Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I'm chatting live tonight, 9pm ET

Just a quick note to let you all know - I'm chatting live tonight in the WriterSpace chat room, 9pm ET 
http://www.writerspace.com/chat/ 

It's 1 am for me so I'm not always coherent (!) but I'll happily answer any questions you might have about the Huntress series, my concern over escalating violence against women in the media and in life, and, um, story structure. 

All welcome, and there's an audiobook giveaway, too! 

YES, I am working on the Silence of the Lambs breakdown. Some family issues and a spate of traveling and the Cold Moon launch have slowed me down a bit….

     - Alex

Monday, May 04, 2015

Enough: Violence against women in crime fiction & film

I'm excited to announce that today Cold Moon, book 3 in the Huntress/FBI series, is available worldwide (ebook out now, print and audio coming July 7).

Anyone who's read the first two books in this series knows that I'm very passionate about it. More than passionate.

I'm writing these books because I've had enough.

Last summer I was at Harrogate, the international crime writing festival, and prominently displayed in the book tent was a new crime fiction release that featured a crucified woman on the cover. 

A crucified woman. On the cover.




It’s not like I’ve never come across a crucified woman in a crime novel before. In fact, I’ve had to stop reading three or four novels in the past two years when variations of this scene came up. But on the cover, now? The selling image of the novel?

2014 was also the year of the highly praised TV miniseries True Detective, which featured two complex male detectives and a female cast made up entirely of hookers, dead hookers, little dead girls, a mentally challenged incest victim, and the female lead: a wife who cheats on her husband with his partner because she’s too weak to just freaking leave him. Oh right, there was a female love interest who was a doctor – but she had, I believe, one line in the entire show. Maybe two.

Defenders of the show argue, “But the detectives weren’t sympathetic, either.” No, they weren’t, always – but unlike the entire female cast, they were actual, developed characters, not fuck toys for the male characters or – well, corpses.

Then there’s Game of Thrones – a great series that became unwatchable for me a while ago because of the overwhelming frequency of rapes. Defenders of that show say: “But in that world, in those warring countries, there would be a lot of rape. It’s reality.” Yeah, but if you’re arguing realism – the boys and male hostages would be being raped along with the women – just look at the US statistics of male-on-male rape in our own military. But on Game of Thrones, somehow it’s just the women. Over and over and over again.

And difficult as it is to confront the videogame images dissected in Anita Sarkeesian’s sobering series, “Tropes vs.Women”  - I think we can’t afford not to watch and learn. We’re going to have to wake up to the messages teenage boys are growing up with.

Those are just some high-profile examples. Believe me, I could go on all day and not scratch the surface.

So what do we do? How do we counteract the brutalization of women in crime fiction and media?

I suppose as an author you can avoid the issue by writing cozies, or another genre entirely. But I don’t read cozies, and I wouldn’t know how to write one. I used to teach in the L.A. County prison system. I want to explore the roots of crime, not soft-pedal it. For better or worse, my core theme as a writer is “What can good people do about the evil in the world?”

So my choice is to confront the issue head on.

The fact is, one reason crime novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is because it’s reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators – we’re the prey. Personally, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

But after all those years (centuries, 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?

So my Huntress Moon series is about just that.

The books are intense psychological suspense, and take the reader on an interstate manhunt with a haunted FBI agent on the track of what he thinks may be that most rare of killers – a female serial.

Now, I’ve been studying serial killers for years. Years ago, when I was a screenwriter writing crime thrillers, I tracked down the FBI’s textbook on sexual homicide before it was ever available to the public. I attend Citizens Police Academies and other law enforcement and forensics workshops whenever I get the chance. If I know there’s a behavioral profiler at a writing convention, I stalk that person so I can pick his or her brain about serial killers. And I attend Lee Lofland’s fantastic Writers Police Academy (a yearly three-day conference that’s a law enforcement and forensics immersion course).

And here’s what’s really interesting. Arguably there’s never been any such thing as a female serial killer in real life. The women that the media holds up as serial killers actually operate from a completely different psychology from the men who commit what the FBI calls “sexual homicide”. 

Even Aileen Wuornos, infamous in the media as “America’s First Female Serial Killer” wasn’t a serial killer in the sense that male killers like Bundy, Gacy and Kemper were serial killers. The profilers I’ve interviewed call Wuornos a spree killer with a vigilante motivation. (I write about her case, and the psychology of other real life mass killers, in Huntress Moon.)

So what’s that about? Why do men do it and women don’t? Women rarely kill, compared to men — but when it happens, what does make a woman kill?

Within the context of my Huntress series I can explore those psychological and sociological questions, and invite my readers to ask – Why? I can realistically bring light on crimes that I consider pretty much the essence of evil – and turn the tables on the perpetrators.

I do not depict rape or torture on the page. I can assure you, no one gets crucified. I think real life crime is horrific enough without rubbing a reader’s face in it or adding absurd embellishments (my personal literary pet peeve is the serial killer with an artistic streak or poetic bent).

