Saturday, May 30, 2009

UNSEEN tour diary Day Three...or maybe Day Four

Three? Four? One of those.

Okay, I could live with waking up and seeing the Hudson River every day.

Staying in Battery Park City, a part of NY I have grown to love; such a great riverwalk and of course, unbelievable restaurants. We had Chinese food of the gods the first night and I think I could eat that same meal every night of my life until I die and never get tired of it.

It was VERY rainy the first night but this morning? Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Fog has finally lifted and it's going to be spectacular. Which makes it hard to think about heading into a convention center for most of the daylight hours.

But yesterday at BEA was incredibly productive - well, of course! - and not even that tiring because I can use the Horror Writers Association booth (number 5074 for anyone cruising the floor) as home base and sit and chill whenever I want to, plus sign books and chat with people at leisure.

I walked the floor with Best Agent in New York, Scott Miller, and got business done right away, some exiting stuff.

Mystery Writers of America booth is in a GREAT location (Booth 3828) and got huge traffic all day long - we always do, but this year especially, because the Expo is very light on its usual stacks of free galleys and people were lining up for our books. So nice to have person after person say - "I LOVED your last two books!"

I felt things were much slower and smaller compared to the last two years, but BEA is so huge to begin with, a little less doesn't matter to ME. But perhaps it's the death of publishing as we know it. Will be interested to hear what other people have to say.

Harlequin party was as usual, a trip. This year it was in a Soho gallery that's showing a retrospective of art from Harlequin covers and I was really mad that I had to talk to anyone instead of just wandering around gaping at the displays - such an incredible history of - well, feminism, really, in that artwork. I hope there's going to be a book.

The most men I've ever seen at a HQ party, last night. Oh, and speaking of men - I do love NY for the jaw-droppingly gorgeous specimens strolling around here, that can just randomly appear from elevators or doorways. I think part of it is just the sheer number of men - therefore you're going to get more diamonds proportionately, but wow, eye candy galore.

Day continues to get more lovely. Revised plan is to go to the Met via a walk across Central Park before hitting Expo. I mean, there's business and there's LIFE.

We'll see how far I get before guilt kicks in.

Oh, and I have a diary of a different sort as my guest blog on Jungle Red this weekend.

- Alex

Thursday, May 28, 2009

THE UNSEEN tour diary - Day One.

The interesting thing about a book coming out is that it's just like a baby (not that I would know, but I hear tell). They come out when they come out - there's nothing you can do about it.

So ready or not, I'm on tour for THE UNSEEN.

In a happy synchronicity, on Tuesday night Lee Child was at my favorite bookstore in Raleigh, Quail Ridge Books and Music, signing GONE TOMORROW.

Since I never get to see Lee speak at conventions because I'm always too busy doing - that thing that we all do at conventions - this was actually the first time I've heard him speak (as opposed to flirt or quip). It was very inspiring - I now understand a LOT more about series characters, which I will blog about for Screenwriting Tricks when I have more time to think about it, and I also learned volumes about the business. No, that's not what I mean. I learned volumes about CAREER - which is a different thing entirely.

Always, always go hear your favorite authors speak. You will always hear exactly what you need to know at the time, it's like magic.

So that was a great jump start for my own tour experience, and yesterday I drove to Richmond and did bookstore drop-ins (great, enthusiastic response, there, and very easy to navigate - I'll definitely be coming back. The day was gorgeous, there are millions of wildflowers, this ethereally glowing lavender and yellow daisies and blood-red poppies, just lovely. Between the bookstores It was SO RELAXING to be on the road and not in front of a computer. I didn't even hit any Beltway traffic. I sang along to the radio to warm up for our Slush Pile Band performance at the Stokers next week, and when got closer to D.C., I alternated between listening to NPR and this ultra-conservative radio show, which was hilarious. Things are definitely better in the country when I can actually laugh at these guys, as opposed to, you know, screaming.

Spent the night in Vienna, a gorgeous little enclave, and spent time catching up with great friends, and I'm driving up to BEA with my friend Natasha today.

I love the road trip thing. I could do it for weeks. Oh, right - I AM doing it for weeks. Well, good thing I love it.

This whole love affair with the road started early for me, and I blogged about it on Kaye Barley's Meanderings and Muses today: Lessons from the Back Seat.

I also blog about the less peaceful - okay, insane - aspects of a book launch on Jungle Red on Saturday and Sunday.

I'll try to blog on BEA, but we'll see how it goes!

- Alex


Friday, 8:02 am

I'm heading off to the Javits Center for BEA.

Today I'll be signing at the Horror Writers Association booth from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, giving away THE HARROWING and THE PRICE. (I'll be there again Sunday from 11:00 am to noon with THE UNSEEN).

Then I'll be at the Mystery Writers of America booth from 3:15-4:15, Booth #3828
signing THE UNSEEN.

As usual I packed completely wrongly. It is rainy and cold.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Parapsychology, ESP, Zener cards, and THE UNSEEN

Hmm, something big is happening today… if only I could…

Oh, RIGHT!!! The Unseen is out! In bookstores!! RIGHT NOW!!!!

The Unseen is a book that has been percolating for a long, long, LONG time.

Since my childhood, really.

I’m sure a good number of you recognize these:

The Zener ESP cards.

I don’t know about you, but just the sight of those images gives me a thrill. Maybe I mean, chill… because it’s all about the unknown. Do we have that sixth sense, the freaking power of extra-sensory perception, or do we not?

Well, parapsychologist Dr. J.B. Rhine said we do. All of us. And in the late 1920’s, on through the 1960’s, he used the brand-new science of statistics to prove it, in controlled laboratory experiments that made him a household name.

I have no idea how I first came to hear about this, but then again, I grew up in California, specifically, Berkeley - and astrology and Tarot and meditation and anything groovy and psychic was just part of everyday life.

And it was very, very early that I first heard of Dr. Rhine and the ESP tests. In fact, my sister the artist made a set of her own Zener cards when we were in just fourth or fifth grade. I swear, it was in the air.

