Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Perfect words to create suspense (or anything else!)

I always ask readers of this blog who privately e mail me questions to post the questions in the comments section and I'll answer them here, in public.  (Or if you don't want to be identified, I'm happy to post the question myself without using your name, and then answer it.)

This may be annoying or possibly enraging to some of you.

But here's the thing.  I have this unalterable belief that if anyone is getting anything out of my workbooks, workshops and blog, it's because I was a dance teacher - and theater director - for so many years.

Any dance teacher I ever had was ALWAYS saying - "If I talk to any person in this class the rest of you should assume I'm talking to YOU, and DO IT." 

That makes total sense to me as a teaching/learning method. Because who couldn't benefit from paying attention to the teacher/choreographer/director's corrections and doing that extra bit of polish?

So I got a question from a reader and writer this week about how I am able to use "perfect words" in my novels to create suspense and scares and atmosphere, and I wanted to answer it on the blog, for everyone who wants to to learn and discuss.

For me, there are three issues going on here and they are symbiotically entwined: the visual, the emotional, and the thematic. The words only work if they are conveying ALL THREE.

What I really encourage everyone here to do is to start thinking like a production designer.

In film (and theater) every movie has a production designer: one artist (and these people are genius level, let me tell you) who is responsible, in consultation with the director and with the help of usually a whole army of production artists) for the entire look of the film – every color, costume, prop, set choice. A production designer designs the look, but with acute understanding of how the visual can convey an emotional and thematic impact.

With a book, guess who’s the production designer? 

You are.

Take the Alien series. I could go on all week about what a perfect movie the first Alien is structurally as well, but for the purposes of this blog - it’s a perfect example of brilliant production design. The visual image systems are staggering. Take a look at those sets (created by Swiss surrealist HR Giger). What do you see? Sexual imagery everywhere. Insect imagery, a classic for horror movies. Machine imagery. Anatomical imagery: the spaceships have very human-looking spines (vertebrae and all), intestinal-looking piping, vulvic doors. And the gorgeous perversity of the design is that the look of the film combines the sexual and the insectoid, the anatomical with the mechanical, throws in some reptilian, serpentine, sea-monsterish under-the-sea-effects – to create a hellish vision that is as much a character in the film as any of the character characters.
 
Oh, and did I mention the labyrinth imagery? Yes, my great favorite: you’ve got a monster in a maze.

Those are very specific choices and combinations. The sexual imagery and water imagery open us up on a subconscious level and make us vulnerable to the horrors of insects, machines and death. The combination imagery also gives us a clear visual picture of a future world in which machines and humans have evolved together into a new species. It’s unique, gorgeous, and powerfully effective.

Obviously Terminator (the first) is a brilliant use of machine/insect imagery as well. And sex, right? Let's not forget that Arnold, in his prime, landed on earth completely naked.

I know I’ve just about worked these examples to death, but nobody does image systems better than Thomas Harris. Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon are serial killer novels, but Harris elevates that overworked genre to art, in no small part due to his image systems.

In Silence, Harris borrows heavily from myth and especially fairy tales. You’ve got the labyrinth/Minotaur. You’ve got a monster in a cage, a troll holding a girl in a pit (and that girl is a princess, remember: her mother is American royalty, a senator). You’ve got a twist on the “lowly peasant boy rescues the princess with the help of supernatural allies” fairy tale: Clarice is the lowly peasant who enlists the help of (one might also say apprentices to) Lecter’s wizardlike perceptions to rescue the princess. You have another twisted wizard in his cave who is trying to turn himself into a woman.

You have the insect imagery here as well, with the moths, the spiders and mice in the storage unit, and the entomologists with their insect collections in the museum, the theme of change, larva to butterfly.

In Red Dragon Harris works the animal imagery to powerful effect. The killer is not a mere man, he’s a beast. When he’s born he’s compared to a bat because of his cleft palate. He kills on a moon cycle, like a werewolf. He uses his grandmother’s false teeth, like a vampire. And let’s not forget: he’s trying to turn into a dragon.

