Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

What were the signs?

by Alex

More lessons from the convention circuit.   Last week I said I was shocking myself with what was coming out of my mouth as explanation of how I became a writer.    After all, I really didn’t make the conscious decision until well into college, but the signs were there.  So this week I thought it would be fun to ask you guys – What were the early warning signs for YOU?

Here are some of mine:

– Putting on plays in my neighbors’ garage, starting probably at age eight.

– Reading  – oh my God, the reading.   Everywhere.  While walking home from school.   Facing backwards in the family station wagon on road trips, without a trace of motion sickness.   In the closet with a flashlight when I was supposed to be doing chores.  In bed with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep.

– Being able to trance out so far into a story that my 4th grade teacher would have to literally take me by the shoulders and shake me to get me back into the classroom.

– Writing all the time, too.   Especially in math class.   Perfected the art of diligently “taking notes”  when really I was just writing everything that was happening around me.

– Performing in plays but being more interested in story beats than in my solos.

– Directing the senior class plan and rewriting around all contingencies – combining characters when people dropped out, doing the choreography myself when the choreographer broke both wrists…

– Seeing my first one-act play performed in college – my characters walked out on stage, live, and I realized that even though it was Berkeley I was never going to have to do heroin.

– Later, all those lectures with all those writers where they said,  “Well, statistically only two of you are ever going to make any kind of living at this…” and just knowing that it would be me.

All those things and more.   But what I found myself recounting last week in all my deluge of public speaking, the pivotal moment in my writing career – the real beginning, I mean – was the summer I spent in Istanbul as an exchange student.   Sixteen year old American girl – with this hair – loose – on the streets.   Well, it was brutal.   I was sexually harassed everywhere I went.   There were numerous abduction attempts.   The political situation was incredibly volatile, too – a dozen college students had been gunned down in a political protest, so all that was in the air.

I realized a world of things that summer, but three things in particular.

1)    No matter how disadvantaged any of us feel, sometimes – parents who don’t understand us, no Hollywood connections, not enough money for college,  whatever – we are still infinitely lucky to live here in the U.S., where it is written into the Declaration of Independence that we have the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

2)    No matter how lucky I think I am to be an American, I am infinitely MORE lucky as a woman to have been born in the US.  Because if I’d been born anywhere of 99% of the world, I would be well and truly fucked.

3)    I realized I was going to die.   Maybe that very afternoon.   At sixteen.   It was probably around the next corner, or down that alley.  Now, usually as a privileged American you don’t really GET that you’re going to die until around age 40.  It’s called a mid-life cirsis and it makes you do crazy and risky things and turn your life upside down because you suddenly realize you’re actually going to die.  But I had my midlife crisis at 16, and I decided that if I ever made it back to the States alive (which I did, and miraculously unraped), I would exercise my right to the pursuit of happiness and follow my dream – which at the time I thought was acting but soon realized was writing.

But the impulse to FIND that – came out of that summer.

So those are my moments.    How about you?

What do you tell them?

by Alex

This has been a very busy and teaching week for me – first several workshops and panels at the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego, which has been masterfully run by Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers for going on 22 years now, and then a library talk and signing and a high school appearance (a full-fledged assembly of 500+ students – yike!   I’ve never thought of myself as an assembly before…)

These events this week have been different than the convention panels and bookstore events I’ve grown used to.   It’s actually hugely different to talk to high school and college students – much more of a responsibility, somehow, because you just know that it can be one single sentence you say that sets a young writer off on this insane path that writing is.   Or – not.

And I find myself weirdly torn between saying that perfect inspiring sentence – and screaming “Don’t do it!!!” at the top of my lungs.  (Not that any real writer would ever listen to the “Don’t” part, I certainly didn’t – but still, I get up on stage and the impulse to tell them to save themselves now, before it’s too late… is very definitely  there.)