Here’s the principle: take a pack of twenty-five Zener cards, five sets of five simple symbols: a circle, a square, a cross, a star, and two wavy lines, like water. Two subjects sit on opposite sides of a black screen, unable to see each other, and one subject, the Sender, takes the pack of ESP cards and looks at each card, one at a time, while the Receiver sorts another set of cards into appropriate boxes, depending on what card s/he thinks the Sender is holding and communicating.

Pure chance is twenty percent, or five cards right out of a deck. Because if you have five cards, chance dictates that you would guess right 20 percent of the time.

So anyone who scores significantly more than 20 percent is demonstrating some ESP ability. (The Rhine lab generally used 5 sets of cards for each test run).

You can try it online at any number of places, including here.

And seriously, don’t we all – or haven’t we all at some point – think we have some of that? It’s kind of seductive, isn’t it?

Now, what Dr. Rhine was doing with these Zener cards was truly revolutionary. By the 1920’s the whole world, pretty much, was obsessed with the occult and spiritualism, especially the idea of life after death and the concept of being able to connect with dead loved ones on whatever plane they were now inhabiting.

There were many factors that contributed to this obsession, but two in particular:

1. Darwin’s publication of THE ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES, in 1859, which began a worldwide anxiety about whether there was any afterlife at all… and a fanatic desire to prove there was… especially among some scientists, interestingly enough.


2. The Great War, or as we know it now, WWI, in which so many people died so quickly that traumatized relatives were desperate to contact their lost – children, to be blunt - infants, as in “infantry”, underage cannon fodder – and have some hope that they were not lost for eternity.

The Great War really kicked spiritualism into high gear.

This was the age of “mediums”, most of whom were total frauds, con artists who used parlor magician tricks to dupe grieving relatives into believing their lost loved ones were coming back to give them messages – for a hefty price.

Well, (after a brief stint in botany and an abrupt switch to psychology) Dr. J.B. Rhine began his career debunking fraudulent mediums. His commitment to the truth won him a reputation for scientific integrity and a position at the newly established parapsychology lab at Duke University in North Carolina, the first ever in the U.S., where Rhine and his mentor, William McDougall, embarked on a decades-long quest to use the brand-new science of statistics and probability to test the occurrence of psychic phenomena such as ESP and psychokinesis (the movement of objects with the mind).

Using Zener cards and automated dice-throwing machines, Rhine tested thousands of students under laboratory conditions, and by applying the science of statistics to the results, came to believe that ESP actually does occur.

Rhine’s wife and colleague, Dr. Louisa Rhine, conducted her own parallel study, in which she gathered thousands of accounts from all over the world of psychic occurrences and followed up with interviews, from which she isolated several extremely common recurring patterns of psychic experiences, such as:

Crisis apparitions: in which a loved one appears to another loved one at a moment of extreme trauma or death.

Precognitive dreams
: dreaming a future event.

Visitations in dreams: a dead loved one coming to a loved one in her or his sleep to impart some crucial bit of information.

Sympathetic pain: in which a loved one feels pain in a limb or elsewhere in the body when another loved one is injured in that place (often this is birth pains that a female relative will experience when a daughter or other female relative goes into labor).

The Rhines’ daughter, psychologist Sally Rhine Feather, has written a fascinating book on the above called THE GIFT, which was extremely helpful in my research for The Unseen.

Now, most people who read about the paranormal and parapsychology, even casually, are aware of Dr. Rhine and his ESP research. But most people are not as aware that researchers in the Duke lab also did field investigations of poltergeists, starting in the late 50’s and early sixties.


I don’t know about you, but that just rocks my world. What ARE they? Are they the projected repressed sex energy of frustrated adolescents? Are they ghosts? Are they some other kind of extra-dimensional entity? Is it all just a fraud, a fad, perpetrated by people who wanted media attention before the advent of reality TV?

So I’ve always wanted to so something, sometime, about the whole Rhine/Duke/ESP/poltergeist thing.

And then a few years ago I was visiting Michael in North Carolina and, as he is wont to do, he handed me a column torn out of the newspaper about a lecture on the Duke campus called: “Secrets of the Rhine Parapsychology Lab” and said, “You should go to that.” Because he knows I like that kind of thing, but he had no idea that I’ve been obsessed with Rhine since I was – seven, eight, whatever.

And I did go to the lecture, and I was stupefied to learn that after the parapsychology lab officially closed in 1965, when Dr. Rhine reached the mandatory age of retirement, seven hundred boxes of original research files were sealed and shut up in the basement of the graduate library, and had only just been opened to the public again.

Is that a story or what?

All those questions that instantly spring to mind. Why did the lab close, really? (Well, in truth, Dr. Rhine retired. But what if…) Why were the files sealed? Was someone trying to hide something? And most importantly - What the HELL is in those boxes? SEVEN HUNDRED boxes?

So you know that question authors love: Where do you get your ideas?

That’s where I got my idea for The Unseen. From the double extra large Southern man I live with. Get yourself one, they’re worth the trouble. Most of the time.

But it all started with a childhood obsession and years of random research on the subject that suddenly caught fire with some specific field research and one choice factoid.

So the lesson here, I think, is –

Forage widely. If a lecture at a library or university sounds intriguing, take a chance and go. You might get a whole book handed to you. And just always be adding to those open files in your head of potential projects. Read voraciously on the subjects that interest you. All this random research does eventually achieve critical mass, and suddenly you have a book.

We are so lucky as writers that our JOB is to pursue the things we’re passionate about. Take advantage and enjoy the hell out of it.

So now, for those of you who find the above intriguing, and/or who like your mysteries with a touch of the real-life uncanny, and/or who have gotten something out of my story structure posts, or who just love me in general, here’s your chance to show the love. Go buy The Unseen from your favorite independent bookstore RIGHT NOW, or if you can’t bear to think about getting dressed today, from Amazon (and then go buy great greeting cards and other people’s books from your favorite independent bookstore the next time you’re dressed and out of the house. If ever. Because I’m hardly one to make assumptions about that.).