Now, a lot of authors will just throw in random scary images. How boring and meaningless! What makes what Harris does so effective is that he has an intricate, but extremely specific and limited image system going in his books. And he combines fantastical visual and thematic imagery with very realistic and accurate police procedure.

I know, all of these examples are horror, sorry, it’s my thing - but look at The Wizard of Oz (just the brilliant contrast of the black and white world of Kansas and the Technicolor world of Oz says volumes). Look at what Barbara Kingsolver does in Prodigal Summer, where images of fecundity and the, well, prodigiousness of nature overflow off the pages, revealing characters and conflicts and themes. Look at what Robert Towne/Roman Polanski do with water in Chinatown and also, try watching that movie sometime with Oedipus in mind… the very specific parallels will blow you away.

So how do you create a visual/thematic image system equivalent to what I'm talking about in film and theater - in your books? 

Well, start by becoming more conscious of what image systems authors are working with in books and films that you love. Some readers/writers don’t care at all about visual image systems. That’s fine – whatever floats your boat. Me, with rare exceptions, I’ll toss a book within twenty pages if I don’t think the author knows what s/he’s doing visually.

What I do when I start a project, along with outlining, is to keep a list of thematic words (in my project notebook!) that convey what my story is about, to me. For my ghost story (or maybe not!)  The Harrowing it was words like: Creation, chaos, abyss, fire, forsaken, shattered, shattering, portal, door, gateway, vessel, empty, void, rage, fury, cast off, forgotten, abandoned, alone, rejected, neglected, shards, discarded… I did pages and pages of words like that.

For The Price: bargain, price, deal, winter, ice, buried, dormant, resurrection, apple, temptation, tree, garden, labyrinth, Sleeping Beauty, castle, queen, princess, prince, king, wish, grant, deal, contract, task, hell, purgatory, descent, mirror, spiral…

Some words I’ll have from the very beginning because they’re part of my own thematic DNA. But as the word lists grow, so does my understanding of the inherent themes of each particular story.

Do you see how that might start to work? Not only do you get a sense of how the story and specifc setting can look to convey your themes, but you also have a growing list of meaningful words that you can work with in your prose so that you’re constantly hitting those themes on different levels.

When I do short workshops, this is my absolute favorite quickie exercise to make a big group do: 

Brainstorm for just two or three minutes on thematic words for your story.  

People get SO EXCITED about this - I have had people stand up in a workshop and shout - "I know how he killed her!"  and "I just figured out my final scene!" after just two minutes of this brainstorming.  You are seriously missing out if you don't just TRY it.

At the same time that I’m doing my word lists, I start a collage book, and try to spend some time every week flipping through magazines and pulling photos that resonate with my story. I find Vogue, the Italian fashion mags, Vanity Fair, Premiere, Rolling Stone and of course, National Geographic, particularly good for me. I tape those photos together in a blank artists’ sketchbook (I use tape so I can move the photos around when I feel like it. If you’re more – well, if you’re neater than I am, you can also use plastic sleeves in a three-ring binder). Other people do collages on their computers with Photoshop. I am not one of those people, myself, it's too much work.

However, I do have a new obsession with the social media site Pinterest, where you can create boards and use the Pinterest button to build a visual image system for every one of your works-in-progress.  It's instant online collaging and I LOVE IT.

See what I mean here:   http://pinterest.com/axsokoloff/

I'm in the process of creating image boards for every one of my books, past and current.  It’s another way of growing an image system. And it doesn’t feel like writing so you think you’re getting away with something.

Also, I know I'm constantly going on about this, but know your world myths and fairy tales! Why make up your own backstory and characters when you can tap into universally powerful archetypes? Remember, there’s no new story under the sun, so being conscious of your antecedents can help you bring out the archetypal power of the characters and themes you’re working with.

So of course you know my question for the day. What are some books and films which to you have particularly striking visual and thematic image systems? What are some of your favorite images to work with?

