Thursday, September 28, 2006

How far is too far?

I'll be guess blogging on Murder She Writes today... the question is "How Far is Too Far?" (See post below: could really use some help on that one...)

I'll check in with reports from Bouchercon. Maybe!

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How Far Is Too Far?

I had the fun of seeing and hanging and paneling with Deb Le Blanc (and even singing to her, in her absence!) at Heather Graham’s WRITERS FOR NEW ORLEANS conference two weeks ago (Photos HERE.).

And an interesting thing happened that weekend (well, a whole lifetime of interesting things, really, but…) that I’ve been thinking about ever since, and thought I’d talk about it for my guest blog, here.

It was the last day of the conference, and we’d just done a great group booksigning with BENT PAGES BOOKSTORE, and most of us had drifted out to the hall, and the generally supremely elegant and self-possessed Cherry Adair comes stumbling out of the signing room all dazed and flushed and glowing - almost like - well, you know… and she stops and says, not really to anyone in particular, more to herself and anyone who would listen and maybe understand:

“I just met my main character. That little bookseller”… (waving vaguely back toward the signing room)… “She’s my main character in the book I started this week.”

Man oh man, do I know what she means. I met a couple of my own characters that weekend, myself.

Partly that’s New Orleans, a city which, at least for me, seems to magnify intention and desire, all kinds of desire - sometimes for good, sometimes - not. And partly that’s travel in general. But partly, mostly, it’s being a writer, right? You start a new project and when it’s really going right, the story starts to manifest, literally manifest, around you.

(Doesn’t it? You do know what I mean, don’t you? Or have I finally made it over the deep end? No, I have proof. Cherry Adair is my proof. It’s not just me.)

A stranger really will walk up to you and you’re hit with some cosmic thunderbolt, because they are the living image of a character you’re trying to define, and suddenly you understand so much more about your story than you ever realized you were writing. You will find yourself in the exact situation that your main character is struggling with. You will walk around a corner and come face to face with the precise house your villain lives in.

It’s scary and mindblowing and ecstatically wonderful… and very, very disorienting. Reality starts seeming not so real.

Okay, so my question is… how far are we required to go along with this, for the sake of a story? Do the best writers completely abandon themselves to this ride, let the story take them over, start acting out the parts themselves? Do YOU?

Now, obviously, it would be a bad thing if we mystery writers started acting out - our villains, to state the obvious example! And let’s just assume for the sake of all that is holy that I am not looking for permission to behave badly with jailbait bookstore clerks simply because my new main character is a little - voracious, that way.

But we all do research - and when the research starts coming alive, where’s the line? Does everything you do take place behind your desk, or does a little real-life roleplaying help? In fact, does too much stability hinder the writing process, perhaps? (I’m thinking of some of my favorite authors who - while I’m happy that they’re alive - were simply much better writers when they were full-tilt batshit crazy.).

Or am I just trying to rationalize a desire to go farther than I should?

What’s your process? When your story starts coming alive, how far do YOU go?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Harrowing Tour, Week 3, part 1

Phoenix-Sedona

Monday, live TV interview with Good Day Arizona. It was an experience sitting in the lounge waiting for my interview – like being backstage of a vaudeville show: the strangest parade of characters. A woman with a large perfectly coiffured poodle, a blind man with a cane, a hair stylist teerering by in the kinkiest pair of shoes I have ever seen, and I’ve seen some. And yes, a little person marched by to complete the experience.

The anchor, Scott Pasmore, was a big flirt, as was the weatherman, Brad Perry - so we all had a good time. They fought over my book. This is a weird thing to do for a living.

Then I dropped in to talk ghosts with Les at Poisoned Pen, then drove to Sedona to do a screenwriting workshop at the Well Red Coyote - one of the prettiest drives in the US, I think… constantly changing scenery, from white hills to blood red rocks, armies of Saguaro. Sedona is amazing as ever – I swear I breathe better just crossing the city limits. I drove around looking at rock formations until sunset, then had dinner on the patio of vegetarian restaurant DeLish and watched the sun go down over the rocks.

Kris and Joe Neri have a great store and it was a fun group of writers and aspiring writers… I felt fairly useful.

