Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Unalienable rights

by Alexandra Sokoloff

When I was a screenwriter, the absolute worst thing about the job was having to sell my rights. I was mostly a spec writer – although I did some novel adaptations, I made most of my screenwriting income by writing original scripts and selling them. And the first thing that usually happens when a script is bought is that after the original writer does her contractual drafts, or is bought out of them, she is fired off her own script so that the producers or execs or director or sometimes actor can hire their own writer, or a writer they want to be in business with, or just what they love to call “fresh blood.”

People don’t understand that about the film business. The writer can and most often will be fired off their own story at any time. Nothing you can do about it.

Even worse than being fired was having studios and production companies hold my original scripts hostage – the movie could be going nowhere (because you fired the original writer, you moron) but they still refused to revert the rights.  Talk to a screenwriter about this situation and they’ll mostly tell you just about the same thing: it’s like the physical pain of having a loved one imprisoned, and knowing there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve contemplated murder more often than I like to think.

In fact there’s a story about a certain screenwriter who was in the situation of an original script being held hostage and he stormed the office of a certain studio head, brandishing a really sharp knife – and then threatened to cut off one of his OWN fingers right there on the desk if the studio head didn’t sign back the rights to him. And the story is he got the rights back, more because the studio head didn’t want the negative publicity he’d get from the incident than out of any concern for any bodily harm to the writer. Or maybe he just didn’t want to lose the desk. That’s showbiz, kid.

I’ve thought about that story a lot, recently. Because I so understand the rage, and the willingness to do ANYTHING to get your work back.

A lot, and I mean a lot, of authors now find themselves in the same position. They could be making a living income off e books, but the publishing houses they signed contracts with won’t revert the rights. (I’ll refrain from launching into a tirade about the 1%, but – really? This is okay in a democratic society?)

These days it’s critical that authors think clearly before they sign away their rights, especially e book rights. In the exhilaration of being offered a contract, it’s far, far too easy to just say yes to whatever a publisher is proposing. A mistake you may well regret for longer than you ever want to think.

Myself, I feel extraordinarily lucky that no fingers are going to have to be cut off after all. Although for a while there, I was wondering.

But I finally, finally, finally have the rights back to Book of Shadows and The Unseen in the U.S. Now I can offer these spooky thrillers as e books at the infinitely reasonable price of $2.99, as opposed to the publisher-set price of $11.99.  I mean, truly, does ANYONE pay $11.99 for an e book? Even your most highly prized authors? And I have the one-star “Protest Publisher Price Fixing” Amazon reviews to prove it. I was about to kill myself.

The whole structure of the publishing industry is changing. I’ll refrain from using Konrathian imagery featuring sexual acts with amphibians while Rome burns and all that, but this is a massive sea change we’re all experiencing. No one has any idea what things are going to look like next MONTH, let alone next year.

So why is it that writers would want to lock themselves into a contract that would mean someone else holds their e publishing rights in perpetuity? Especially given the clever ways that corporations are able to get around reversion issues?

For a large amount of money up front – sure, I understand it. A bird in the hand, etc.  But for a not-so-large amount?  Why?

The thing is, when we sign contracts, we’re speculating. We’re debating if this particular deal is better than what we could get elsewhere, or at a different time in the future. Same as choosing mortgage terms when we finance a house. Same as when we decide on an investment strategy with stocks. What’s our comfort level with volatility? Are we willing to take a risk to make a little more?

Don’t you hate it that we have to think about our writing careers as if we’re building a stock portfolio?  I know I do. But how can we not? If we are going to make a living with the writing we do, we have to make these choices, weigh the options, decide on our acceptable level of risk, and develop we believe is the best strategy for maximizing our income flow in a constantly shifting business landscape.

Half the room just stopped breathing, right?

So first things first. Breathe.

But please. Don’t ignore the fact that when you sign a contract on a book you may be limiting your income on this particular property – YOUR BOOK – to that one figure, the advance money, for possibly a lifetime.  Is it really enough, over the course of possibly a lifetime? Do you KNOW the other options? Do you know how much other people you know are making with other strategies?

Your job isn’t done when you type THE END. The job now is to do right by yourself, and by the work that you’ve just created.

So, I’m curious. DO you pay $11.99 for e books from your favorite authors? Because myself, when faced with that price I will just pay $26 for a hardcover, whether that makes any sense or not.

And – if you just want to vent about the absolute fucking scariness of the business part of writing, please feel free. We’re all there.

Alex

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Now liberated and available on Kindle, Nook & Smashwords, $2.99!

Two psychology professors and two psychically 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 world-famous Rhine parapsychology experiments conducted at Duke University.

 

 

Amazon US

Nook

Smashwords

Amazon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

 Paperback/e book from Little Brown at Amazon UK

 Destined to become a horror classic.”  – Romantic Times Book Review

“Gave this reviewer a bad night’s sleep – what more could you ask of a horror novel?” – SFX

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Available on Kindle and Smashwords, $2.99  (On Nook, 5/26)

A cynical homicide detective from Boston reluctantly joins forces with a beautiful, enigmatic witch from Salem in a race to solve a series of what appear to be satanic killings.

Amazon US

Nook

Smashwords (multiple e formats)

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

 

“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, 4 1/2 stars

 

Writing Setpieces: the unlimited production budget

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’m headed off to teach a Screenwriting Tricks workshop in Cleveland (open to all, if you’re in that part of the country, see here).

So of course my head is in craft mode.

I sit on the plane thinking about what is really essential that I want to get across in an always too-limited time to talk about our craft, and also about what people are hiring me in particular to teach.

One of the things I always hope people get out of my workshops and writing workbooks is the concept of setpiece scenes. I try to hit that hard up front in a workshop, and keep going back to examples during the day.

There’s a saying in Hollywood that “If you have six great scenes, you have a movie.” And I’ve said before that these six great scenes are usually from that list I’ve given you of the Key Story Elements.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Scenes like The Call To Adventure and Crossing the Threshold (and on the darker side, the Visit to Death or All is Lost scene) are magical moments: they change the world of the main character for all time, and as storytellers we want our readers or audiences to experience that profound, soul-shattering change right along with the character.

Filmmakers take that “six great scenes” concept very literally.  These scenes are often called the “trailer scenes” or the “money scenes”  (as opposed to “money shots”, which is a different post, with a different rating!).  As incensed as I am personally about how trailers these days give every single bit of the movie away (I won’t even watch them before a movie I’m interested in seeing), I understand that this is essential movie advertising: those trailer scenes have to seduce the potential audience by giving a good sense of the EXPERIENCE the movie is promising to deliver.  The scenes that everyone goes into the theater to see, and that everyone comes out of the theater talking about, which creates first the anticipation for a movie and then that essential “work of mouth” that will make or break a film.

And do not for a second think that directors aren’t putting excruciating thought and time and detail into designing and staging those scenes.  There’s not a director out there who is not in the back of his (or her, but statistically mostly his) mind hoping to make cinematic history (or at least the Top 100 AFI Scenes of All Time list in whatever genre) with those scenes. These are scenes that often cost so much money that producers will not under any circumstances allow them to be cut, even if in editing they are clearly non-essential to the plot.

The attention paid to these critical scenes is not all an ego thing, either. We are not doing our JOB as storytellers if we are not delivering the core experiences of our genre. Genre is a PROMISE to the audience or readers; it’s a pact.