And if you have no money at all, don’t despair, because first, you’re not alone, as I think we’re all painfully aware these days…

And second, we all still have the great gift of our public libraries. Click through this link right now and reserve The Unseen from your local library. (enter your zip to find all the libraries near you.) If they don’t have it yet, please please please - request it. Libraries have suffered cutbacks just like the rest of the known universe, but before the crash, the formula was that a library would buy a new hardcover for every five patrons who requested the book. So that is some truly powerful support you can give to your favorite authors: request a book, and that’s one-fifth of a hardcover sale, at no cost to you. Believe me, it really, really helps. (In fact, why not check out books by ten of your favorite authors every time you go to the library? I do, every single time. And I’m at the library A LOT.)

And now it’s your turn: tell us about a project that caught fire with the perfect research factoid. Or about a subject you wish you could find a thriller or mystery about. Or, on a completely different track: have you ever experienced a crisis apparition, a precognitive dream or visitation, or sympathetic pains? Or do you know anyone who has? Do you believe these things happen?

- Alex


Buy or reserve a copy now!

Find an independent bookstore near you:

Buy The Unseen on Amazon

Read an excerpt

Reserve The Unseen at your local library (Put in your zip code and a list of nearby libraries will come up!)



In-person signings:

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors - half day workshop in Los Angeles



I'm doing a very laid back, non-Konrath, un-type-A blog tour in between running around doing the physical tour thing, so check here for updates if you'd like to drop in and explore other blogs.

This week I'm at:

- Storytellers Unplugged: "Do You Believe?" (up now)

- The Kill Zone: "What Puts the Thrill in Thriller?" (up now)

- Thursday, 5.28: Meanderings and Muses: "Lessons from the Back Seat"

- Saturday, 5/30 and Sunday 5/31 - Jungle Red Writers: "Book Launch Diary"



Charlotte Examiner review

Dark Scribe magazine review

Genre Reviews review


Story Structure Articles

And for those of you who are looking for the story structure articles, in order - I've compiled a Table of Contents with links to make things easier for everyone.

If you're in Los Angeles, I'm giving a half day workshop in Burbank on June 13. Details here.

Have a great week, everyone, and I hope you enjoy The Unseen.

- Alex

Monday, May 25, 2009

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop in Los Angeles

For those who have been asking about the L.A. class, I’ve just been informed that the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop I’m teaching at the Stoker Weekend in Burbank, CA, on June 13, is now open to people as a separate admission price – you do not have to be registered for the whole Stoker weekend to take the workshop.

Cost is $50 for a half-day workshop, and if you live in the L.A. area and would like to attend, you can register here. (Click on the button for Workshops on the left, and ignore the line about “You must have purchased a ticket for the Stoker Weekend.”)

If you have questions about the workshop, please e mail me at alex @ alexandrasokoloff dot com (no spaces).

And here's the Table of Contents to this site, with links to all the story structure posts in a relative order.

- Alex

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guest blogs at The Kill Zone and Storytellers Unplugged

I swear I'm not going to do this every day, but today I am doing two separate guest blogs, at The Kill Zone, where I'm talking about "What Puts The Thrill In Thriller?" - and I've already got a bunch of new (and classic) titles for my TBR list.

And at Storytellers Unplugged, where, since everyone always seems to ask me this, I talk about some of my own beliefs and psychic experiences. "Do You Believe?"

On Thursday I will be over at the wonderful Kaye Barley's Meanderings and Muses, sharing some "Lessons from the Back Seat."

And yes, there will be more story structure this week, before I hit the road for BEA.

Hope everyone is having a terrific long weekend!

- Alex

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Unseen – in bookstores this week!

Wow, it seems like I’ve been waiting a long time for this. At the same time, I desperately need another month.

Come to think of it, maybe everyone always needs another month.

But here we are, magically....... The Unseen hits bookstores this week, officially on Tuesday, but I am informed it's already out there for Memorial Day Weekend, so I thought I'd better mention it, for those of you who are heading straight to the bookstores today.

The Unseen is a spooky thriller that crosses mystery and the supernatural, with some romance, too, this time, because let me tell you, that haunted house I set the story in...

Well, you'll hear more about that, soon. But yes, my genre identity issues are alive and well in this one.

The story is based on the real-life, world-famous ESP experiments conducted by Dr. J.B. Rhine at the Duke University parapsychology lab: the first dedicated parapsychology lab in the U.S., founded in the late 1920’s.

Most people are aware of Dr. Rhine’s ESP studies with Zener cards.

Not so many people know that in the 1960’s Duke researchers also conducted field studies of poltergeists


In my fictional story, a young psychology professor from California experiences a precognitive dream that shatters her engagement and changes her life forever. Determined to make a fresh start,, she decides to take a professorship in the Duke psychology department, and soon becomes obsessed with the long-sealed files of the parapsychology lab, which attempted to prove whether ESP really exists.

Along with a charismatic male colleague, she discovers a file on a controversial poltergeist experiment which may have been the cause of the lab’s closing. The two professors team up to take two psychically gifted students into an abandoned Southern mansion to replicate the experiment.

What they don't know is that the entire original research team ended up insane… or dead.

This story has been percolating for me for a long time (I've been pretty much obsessed with the idea of ESP testing since I was seven or eight years old), and I was able to do some very cool research for this one, including ghost hunts and a stay in a seriously haunted mansion that I used as the model for my poltergeist house. All of which I plan to talk about at length this month.

Because for the release of The Unseen, I’m going to do 200 guest blogs in twenty days.

Hah. Like hell I am. What kind of crazy person does something like that?

But I am, in between signings and bookstore drop-ins, in a non-Konrath, completely un-Type-A way, going to be doing a lot more guest blogs than I usually do in the next month or six weeks or so.

You can catch me this week at Storytellers Unplugged (tomorrow) and The Kill Zone (also tomorrow), as well as here, and I will post more low-pressure, non-stress blog tour information as I… well, as I figure it out.

Meanwhile, you can read an excerpt on my website, and other ordering information is below.

The Unseen
May 26 from St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, ISBN 13

Also available in a large print, trade paperback version, VERY exciting, as it means I’ll be able to read it myself!