Long drive back to Phoenix in pitch black (but a million stars!), passed out and woke up at 6:30 to fly out. Sitting in O’Hare right now, en route to Madison for Bouchercon. Let's get this party started.

Lessons from the road:

- You can never, EVER have too many bookmarks.
- Always check in at the curb. Counter agents will weigh your overweight baggage but Sky Caps will just smile and call you Shug and handle it for you.
- No matter how horrible and anxiety-ridden and neurotic writing is, NOT writing is so, so much worse.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

HARROWING Tour, Week Two (Cont.)

So Monday and Tuesday (Tour days 15 and 16, I think) were a little odd. I had to do my taxes. For 2005. (Note to new authors: Do NOT leave your taxes for the first week of the launch of your first novel. This seems self-evident, right? But just wait and see what YOU leave festering when you have a second book due the same day your first book is launched.)

I'd done most of the numbers - somehow - in various hotel rooms throughout the South. Finished off on Monday and turned it all in to my accountant on Tuesday. I feel 5 million years younger and 2 tons lighter. Now I can concentrate on WRITING on my off-hours during this tour, of which so far there have been none, but that has to change, because if I don't get some serious writing in soon I'm going to implode.

Wednesday was back to the tour for real. I did a bookstore blitz with LA media escort Ken Wilson, as lauded by Naomi Hirahara on Murderati.com - read in detail here. Ken is amazing, irrepressible, a consummate professional. We did a mad dash of 10 bookstore drop-ins, from Costa Mesa to Santa Monica. LA traffic. Wildfires burning on three sides of the city - by sunset the sky was apocalyptic.

But you can't argue with the method. You run into the store, meet the CRM and manager, sign the stock they have, leave a book for the employee most likely to love your genre and do a staff recommend, leave a stack of bookmarks, and on to the next. The great thing is that after every such visit, your signed books, which may only have been shelved before, are moved to a front table or end cap display. Exhausting, but so effective it seems not optional. Now, this is of course the exact thing Joe Konrath is doing all on his own. But working with Ken has its extreme advantages - he knows EVERYONE, and can steer you to the booksellers who really do hand sell. And there is NO WAY I could have done 20 bookstores in two days by myself, even on my home turf.

I dreamed of malls, that night.

Thursday I drove down to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego for a lovely evening hosted by Christine, Terri and Sam. Another bookstore you just want to live in.

Friday was my day off - to catch up on my record 888 e mails. Needless to say, I didn't.

Saturday, off with Ken again to do a sweep of selected bookstores in West LA, the Valley and Glendale/Pasadena, timed to arrive at 2 pm for a signing at Dark Delicacies with Barbara Hambly (RENFIELD) and the legendary Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. As owner Del Howson said - "Now that's a pair you want to draw to." I sold out my books, very satisfying! and got to catch up with friends - altogether great day.

Slept 11 hours then caught a plane to Phoenix (LAX is worse than ever, but couldn't get the right flight out of Burbank), where I am now (love the desert!!! - spectacular sunset over a park of surreal red rocks and anthropomorphic Saguaro... I could seriously live here if it weren't so far from the ocean...). Doing a TV spot tomorrow AM - Good Day Arizona, at 11, then hitting Poisoned Pen and then driving to Sedona (LOVE IT - can't wait!!) to do a signing and screenwriting workshop at Well Red Coyote.

Then on to BoucherCon, which actually sounds like a vacation by now! Can't wait to catch up with everyone there.


In case I don't have time to post this later, I'll be guest blogging at Murder She Writes, this Thursday, September 28th. Here's the link.

Friday, September 22, 2006

HARROWING Tour, Week Two

Unbelievable. I have one whole day today that I don't have to be anywhere. I don't have to drive. I don't have to go to any bookstores. I don't have to go through airport security twice at five a.m. because of that new bottle of Allure I forgot I had in my purse.

I have 888 (no lie) unanswered e mails in my inbox, but hey, I get to sit down to do it, right?

I'm going to try to recap the week, because at this rate if I don't make notes on it I'm not going to remember a single thing by mid-next week. (Blogs really do force you to journal - it's probably their best quality.)