And a setpiece doesn’t have to cost millions or tens of millions of dollars, either, although as authors, we have the incredible advantage of an unlimited production budget. Did you authors all get that?  We have an UNLIMITED PRODUCTION BUDGET. Whatever settings, crowds, mechanical devices, alien attacks or natural disasters we choose to depict, our only budget constraint is in our imaginations.  The most powerful directors in Hollywood would KILL for a fraction of our power. Theoretically, they can’t even begin to compete. 

However, directors can and do compete and top most authors on a regular basis because they know how to manipulate visuals, sound, symbolism, theme and emotion to create the profound and layered impact that a setpiece scene is.

So how do we take back that power? By constantly identifying the setpiece scenes in film and on the page that have the greatest impact on us personally and really looking at what the storytellers are doing to create that effect and emotion, so we can create the same depth on the page.

I’ve compiled some examples (and categorized them by story elements they depict) on my own blog and in my second Screenwriting Tricks workbook.

But just in the last week I’ve come across some great examples that have really stayed with me.

I’m on an Edith Wharton tear at the moment, and it’s striking how beautifully she sets her love scenes, on every visual and sensual level, like this setup from THE HOUSE OF MIRTH:

Selden had given her his arm without speaking. She took it in silence, and they moved away, not toward the supper-room, but against the tide which was setting thither. The faces about her flowed by like the streaming images of sleep: she hardly noticed where Selden was leading her, till they passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stood suddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden. Gravel grated beneath their feet, and about them was the transparent dimness of a midsummer night. Hanging lights made emerald caverns in the depths of foliage, and whitened the spray of a fountain falling among lilies. The magic place was deserted: there was no sound but the splash of the water on the lily-pads, and a distant drift of music that might have been blown across a sleeping lake. 

Selden and Lily stood still, accepting the unreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations. It would not have surprised them to feel a summer breeze on their faces, or to see the lights among the boughs reduplicated in the arch of a starry sky. The strange solitude about them was no stranger than the sweetness of being alone in it together. At length Lily withdrew her hand, and moved away a step, so that her white-robed slimness was outlined against the dusk of the branches. Selden followed her, and still without speaking they seated themselves on a bench beside the fountain.

On a different note, in the romantic comedy FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (a younger audience would call it a “lude comedy”, and I don’t disagree!), the hapless hero has his first kiss with the love interest at the Midpoint, of course, a classic “sex at sixty” scene (sixty minutes, that is, halfway through the film.).  Every kiss in a romance or romantic comedy is, or should be, a setpiece and the filmmakers give the lovers a typically gorgeous romance setting, in this case a cliff overlooking the ocean in Hawaii. But being as this is a comedy, the reckless heroine tells the hero, quite rightly, that they’re both in ruts and need to take a leap of faith, which she promptly does, off the cliff.  The hero doesn’t land quite so well, but after narrowly escaping death and possible castration on his slide down, he ends up in the water with her, for a beautiful backdrop to a sensual first kiss that is also a baptism that the hero has been sorely needing.

On the nose? Yes, but well-played and effective, and it does what the Midpoint is supposed to do – it kicks the second half of act two up to another level.

In the film of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, over and over the filmmakers use images of bridges and interesting corridors, or stepping stones in a creek, to underscore significant moments. The heroine first meets her love interest, The Chairman, on a bridge over a stream, with cherry blossoms in the background. Now, those of you with jaded eyes might look at that and think, ‘Oh, right, another “lovers meet on a Japanese bridge in an explosion of cherry blossoms’ scene, but the setting is utterly gorgeous, and I would be very surprised if most of the moviegoing audience even notices the bridge or the cherry blossoms – except subliminally, which is how these things are supposed to register.

And in a subsequent scene, the nine-year-old heroine has just realized what the desire of her life is to be, and runs through a long, curving passageway, another classic symbol of transition and birth, but the scene is filmed as an endless following shot in the psychedelically orange gateways of the Fushimi Inari shrine (just click through and look!), and truly delivers on the sensation of transformation that the moment is.

Now, filmmakers have location scouts to find these perfect physical settings for them, but I think it’s one of the great joys of my job as an author (as it was when I was a screenwriter) to be constantly on the lookout for perfect locations to use in current and yet-to-be-conceived storylines.  And they’re all ours for the taking.

So you know the question.  What are some of your favorite setpieces and locations in films or books?  Come across any good ones lately?  Or – what is a location you’ve always thought would make a great setpiece scene in a film or book?

Alex

DOJ files antitrust lawsuit against publishers

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Last week there was some publishing news so big that I’ve been wondering ever since why we haven’t been talking about it here.  But it’s like that classic left-wing admonition:  “I looked around me at what was happening and wondered why somebody wasn’t DOING anything about it… and then I realized I WAS somebody.”

Oh, that’s right.

So, unqualified as I am to write this post, today I’m posting about it.  I’m going to keep it short and mostly link to more qualified sources so that you all can use your Murderati time today to catch up, if you haven’t been following along.  The news, of course, is that the Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers, alleging collusion in e-book prices and sales models.

If you haven’t read about it, do that first, here.

So what does this mean for us as authors, exactly?

I have no idea. 

I can’t imagine it’s going to be good for advances for traditional book contracts, which have been dropping steadily over the last few years even before this.  Damages are being claimed for consumers of e books and not for the authors who have suffered from publishers fixing prices far too high for e books, so there’s no restitution coming there.

What I do know is that it’s going to mean SOMETHING.

Joe Konrath tends to be right about these kinds of things, so I’d highly recommend reading this blog of his and subsequent ones as this case progresses.  And April Hamilton has summed up quite a few of the arguments going on in the publishing world over all this.

What I DON’T recommend is ignoring it as if it’s some esoteric business thing that has nothing to do with you.

Writing a book is so hard all on its own that it’s very distracting and anxiety-provoking to have to speculate on how something like this lawsuit may affect your own ability to make a living.  I know.

When I was a screenwriter, the life was so 24/7 crazy that I adopted the head-in-the-sand attitude of most screenwriters:  “Oh, I don’t have time to keep up with union issues, I am Too Busy with Very Important Writing.”

That is, until an assault by some highly-paid screenwriters on the WGA credits rules so floored and angered me that I got politically involved, so involved that I ended up running for and winning a seat on the WGA Board of Directors.

Now, that wasn’t the brightest career move I could have made, because in truth NO ONE has the time to write and serve on a union Board of Directors at the same time.  But being on the board did put the reality of the business changes that were going on in the film industry right in my face.  Unignorable. 

And what I realized was – I’ve got to get out of this.  It’s not sustainable.  If the film business model is going to keep changing in this direction, I personally won’t be able to make a living as a screenwriter in five or six years. Which were remarkably coherent thoughts for such a right-brained person as I am, actually. Absolutely not anything I wanted to think about, much less have to act on, but I knew I couldn’t not act.

And I started putting my eggs in other baskets and writing novels while I watched things steadily get worse for screenwriters.

Now I’m making a comfortable living as an author, while a lot of my screenwriter friends have lost their houses and/or haven’t had a film job in years.

I’m not trying to sound dire, especially when I’m being so vague about what all this will mean for us. And of course the news that the publishing industry is undergoing a massive sea change is no news at all for anyone who’s been paying any attention over the last few years.  But I do find some authors’ reactions to all of this perplexing, and the idea of silence on the issue alarming. I may not be an expert, but I know this is not a good time to stick my head in the sand.

So I urge you to click through some links, do your own Googling, and be informed. It IS our business.

Alex

Sassy Gay Friend! Character stereotypes and archetypes

by Alexandra Sokoloff

After Gar’s great post this week on African American stereotypes in Hollywood, I thought I’d follow up with another stereotype that came up for me this week.