Order now from your local independent bookstore

Or right this minute from Amazon

"This spine-tingling story has every indication of becoming a horror classic... a chillingly dark look into the unknown."

- Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars

"Sokoloff keeps her story enticingly ambiguous, never clarifying until the climax whether the unfolding weirdness might be the result of the investigators' psychic sensitivities or the mischievous handiwork of a human villain."

- Publisher's Weekly


And for those of you who are here looking for the Screenwriting Tricks posts, I've compliled a Table of Contents so that you can go through all the posts in a relative order, here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Screenwriting Tricks For Authors: How to use this website

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

(Or... Watching movies for fun and profit!)

I first started writing these Screenwriting Tricks articles over on Murderati. Anyone here who blogs regularly will be able to understand this: after a year and a half of blogging I had completely run out of things to say about myself (without getting so personal that they would have thrown me off the blog).

But I had been teaching these screenwriting structure for authors workshops at various conferences, and I realized I actually had something to say about using film techniques to write better novels - something that people actually were interested in learning.

When I wrote my first novel in 2005, it was the first piece of fiction I’d ever written. The Harrowing got me a literary agent within a week and sold to St. Martin’s Press in a two-book deal two weeks after that, then went on to be nominated for a Bram Stoker Award (horror) and Anthony Award (mystery) for Best First Novel. Since The Harrowing was published in late 2006, I've had five more supernatural thrillers traditionally published (The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters and Keeper of the Shadows), I’ve picked up four more book contracts and numerous foreign sales, and I've also published independently very successfully (my YA thriller, The Space Between, the Huntress/FBI series, and the workboosk based on this blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love.)

While every book sale and subsequent career has a lot to do with luck and timing, I also know that my own quick representation and sale, and my subsequent career success, had a lot to do with the fact that even though I was a first-time novelist, I had already written dozens of screenplays, some of which were original scripts that sold to various studios, some of which were novel adaptations I’d done on assignment. In other words, even though I was brand new to publishing, I’d been getting paid to tell stories for years. And I know my screenwriting background had a lot to do with my fast and painless entry into publishing - because my agent and editor said so.

The truth is, book agents and editors and the whole publishing business in general has been corrupted – I mean, influenced – by Hollywood. The blockbuster mentality is rampant. Even though the bottom line is always a great book, publishing houses increasingly want big ideas; fast, visceral, visual plots; and a big, high concept hook for marketing. And if you're indie publishing, it's even more important that your book stand out from the crowd.

So authors can give themselves an edge by using some of these film techniques to make their stories more immediately appealing and easily marketable – and by the way – to create better, more engaging books. I’ve found that screenwriting techniques are invaluable in my own novel writing, and I think any novelist, from aspiring to multiply-published, can benefit from these screenwriting tricks of the trade.

But when I started teaching writing workshops (a happy and unexpected perk of being an author), I realized very quickly that the storytelling techniques that we Hollywood types take for granted are a huge revelation to people outside the glass dome of the film business. Granted, I’d had a lot of exposure to this stuff – not only as a working screenwriter, but also before that as a story analyst for various production companies, and along the way as a member of the Board of Directors of the WGA West, the screenwriters’ union, and as the founder of, a private message board of over 2000 WGA screenwriters.

But I also think that this stuff is just in the air out here. Without even half trying, just by virtue of living in Los Angeles and working in the business, I was automatically exposed to the techniques that successful filmmakers have used since the beginning of the form, and that have been painstakingly detailed by story and scriptwriting gurus such as Robert McKee, John Truby, Christopher Vogler, Linda Seger, Viki King, Michael Hauge, Blake Snyder, and the wonderful, late Frank Daniel, who taught screenwriting in the USC Film School.

So my workshops and this blog, and the Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workbooks are my way of making these screenwriting techniques and tricks available to novelists and aspiring novelists who may not live anywhere near Hollywood, but who could get the same benefit I and other author friends have reaped from applying screenwriting techniques to our novel writing. And aspiring screenwriters seem to get a lot out of it, too.

Some novelists who randomly come across this blog have been wondering why I spend the bulk of my time analyzing films when I’m talking mostly to authors. Good question.

The thing is, film is such a compressed and concise medium that it’s like seeing an X ray of a story. In film you have two hours, really a little less, to tell the story. It’s a very stripped-down form that even so, often has enormous emotional power. Plus we’ve usually seen more of these movies than we’ve read specific books, so they’re a more universal form of reference for discussion.

So it’s often easier to see the mechanics of structure in a film than in a novel.

And realistically, film has had an enormous influence on contemporary novels, and on publishing. Editors love books with the high concept premises, pacing, and visual and emotional impact of movies, so being aware of classic and blockbuster films and the film techniques that got them that status can help you write novels that will actually sell in today’s market.

And even beyond that – studying movies is fun, and fun is something writers just don’t let themselves have enough of. If you train yourself to watch for some of these structural elements, then every time you go to the movies or watch something on television, you’re actually honing your craft, (even on a date or while spending quality time with your loved ones!) and after a while you won’t even notice you’re doing it.

When the work is play, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds.

The two pillars to the techniques I work with on this blog are:

1. Basic film story structure: the Three-Act, Eight Sequence structure.

USC Film School teaches it, the screenwriting story structure gurus teach it, all film execs and producers are aware of it even if it’s only in a vague way, and even screenwriters who claim not to follow this structure pattern (and I could name names!) do it to some extent or another. Now you can learn it – for free instead of for hundreds or thousands of dollars. It's easy - people in my workshops get it within an hour.

2. Your own personalized story structure notebook.

Along with watching and analyzing movies to learn the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure, I am urging you to create your own, personalized story structure and genre manual, using books and films that are specific to the story and genre you’re working on, and more importantly, that have had the maximum emotional and intellectual effect on you.

It’s very simple – in order to write stories like the ones that move you, you need to look at the specific stories that affect you and figure out what those authors and filmmakers are doing to get the effect they do. So what I keep prodding you to do in these articles is - make a lot of lists: lists of your favorite movies, lists of your favorite hero/ines, lists of your favorite endings, lists of the most suspenseful stories you have ever seen or read.