And - are you on Pinterest?  Are you as obsessed as I am?

- Alex 

=====================================================

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Saturday, June 23, 2012

To Nook or not to Nook...

Okay, the Nookers have guilted me into putting some of my newly re-acquired backlist up for THEM. So at least for the next few weeks, here you go:


For Nook: $2.99
On Amazon:  $3.99

Five troubled college students left alone on their isolated campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a mysterious presence... that may or may not be real.

Bram Stoker and Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel.

"Poltergeist meets The Breakfast Club as five college students tangle with an ancient evil entity. Plenty of sexual tension... fast pace and engaging plot."
     -- Kirkus Reviews




For Nook:  $2.99
Amazon:    $2.99

A Boston District Attorney suspects his wife has made a terrible bargain with a mysterious hospital counselor to save the life of their dying child.

"Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre."
      -- The New York Times Book Review



For Nook:  $2.99
Amazon:  $2.99

Two psychology professors and two exceptionally gifted students move into an abandoned Southern mansion to duplicate a controversial poltergeist experiment - unaware that the entire original research team ended up insane... or dead.

Based on the real life, world-famous parapsychology experiments conducted at Duke University by Dr. J.B. Rhine.


"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


For Nook: $2.99
Amazon: $2.99


An alienated high school girl who is dreaming of a terrible massacre at her school believes she can prevent the shooting with the help of a popular boy, her secret crush, who is having the exact same dream.


"Alexandra Sokoloff has created an intricate tapestry; a dark Young Adult novel with threads of horror and science fiction that make it a true original. Loaded with graphic, vivid images that place the reader in the midst of the mystery and danger, The Space Between takes psychological elements, quantum physics and multiple dimensions with parallel universes and creates a storyline that has no equal. A must-read."
       -- Suspense Magazine
 
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I have to say this Nook thing is a bit of an experiment.  One of the amazing things about e publishing is the sheer control authors now have over pricing and venues, and the infinite flexibility of choices we enjoy (or dread, depending on your point of view!). We can change the prices of our books literally overnight, and play with where we choose to make our books available, to determine what is the most profitable for us.

And when I say profitable, what I'm really talking about is exposure.

There's an ongoing and vehement debate about the effectiveness of e publishing for Nook. The big problem is that Amazon is so incredibly effective at marketing that enrolling in the Kindle Select program, which makes your book exclusive to Amazon for three-month periods at a time, has been for some time now more profitable for authors than making books available on multiple platforms (including Nook).

The two reasons for this are:

1) The ability in the Kindle Select program to promote your book for free for five days of those three months, an incredible marketing spike, and -

2) Any book enrolled in Kindle Select is made available in Amazon's Lending Library, and authors are paid a certain amount per borrow (about $1.70 for a $2.99 book, but it fluctuates.)

So the math that authors are being forced to do is - "Can I reach more readers and make more money with Nook sales or with borrows from the Amazon Lending Library?"

And the answer seems to be - "It depends on the book."

Thus my experiment this month, because I really don't know. My goal is to have the most people read my books as I can reach, and I'll choose whichever path is getting my books to the most readers. And the only way to find that out is just to try.

So I'm trying, and I'll report back on how all this goes.

Authors never used to have to think about this, by the way. Our publishers did all of this - or DIDN'T do it, as often seemed the case! - and we had no control or input whatsoever over or into the various strategies.  Now it's up to us to research, analyze, experiment, and go with the best strategy for whatever our goal is in publishing.

It's a lot of control, and a lot of responsibility.  And a lot of authors I know are freezing up at the sheer overwhelm of the increased demands, and not jumping in to this brave but chaotic new world.

I'm trying not to freeze up, even though it really is kind of annoying, alternating with terrifying, to have to make business decisions like this instead of just concentrating on the free-form creativity that writing is.  I really HOPE that having my books up on B&N for Nook will prove viable; I hate the idea that anyone with an e reader would not be able to instantly download any one of my books any time they wanted one. After all, instant gratification is the very essence of e reading, isn't it?  It sure the hell is for me.