I am constantly rewatching Notting Hill, I can’t help it, love Richard Curtis! And there’s a character in that film that – despite an eccentric turn on it by Rhys Ifans, his breakout role – we’ve seen a million times before: the puckish (that’s Puck from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), irrepressible, slightly lunatic magical ally/mentor that’s such an archetype in romantic comedy.

I could really teach a whole class on this one character – the “asexual”, usually meaning gay, friend who solves all the straight lovers’ problems. (Now, in Notting Hill Spike is not gay, but definitely Puckish, and he got me thinking about the origins of this character and what it’s really about.)

Modern romantic comedy has really overused the gay best friend archetype (see My Best Friend’s Wedding, He’s Just Not That Into You, Sweet Home Alabama, etc.), but it’s a centuries-old tradition – from Shakespeare and Commedia Del Arte, to Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes and Edward Everett Horton in Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies and Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain. These movies often ghettoized gay characters by making them buffoons and/or magical helpers for the heterosexual main characters  – the exact role Spike Lee excoriated as the “Super-duper Magical Negro,” a secondary African American character who seemed to live to help the white main characters solve their problems, still unfortunately extremely prevalent in Hollywood – see The Help as the latest lauded and extremely uncomfortable example.  (And the uber-successfull Hunger Games gives its heroine a gay African American ally/mentor.  Just saying…)

Well, last week at LCC I was thrilled to be introduced by my friend Elle Lothlorian to the ultimate satire of the character: Sassy Gay Friend!

And there are more:

HAMLET – www.youtube.com/…
EVE – www.youtube.com/…
OTHELLO – www.youtube.com/…

I love these videos for satirizing the archetype, and because it’s actually true. All these disasters could have been averted by a Sassy Gay Friend.

So yes, it’s a stereotype, but there’s something else working here as well.

For one thing, the dance movies I mentioned above were largely created by gay men, and for them, I’m sure it was a way to layer a subversive gay perspective into movies in a time when homosexuality was actually illegal and censors were keeping close watch.  (Take a look at the trio dances in Singin’ in the Rain: who’s really dancing with whom?)

There’s no excuse for the modern romantic comedies that keep these gay characters subservient to the heterosexual leads, and deny them a romantic life of their own to boot (with rare exceptions  – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). But I do understand these lame attempts at working gay characters into the action. There is an archetypal resonance about homosexuality that is a powerful draw. These characters have been over the rainbow, so to speak, and they have wisdom beyond the ordinary world that the rest of us want. It’s not entirely surprising that lost het characters latch on to them looking for enlightenment, or at least advice for the lovelorn.  Also at play is the powerful archetype of Puck, the fairy (I’d say bisexual, but who really knows? There were all KINDS of things going on in that play….) who both meddled in and solved human lovers’ problems in perhaps the ultimate romantic comic fantasy, Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It’s that same “outsider” knowledge that people are grasping for in some depictions we see of African Americans that more often that not fall into stereotypes.  But some of them, I think, are at least reaching for archetype. I love the character of  “the Oracle” in The Matrix: the priestess/seer/sibyl that Morpheus takes Neo to see in order to confirm if he is “The One.” She’s played by Gloria Foster with a kind of Billie Holiday flair, and to me she’s a quirky personification of the Black Madonna, Lady Wisdom, the black Universal Mother who has absorbed the sins of the world. I respond deeply to that icon of the feminine.

The point I’m trying to make is that there can be a very thin line between stereotype and archetype.  As authors we have to be careful not to fall into stereotype, but at the same time we can’t be afraid to dig for archetype.

So today – what are some character stereotypes that drive you crazy?  And now – can you think of books, movies, plays that depict that same character, but raise the characterization to the level of archetype?

Here’s a partial list of tropes to get you thinking!

Chosen One, Cinderella, Mysterious Stranger/Traveling Angel, Knight Errant, Boy Next Door, Girl Next Door, Femme Fatale, Seer/Sibyl, Christ Figure, The Fool, The Third Son, The Third Daughter, Whiz Kid, Final Girl, Absent-Minded Scientist. Byronic Hero, Bad Boy, Bad Girl, Gentleman Thief, Reluctant Hero, Sinner Who Becomes a Saint. Supervillain, Shapeshifter, Trickster, Dark Lord, Evil Twin, Pissed-Off Brother (or Sister), Black Widow, Mad Scientist, Perverted Old Man, Mystery Villain, Witch, Crone, Evil Clown, Evil Wizard, Absent-minded Professor, Expert From Afar, Magician, Divine Fool, Wise Child, Seer/Sybil, Religious Nut, Hooker With A Heart Of Gold, Too Dumb To Live, Mary Sue, Manic Pixie, Martial Arts Master, Jedi Mentor, Cannon Fodder, Blonde, Ingénue, Jailbait, Jewish Mother, Magical Negro, Dark Lady, Clown, Crone, Fairy Godmother, Monster-In-Law, Pompous Ass, Nerd, Supernatural Ally, Wise Old Woman/Man, Snooty Clerk or Waiter, Devoted Domestic.

Alex

Left Coast Crime report & Free e books/Kindle giveaway

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I just returned from Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, a smashing success, thanks to organizer goddesses Robin Burcell and Cindy Sample and what looked like some graceful heavy lifting from the Sacramento area Sisters in Crime.

I love Left Coast Crime because it’s always so laid-back and friendly, possibly the most comfortable conference on the mystery circuit.

But this year there was definitely an undercurrent at the con, the same furtive conversation overheard repeatedly in dark corners of the bar, and it went like this.  Have you done it yet? How was it? How many times have you done it? Have you told your agent you’re doing it?  I want to do it but I’m afraid to do it… but should I do it?

Well, let’s face it, we’re all doing it, and some of us have been doing it for a while.  I’m talking about e books, of course.  Everyone was comparing stories, numbers, strategies,  numbers, choices, numbers….

Because it’s the numbers.

Things have changed so much since I went to my first conference in 2006. Oh, the conferences are still wonderful, unforgettable experiences, so very good for so many things on so many levels.  Let me just start with some non-business things.  

For one thing, I get to get dressed.  I even get to get dressed up, but just getting dressed every day is a miraculous thing.  It makes me feel so professional and human.  And because that’s such a treat I like to play around with it. This year I’ve been taking a belly dance class and I’ve discovered that they sell regular clothes – sort of – in belly dance costume stores, so I had some wonderful net-y sparkly things that other people seemed to enjoy seeing me in. But full-on costuming is not required: Kelli Stanley is never without her trademark fedoras (and this year some fabulous scarves and jewelry) and Bill Fitzhugh is always memorable in his berets – a little accessorizing is a great way to stand out from the crowd, express a little personality that gives a hint of your books, and help readers find you.

There is the sudden totally immersive social life – scary to some people but for most of us it’s a relief and a comfort and a total joy to be around people that just GET IT.  There’s nothing anyone has to explain because we all do the same thing all day and night and we all feel exactly the same way about it and we can talk about it with people who really know but we don’t have to because they do know.  And if we get a little crazy, and who doesn’t, once in a while? – what happens at a con stays at a con, and the family has your back.

And when we need to talk, well, there are no better listeners than writers. This year was actually a very weepy one; so many people had lost parents and spouses, others were struggling with or had just emerged from serious illnesses.  But if you can’t break down sobbing in a dark corner of the bar with your brother and sister mystery writers, I don’t know who else you could do it with. 

It’s also so wonderful to be around so many readers; they keep us honest and – well, they make me remember WHY I write, WHY it’s worth it to get to The End.