So, last weekend, Sept. 15 & 16 was Killer Nashville - a brand new conference sponsored by MWA and put together practically singlehandedly on the Nashville side by the tireless Clay Stafford, with NY support from MWA goddess Margery Flax. I did my first half-hour TV interview with a local Nashville legend, John Seigenthaler, A WORD ON WORDS. It really was one of those Masterpiece Theater, two-armchairs-in-a-fake-book-lined-study interviews - something I never could have imagined myself doing. The lights went on for the taping and I had a moment of thinking - "This is one of those actor dreams, right? Only instead of being on stage and not knowing my lines, I'm supposed to have written a book and I don't know what it's about, and in a moment I'm going to realize I'm naked on top of everything else."

But it went amazingly well - John is a witty and graceful host and actually knew the book better than I do at this point. The producers loved the spot and asked me back next year for THE PRICE.

Then on to three panels and three signings. The whole conference was Southern authors, except for me, the new Southern half-transplant, and Reed Farrel Coleman, representing MWA and as much a fish out of water as I was, with that sexy gravelly Brooklyn accent of his.

My first panel was with Kathy Wall, Gwen Hunter and Mary Soams. All SO lovely and Southern (even though Kathy is a transplant, too, she fakes it a whole hell of a lot better than I do.). Now, I have this habit of balancing social situations. If people around me are talkers, I become the avid listener. If people are shy, I step up and entertain. So with all these Southerners around me, I became more and more Valley Girl as the panel went on. I could see myself doing it, but I couldn't stop myself. I'm sure a few attendees thought I was the flake of the universe, but mostly people were laughing, and we ended up having a good time.

I then had the great pleasure of going out on the town with the always entertaining JT Ellison and her adorable husband Randy. We went to a very LA new restaurant, Radius 10 - industrial chic, with about three dozen songwriters at the bar; then to a fantastic jazz club, Sambuca, very Gothic, really, red carpet and walls and shiny gauzy curtains and black leather couches and all these intimate little nooks and a great deck overlooking downtown and onstage a simply superb jazz combo, all my favorites - Hallelujah I Just Love Her So, Alabama Morning, some Marvin Gaye... just a wonderful evening, and so nice to get to know JT (and score her book, which I can't wait to land in one place long enough to read).

Saturday, more panels, always depressing to talk about screenwriting (!), then a fantastic closing reception at Landmark Books in Franklin - one of those bookstores (in an historic building in a very historic downtown) you just want to LIVE in. I found the most amazing prints from 1880 - absolutely haunted - as the bookstore itself is, apparently! Need to spend some quality time in Franklin, I think, and just see who or what materializes.

Then jumped a plane for L.A. at six fucking a.m., to arrive at 11 PST and drive (with minutes to spare) to my first signing at the West Hollywood Book Fair. This really was cutting it close and I don't recommend that kind of ridiculously tight scheduling - the stress level is not worth it. But it was home turf and I could drive it in my sleep (which, yeah, actually, I did.)

WeHo was HOT. I mean, Santa Ana, Southern California wildfire season HOT. People were staggering around in a dazed sweat. The festival was bigger than I'd been led to expect, so I was very pleased at my sales at Dark Delicacies and Sisters in Crime, and more people turned out for the Mysterious Galaxy panel than I would have thought, considering the place was a furnace by 4 pm. Old home day all the way around - I caught a quick picnic lunch with a bunch of my Berkeley college friends (SO nice, these random meetings...) had brief encounters with some WriterActioners and some new author friends, the lovely and talented Naomi Hirahara, Brett Battles, Sue Ann Jaffarian (okay, I can't start this list or we'll be here all day) and caught up with Killer Thriller Band producer Bob Levinson and my sister Killerette Harley Jane Kozak. All way too short.

And you know what? Raleigh has many fine qualities, but I really, REALLY miss the cross-dressing.