But if my goal is the most readers I can get...

Well, we'll just have to see, won't we?  The fact is, with e publishing, we get all of those numbers. And the numbers are very telling, and they don't always tell what we want to hear.

So how about you all?  Authors, what are you finding on the Kindle Select vs. multi-platform question?  Is Nook paying off for you, or are you sticking to Select?   Anyone trying Kobo's new program?

And readers - how many of you actually ARE Nook readers?  If you are, are you supporting the Nook platform by buying a lot of Nook books?  Are you aware of how agonizing a decision this is for authors?

Any insights greatly appreciated!

- Alex

Related marketing posts:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Practicing story

I'm teaching this week, the one really intensive workshop I do all year, at the West Texas A & M Writers Academy.

Usually when I do a workshop it's a day-long interactive lecture  that I give to a large class - sixty to several hundred people - in which I review the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure and other general film writing techniques that are invaluable for authors, and then start with Act I and go through all the story elements I talk about here and in the workbooks, one sequence at a time.

Which is a great overview, and I answer a lot of individual questions and use lots of examples, but it's by necessity a very general class.

At the Writers Academy,  the class size is limited to fifteen people and we can go through everyone's stories one sequence at a time.  I love being able to be hands-on (at least, for a limited time!)  and it's really remarkable to see writers at very different levels and at very different points in the writing process pull their ideas into coherent, complete and exciting story outlines in just five days. 

At first you can see some people in the class are so focused on their own stories that they don't pay any attention to the other writers as they talk about their stories - they just scribble notes on their own stories until it's their turn to talk.  But by the third day or so it's starting to sink in that listening to OTHER people's stories, and brainstorming to solve SOMEONE ELSE'S story problem, is actually helping them become better writers.  And you can see the lightbulbs go on - that it doesn't matter that other people in the class are writing in different genres - that story structure applies across the board, and comparing stories in different genres actually gives you a better understanding of your own genre.

I hope that the class shows people that to get good at telling stories you have to actively practice story structure, spitballing story problems, comparing story solutions.  I hope it shows people that you have to fall in love with - not just writing, but STORY.

There's something about creativity that craves company, and feeds off the creativity of others.  I know I get exponentially more writing done when I get together with my own writing group, The Weymouth Seven. I would meet with them every week, if we all actually lived in the same state. But even though we don't, we still make time and travel to meet up with each other for a week at a time, two or three times a year.

It seems to me that it's so worth the time to create and sustain a critique group.  That's not an easy thing to do, I understand. Especially when you're a new writer, a bad critique group can do a lot more harm than good.  But if you can find a group of dedicated people who have enough control over their own egos and insecurities to commit to creating the kind of atmosphere that encourages creativity, it can bring everyone's writing to a far higher level.

How about you guys?  Good or bad experiences with critique groups?  If you have one that works, how do you run it?  Do you have a moderator, or do you use a particular writing method?

And if you don't have a critique group, how do YOU practice story?

- Alex

=====================================================

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes &Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two books a year?

Okay, I'm sure a lot of you have read this NYT article by now, which tells us that the minimum output of books per year for a professional author is now two. Per year.  Double what people are used to thinking.

In the E Reader Age, a Book a Year is Slacking 

And the article links this new phenomenon to the e book revolution.

Well, I would strongly disagree.  MOST of the authors I know who make a good living at just writing books have been writing AT LEAST, at the VERY least,  two books a year for longer than I've been in the author business.  There are very few I know who can afford the leisurely pace of a book per year.

It was one of the first things I noticed when I moved from screenwriting to the author business in 2006. Successful writers write a LOT of books.  Tons.  Staggering numbers. Plus stories and any number of other things. (I felt like a total slacker until I realized if I had been writing books instead of screenplays for the last 11 years I would have those kinds of numbers, too.)

Of course, there's a catch that we all have to be wary of.  How long does it take to write a GOOD book?  When are you starting to risk, well, dreck?