At a con writers exchange business information, they learn even more from booksellers and librarians; they get inspired hearing each other talk on panels (This year it was John Lescroat, the Guest of Honor, who gave me the inspirational ass-kicking I needed). Some of us teach and learn just as much from our students as they’re learning from us.

And in a business sense, I mean a book business sense, there are reviewers, editors, social media pros – unexpected opportunities come up for promotion. And you’re exposed to new readers.  I taught a workshop that was maybe 60 or 70 people.   I was on a panel for which there were about 25 people in the audience; I did another that was packed, easily 100 people.  That’s some good exposure to potential readers, even though I know there’s a growing percentage of those readers  who already know of me and my books, so in some ways I’m preaching to the choir.

In 2006, going to one of these cons was still one of the best ways to develop a following that would buy your books.  You’d have to do a lot of them, and other appearances as well, but the theory was that you would build a devoted audience that would always buy your books, and that would be the core of a growing fan base.

But here’s where the numbers question starts to come in, in this new era.

This week I’m doing the new thing, a Kindle Select promotion on Amazon in which I am listing several books for free – a blast that gets thousands of books out there – not to my fan base, which theoretically already HAS my books – but to a whole lot of people who have never heard of me but who might become fans.  Our Zoe Sharp and former Rati Brett Battles and I have teamed up with recent guest blogger Scott Nicholson, and thriller writers Mel Comley and Aiden James to further promote our giveaways by raffling off three Kindle Fires and some gift certificates on the new site Scott has built for this kind of promotion (it’s ebookswag.com, and you can click and enter the drawing for free with the button on the left of the page, and download all our free Kindle thrillers as well).

Well, first day of promo, day isn’t anywhere near over yet, and The Harrowing, my first giveaway, has already had over five thousand downloads.  That’s five thousand new readers who actually HAVE the book – they’re not just considering it as I speak on a panel or as they walk past it in a bookstore – they HAVE it. (And to put that in more perspective – 5000 copies is a standard first print run for a lot of books!  We’re talking ONE DAY). If people don’t read it all the way through – well, that’s my fault or their particular taste, but those odds are a huge improvement over pretty much any other kind of promotion I could do myself (not counting a big publisher push).  And that’s just one day – we’re doing this giveaway all week (I’ll be offering The Price and The Space Between on Thursday and Friday) and the cost to each of us participating is less than the cost of one day at a conference.  In fact I’d say it costs about a quarter of what one day at a conference costs.

This is the new model and the kind of economic reality we’re looking at these days, and it’s really making me think. I will never stop going to conferences. They’re life.  They’re my inspiration, they’re my social life, they’re my way of keeping up with my beloved extended family, and they are great business. But these days there are ways of reaching readers that are book promo on steroids, and I wanted to at least broach the subject because this is what I’m seeing and that’s what we do here – we talk about this stuff.

So please check out ebookswag.com every weekday this week to take advantage of all the free books (including The Space Between on Saturday, still)  and by all means sign yourself up for a chance at those Kindle Fires.  And I’ve just noticed another Rati alum in the Top Ten Free Suspense along with Brett and me today – J.D. Rhoades.  It’s a bonanza!

And tell me, authors – how do you see the promotional model changing?  Are you more confused than ever, or is some of this making sense to you (and if so, please explain it fo the rest of us!)

And readers – how do you find books, these days?  Are you into the free book promos?  Has your bookbuying changed with e readers?

Alex

What’s the experience?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’m teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors Workshop at Left Coast Crime in Sacramento this week, so today I’ll be in and out when I can, you know how the conference thing goes, especially depending on how late I was at the bar last night.

I’m sure the workshop went well (it was yesterday); they always do. I hope I refrained from tearing the class a collective new orifice. Although with teaching, sometimes a good rampage is exactly what a student needs at the time; I’ve certainly been the beneficiary of some beneficial – and memorable – ones from my favorite teachers myself.

I had this fear going into the workshop that I might get, um, testy.  The thing is, when I teach a workshop, I always ask the participants to do a little homework up front – some exercises all you regulars are familiar with: 


I always like to get some info from workshop participants before the conference so I can tailor my examples to the people who are actually in the class. Obviously this isn’t mandatory homework, but it will pay off for you to do it.  😉  The whole principle of what I teach is that we learn best from the storytellers and stories (in any medium) that have most inspired us, and that we as authors can learn a whole new dimension of storytelling by looking specifically at films that have inspired us and that are similar to what we’re writing.  So here are a few questions/exercises to get you thinking along those lines:

1. Tell me what genre you’re writing in. All right, yes, it’s a mystery conference.  So tell me what subgenre or cross-genre you’re writing in.

2. Make a list of ten movies and books – at least five movies – that you feel are similar in genre and structure to your work in progress or story idea (or if you don’t have a story idea yet, ten movies and books that you WISH you had written!)
 


3. Write out the premise of your story.  If you’re unclear on what a premise sentence is, here’s a practical explanation with examples:   


Not everyone does the homework, but the answers I get give me some ideas of examples to work with when I’m going through the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure.  In a long workshop I can also work a little with the idea of premise; I’m not able to do that in a 2-hour workshop.  Nonetheless, if I had a rampage yesterday, I can guarantee it was on premise.

I understand that people have problems with loglines, or premise sentences.  Believe me, I do. I would teach a class on writing premise if it weren’t so damn hard to do that it exhausts me too much to teach it.  After all, teaching is just this fun little sideline for me, and why should I wear myself out teach something so hard when there are much easier and more fun things to teach?

Especially after I got a reasonable number of homework assignments back, and almost half of them went like this: 

A professor (librarian, banker, accountant, divorcee) goes on holiday (to a high school reunion, to a Scottish castle, to his ex-wife’s wedding) and gets involved in solving a murder.

Uh huh.

Okay, I get the amateur sleuth fantasy about vicariously solving a murder. And maybe that’s all there does need to be to it to attract a certain type of reader. Maybe just that one situation in an infinite variety of settings really does get the job done, sort of like porn for the mystery-oriented mind. I’ve even picked up books myself that could be summed up the same way.  Except that they happened to be written by Agatha Christie or Elizabeth George or Ruth Rendell, and I knew I was going to be getting my money’s worth.

But why would anyone buy a book described like that by someone they’d never heard of?  And I’m not talking just readers – but how does that book even get read by an agent or editor to begin with?

Where’s the hook? Is it the quirkiness of the detective? Is it the fantasy aspect of the setting? Is it the jeopardy to the detective or to an excruciatingly sympathetic victim? Is it the startling and topical arena?  It is an untenable moral choice the protagonist will be forced to make?

I guess what is really missing for me in most of the premises I read – ever – is the EXPERIENCE that the story is going to give me.  Now, any of us know what that experience is going to be with an author we are already familiar with. I don’t need anyone to spell out what the experience is that I’m going to get from a Mo Hayder book  – I know that I will be wrung out emotionally from the experience of human evil so overwhelming it might as well be supernatural. And call it masochism on my part, but that’s why I buy her books.

As authors it’s not just our job to know the experience that our books deliver, and that readers buy us for, it’s our job to be able to communicate that experience in the logline or premise sentence of our books.  Myself, if I’m not making the hair on the back of people’s heads stand up when they read my flap copy, I’m in trouble.

Some of that knowing about the experience comes with – experience.  Readers TELL you what they buy your books for, and that makes it easier both to deliver it in the next book, and to get a feeling of that experience into your promotional material.

But you have to know it to say it.

So the question today is, authors, what is the EXPERIENCE you feel you deliver in your books?

And readers, what is the EXPERIENCE you look for in some of your favorite authors’ books?

Alternately, tell us about a great rampage you got from a teacher or mentor that changed your work or life!