Cocktail party at dusk at the Blue Whale (the Pacific Design Center, a monument to LA opulence) where I got to reminisce with my former boss from the Bodhi Tree, Stan Madsen, and the real force and heart of the store, Neisha, and also got a great shot of inspiration from the NOW and WriteGirl sponsors of the party. That's right - I ankled the screenwriting gig so I could WRITE STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS without tampering. Really nice to be reminded of the mission.

Whew. That was just three days. A whole week to go. Think I'll take a break and... answer more e mails.

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Orleans photos

Romance writer Brenda Joyce was one of the fun and fabulous authors at Heather Graham's Writers for New Orleans. Brenda has posted photos from the conference on her site (so I don't have to figure out how to!).

Link here

I wrapped up Killer Nashville Saturday night at a really lovely party at the very haunted Landmark Bookstore in Franklin, TN, then hopped a plane to LA at 6 am to get to my first panel at West Hollywood Book Fair - a very HOT but lovely day - got to see tons of old and new friends. No time to write about all right now but I can tell you one standout detail - there were far more transvestites at WeHo than Killer Nashville.

I also saw an amazing sunset - on, yeah, Sunset Blvd. - a surreally huge magenta sun swimming in crimsons and oranges and fuschias... it was straight out of science fiction. I'll never, ever forget the image - it's a good thing I didn't have an accident, I was so mesmerized.

More later!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Scary Virtual Cocktail Party

I'm the guest at the Good Girls Kill for Money Virtual Cocktail Party today - focus on scary.

Drop by and tell what scares YOU!

http://www.good-girls-kill.com/2006/09/15/and-now-back-to-our-regularly-scheduled-program/

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tour - Week 1 1/2 (the Virtual Everglades)

What a whirlwind. This week, three signings in South Carolina, on to Savannah, next day Orlando for SIBA – the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show. Stayed at the very Disneyland Gaylord Palms Resort – a hotel built around a football arena-sized atrium of Everglades recreation – crab shacks and gator lagoons and piped-in mist and cricket sounds and air conditioning and complete and utter lack of bugs. Lavish, but – weird. Had a great time at the MWA/Sisters in Crime booth, ghoulishly decorated under the direction of the tireless and charming Pamela King Cable. We all went out to dinner at an even weirder spot – Celebration – a planned community near the hotel – also very Disney – spotless and plastic. Having never been to Florida I had had no idea how much the Empire had permeated Florida. But surprisingly good Italian food.

Meeting all those independent booksellers at once was just great – I was thinking that it’s just not possible for a tour of individual stores can possibly be as effective.

Then a long drive back up to Charleston, where I spent the night with my screenwriter friend Katherine Fugate, who’s executive producing her first TV pilot, ARMY WIVES, there for Touchstone/Showtime. Charleston is way cool, reeking with history and that great port energy and I can’t wait to go back, but it didn’t get under my skin in the same way Savannah did.

Then drove back to Raleigh to do a reading and signing at the incomparable Quail Ridge Books. What a great event! It’s so much nicer to do an actual interactive talk than to just sit there signing books, and I started rethinking my thinking on bookstore signings. We had dozens of people show up and it was a truly fun evening – owner Nancy Olson is a wickedly witty MC (she called me a degenerate – how could I not love someone who GETS me like that?)

That was my very first time actually reading aloud from the book, and apart from the fact that I really do need to get Lasik surgery, like, yesterday, it went over perfectly. Of course, I’d been able to watch Margaret Maron do a program just a few weeks before, so I was able to steal her technique!

Off to Nashville frighteningly early in the morning – for my first TV interview tomorrow – “A Word on Words” – and then Killer Nashville this weekend – and then L.A. Sunday morning to do the West Hollywood Book Fair, then…

Well, it goes on….

I'm the guest at Tasha Alexander's Virtual Cocktail Party this Friday over at Good Girls Kill for Money, so drop by and have a drink! I myself am going to need one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Savannah... Wow....

Okay. This book tour road trip thing is amazing - and challenging. Definitely. I naively didn't realize how many reschedulings and adds there would be every day along the way. It's okay, I can handle it. Um... when do I sleep?

I am going to be a basket case by next week, never mind November.

I'm in Savannah, now. I got here at dusk and it is raining like --- hell --- but I just bought an umbrella (for a California girl the idea of packing an umbrella in SEPTEMBER... sheesh...) and walked right out into historic downtown Savannah.

