwriter?
It means that you need to be aware that your reader or audience is going to expect a climax every 15 minutes in a movie – which translates to every 50 pages or so in a book. Books have more variation in length, obviously, so you can adjust proportionately, but for a 400-page book, you’re looking at climaxing every 50 pages, with the bigger climaxes coming around p. 100 (Act I Climax) p. 200 (Midpoint Climax), p. 300 (Act II Climax), and somewhere close to the end.

Also be aware that for a shorter movie or book, you may have only three acts and six sequences.
So again, if you put that structure on a grid, it looks like this:




Looking at that grid, you can see that what I started out in this article calling the three-act structure has evolved into something that is actually a four-act structure: four segments of approximately equal length (30 minutes or 100 pages), with Act II containing two segments (60 minutes or 200 pages, total). That’s because Act II is about conflict and complications. While plays tend to have a longer Act I, because Act I is about setting up character and relationships, the middle acts of films have become longer so that the movies can show off what film does best: action and conflict. And books have picked up on that rhythm and evolved along with movies and television, so that books also tend to have a long, two-part Act II as well.
You don’t have to be exact about this (unless you’re writing for network television, in which case you better be acutely aware of when you have to hit that climax!). But you do need to realize that if you’re not building to some kind of climax in approximately that rhythm, your reader or audience is going to start getting impatient, and you risk losing them.

Once you understand this basic structure, you can see how useful it is to think of each sequence of your story building to a climax. Your biggest scenes will tend to be these climaxes, and if you can fit those scenes onto the grid, then you already have a really solid set of tentpoles that you can build your story around.
So here’s a challenge: Start watching movies and television shows specifically looking for the climaxes. Use the clock on your phone or the counter on your DVD player to check where these climaxes are coming. It won’t take long at all for you to be able to identify climactic scenes, every 15 minutes or so.
Your next task is to figure out what makes them climactic!
I can give you a few hints. The most important thing is that the action of your story ASKS A QUESTION that the audience wants to know the answer to. But climaxes also tend to be SETPIECE scenes (think of the trailer scenes from movies, the big scenes that everyone talks about after the movie).
And what goes into a great setpiece scene?

That’s another post!
For today, try making yourself a structure grid. You can use a big piece of cardboard, or a white board or cork board, or Post-its on a blank wall. I particularly like trifold boards, like kids use for science projects - you can get them at any Office Depot or Staples for a few bucks.





Now take the index cards you've been brainstorming and start to stick them on the structure grid.

This is the fun part, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. If you know where a scene goes, or approximately where it goes, you can just pin it on your board in approximately the right place. You can always move the cards around. And just like with a puzzle, once you have some scenes in place, you will naturally start to build other scenes around them.

I love the cards because they are such an overview. You can stick a bunch of vaguely related scenes together in a clump, rearrange one or two, and suddenly see a perfect progression of an entire sequence. You can throw away cards that aren’t working or make several cards with the same scene and try them in different parts of your story board.
Can you pick out some scenes that are natural climaxes?

You will find it is often shockingly fast and simple to structure a whole story this way.

Give it a try! 

- 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.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.


                                        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, ten complete ones and lots of partials.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $15.99
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)









Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


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

Want to sell to television? Read books and series that have sold. :)

HUNTRESS series ON SALE for $1.99 US.

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

 
Click here to shop.



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: Brainstorm your book with index cards

THE INDEX CARD METHOD

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Two weeks to #Nanowrimo. Are you panicking because you have only the vaguest clue what you're writing about?

Here's a fun and lighting-fast brainstorming method that I absolutely guarantee will get you closer to understanding the story you want to write.

It's the number one structuring tool of most screenwriters I know. I have no idea how I would write without it.

                                         Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


Get yourself a pack of index cards. You can also use Post-Its, and the truly OCD among us use colored Post-Its to identify various subplots by color, but I find having to make those kinds of decisions just fritzes my brain. I like cards because they’re more durable and I can spread them out on the floor for me to crawl around and for the cats to walk over; it somehow feels less like work that way. Everyone has their own method - experiment and find what works best for you.

A movie has about 40 to 60 scenes (a drama more like 40, an action movie more like 60),  every scene goes on one card. Now, if you’re structuring a novel this way, you may be doubling or tripling the scene count, but for me, the chapter count remains exactly the same: forty to sixty chapters to a book.



So count yourself out 40-60 index cards. That's your book! You can actually hold it in your hand. Pretty cool, right?

All you do at first is write down all the scenes you know about your story, one scene per card (just one or two lines describing each scene - it can be as simple as - "Hero and heroine meet"  or - "Meet the antagonist".)

You don’t have to put them in order yet - that's the next post!

I love the cards because they are such an overview. You can stick a bunch of vaguely related scenes together in a clump, rearrange one or two, and suddenly see a perfect progression of an entire sequence. You can throw away cards that aren’t working, or make several cards with the same scene and try them in different parts of your story board (which we'll talk about next).

You will find it is often shockingly fast and simple to structure a whole story this way.

ASSIGNMENT:

-- Get a pack of index cards or Post Its and write down all the scenes you know about your story.


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

All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in the workbooks.:

                                           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:




Next up: The Story Grid

 

___________________________________________________________________


Huntress series sale, $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.




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. 


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