I’ll be checking in from LCC with reports when I can.  Maybe I can rope some other authors into reporting with me!

Alex

 

Welcome guest blogger Scott Nicholson!

Today I’m thrilled to host Scott Nicholson here at Murderati.  Scott is a friend and one of my favorite supernatural thriller writers (some people say horror; I think what Scott delivers masterfully is spooky thrills, the best kind!) 

If you haven’t read Scott, I highly recommend you give him a try. Here’s his Amazon page to browse, I guarantee there’s something for everyone, and the price is right! 

Just added:  Scott will be giving four books away (free for Kindle) this weeked (March 17-18) at http://www.ebookswag.com , so it’s the perfect time to load up!

And those of you who know anything at all about e publishing know that Scott has been at the vanguard of the e publishing revolution – I’ve been wanting to get him here for ages to talk about what he sees as the future. So for your enjoyment and hopefully enlightenment – here’s Scott!

Subsidizing the Freebie

By Scott Nicholson

I’ve gotten out of the “writer babble” business for two reasons: (1) I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and (2) it’s all changing so fast that even the boldest predictions of digital evolution quickly become laughable.

I don’t even use traditional publishing as a reference point anymore, because that is so far removed from most writers’ realities that it may as well be Shangri-la or Hollywood. The indie vs. trad debate is now only meaningful for a small group of people, and they are all making way more money than you or me.

So you are in it, and if you are lucky, you made a nice little nest egg back when everyone was standing on the sidelines deciding whether indie was the way to go. Hopefully, you shook off the intellectual shackles that chained us to the agent speed-dating sessions at writing conferences and were hammered and locked into place by “publishing experts” with 20-year writing careers in the old system. You know the mantras: “Get an agent,” “Only hacks self-publish,” and “You can’t produce and distribute a book without the advice of publishing experts.” Basically, ego affirmation. Of course the experts didn’t want to lose their position of authority (and in the agents’ case, the intermediary status of being the first in line to get checks.)

But the gate was left open and the horses all got out of the barn, or something like that (come up with your own gatekeeper metaphor; I am writing this for free!) So now we have a market where the 99-cent ebook had a year’s run, and the pool was finally beginning to find stratification (crappy books sinking, good books nailing stable plateaus) when Amazon unleashed the latest version of indie roulette—the free ebook.

I’m on record as predicting the flat-text e-book era has an outside range of five years, at least for fiction—specialized non-fiction and manuals will continue to be valuable for their content alone. I believe e-book sales will continue, but certainly not with expanding profits for all involved. Now that there are thousands of free Kindle books available every single day, how long before readers come to expect and even demand free books exclusively?

Freebie roulette. Great for readers. Good for Amazon (maybe in the short term, but it is hard to figure the long term). Terrible for authors.

The market is diverse enough to support many different price tiers, but writers who want to survive in 2015 will need to make money off of free books, or they will soon quit writing.

I only see one outcome: ad-supported or sponsored books. At first blush, you’d think N.Y. has an advantage, since Madison Avenue is right there. But can corporations, with their large structures, be able to compete when indie or smaller entities can react more quickly to present conditions instead of protecting some imagined status quo?

J.K. Rowling can inspire a Pottermore built around her brand, and James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Clive Cussler have already built factories around their names (and, yes, V.C. Andrews, you can roll over in your grave two or three more times for all I care, because this is all your fault). But most of us are not factories or we wouldn’t have to indie publish.

This points out the new era of the branded writer. And not just “writer,” but “content creator” and even mere “idea marketer.” A personality is more suited to building brand identification and audience than a publisher is. I say “James Patterson” and you get an image. I say “Random House” and what do you get? Randomness. We’ve seen it here locally: “Ray’s Weather” is where you check the weather and “Todd’s Calendar” is where you click to find what’s happening in the region—and both are ad supported. You can get the free content elsewhere but you don’t get the human personality attached.

I’m already experimenting with the ad model because I believe it is viable. I am counting on Idea Marketing being one of my foundational pillars. I am not quite sure what it all looks like right now, but I look at it this way—you don’t need NY in order to give away tons of free e-books or to spread an idea or to build a social platform. You are the idea you want to spread.

Other authors will say “I’ll never sell out.” (Ironically, those are usually the authors who have given most of their incomes to agents and publishers…) I don’t blame people for sticking with what worked in the past. It all goes to how invested you are in a certain system and how the alternative looks, and, of course, the turf where you’ve staked out your ego. Publishing-industry talk on e-books uses phrases like “managing risk” and “cautious adaptation.” That is why those of us in the trenches knew Barnes & Noble was in serious trouble when most in the “publishing industry” only realized it recently when BN’s horrifyingly bad third-quarter reports came in. They are working off of old data while I work off the data I got an hour ago.

And my data says this may be the very peak of the Golden Age of digital publishing. The $9.99 novel may be dead this year, since three-quarters of the current bestsellers are low-priced indie books. As fast as major publishers yank their name-brand authors out of digital libraries, 10 new indies cram into that virtual shelf space. Maybe forever. James Patterson’s factory can’t run on $2.99 ebooks, but mine can.

But what happens when the $2.99 and 99 cents drop to permanently free? Where’s your sponsor? Are you willing to go there? It’s not going to be as clumsy as an image of a refreshing Bud Lite popping up when the main character enters a bar (though it’s not unthinkable at some point.) Can you see Jack Reacher with a favorite brand of soft drink, or Bella Swan wearing only Calvin Klein? At what point is your willing suspension of disbelief shattered? At what point do you realize the ad is the only reason the book can exist at all?

My informal polling on ad-supported ebooks yields statements like: “I’ll quit reading before I put up with that.” I also remember saying I’d never carry a cell phone, or be on Facebook, or give up my vinyl albums, or start thinking that maybe nuclear energy is the best short-range answer to our energy addiction. Or that I’d ever read an entire book on a screen.

I don’t know the answer, but I am deeply invested in the question. So, ads in ebooks. As readers and writers, what is your opinion?

———

Scott Nicholson is the bestselling author of a bunch of books and also released The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success, because some people still think you can buy the secret instead of be the secret. Follow him on Facebook, blog, Twitter, website, or newsletter.

 

 

Lives in the Balance (& book giveaways!)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

The TV binge continues.  Yes, it’s sad, although probably better than the equivalent in ice cream or heroin.  

I know I promised a DOWNTON ABBEY dish, and believe me, it’s coming, but I’ve got something else on my mind this week.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

Do you all know this show?  (I lived in the South for five years and never learned to fully say y’all.  I think because I know my mother would kill me if I ever did it in her presence. Even if it does make absolute sense grammatically.)

I’ve been meaning to watch FRIDAY for ages because I thought the non-fiction book on which it’s based was just so incredibly excellent, and I’ve heard so much about the show, created by the amazing Peter Berg, and there’s also, well, Kyle Chandler.  (And on the jailbait end of the spectrum, although at the time of the show he was an adult pro hockey player so it’s actually NOT a felony to look at him – Taylor Kitsch.)

And I finally just started on it, which was a HUGE mistake, because there are FIVE SEASONS of this thing.Who in the world has time for five seasons of anything?

But first game – I mean, first show – I was just hooked.

I had lunch with a friend this week and was raving about it and he looked at me askance and said something to the effect of “Okay, I know it’s great writing and all that, but sports fan that I am – even I couldn’t get past the whole Texas football arena.  So how the hell do YOU?”

I know what he means.

The fact is, very few people realize how much exposure to football I’ve actually had, because I very rarely talk about all the jocks I’ve – been exposed to.  