I wanted to think and talk about that today.

From the beginning of my (still quite short, really) author career, one of the questions I have gotten most often at book signings and panels is, “How long does it take you to write a book?”

My feeling is what’s always being asked is not how long it takes me to write a book, but how long it would take the person asking to write a book. Which of course, I have no way of answering, unless it’s to cut to the chase and shout, “Save yourself! Don’t do it!” But that’s never the question, so I don’t say it.

What I started out answering instead was, “About nine months.” Which, from Chapter One to copyedits, used to be true enough. But I'm getting faster. And the paranormals I write take more like two months. And of course with e publishing, the whole process of publishing has changed, and the time frame has changed, too.

I wrote three and a half books last year.  One YA thriller, THE SPACE BETWEEN, one non-fiction writing workbook, WRITING LOVE, one paranormal, TWIST OF FATE (coming out in 2013) and half of my latest crime thriller, HUNTRESS MOON, which will be out in July.  (And technically I also outlined another paranormal, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, which will also be out in 2013.  Outlining is writing, too!).

So that's a lot of books.  How long did it take me to write any one of those?  It's really hard to say when those projects are constantly overlapping.

But the fact is, in almost every case, the real answer to the question of "How long?"  is almost always: “Decades.”

Because honestly, where do you even start? I’m quite convinced I’m a professional writer today because my mother made me write a page a day from the time I could actually hold a pencil. At first a page was a sentence, and then a paragraph, and then a real page, but it was writing. Every day. It was an incredibly valuable lesson, which taught me a fundamental truth about writing: it didn’t have to be good, it just had to get written. Now I make myself write however many pages every day. And now, like then, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get written. Some days it’s good, some days it’s crap, but if you write every day, there are eventually enough good days to make a book.

Then there were all those years of theater, from writing and performing plays in my best friend’s garage, to school and community theater, to majoring in theater in college, to performing with an ensemble company after college. Acting, dancing, choreography, directing – that was all essential training for writing.

And then the reading. Again, like probably every writer on the planet, from the time I could hold a book. The constant, constant reading. Book after book – and film after film, too, and play after play – until the fundamentals of storytelling were permanently engraved in some template in my head.

Hey, you may be saying, that’s TRAINING. That wasn’t the question. How long does it take to WRITE A BOOK?

I still maintain, it takes decades. I think books emerge in layers. The process is a lot like a grain of sand slipping inside a clamshell that creates an irritation that causes the clam to secrete that substance, nacre, that covers the grain, one layer at a time, until eventually a pearl forms. (Actually it’s far more common that some parasite or organic substance, even tissue of the clam’s own body, is the irritant, which is an even better analogy if you ask me, ideas as parasites…)

Let's take a look at Book of Shadows, the thriller I've just gotten back from my publisher and put out myself as an e book this week.  (Free through Kindle Select today and tomorrow.)

When did I start Book of Shadows? Well, technically in the fall of 2008, I guess. But really, the seed was planted long ago, when I was a child growing up in Berkeley. (The Berkeley thing pretty much explains why I write supernatural to begin with, but that’s another post.) Those of you who have visited this town know that Telegraph Avenue, the famous drag ending at the U.C. campus, is a gauntlet of fortune tellers (as well as clothing and craft vendors and political activists and, well, drug dealers.).

Having daily exposure to Tarot readers and psychics and palm readers as one of my very first memories has been influential to my writing in ways I never realized until I started seeing similarities in Book of Shadows and my paranormal The Shifters, and discovered I could trace the visuals and some of those scenes back to those walks on Telegraph Ave.

Without mentioning an actual number, I can tell you, that’s a lot of years for a book to be in the making.

Over the years, that initial grain of sand picked up more and more layers. Book of Shadows is about a Boston homicide detective who reluctantly teams up with a beautiful, enigmatic practicing witch from Salem to solve what looks like a Satanic murder. Well, back in sixth grade, like a lot of sixth graders I got hooked on the Salem witch trials, and that fascination extended to an interest in the real-life modern practice of witchcraft, which if you live in California – Berkeley, San Francisco, L.A. –is thriving, and has nothing at all to do with the devil or black magic. Hanging out at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (more Tarot readers!), I became acquainted with a lot of practicing witches, and have been privileged to attend ceremonies. So basically I’ve been doing research for this book since before I was in high school.