OH. MY. GOD.

Now, maybe it's partly the rain, and partly I'm a sucker for brick and Spanish moss - and ghosts - but this city is AMAZING. It's so beautiful and soft and wet and lacy and fucked up all at once. The river. The cobblestones. The fantasic park squares canopied in oaks, every two blocks. The air (you could really just lie back and sleep on it...) The Cotton Exchange (you want to talk about ghosts? The hair is still standing up on the back of my neck...)

I am as wet as it is possible for a human being to be, without having gone deep sea diving in my clothes, and my new umbrella got blown inside out, but I am FULL of stories already. It's like walking into a full-scale diorama of Pirates of the Caribbean, only - American. I only came back in because a lot of speedy reprobate men were starting to hand me these odd little flowers made of some golden fibery plant material I still can't identify (sugar cane??) but which must have some historic significance, because they're just everywhere. I was afraid to linger long enough to ask. I've read ALICE IN WONDERLAND, okay? (But so, what happens if I eat one? Enquiring minds want to know...)

I really think I need to live here for a while and just see what happens. The writing would be unbelievable, I know.

Give me a port town any day, and I'm home.

Must make all kinds of notes now, but FYI I'm guest blogging for May at http://miladyinsanity.wordpress.com/ tomorrow (blog post immediately below).

You know, last words, in case I end up nibbling on one of these golden flowers as a midnight snack and never being heard from again.

Honestly, it's tempting...


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Writing is My Insanity



In keeping with the title of May’s blog, I thought the topic for my guest blog was pretty obvious.

My Insanity–is writing.

People always think it’s so cool when you tell them you’re a writer. These are clearly people who are not writers. Writing is a really startlingly crazy thing to do–it just doesn’t always look like it from the outside because it involves so much, well, sitting. But what goes on inside my head–WHO in their right mind would want to be inside my mind?

So why do I write? That’s absurdly simple–I can’t help myself. It’s a ompulsion. I know I’m not alone, there, because I know writers. My friends are writers, I work with writers in the WGA, I run a message board for over 1800 professional screenwriters–so I know. Writers run toward the neurotic, the anxiety-prone, the
obsessive, the compulsive, the obsessive-compulsive, the bipolar - and often all at once. (See Kay Jamison’s excellent TOUCHED WITH FIRE for an analysis of the creative temperament and bipolar disorder.) In fact, I’m quite sure someday someone will identify writing as a form of OCD and there will be a simple medication we can take. Not that most of us WILL take it, of course, because like bipolar people, we writers get off on our disease.

And yes, I think writing, actual writing for a living, is a disease.

Because, look - it’s certainly not EASE, now, is it?

An artist friend of mine recently asked me what was the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made for my art. This is a good question. There are a million sacrifices, all the time. But my actual answer surprised me. My biggest sacrifice has been peace of mind (and possibly my immortal soul, but that’s another blog. Actually it’s my next novel. Well, all right, never mind.)

Here’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about. My first book, THE HARROWING, http://alexandrasokoloff.com/ comes out this weekend. My first book. Everyone keeps asking me, “Aren’t you excited?” Well, aren’t I? MY FIRST BOOK. Published. In fine bookstores near you. I should be on Cloud Nine.

Instead, I’m still frantically arranging different promotional ploys. I’m trying to keep up with the whole Internet thing (The Dark Salon Blog, MySpace, Writer Action, my own website). I’m trying to pack for my tour. I’m reaching out to libraries. I’m trying to figure out Vertical Response so I can send out an announcement. I’m putting the last touches on my second book, THE PRICE (due in to St. Martin’s on Sept.1), and already, compulsively, outlining the third one.

When do I just stop and celebrate?

The answer is–I won’t. I won’t STOP, anyway. I’m certain to do some celebrating at the many conventions I’m going to on tour this fall. Thank God for conventions–they make me feel I have something resembling a life. In fact, by the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans with my friend and soul-sister Heather Graham at her Writers for New Orleans Workshop, talking with Heather and Christine Feehan and Cherry Adair and Deborah Leblanc about vampires and ghosts and other things we love that go bump in the night and taking ghost carriage rides and performing some spooky, sexy musical thing with Heather again for the Saturday show. So, you know–it’s not that I can’t party with the best of them. Since I know that’s coming, I can delay some gratification for another week, right? Maybe the actual definition of professional writing is just that: delayed gratification.