Look, I’m a dancer. I appreciate physical talent.

But I’m not watching this show for the football, even though I can enjoy watching any sport for that pure physicality. I absolutely love seeing what the human body can do. And football (and hockey) are by far my favorite sports because of the body types and the body parts that the uniforms emphasize.

Okay, but football culture. Not a fan. Hazing, bullying, sexual harassment and assault, simpering cheerleaders making baked goods… And Texas, well, it gave us W. And anyone who can’t figure out how I feel about THAT….

But the absolute fact is, this is a brilliant show. This show is about Texas (and I think it’s important to understand Texas to understand this country, especially now), and it’s about football (and I think it’s important to understand football to understand this country, not as much now as eight years ago, but always), and it’s about race and racism, and it’s about paralyzing cliches of men and women. It’s about Christianity and what that is in this country. It’s about Texas oil and gas, crucial to understand about that state and this country right now.

And it’s about teaching. 

And it’s about teenagers.

More specifically, it’s about teenage lives in the balance.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those teen years, lately. Well, I recently wrote a book set in high school, of course, that tends to concentrate your focus (or more exactly, your entire conscious and unconscious being) on these things. But there’s only one novel that I’ve written so far (and I just finished my TENTH on Friday, people!!!) that doesn’t prominently feature teenagers in major roles.

I know why that is.  When I was just out of college, I taught high school in various exceptional circumstances – rehab centers and the LA County lock-up camps.  Gang kids, at-risk kids, prostitutes, felons, addicts, fosters, abandoneds, traumatized, brutalized, you name it. And while I was doing that, half-time, part-time, enough to make a bare living, I was also double-full-time doing the work that broke me through as a professional writer. So writing and working with troubled teenagers are inextricably entwined for me.

But even before that, I went to Turkey as an exchange student when I was sixteen, one of the most traumatizing and most profound and character-defining experiences of a pretty diverse life. Psychologists say that people can become fixed psychologically at the age of a trauma (especially childhood trauma) and I explore that idea thematically in many of my novels. 

So I have extreme fixations at the ages of sixteen and twenty-two – I can channel everything about those ages as if I’m still living them.  (Well, and lots of other ages, too, but for the purposes of this blog!)

Drifting a bit, but my point is that great stories about teenagers or teaching teenagers just light me up.  I, the non-crier, cried all the way through the fifth season of THE WIRE, which I loved every single second of every episode of, but that season about the kids just devastated me, and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is having that same effect on me.

Because both of those shows are about kids who are literally infinite – the potential of everything imaginable is inside them, as it is in every child, but it’s so very, very often in those teen years that kids fly or they fall. The stakes are unimaginably enormous; they are not just life and death but mythic.

I’ve been thinking about THAT a lot because RWA, one of the biggest of the big annual book conferences, asked me to do a YA-focused structure workshop at their craft conference this year and I’m working on this theory that YA tends toward the mythic and magical, with the ultimate of stakes, because that is actually so very heartbreakingly true about the teenage years.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS really bears this out.  Like THE WIRE, the show focuses on kids who are “at risk”, but “at risk” is portrayed as what it truly is.  The razor edge between – for a smart but troubled girl – rape and a life of prostitution and degradation – and a college education and an adventurous and fulfilling future.  The razor edge for an orphaned boy between prison (which for a boy of 17 or 18 means sex slavery, torture, drugs, a high probability of suicide) and a stable self-employment, love and family.  For more than one kid, the difference between a pro football career and a lifetime of drudgery at Tastee Freeze – or again, prison. Not just between life and death, but between life and hell.

It’s the reality of so many, too many, staggeringly many teenagers in our country.  Take a look at the statistics for girls and boys – for rape, homelessness, addiction, prison, suicide… and don’t even get me started on the prospects for children and teenagers in less fortunate countries.

As crime writers, we write about extreme circumstances, it’s basic to the genre.  Well, to me, there’s nothing more extreme than the razor edge that teenagers walk every day, and generally they walk it alone because their parents either should have been sterilized at birth, or said parental units develop a wonderfully selective amnesia once they’re out of their own teenage years and are of no help whatsoever to their children in a crisis, much less the continuing crisis that the teenage years are. And – though it’s better now than what it as when I was in high school, kids still don’t generally talk about the bad stuff.  And you’d better believe predators rely on that post-traumatic self-defensive amnesia.

I admire the hell out of televison that doesn’t sugarcoat. The most prevalent, Alice-in-Wonderland memory of my teenage years was looking around at all the agony the students around me were experiencing and wondering how the hell adults could be so oblivious to it.

So with YA, just like with my adult fiction, I write the dark, because I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and because I so wanted someone else to be acknowledging it and DOING something about it. And I am in awe of any storyteller, in any medium, who tackles the razor edge that the teeage years are.

Myself, when I was a teenager, I was never at risk for a criminal life.  But I know my soul was in the balance, and great stories that told the truth about the darkness I experienced, and that I saw around me, literally, physically saved me – when people fell short.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

So how about you?

In high school, did you, or people you knew, walk a razor’s edge? Who or what saved you or them?  What were the stories that got you through to the light?

And – who WASN’T saved?

Alex 

__________________________________________________________________________ 

Murderati March Madness 

Zoë and I are giving away e books this week!

 

My very dark YA thriller The Space Between is free on Kindle through Sunday (midnight): 

“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

 

 

More info and download now:

Amazon/Kindle 
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon ES
Amazon FR
Amazon IT

If you meed an e pub version just e mail me – alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com


And Book of Shadows will also be free in the UK and worldwide, except US:

“A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn’t-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended.”   — Lee Child

More info and download now:

Amazon UK 
Amazon DE
Amazon ES
Amazon FR
Amazon IT

 

————————————————————————————–

Zoë Sharp’s ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, is described by The Chicago Tribune as “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic − and coolest − heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”

Now you have a chance to find out how it all began. For 48 hours from midnight Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, February 29th to midnight PST on Friday, March 2nd the very first in the Charlie Fox series, KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, will be available as a FREE Kindle download from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. The book, complete with two deleted scenes and a Foreword by Lee Child, also includes the opening chapter fromRIOT ACT: Charlie Fox book two.

The New York Times said of KILLER INSTINCT: “The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant.”

 

Are you a Cumberbitch?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

If you know what I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about.   If you don’t, you’ve somehow been missing out on the biggest thing since Jesus.  I mean, you know, since the Beatles.

So I’d like to talk today about the new Sherlock Holmes.  (Hey, it’s crime fiction, isn’t it?)  Those of you who know can just scream and faint in the background, there, while I fill the others in.  And for the hopelessly straight men of Murderati, well,  you’re just going to have to endure a little erotomania.  It is, after all, coming on Valentine’s Day.

Once in a while there is in film or television or music what has become known in technology as a Black Swan.  Something that defies all expectations at the same time meeting all the expectations you never actually knew you had.  And that’s a good enough definition for the Masterpiece Mystery! TV series, Sherlock.

 

 

The series is brilliant – a redefining of Sherlock Holmes exactly as he would present himself in modern London, complete with e mailing, texting, GPS—and blogging by his faithful Boswell, John Watson, a veteran doctor who was wounded in Afghanistan, just as the original Watson was (I mean, when something is right, it’s right, right?).  And Sherlock is as he is depicted, an unfettered and unrepentant autistic-slash-high-functioning sociopath.

And a rock god.

An unfettered and unrepentant autistic-slash-high-functioning sociopath of a rock god.