Every genre has its own structural patterns and its own tricks – screenwriter Ryan Rowe says it perfectly: “Every genre has its own game that it’s playing with the audience.”

For example – with a mystery, the game is “Whodunit?” You are going to toy with a reader or audience’s expectations and lead them down all kinds of false paths with red herrings so that they are constantly in the shoes of the hero/ine, trying to figure the puzzle out.

But with a romantic comedy or classic romance, there’s no mystery involved. 99.99% of the time the hero and heroine are going to end up together. The game in that genre is often to show, through the hero and heroine, how we are almost always our own worst enemies in love, and how we throw up all kinds of obstacles to keep ourselves from getting what we want.

So - if you’re writing a story like It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s not going to help you much to study Apocalypse Now. A story that ends with a fallen hero/ine is not going to have the same story shape as one that ends with a transcended hero/ine (although if both kinds of films end up on your list of favorite stories, you might find one is the other in reverse. That’s why you need to make your own lists!)

Once you start looking at the games that genres play, you will also start to understand the games that you most love, and that you want to play with your readers and audience.

My personal favorite game is – “Is it supernatural or is it psychological?” I love to walk the line between the real and unreal, so I am constantly creating story situations in which there are multiple plausible explanations for the weird stuff that’s going on, including mental illness, drug-induced hallucinations, and outright fraud. That’s why my master list for any book or script I write will almost always include The Haunting of Hill House and The Shining, both classic books (and films) that walk the line between the supernatural and the psychological.

But what works for me structurally is not necessarily going to do it for you.

If you take the time to 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 mega-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 imbed story structure in your head so that constructing a story becomes a fun and natural process for you.

Another great benefit of making the master list is that it helps you “brand” yourself as an author. Agents, editors, publishing houses, publicists, sales reps, bookstores, reviewers, media interviewers, librarians, and most importantly, your readers – all of these people want to be able to categorize you and your books. You need to be able to tell all of these people exactly what it is you write, and why it’s unique. That’s part of your job as a professional author.

So the first order of business is to make your master list.

And I encourage you to splurge on a nice big beautiful notebook to work in. We poor writers live so much in our heads it’s important to give ourselves toys and rewards to make the work feel less like work, and also to cut down on the drinking.

1. Go to an office or stationery store or shop on line and find yourself a wonderful notebook to work in.

2. List ten books and films that are similar to your own story in structure and/or genre. (at least five books and three movies if you’re writing a book, at least five movies if you’re writing a script.)

Or – if you’re trying to decide on the right project for you to work on, then make a list of ten books and films that you wish you had written.


All the information on this blog and much more 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 14.99.

                                           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 print, all countries 


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)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


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

And I’m always up for suggestions about how to make the site more navigable for people. As with most everything I do in life, I’ve just been making it up as I go along.

- Alex

Friday, May 15, 2009

Act Climaxes breakdown: You've Got Mail

Last weekend I did this workshop for the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers (a must-join organization if you live in the Raleigh/Durham area, no matter what genre you're writing), and, inspired by that great group, today I’m going to come out of the dark for a day and hit the plot points of a popular lighter movie. ( I swear, talking to a group like that and hearing their favorite movies can make me feel like the walking undead.)

You’ve Got Mail

Screenplay by Nora Ephron & Delia Ephron,
Based on the play by Miklos Lazlo
Directed by Nora Ephron

In my own, admittedly biased (or maybe more specifically, dark and twisted) opinion, You’ve Got Mail endures more because of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan than because of anything else in the movie, but it’s a great romantic comedy to look at structurally if you are writing a love story in which the hero and heroine are completely equal characters; it’s almost a toss-up as to who is the actual protagonist, here.

For me it’s Tom Hanks, simply because he has a bigger character arc to experience, and he clearly takes control of the movie in the last thirty minutes. But the point of view, I think, is more Meg Ryan’s, and the Ephrons give her some crucial scenes that usually belong to the protagonist. I’ll be interested to hear what other people have to say about it.

(For the record, their character names are Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, but somehow I just keep calling them Tom and Meg.)

I also find YGM an interesting movie to look at because the Inciting Event (or Call To Adventure, depending on whose vocabulary you’re using) actually happens before the movie starts: Meg and Tom have already met on line, in a chat room, and are well into their emotional infidelity, I mean, internet romance, when the movie opens.

Another fairly unique thing about the movie is that the opening image and the Into The Special World, or Crossing the Threshold scene, are combined. This is the earliest I’ve ever seen an “Into the Special World” scene, although now that I think about it, the opening image often is our first glimpse at a Special World (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Witness, Bladerunner, Star Trek, Arachnophobia).

What we see as the opening image is – of course – a computer screen, and animation of an unseen user clicking through icons to sign on to the internet, which turns into animated graphics of the skyline of Manhattan, zeroing in on one graphic of a specific building on the West Side (which this movie really is a love poem to), which dissolves into the real building, which is Meg’s home.

We meet both characters and it’s easy see Tom’s problem and NEED/INNER DESIRE right away: while he is a terrific guy on line, in his real life he is a corporate asshole (as much as Tom Hanks is ever really an asshole), who doesn’t care - in fact, he gloats - that his mega-volume bookstore is putting all the independent bookstores in the neighborhood out of business (even before the megastore opens).

Meg has an extermal problem – the mega-volume bookstore that’s going to be her little store’s direct competition – but she doesn’t really have an internal character flaw that needs to change– except, of course, for that online infidelity thing, which isn’t taken seriously as a problem by this movie. (But really, doesn’t anyone else see that as a little problematic?)

The climax of Sequence 1 (15 min 22 seconds) is the reveal that while Tom and Meg are completely infatuated with each other online, in real life Tom is the corporate suit who is threatening Meg’s charming independent children’s book store (called The Shop Around The Corner, a nice nod to the Ernst Lubitsch-directed/Samson Raphaelson-written film on which this story is based).