What’s overwhelming is looking out at these kids and thinking just how LONG I’ve been doing all this.   I started acting when I was – well, when you really think of when it STARTED – we were putting on plays in my parents’ garage when I was eight or nine, charging the neighbors a quarter admission.
Then years and years and years and YEARS of choir and dance and musicals and street theater and God only knows what all else… theater major at Berkeley, singing in a bar in Montana, video production in San Francisco, writing my very first professional treatment for Todd Rundgren (top THAT!)… dancing in campy burlesque film fests in LA, the whole screenwriting thing (most of which I’ve deliberately blanked out)… endless, endless, endless.
So how do you boil all that down into: “If you want to be a writer, this is what you do?”

But that’s what they’re waiting for you to say.

But the bottom line, I guess, is that writing is two things.    
First of all, writing is WRITING.   You have to write.   You have to sit down every day and write at least a page.   Or like Pari says, an inch.  Or write for an hour.   One or all of the above, but EVERY DAY.  If you start writing, and keep writing, and a writer is what you ARE, you will find the next step – book, class, mentor, theater program, film school, critique group, whatever – to make you a better writer.   And the next.   And the next.   And you will look up ten or twenty years later and you will be a writer and not really know how you got there, except that you wrote.   Every day.   And that’s what makes a writer.

And second, you have to LIVE.  Which is inevitable.   And good news for the people who have not been writing for the last twenty years but have hopes of starting now.    They may not have been writing for the last twenty years, but they have been living.    And if they can figure out how to put all that life into words, and write every day, they will be writers, too – no matter when they start.   Whatever your life is and has been, it’s infinitely worth writing about.   

I am finding myself looking for the most general and universal advice I can give.    We – writers – all know how hard this life is, and how few people end up doing it with any physical measure of success, but part of our job and responsibility is NOT to kill the dream.
And you know, it’s really exciting to have that one girl that you notice instantly in the crowd, waiting in line to talk to you afterward with that certain set to her chin and her pen out and poised over her notebook and so focused she’s practically vibrating as she says to you all in one sentence – “I’m writing stories like the ones you write and my mother thinks I’m weird and doesn’t understand so I can’t talk about it can you tell me what publishers I should be sending my work to?”   
And for a moment you’re breathless and speechless because you just KNOW.  That’s a writer, just as much as you ever were or will be, and nothing you can do could ever stop that inexorable and somewhat frightening force, but you have a chance to make it maybe a little easier…

Well…  THAT’S what this is all about.   

So, dears…. I’d really like to know.   What do YOU find yourselves saying, when you’re up there on stage with people’s dreams in your hands?

(For more on the Southern California Writers Conference…)

Feeling The Love

by Alex

For quite a while now I’ve had a love/hate relationship with writing that is heavily weighted toward ‘hate’.   Perhaps hate is too strong a word but – let me put it this way.   I think I may write only because I’m too unbalanced to do much of anything else.

People assume that I love what I do and that I’m thrilled to be living my dream.  And it’s true, no question, I’m living my dream.   This is what I’ve wanted for a long time, and I worked like a maniac, for years and years, to get it.   It’s just that when people say things like “Don’t you love it?”   I find I have to resist the impulse to break into hysterical laughter.

It’s more like two things.   

I am completely unbearable when I am not writing.   To myself and to others.  Writing does somehow burn off something that is set too high in me and keeps me down to some manageable level.  I have noticed this about quite a few writers I know.   Writing is agony, but not writing is so, so much worse.

And on a more positive note – which I feel somewhat on because I just actually turned in something (my first short story, for the illustrated noir superhero anthology, THE DARKER MASK, out from Tor in January 2008, conceived and edited by Chris Chambers and Gary Phillips) – I do get a huge satisfaction out of FINISHING.  As Dorothy Parker said, oft-quotedly: “I hate writing – I love having written.”   

It is immensely satisfying to be able to hand someone a stack of pages – or, now, miraculously, a published book – and have them experience a STORY – an entire universe and characters and situations you dreamed up – that can evoke such an emotional response.   That you can put your own dream into someone else’s head.

But there are undeniably satisfying moments along the way.  And  I’m thinking there might be more of those when you write a short story.   I was surprised how much I enjoyed the writing of this thing – I think because the whole process is more concentrated  and you cycle through the good parts of writing so much faster. 