The tagline for the show is “Smart is the new sexy.” And that pretty much sums it up.  This is not just a modern imagining of one of the – or is it THE? -world’s most popular and enduring detectives.  It’s a sexual fantasy for smart people.  And may I say it’s about bloody time we got one?

This is the unlikely catnip at the heart of this show:

 

 

A truly incredibly actor with the unlikely name of Benedict Cumberbatch (who is now banking upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or at least tens of thousands, for every time he was ever called Cumberbitch as a kid. It’s revenge of the geeks in spades.).

You really need to see the real-time reactions of women, girls, men, boys, dogs, horses to this actor to understand the physiological phenomenon going on here.  There are fan groups that call themselves Cumberbitches.  There are cat fights over him on Facebook (think Dionysus, Maenads…) Mention his name or the word Sherlock to a girl (or boy) of fifteen or a woman (or man) of fify and you will get the same helpless, delirious giggling.  That’s actually part of the appeal, the group experience, the knowing that you are not the only one dissolving into goo over this man and this show. And if you are not a fan, you might as well move to Antarctica, because you are going to be seeing Cumberbatch in every movie that Hollywood can cram him into for the next fifty years (fortunately, I think he’s beyond smart enough to choose his roles and limit his exposure.)

I admit that I become flushed and breathless when he launches into one of his twenty-pages-in-a-minute and-a-half-monologues about who ate what pastry at which Tube stop after whichever assignation with whatever coworker that is a trademark of the show.  But my actual fantasies about Cumberbatch are not exactly sexual; they’re more about going back to school in lighting design just to be able to properly light the man’s face.  These are the cheekbones that launched a thousand ships. He is literally golden-eyed.  And I say “man”, but one of the guilty pleasures of the show is that this is a thirty-five-year-old man who looks and acts like the world’s most precocious fourteen-year-old; you feel as if you’re committing a felony just watching it.

One of the delicious ironies of the show is that all of this extreme sexual response from TV fans all over the world is occurring over a character who is not only massively socially incompetent but patently asexual.   The character is explicitly referred to as a virgin, although the gay subtext is – not subtextual at all. This is a love story. But still, clearly unconsummated. (Or is it? It’s your fantasy, after all…)

All this sexual confusion I think is one of the delights of the show.  It is polymorphous perversity in the flesh. Well, in the flesh on screen. The creators even make Doyle’s Irene Adler character a dominatrix (not the world’s most convincing one, in my opinion, but anything further I could say on the subject will only get me in trouble so I’ll refrain) who is just as fritzed out by Sherlock the virgin as he is by her.

But there’s more to it than the sex, I swear. This is a truly perfect melding of an actor and a role.  Cumberbatch is a star, period – I loved him as Stephen Hawking in Hawking, he conveyed not just brilliance but a heartbreaking sweetness and innocence as the young Hawking. But Sherlock is a career-defining role. It reminds me a bit of Cary Grant, before and after Hitchcock got hold of him. Grant was clearly one fine hunk of actor even in the fluffy romantic roles he did early in his career, but it was the darkness and edge and ambiguity that Hitchcock saw and encouraged (or should I say demanded?) in him that made him an iconic, archetypal movie star. (Take a look at Cumberbatch in Masterpiece’s pre-Sherlock miniseries The Last Enemy. There are hints of Sherlock, there, in the irritated monologue the character finally explodes into on national television, the kind of monologue that makes you say THERE.  Do THAT. Much more of THAT.  Please forget the love plot and just let this guy talk, and visibly think, on screen.)

Clearly creator/writers (of Dr. Who fame) Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also wonderfully portrays Sherlock’s fussy and hovering older brother Mycroft), have that masterful Hitchcockian understanding of the material and their star. They saw it, and they gave him what he needed.  It’s filmmaking collaboration in its most perfected state, the stuff that dreams (and smart people’s sexual fantasies) are made on.

The writing is stellar, wicked and joyous and – I’ll say it again, unrepentant; I’ve had whole years of my life that haven’t given me as much pleasure as the scene in which Sherlock compulsively corrects a convict’s grammar.  (Well, I may be exaggerating JUST a bit, but that’s how it felt in the moment…)

And yes, there is a Team Watson (we have a representative among us, actually, if she wants to speak up), and I don’t at all mean to give Martin Freeman short shrift; he is the perfect, earthy, touchingly maternal counterpart to Sherlock (talk about catnip, I so LOVE that adenoidal British voice), and I’m also thrilled to have Rupert Graves as Detective Inspector Lestrade.  (Graves is a former punk rocker I’ve loved since he made his sizzling acting debut as little brother Freddy in Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala’s swoony Room with a View).  I wasn’t quite as thrilled with Andrew Scott as little-boy-psychopath Moriarty in the first season, but he grew on me in season two; there was just a certain way he bared his teeth that was endearing enough to make me stop hating him for the two seconds required to commit to an arch villain.

You’ll notice I’m not expounding on the plot lines (I’m too busy designing lights over here….).  I confess, it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything in the Sherlock canon, although it seems to me the second season is more true to the plot lines of the Sherlock stories I remember from my childhood than the first season. The episodes are not adaptations, but there are plenty of clever-to-brilliant references and homages for those in the know. The plots work just fine, and there are always wonderful setpieces (the Chinese circus setting in Episode 2(?) is truly dazzling), but it’s the character interaction, chemistry, and the dialogue that provide most of the breathtaking suspense. And to be perfectly honest, I’d have to watch every episode again to be able to focus on the plots because I simply DON’T CARE; I am way too busy being dazzled by – other things (and remember, I TEACH structure,  I’m telling you, this is how bad it is!).

As for social and cultural relevance, Sherlock makes Asperger’s both normal and attractive, which in an age driven by minds like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg makes the whole show not just topical but inevitable. There is something uncannily true about the series.  We KNOW this Sherlock; he is the natural, timeless, entirely present-tense incarnation of an immortal character.

He is US.

So— those of you who don’t know Sherlock like I know Sherlock, go treat yourself to a little Holmes crack, available on Netflix and Amazon and iTunes.   I dare you not to get hooked.

And for all you Cumberbitches, pull up a chair, grab the riding crop, slap on a couple of nicotine patches and let’s dish.  What is it about this show?  What does it do for you?

And yes, let’s hear about other perfect portrayals of classic characters, too.

Alex

 —————————————–

Huntress Moon, an Amazon bestseller!

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Zoë Sharp’s FIFTH VICTIM

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing my blog sister, Zoë Sharp, on her new book, the ninth in the Charlie Fox series: FIFTH VICTIM.

 

To introduce the interview, I started thinking back to the first few times I met Our Zoë.  And I realized when I first met her, I was intimidated. Now, that’s not something you’ll hear me saying often, about anyone. And as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I was intimidated because I knew I couldn’t fool her. Writers are perceptive people as a species, but even so I think most people tend to buy my public persona.  Which is not NOT me, it’s just not ALL of me.  With Zoë – I knew that wouldn’t work, not for two seconds. There was going to be no hiding anything from this woman.  I didn’t know how I felt about that, so I hung back until I knew her better.  (It was worth the wait!)

Zoë’s heroine Charlie Fox is that way. You cannot get anything by her; she sees to the core of people and also to the core of situations. She has a wry sense of humor and she can take the piss out of anyone (how’s that for British?) without even trying. But she also has this aura that is pure, white-hot power. You do NOT want to mess with this woman.  You especially want to be careful when she gets still. And if you were in trouble, this is the first person you would want to have watching your back.

Just exactly what you would want in a bodyguard.

We sat down over our computers, transatlantically, to talk about the book.