The Act I Climax (33 minutes or so) takes place at the end of a montage in which Tom spends a day with his little brother and nine-year old aunt (Tom’s father has a penchant for younger women). In this montage we clearly see Tom’s INNER DESIRE – he wants children and a real family, and obviously has a heart full of love to lavish on – someone.

And lo and behold, his young – relatives – drag him into Meg’s shop to hear “the storybook lady” (this I believe would count as the Hero Entering the Special World), and we see Tom fall for Meg as she reads to a group of children (they are right for each other: they want the same things – books and family). This is a love story, so the climax of the act is “boy meets girl” (in real life this time) – but at the same time he realizes, as we do, that the huge obstacle to their relationship is that she will hate him when she finds out that he is her megastore competition. (However, he still has no idea that Meg is his online infatuation.)

So of course, he conceals his identity (one of the most classic elements of romantic comedy), in a scene in which he is almost discovered, several times, as his very, very young brother almost spills the beans – repeatedly.

Also, this Act I Climax escalates the romance in a very concrete way – the online romance becomes real-life – on Tom’s side, anyway.

The climax of Sequence Three you could say is the dueling Christmas carols scenes (the hero and heroine on parallel tracks that show they are right for each other) but I’d say it’s the scene after, in which we and Meg realize that her shop is failing. (About 47 minutes in). But this is a good example of the dual climax pattern you often see in a romantic comedy, in which you’ll have a scene that shows the hero and heroine are meant to be, and then undercut it with a scene of what is keeping them apart.

And right after that there’s another escalation to the online romance – Tom I.M.s her for the first time. And he gives her the advice to “go to the mattresses”. Another classic romantic comedy trope – one lover playing the confidante to the loved one while the loved one obliviously babbles on about the lover to himself – and in this case counseling her on how to destroy him.) And the negative publicity Meg brings to Tom and his store makes Tom resent and dislike her.

The Midpoint comes (62 minutes) when Tom takes Meg up on her request to her anonymous online “Friend” to meet. In the big reveal, Tom (through his ALLY, an extremely underdeveloped character, here) realizes the woman he has fallen in love with online is Meg, his enemy. At the Midpoint climax, Tom says he’s just going home, not meeting her – but then in a twist turns around and goes back into the shop and pretends that he’s just run into her by accident – as himself.

Sequence Five Climax: (1 hr. 15 min) is the comic scene of Tom trying to answer Meg's e mail about why he (as NY152, his online persona) didn't show up to meet her. After several failed attempts, he writes a lovely and heartfelt apology.

And then the second part of the climax - Meg tells Birdie and the other shopgirl at lunch that she's decided to close the shop. (Again the one-two punch climax of this movie's structure - the love story advances in one scene only to be undercut in the next.

1 hour 27 minutes: Tom is stuck in the elevator with his girlfriend and moves out on her as soon as they are freed. then comes the Moment of Defeat (All is Lost, Long Dark Night of the Soul....) - Meg has to close the shop.

Here is where I think structurally the movie wobbles and gets a little lost. The filmmakers give Meg the moment of defeat, and it’s a very powerful one – seeing her in the empty shop and visualizing her mother playing with her, as she closes the door for the last time. (1 hr. 30 min.) But really Tom is the protagonist, and HE needs to be the one affected in this way – at least in that when Meg e mails her “friend” about closing the shop, Tom should realize he has lost her for good, because he’s caused her such pain. Boy Loses Girl.

At least, that’s what is missing for me, emotionally and structurally.

Somehow that doesn’t come across, even when (a little earlier) Tom sees Meg visiting the children’s section of his own store and she cries as she directs a customer to a book that the hapless superstore clerk has never heard of. I get Meg’s pain, there, but not enough effect on Tom.

Now (1 hr. 32 min) Tom has another revelation when his father separates from his current girlfriend and comes to stay with Tom on his boat. Tom doesn’t want to be like his father, and when his father says – “Come on, have you ever been with anyone who's ‘filled your heart with joy’?” Tom has the realization that Meg has. So in Act Three, he starts his FINAL PLAN to win her: he is going to court her as himself, and make her fall in love with him.

Now, this is a lovely love sequence, and I get that this is a smart and realistic plan, but this part of the movie always bothers me – it seems to start a whole new movie just when I’m looking for the old one to escalate and climax. It takes me a long time to adjust to this new story track, even though there are some good moments between them.

1hr. 45 minutes - Sequence Seven climax: Tom visits Meg when she’s sick, to check up on her; they have chemistry and we see her think of him romantically for the first time (since their initial meeting). He also drops enough clues that she might suspect that he is her online "friend".

Then Sequence Eight is the battle – a love battle – because Tom really is fighting to win her – by being charming, and by being her friend, while he disparages her online relationship and tries to get her to detach herself from that fantasy. He has that great speech just before she goes off to meet his online persona – “Ever wonder what it would have been like if I’d just met you and I hadn’t been your competition, and just asked you to a movie, or to coffee, or a movie… for as long as we both shall live?” (I’m paraphrasing, but something like that – it’s very well-written and played.)

And in the final final scene, he has arranged for her to meet his online persona in the 91st Street Garden – and shows up as himself, and Meg tells him, “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly.”

Which for me redeems the whole movie, although I could have done without the swelling “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. But I’ve heard from others that they find it a weak ending.

The bottom line, though, is - if you're writing a romantic comedy with elements of mistaken identity, concealed identity, and equal love interests, this one should most likely be on your list of ten to take a look at - though not higher on the list than, you know, AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT and CYRANO DE BERGERAC and, a little more recently, THE LADY EVE. ;)

So how do others feel about the movie? Enduring classic or unendurable chick flick? Anyone have a different idea about who’s the protagonist? Is it just me, or is there something just rhythmically off about the third act? What is it?


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.

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

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Identifying Act Climaxes, cont.: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Okay, back to identifying Act Climaxes.

What we were doing before I got caught up in that spate of traveling, was talking through some movies to identify the Act Climaxes (plot points, turning points, act breaks, curtain scenes, whatever you want to call them) of each, so we can look at what all happens at those crucial junctures. (First post here.)