In this series I can pose questions about human evil, as it actually presents in real life, without exploiting it. And I’ve created a female character who breaks the mold – but in a way that makes psychological sense for the overwhelming majority of people who read the books.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.

Because as one of the profilers says in the book: “I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more women acting out this way. God knows enough of them have reason.”


So I’d like to know: do the authors among you grapple with the issue of how to counteract the brutalization of women in crime fiction?  And what about readers? Do you ever feel that violence against women in crime fiction, TV and film has gone over the top?

     -- Alex


http://AlexandraSokoloff.com

________________________________________________________________________
   

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

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Silence of the Lambs: why no one has done it better


I’ve decided that for our next full movie breakdown I’m going to do The Silence of the Lambs.

Because oddly, I’ve never actually done it, here or in one of the workbooks. I reference it so often you would think I had, and I’ve actually taught the movie in my film classes - but that’s not the same as powering down and doing a full on-paper story breakdown.

And I’m in the mood to do it because I just started and almost instantly abandoned another one of those serial killer novels. I don’t usually read serial killer novels, even though I am sort of writing a serial killer series. But really the Huntress series is more like an anti-serial killer series.



However, The Silence of the Lambs is one of my all-time favorite books and movies.. It and Red Dragon are the platinum standard of serial killer novels and probably the reason that I ever pick up any other serial killer novel to begin with. And those books are also the reason that I almost always abandon any serial killer novel almost as soon as I start it – often in disgust and horror.

So over the next month or so (we’ll see how long it actually takes!) I’m going to explore what makes this particular story so great. And I’ll start today with some background.

It was Thomas Harris who mythologized the serial killer to classic monster status, although Stevenson’s Jekyll/Hyde, Stoker’s Dracula (supposedly based on the real-life Vlad the Impaler), and various depictions of Jack the Ripper were strong precursors. We are fascinated by the idea of pure evil in a human being. And because of Harris, the serial killer has become an iconic modern monster, like a vampire or werewolf or zombie (maybe replacing the pretty much defunct mummy!).

Because with Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Harris did a completely brilliant thing. In the 1970’s Special Agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (now called the Behavioral Analysis Unit) began a series of interviews with incarcerated serial killers to see what made these men tick and hopefully develop strategies for catching them. The agents, along with Professor Ann W. Burgess, compiled their findings into a textbook and started to train agents as profilers. This new department got a lot of press and media attention and a large number of authors jumped all over that research. But judging by the books that resulted, very, very few of those authors seem to have actually read those interviews.

Thomas Harris, though, took the same research that was available to everyone, and used a combination of absolutely precise fact and police procedure and a haunting mythological symbolism to create those first two books, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (and then Hannibal sort of went off the rails, if you ask me…). The result was two of the best horror/police procedural blend novels ever written. The killers Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) and Francis Dolarhyde were both more and less than human. And Lecter, of course, is a mythic archetype of the evil genius.

And then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and there are now hundreds of Lecters-lite, if you will.

I love Harris’s first two books for their mythic resonance. But I have a real problem with the way most authors portray serial killers because it’s so incredibly dishonest. They romanticize and poeticize serial killers – portraying them as evil geniuses that play elaborate cat and mouse games with detectives and law enforcement agencies. Yeah, right. These men are not geniuses. They don’t leave poems at crime scenes or arrange their victim’s bodies in tableaux corresponding to scenes of great art or literature. They are vicious rapists who brutalize their victims because the agony of those victims gets the killer off, and a large number of them continue to have sex with the corpses of their victims because they are that addicted to absolute control and possession.

That’s evil. But the serial killer subgenre as a whole has perpetrated a very unrealistic view of what these monsters really are. Most authors who write about serial killers don’t show the sexual correlation. They skirt around the issue of rape.

The very worst ones write torture porn - sexualizing the violence, fetishizing women’s bodies, sexualizing the torture of women (conveniently ignoring the fact that many of these killers rape and torture and kill men and children as well) and basically avoid portraying the pure horror of what these men actually do.

I’m sure some authors (not the last group) have an honest desire to create an exploration of mythic evil to rival Harris’s books. I get that. But the fact is, most authors (and screenwriters and filmmakers) who write about serial killers are dishonestly romanticizing them and leaving out the unmitigated, repellent malevolence of these men.

Thomas Harris managed to do everything those other authors/books do not: he portrayed mythic evil without sexualizing violence, and mythologized his killers without leaving out their malevolence. Let’s dig in to how he managed it.


As I talked about here, I will not be posting full story breakdowns on the blog anymore – I’m asking that you join my free Story Structure Extras list to get the story breakdowns.

If you haven’t joined the list, you can do it here, and get a full breakdown of The Wizard of Oz.  Then I'll mail the Silence breakdown in segments as I work through it.

    - Alex



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Huntress Moon and Blood Moon $1.99 - today only!

HUNTRESS MOON and BLOOD MOON are Kindle Daily Deals, $1.99 today only on Amazon US!

Both books are still just  £1 each on Amazon UK for the entire month of April, leading up to the release of Book 3, COLD MOON. Fantastic deals - please share!