 

FIFTH VICTIM  

On Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, Charlie Fox is tasked with protecting the wayward daughter of rich businesswoman Caroline Willner. It seems that an alarming number of the girl’s circle of friends have been through kidnap ordeals, and Charlie quickly discovers that the girl herself, Dina, is fascinated by the clique formed by these former victims.

Charlie worries that Dina’s thrill-seeking tendencies will put both of them in real danger. But just as her worst fears are realized, Charlie receives devastating personal news. The man who put her partner Sean Meyer in his coma is on the loose.

She is faced with the choice between her loyalties to her client and avenging Sean, but the two goals are soon inextricably linked. The decisions Charlie makes now, and the path she chooses to follow, will have far-reaching consequences.


Alex: So how do you research the habits and habitats of the wealthy and privileged?  Enquiring minds want to know. 

Zoë: My day job used to involve a lot of writing about classic cars – often very expensive and rare vehicles that were, by their definition, owned by people with a lot of disposable income. Spending any time of time around these people tells you that the rich are another country – they do things differently there. For the families I describe in FIFTH VICTIM, I guess I just built on that experience and took the next instinctive leap forwards.

Alex: Well, I love how completely unfazed Charlie is by all of it – her dry nonchalance is a riot. Also I noticed Charlie’s pretty comfortable around horses and slings that terminology around like a pro. Did you grow up riding?  Do you still?

Zoë: I confess that I did grow up with horses. In fact, my only professional qualification is as a British Horse Society riding instructor. It struck me when I started planning FIFTH VICTIM that I’d  never used this knowledge in any of the books, and yet I’d made mention  of Charlie having horses in her background, so I thought I’d like it to  play a larger role. Besides anything else, it fitted into the story so nicely, in a way that tennis lessons, say, simply would not have done.

Alex: Wow, I didn’t know that about you, although you do have the aura. I thought it was clever how Charlie uses the horse in that one fight scene. So obvious, and yet I’ve never seen it before.

Okay, since we’re kind of on the subject, when I blog and teach I’m always reminding my readers/students that people read books and watch movies for a vicarious experience. In FIFTH VICTIM you take us into the rarefied world of the Hamptons, the horse culture, the yacht culture.  As an author, do you consciously use settings like this to provide a fantasy experience for your readers? 

Zoë: Not especially, although for people to require close protection, often by definition they have the most to lose. The higher the stakes, the greater the conflict, and I like to put Charlie in situations of conflict.

Alex: Speaking of conflict, you’ve got a great love triangle going on in FIFTH VICTIM (I’m Team Parker, if you’re wondering).

Zoë: Are you? Hmm, interesting. I thought you’d be more of a fan of Sean’s bad-boy image.

Alex: Maybe I hit my limit in real life. But what I was wondering was – did that complication surprise you, or have you been plotting the triangle for years, now?

Zoë: I’d love to be able to say it was all planned from the start, but the truth is that the awkward relationship between Charlie and Sean and her boss, Parker Armstrong, was one of those things that developed more as the series went along. When I came to write this book and I was looking back, though, I was surprised to realise that there had been little signs previously that Parker looked on her as more than a simple employee. So it must have been fermenting away at a subconscious level somewhere. 

Alex: I love it when that happens, actually!

All right, now I have to ask about Torquil. He’s one of those wonderful love-to-hate-him characters. Just that name! You can refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate you, but is he anyone you know?

Zoë: Actually, Torquil is nobody I know – honest. OK, so there might be one or two traits I’ve observed in various people who shall definitely remain nameless, but nobody specific. I think that all through this book I was working on a theme of people appreciating what they have – or failing to appreciate it until it’s too late and they don’t have it any more by which time it’s too late to go back. I wanted to embody some of that feeling in one character in particular, and Torquil was it. 

Alex: That is the way it played out – I never expected to feel sympathy for him, but I did. 

A completely different question, but fascinating to a non-series writer: I like the way your number titles are always actually significant to the story!  Does your series name concept influence your plots at all, or do you have the plots first and then figure out how to integrate the proper number in as a clue or significant phrase?  Is it a hassle or does it actually inspire you?

Zoë: It’s both inspiring and a hassle – and totally confusing, as FIFTH VICTIM is actually the ninth book, not the fifth. See what I mean?

Alex: Oh, yike. That is confusing.

Zoë: I wrote the first three books (KILLER INSTINCT, RIOT ACT, HARD KNOCKS) before the title FIRST DROP arrived from the rollercoaster reference. I  had absolutely no idea that my first US publisher would jump on that  and want the next book they took (actually book six, as ROAD KILL came  after FIRST DROP) to be called SECOND Something. I’m dropping the numerical sequence for the next one, a New Orleans-set tale called DIE EASY.

Alex: And you know I can’t wait for that one! Tell us a little about your research in my favorite city. 

Zoë: There’s a feel and a texture to New Orleans that really interested me. Plus the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing aftermath give the city a stark edge. People there spent a long time looking into the abyss and you can’t go through something like that and not emerge unchanged.  I was in New Orleans in mid 2010 – five years after Katrina – and some parts of it still look as though people evacuated and never went back. 

And although you look at the tourist areas and it’s all business as usual, there felt to be something defiant about it, something ever so slightly forced. I found that contrast fascinating. As an outsider I also felt there was a great sense of betrayal. Coming four years after 9/11 I think there was an expectation that if something really bad happened – whether a natural or man-made disaster, the government would be ready for it. Katrina proved they were not. 

Alex: Not ready or not willing. But you don’t even want to get me started on the betrayal surrounding Katrina!

So what’s next for Charlie—besides that complicated love life? 

Zoë: That’s a good question. I’m planning to take a little break from her next so I can write something new. In 2011 I had a pretty full-on  Charlie Fox year, what with organising getting the backlist to e-book  format, plus I did the short story e-thology for which I wrote a brand  new 12,000-word long short, Truth And Lies, and then did another  Charlie short in December, Across The Broken Line, plus DIE EASY. So, I’d really like a breather, just to take stock with the character and the direction she’s moving in. Having said that, of course, an idea for the next book in the series has already been forming vaguely in the back of my mind. I shall try to keep it in check!  I’ll keep writing about Charlie for as long as people want to keep reading about her. As long as I continue to have avenues of her character that I feel I can explore – as long as she has something to say to me – then the interest is there for me as a writer. I keep putting her under pressure, whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological, and I see what happens. So far she’s always come out fighting. 

Alex:  Was your first Charlie Fox book your first novel, or did you have a few practice novels before that? 

Zoë: I did write a novel when I was fifteen, which I wrote long-hand and  my father, bless him, typed up for me. It did go out to publishers and  received “rave rejections”. I believe it may still be in a box in the  attic. My father keeps threatening to dig it out and put it on eBay. I  just threaten him at this point … Charlie was, therefore, my first real novel, and although I rewrote KILLER INSTINCT several times the basic  core of the book stayed true to the original idea.

Alex: And you’ve now got all the first Charlie Fox books up as e-books.  Can we get a list, in order? 

Zoë: To try to diffuse the confusion I’ve added the book order into the titles. It just seemed the best way to do it.

The full list is:

KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one

RIOT ACT: Charlie Fox book two

HARD KNOCKS: Charlie Fox book three

FIRST DROP: Charlie Fox book four

ROAD KILL: Charlie Fox book five

SECOND SHOT: Charlie Fox book six

THIRD STRIKE: Charlie Fox book seven

FOURTH DAY: Charlie Fox book eight

FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine

DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten – coming 2012!

And today we’re giving away an e book to a randomly chosen commenter – any one of the first five Charlie books, winner’s choice.

Thanks so much, Zoë!

 

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