And my early love of film noir, and the darkest thrillers of Hitchcock, especially Notorious, started a thirst in me for stories with dark romantic plots that pit the extremes of male and female behavior against each other; it's one of my personal themes. Book of Shadows is not my first story to pit a very psychic, very irrational woman against a very rational, very logic-driven man; I love the dynamics – and explosive sexual chemistry - of that polarity.

So to completely switch analogies on everyone, this book has been on the back burner, picking up ingredients for a long, long time.

Now, what pulls all those ideas and layers and ingredients into a storyline that takes precedence over all the other random storylines cooking on all those hundreds of back burners in my head (because that’s about how many there are, at any given time), is a little more mysterious. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe storylines leap into the forefront of your imagination mostly because your agent or editor or a producer or executive or director comes up with an opportunity for a paycheck or a gentle reminder that you need to be thinking of the next book or script if you ever want a paycheck again. I know that’s a powerful motivator for me.

But the reason a professional writer is able to perform relatively on demand like that is that we have all those stories cooking on all those back burners. All the time. For years and years, or decades and decades. And if a book takes nine months, or six months, or a year to write, that’s only because a whole lot of stuff about it has been cooking for a very, very, very long time.

A long time.

So writers, how long does it take YOU to write a book? Or your latest? How many stories do you figure you have on the back burner at any one time?

And readers, do you ever notice certain themes – or recurring scenes or visuals - in your favorite authors’ books that make you suspect that story seed was planted long ago?

- Alex




My spooky (and maybe - but maybe not! - supernatural) crime thriller Book of Shadows is free on Kindle today and tomorrow.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon IT

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Giving it away: Book of Shadows, free this week


My spooky (and maybe - but maybe not! - supernatural) crime thriller Book of Shadows is free on Kindle 6/13-6/16 (then $3.99)

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon IT



I know, I know. People must be wondering by now how authors can possibly make a living if we're always giving books away.





The fact is, giveaways are always part of the marketing process of a book. Drug dealers have known since the beginning of  - drug dealing - that you need to give a little something away at first to get your potential customers hooked.  But once they're hooked, the money just rolls in, a regular income stream.

It's exactly the same way with books, which are after all just another form of addiction. Come on, you know it's true.

Wouldn't you pay full price right now for the newest book by one of your favorite authors?  I know I would. Mo Hayder, Tana French, Nikki French, Lee Child, Mr. King... I'd pay extra to get any one of them NOW.

Well, that's what these giveaways are about. A big giveaway is a great way to hook new readers on one of your books, and like good addicts, those readers will then buy all your other books, and you build your readership.

Now, a lot of people who read this blog have already read most or all of my books, and I am eternally grateful!  I love that these Kindle giveaways let me reward those faithful readers by letting them stock their Kindles with free e versions of books they already have, but want to have in their e library.

But there are other people who come here just for writing advice, but who might actually be tempted by the giveaway to maybe see all of this advice I'm always giving in ACTION, and discover that I'm actually a pretty gripping thriller writer.  And support me as an author without having to lay out even a dime, just by clicking on one of the links and downloading a free book.

Well, I hope so, anyway!

And there are lots and lots of other people out there that these powerhouse Kindle Select giveaways can reach. You can argue against Amazon any way you like, but there is NO OTHER WAY an author can possibly reach 20,000 or more potential new readers in two or three days - for free.  It's impossible not to do it.

(But if you're a Nook reader and pissed off about the constant Amazon giveaways, e mail me, Alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com and I'll get you the book in e pub format. I'm not trying to leave anyone out, it's just the reality of the system as it is now.)