Buy on Amazon US:  $1.99                                                                 Buy on Amazon US: $1.99

Buy on Amazon UK:  £1.00                                                               Buy on Amazon UK:  £1.00





















                                                         



Pre-order on Amazon UK



Pre-order on Amazon US



The Huntress/FBI Thrillers


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

FBI Special Agent Roarke is closing in on a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who was present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers… a female serial.

His hunt for her will take him across three states, and force him to question everything he knows about evil and justice.

                                                             -------

Book 1 of Thriller Award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff’s Huntress/FBI Thrillers, Huntress Moon, became a #1 Amazon mystery/thriller bestseller and was nominated for a Thriller Award for Best E Book Original Novel. The series has now been picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. The highly anticipated Book 3, Cold Moon, will release on May 5.

Told in continuous, serial format like True Detective and The Killing, and utilizing the intricate psychological/forensic procedure of Criminal Minds, the Huntress series sets a cast of complex FBI investigators in pursuit of an unforgettable female suspect who has been called “a female Dexter.” The story combines nail-biting suspense and a twisting mystery plot with deadly erotic tension, and has garnered hundreds of rave reviews from readers who find themselves sympathizing with its haunted male lead and unexpectedly empathizing with its highly unusual killer.

For thousands of years women have been the victims. Isn’t it time someone turned the tables?

Friday, April 10, 2015

House of Cards, S.3: Just tell me what they WANT

Like so many of you, I’m sure, Craig and I binge-watched Season 1 and 2 of House of Cards, ripping through each season as soon as they came out, in no more than two days each. Especially since Season 2 was even better than Season 1, we were waiting with bated breath for Season 3, ready to watch the whole thing in a weekend. Finally, the day arrived. We settled down in front of a fire, with the cat and Pop Chips, and prepared to be riveted.

And…

 It never got off the ground.

We let whole days go by between episodes. We watched other shows (Boardwalk Empire, love it! And may I say, a 1000% better character and performance for Paul Sparks in Boardwalk than in HOC 3), and other movies (Drop is so tense I spent pretty much the whole movie balled up in the corner of the couch).


Don’t get me wrong. I would watch Kevin Spacey sleeping, and I would watch HOC just for the way Robin Wright walks and holds herself and gets out of a car. I’m not about to give up on it.

But it does give me an excellent opportunity to rant about something I’m always telling you all here, and in the workbooks, and in workshops.

Because Season 3 makes a beginner’s mistake that is really quite shocking for such an accomplished show.

We don’t know what Frank Underwood WANTS.

Remember, the INCITING INCIDENT (or CALL TO ADVENTURE) starts a DESIRE in the protagonist, and they make a PLAN and gather ALLIES, either consciously or subconsciously, to go after that desire.

(If you need a refresher on internal and external desire, go here).

For Seasons 1 & 2, Frank and Claire want to be President (that is, they want Frank to be President and they both will rule). Very clear. They’re willing to do anything to get it. And the guilty pleasure of the show is that we know we shouldn’t want that for them, but we do anyway.

Well, in Season 3, they have become President. So now what do they want?

Okay, Frank wants to get re-elected, yeah. But why? He’s not exactly reveling in the power that he has. He’s certainly not driven in the way he was in Seasons 1 and 2. He just doesn’t seem to want it that much.

And yeah, he wants to pass and implement his America Works program. He may be a little bit more enthusiastic about that than wanting to be re-elected, actually. But why does he want it? In order to leave a legacy, his biographer says. But do we feel that? More importantly, do we want it FOR him, or want him NOT to get it? Aren’t you a little perplexed about why Frank wants AmWorks, and not at all sure why you should care?

This is why I am always saying - You have to tell your reader/audience what your main character (s) wants, and just as importantly, you have to make sure that WE WANT IT FOR THEM. 

Or, just as effectively,  you have make sure that we actively DON’T want them to get whatever it is.

Now as always, you may not agree with me. Maybe you were riveted by House of Cards, Season 3. Maybe you can even tell me exactly why we should care whether or not Frank gets AmWorks, or whether or not Claire gets to be Ambassador, or whatever it is SHE wants (to actually be President, I’m assuming…) 

I wish you would!

But it’s absolutely fine if you disagree. Remember, there’s no accounting for taste! The point is, HOC 3 is not working for me, and I have analyzed exactly what it is that’s going wrong for me and made a mental note never to let that happen in my own work. That’s practicing my craft, and that’s what I’m always encouraging you all to do.

So, HOC fans - what do YOU think? I'd love to be told off on this one!

      - Alex

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If you're in the UK - Amazon.uk has dropped the price of HUNTRESS MOON and BLOOD MOON to just  £1 each for the entire month of April, leading up to the release of Book 3, COLD MOON. Fantastic deal!

(And yes, that's a sneak peek at the COLD MOON cover - not finished, yet!)


Buy on Amazon UK    £1.00                                                               Buy on Amazon UK    £1.00





















Buy on Amazon US:  $3.99                                                                  Buy on Amazon US: $3.99



Pre-order on Amazon UK



Pre-order on Amazon US