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

First, a quick review of what each Act Climax does:

Remember, in general, the climax of an act is very, very, very often a SETPIECE SCENE – there’s a dazzling, thematic location, an action or suspense sequence, an intricate set, a crowd scene, even a musical number (as in The Wizard of Oz and, more surprisingly, Jaws.).

Also an act climax is often more a climactic sequence than a single scene, which is why it sometimes feels hard to pinpoint the exact climax. And sometimes it’s just subjective! These are guidelines, not laws. When you do these analyses, the important thing for your own writing is to identify what you feel the climaxes are and why you think those are pivotal scenes.

Now specifically:


- (30 minutes into a 2 hour movie, 100 pages into a 400 page book. Adjust proportions according to length of book.)

- We have all the information we need to get and have met all the characters we need to know to understand what the story is going to be about.

- The Central Question is set up – and often is set up by the action of the act climax itself.

- Often propels the hero/ine Across the Threshold and Into The Special World. (Look for a location change, a journey begun).

- May start a TICKING CLOCK (this is early, but it can happen here)


- (60 minutes into a 2 hour movie, 200 pages into a 400 page book)

- Is a major shift in the dynamics of the story. Something huge will be revealed; something goes disastrously wrong; someone close to the hero/ine dies, intensifying her or his commitment.

- Can also be a huge defeat, which requires a recalculation and a new plan of attack.

- Completely changes the game

- Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action

- Is a point of no return.

- Can be a “now it’s personal” loss

- Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems

- May start a TICKING CLOCK.

- The Midpoint is not necessarily just one scene – it can be a progression of scenes and revelations that include a climactic scene, a complete change of location, a major revelation, a major reversal – all or any combination of the above.


– (90 minutes into a 2 hour film, 300 pages into a 400 page book)

- Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is.

- Often comes immediately after the “All is Lost” or “Long Dark Night of the Soul” scene - or may itself BE the "All is Lost" scene.

- Answers the Central Question

- Propels us into the final battle.

- May start a TICKING CLOCK


- (near the very end of the story).

- Is the final battle.

- Hero/ine is forced to confront his or her greatest nightmare.

- Takes place in a thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare

- We see the protagonist’s character change

- We may see the antagonist’s character change (if any)

- We may see ally/allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire

- There is possibly a huge final reversal or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you’ve been saving (as in BACK TO THE FUTURE and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE)



Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Story by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman
Directed by Stephen Spielberg

Please feel free to argue my points!

And note all times are APPROXIMATE - I'm a Pisces.

1 hour 55 minute running time.


Act One Climax here is easy: the great Nepalese bar scene. Total setpiece scene – the visuals of that snowy mountain and the tiny bar, the drinking contest that Marion wins, the fight between Indy and Marion with its emotional backstory and sexual chemistry, the entrance of Toht and his heavies, who are ready to torture Marion for the medallion, the re-entrance of Indy and the huge, fiery fight, which ends in the escape of Indy and Marion with the medallion and Marion’s capper line: “I’m your goddamn partner!” (34 minutes in).

Everything you could ever want in a setpiece sequence, visuals, action, sex, emotion: and all we need to know to understand what the story is going to be has been laid out.


An interesting and tonally very unique Midpoint happens in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I’m sure some people would dispute me on this one (and people argue about the exact Midpoint of movies all the time), but I would say the midpoint is the scene that occurs exactly 60 minutes into the film, in which, having determined that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place in the archeological site, Indy goes down into the Well of Souls with the medallion and a staff of the proper height, and uses the crystal in the pendant to pinpoint the exact location of the Ark.

This scene is quiet, and involves only one person, but it’s mystically powerful – note the use of light and the religious quality of the music… and Indy is decked out in robes almost like, well, Moses - staff and all. Indy stands like God over the miniature of the temple city, and the beam of light comes through the crystal like light from heaven. It’s all a foreshadowing of the final climax, in which God intervenes much in the same way. Very effective, with lots of subliminal manipulation going on. And of course, at the end of the scene, Indy has the information he needs to retrieve the Ark. I would also point out that the midpoint is often some kind of mirror image of the final climax – it’s an interesting device to use, and you may find yourself using it without even being aware of it.

I will concede that this is a two-part climax, though – the twist that comes just after it that Marion is still alive is a big emotional beat, and the subsequent twist that Indy doesn’t release her because leaving her captive will buy him time to get down into the Well of Souls, is a great relationship beat (great maybe isn’t the word I’m looking for; maybe the word is more like “male”.)


(About 1 hr. 15 min. in) After the big setpiece/action scene of crashing through the wall in the Well of Souls to escape the snakes, Indy and Marion run for a plane on the airfield to escape, and Indy has to fight that gigantic mechanic. Indy has to simultaneously race to stop the plane, with Marion on it, from blowing up from the spilled gas (reliving his nightmare – losing her again). He saves Marion just before the plane blows up. And the capper- Indy learns the Nazis have put the Ark on a truck to take to Cairo – cut to Indy on a horse, charging after them.


Of course, the opening of the Ark and the brutal deaths of all the Nazis who look at it. This is a unique climax in that the protagonist does virtually nothing but save his own and Marion’s lives; there’s no battle involved; they’re tied up all the way through the action. It’s a classic deus ex machina as God steps in (metaphorically) to take the Ark back.

But there are such pyrotechnics going on, and such emotional satisfaction in seeing the Nazis dispatched, that I never hear anyone complaining that Indy doesn’t participate.

Okay, so any examples of your own for me today? Or any stories you're having trouble identifying the climaxes of that we can help with? Or problems with your love life? I'm here to help.

- 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.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


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


Saturday, May 02, 2009

And now for something completely different (Romantic Times)

I know, I know, I dropped off the map for a while, there. That’s what traveling and multiple deadlines will do to you. Sorry about that.

I was, among other places in Orlando, for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, and – even though some of you have heard me sing RT’s praises before, that’s what I want to talk about today.

RT is my secret favorite convention.

What you’ve probably heard about RT – if you’ve heard anything at all – is that it’s that it’s full of women dressed as vampires and fairies, and half-naked male cover models slinking around. Well, you would be right. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Really.