Book of Shadows was actually my favorite book that I've ever written - until I finished my last one, of course. But I hope if you haven't read it, you'll give it a try.

So how about others of you?  Are you reaping the benefits of the giveaways?  Want to talk about it?

- Alex

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Book of Shadows

Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.


The partners make a quick arrest when all evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett's case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.


All Garrett's beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.



Click to download your copy:  (now $3.99)


Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon IT

Read the first two chapters




"A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn't-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended." - Lee Child

"Sokoloff successfully melds a classic murder-mystery/whodunit with supernatural occult undertones." - Library Journal

"Compelling, frightening and exceptionally well-written, Book of Shadows is destined to become another hit for acclaimed horror and suspense writer Sokoloff. The incredibly tense plot and mysterious characters will keep readers up late at night, jumping at every sound, and turning the pages until they've devoured the book."
- Romantic Times Book Reviews

"Fast-paced with strong characterizations, fans will enjoy this superb thriller, as Adam and the audience wonder if The Unseen could be the killer." - Publisher's Weekly


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Related marketing posts:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Bash-Through Draft

I started a new book this month, a sequel to the thriller I just finished (Huntress Moon). It’s the first time I’ve ever really done a sequel, and it’s pretty new and terrifying.


To jumpstart the process I spent a week at Weymouth Writer’s Center – which is also the haunted mansion I used in my poltergeist thriller The Unseen – with my magical writer’s group, the Weymouth 7.  (You can read more and see photos on my Pinterest board, my new favorite distraction!)














Weymouth – and our group – did its magic, as always; I went into the manor with no idea whatsoever what that sequel would be about and came back from that one-week retreat with a 23-page sequence-by-sequence outline of the new book, start to finish.

So now I am in the throes of my least favorite part of the writing process, to put it mildly, and that’s the first horrific bash-through draft.

Because I come from theater, I think of my first draft as a blocking draft. When you direct a play, the first rehearsals are for blocking – which means simply getting the actors up on their feet and moving them through the whole play on the stage so everyone can see and feel and understand the whole shape of it. That’s what a first draft is to me. As you all know, I outline extensively, index cards, story structure grid, all of it. Then when I start to write a first draft I just bash through it from beginning to end. It’s the most grueling part of writing a book  (the suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark called it “clawing through a mountain of concrete with my bare hands...”) and takes the longest, but writing the whole thing out, even in the most sketchy way, from start to finish, is the best way I know to actually guarantee that I will finish a book or a script.

I do five pages a day minimum, more is gravy. I write the page count down in a calendar every day. And I never, ever, think about how much is left to go, I just get through those pages one day at a time, however I can. I think of myself as a shark – if I don’t keep moving, I’ll die. (What I would really like is for someone to put me to sleep for three months so I could just wake up when the bash through draft is DONE. I would pay a lot of money for that.)

And I’ve written about this before, here, but as far as I’m concerned the only thing a first draft has to do is get to the end.   (Your First Draft is Always Going to Suck). 

But then everything after that initial draft is frosting – it’s seven million times easier for me to rewrite than to get something onto a blank page.

After that first draft I do layer after layer after layer – different drafts for suspense, for character, sensory drafts, emotional drafts – each concentrating on a different aspect that I want to hone in the story – until the clock runs out and I have to turn the whole thing in.

I may be totally wrong about this, but I’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of writers over the years, and I would unofficially guess that the ratio of writers who grimly bash through that first draft to THE END without revision to the writers who polish along the way is about 90 percent bashers to 10 percent polishers.  A recent Facebook discussion I started seemed to back up those percentages. I might even go as high as 95-5.

Yet the interesting thing is, a lot of writers are surprised to hear that other people besides themselves use this “bash your way through to the end” approach. So I thought I’d bring it up today just in case this is news to some of you, so you can consider it.  It might just set you free.

So what about you?  Basher or polisher? Do you swim sharklike through that first draft to the end, or when you write THE END, are you actually done?

Have you ever tried doing it another way? How’d that work for you?

- Alex

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Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

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- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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