And when I actually, finally HAVE to celebrate, I’m pretty darn good at it.

I asked a friend of mine (who as a retired librarian and library liaison of Sisters in Crime knows everything there is to know about authors and the book biz) if it was weird and abnormal of me to be so NOT excited, and she said that it probably had a lot to do with the fact that (as a screenwriter) I’ve been in the writing business for so long, now. It’s true (and I was relieved to hear someone else be so logical about it.). I’ve made my living at writing for a good long time, now, and I know that the external satisfaction is fleeting and insubstantial.

So if seeing my book in bookstores is not the payoff, and if good reviews are not the payoff, and if being contacted for TV and radio interviews is not the payoff, and having total strangers write me
(already!) and tell me how much they loved my book is not the pay off (although I have to admit that’s pretty startlingly wonderful!)…

What IS the payoff, exactly?

The payoff is simply–FINISHING.

I write because there are these people inside my head who are so real to me that I can’t rest until I make them real for other people. Because for some reason I feel an immense, endless obligation to these people–to let them out of my head into the world. I do all this endless, constant, obsessive thing I do - for the sake of IMAGINARY people.

How crazy is that?

But that–is the only–fleeting–peace.

That’s my insanity. And I love it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Writers for New Orleans

I just wrapped up a fantastic conference and book signing - Heather Graham's Writers For New Orleans, over the Southern Decadence weekend (picture Halloween in the Castro on Bourbon Street - yeow!) - and, well, you can imagine what my head feels like just about now! I had more fun than is probably legal in a significant number of states.

I'm doing the monthly Spotlight interview over at WriterAction.com (the message board for professional screenwriters) - yes, while on tour - and while I was waiting for my next connection at the Memphis airport I checked in and found that along with a flurry of questions about how I made the transition from screenwriter to novelist, I got a kind of in-joke question: "How do you feel about singing?" (from Bob Levinson, the visionary producer of the Killer Thriller Band - see previous posts on ThrillerFest).

But since I am not at the moment capable of coherent thought about real issues of transitioning from screenwriter to author, I actually started sleeplessly and hungoveringly pondering Bob's question, and realized it was - well, relevant.

Singing is so far the best part of being an author - out of a million great things. Who'da thought I'd be using my musical theater training more now than at any time since college (and my lost theatrical period immediately after...?)

My friend and sister Killerette, bestselling author (of 125 books!!!) and force of nature Heather Graham, does these great musical productions for Romantic Times and other conventions, including this one of hers this weekend, and she and a band of her children and devotees, now including me, somehow learned seven New Orleans-centric songs in a four-and-a-half hour rehearsal, complete with historical revue - and performed the whole show Saturday night. And then somehow ended up doing Hand Grenades in a male strip club, and that was all before midnight. I don't dare to start about what happened AFTER...

There is actual relevance to the singing part, though. Being an author is so much about YOU. It's, in fact, ALL about YOU, to a degree that is positively unnerving for me as a screenwriter. For an author, getting any kind of attention and focus is good. I sold a ton of books at the Sunday signing - and I know it has a lot to do with having been front and center in the entertainment portion of the conference.

The fact that one of those songs was Lady Marmelade probably didn't hurt, either.

I LOVE this whole unexpected part - I suddenly feel I have a second career as a rock star.

Kind of.

Along with all those weird and wonderful rock star things like waking up in a different town every day and meeting the most amazing people and bonding with them in ways that you would never expect and knowing that they're going to be friends for life. Nothing like OTR, as my sister and brother and I say... On The Road.

Going to bed, now - but I'll again leave you with the link to the Bourbo Cam. Check it out about eight pm (PST) or 11 pm (EST) tonight - should be some Decadence still going on. At this very moment, not a creature is stirring - the hangovers will last for WEEKS...