I think it’s important for people in the mystery, thriller and, yes, even horror genres, to hear this because Romantic Times is a convention that probably is not on the radar for other genre writers – but it should be.

I heard from almost the very beginning of my promotional efforts that I should go to RT because I write sexy and I write paranormal, and because romance readers simply Buy Books. In fact, they Buy Books voraciously, which I discovered when I was on my Harrowing book tour and I went to my first romance-centric workshop, Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans, and sold more books to an audience that didn’t know me from Adam than I had sold at several other genre conventions combined.

But the thing that stunned me from the very first moment of my first Romantic Times convention was how incredibly professionally and logically organized RT is. It’s put on by the Romantic Times review magazine and it’s very adamantly a fan conference. Even though there are lots of aspiring authors there, and great programs for them (including a slew of top agents and editors taking pitches), this conference is also a goldmine for published authors because there are so many people there just to meet authors and buy books (well, okay, and attend the endless and amazingly fun parties, which I’ll get to…)

Let me make this perfectly clear. I never read romances as a kid, or any time after – I had less than zero interest, although looking back I can see there was some romance crossover in the Gothic thrillers I gobbled up in my endless quest for the supernatural. And it’s that crossoverness that definitely makes Romantic Times a more obvious bet for me than a balls-out horror writer, or hard crime writer, because paranormal is so huge right now – in romances AND mysteries, and though a lot of paranormal seems to be about warm and fuzzy werewolves and endless variations on quirky vampires, there’s also a significant segment of the paranormal readership that likes a good straight-up ghost story.

But romance readers are even more broad in their tastes than that.

I used to tell people that if you’re writing balls-out horror, RT is not the place for you. But Joe Konrath/Jack Kilborn was there last weekend with his new book, AFRAID, and while I have not checked his actual sales figures, it looked to me that he was doing pretty damn well. And having a hell of a good time, too. (That's Joe dancing with me at the Faery Ball, getting into the spirit of the thing with his wings).

I think we all, admit it, can be a little snotty about our own genre, and look down on writers who write and readers who read things that we wouldn’t necessarily read or write ourselves. But romance readers buy more books than any other single group of readers and they do not have the same prejudices. They love reading, they love authors, they love books. Period. Give me that reader any old time.

I am frankly staggered at how smart and eclectic this genre is about marketing and promotion – and craft. RT really works to recruit and organize mystery and thriller authors to present workshops and panels on those genres. They signed me up to give this “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors” class as a specialty workshop. The conference also features some unique ways of handling reader/author interaction. Apart from outside bookseller events, there is only one mass signing – that takes place in a HUGE convention room on Saturday, after all the authors have already done their panels. The book fair is heavily promoted to the community, on radio, TV and in print, and lots of readers turn up just for that. The authors are lined up alphabetically at long rows of tables, and the readers just walk up and down the aisles. There are drawings for dozens of author-donated gift baskets going on throughout the whole three hour signing, and video screens project book trailers through the whole event as well (I love having my book trailers playing in the book room and on the hotel TV during the convention. And yeah, you bet that sold books for me last year, and this year, and beyond that, it was putting my name and my book titles out there for the entire convention, so that even people who would never buy what I write are now aware of me as an author.).

Another cool feature of RT is “Club RT”. Throughout the convention, in the dealers’ room there are a couple dozen little cafĂ© tables set up and authors are scheduled for one hour slots where they just sit at these tables and anyone who wants to can come up and chat, get books signed, etc. If I were an aspiring author I would spend half my time at this conference just going around to chat with different authors in my genre. A truly unique and intimate opportunity for authors, aspiring authors, and fans.

Of course a feature of RT I really love and am thrilled to be able to participate in is Heather Graham’s Vampire Dinner Theater, an original musical review written by Heather and featuring the Slush Pile Players, a group of authors with with professional backgrounds in music and theater, and always featuring several of Heather’s charming and multitalented offspring. This year the show was Blood Sucking Vampires; starring F. Paul Wilson as Van Helsing, leading a bevy of comic superheroes against Heather Graham’s evil but party-loving vampires from New Orleans. (“They must be schtupped! Er, stopped!”)

I also have to say, when women organize these things everything is just – prettier. The attention to detail is staggering. Promo Alley, where authors put out their postcards and bookmarks and giveaways, is a long aisle of covered tables on both sides, and instead of having people just throw their swag on the tables, all the giveaways have to be in displays or decorated baskets. Yes, that takes an extra hour of prep time, but oh man, is it worth it. You can actually SEE the promo stuff, and you get a feel for each author from the decorations of the boxes and baskets. Brilliant idea.

Ditto with the parties. RT has professional costumers/decorators who dress the ballrooms for the theme parties – such as Moulin Rouge, Midnight at the Oasis, Jungle Love, the Golden Age of Hollywood and of course, the Faery Ball. There is lighting. There are trees. There are enormous Moroccan pillows. There are stage backdrops. There are mirror balls and candles. There are screaming mechanical skulls. And the level of personal costuming rivaled the Renaissance Faire events and special effects masters’ parties I’ve been to in LA (I never even dreamed there were so many variations on fairies. Seriously…).

And these women DANCE. All night. I’m sorry, but you can only talk so much. You get out on the dance floor with a bunch of readers screaming “It’s Raining Men” and you have made friends for life.

And the point of the parties, is, of course, that they attract fans. Boy, do they.

If this is all sounding a little estrogen-heavy, you’re right. But remember – women buy books. And male authors are catching on to the gold mine of readers to be - mined - at RT and are coming over to the decadent side. Now that they’ve figured it out, I doubt Paul Wilson or Barry Eisler will ever miss an RT again, and I’d be willing to bet that Rob Gregory Browne and Joe Konrath and Jeff Strand are new converts. I expect that more and more men are going to be realizing what an advantage that Y chromosome gives them in a situation like this.

And well, okay, I admit it – all professionalism aside - after years of having to put up with only female strippers at Hollywood events, I like the turnabout of having half-naked beefcake at a convention.

Sue me.

(Back to structure next post, I promise!)

- Alex