– There is that moment very very early on – well, really, what I mean is the BEGINNING – when you realize you do have a story – when you somehow get a picture of the whole thing in your head – not clear or in every detail, but you see a shape – characters, setting, a story arc, that you know is going to work (and that miraculously, you don’t seem to forget once you’ve had the vision).

– There is that moment when you have to write an opening sentence and you just do, and it’s perfect, far beyond any sentence you could have written if you’d actually put any thought into it.

– There is that moment when totally unexpectedly your main character speaks and you think – “Wow – who’s THAT??, because it sure as hell isn’t me” – and while you’re marveling at it she basically shoves you out of the way and takes over the story and you realize this thing is going to get done because she’s going to do it for you.

– There is that moment when a theme jumps out and provides a connecting thread that gives your story more depth than you had ever planned (and sometimes more depth than you even think you’re capable of)

– There are those moments of just purely enjoying the musicality of a sentence or the impact of an image.

– There is that moment that you think that you really could do something great here if only you had about a year to do the research required – and then just for the hell of it go look to see if you have a book on the subject in your bookcase or even just Google it and lo and behold, the precise fact you need to incorporate is on the first page you flip or click to.

– There is that moment that you write something – a character or a scene – that so startles you that you think you’re going to have to cut it because people will hate you for writing it – and then realize that if you have the balls to just be true about it, it will be the thing that makes the story.

And the truly great thing about writing a short story is that you do FINISH so much faster, so you get to the good part so much faster – which is being able to read your own work and realize what you were trying to say, even though you had no idea when you started.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that after so many years of often hating writing, it was nice to spend a few weeks feeling the love.   

So what about you all?  How are you feeling about writing these days?   Love, hate… enough moments of the good stuff to keep you going?

More LCC Wrap-Up

by Alex

In Pari’s illustrated wake I am going to try to sum up my own conference experience, feeling some obligation to report to those who weren’t able to make it.   It was a highly productive conference for me even though I had the odd feeling of never quite being – well, plugged in is what I’m thinking – to it.   

At first I thought it was because I was very low energy, having just crawled out of my once-a-year drop-dead January flu.  And it’s not like I didn’t have a great time (anyone who can’t have a good time partying with mystery authors and readers in a city as gorgeous as Seattle should seriously be checking themselves for a pulse.)

And what is “plugged in”, anyway?   Do I really have to run around rehearsing a show ten hours a day (ThrillerFest, Writers for New Orleans)  or staying up till four in the morning, changing clothes every two hours to keep people entertained, and inciting men to jump naked into a sub-zero lake (Bouchercon) to feel “plugged in”?   

I had the usual magical conference synchronicities – starting with my first rule of conference synchronicity:  the first person I will run into at a con is Donna Andrews,this time at my gate at Dulles; and ending with being swept up on Sunday night and taken to a spectacular dinner by a fabulous force of 4 MAers, including adorable Lefty winner Donna Moore.

I had my cherished early morning workout time, in a 28th floor glassed-in gym with a stupefying view of the Sound, the Cascades and the spooky, spooky fog.

I did a standing-room-only panel, first in the program, with a great lineup of sister paranormal crossovers: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Jana Oliver, Linda Joy Singleton and Kat Richardson, that kick-started my conference and kept people coming up to me to chat all weekend long.

THE HARROWING sold out at all the dealer booths and I had to sell them more from my private stash to keep them supplied (new conference rule to remember:  You can NEVER bring enough extra books…)

I got to hang with all the ‘Rati except JT (will have to make a trip to Nashville to compensate) and the increasingly mysterious Mike McLean (who I am beginning to suspect is an alter ego of G’s).

I was thrilled to meet and spend some quality time with Diane and Michael Kovacs and Kara Robinson, the visionary founders of Dorothy L.   I was just entranced by their history and stories, and by them as people.

I found the Seattle Mystery Bookshop not only has a fabulous staff, but a resident ghost.

I even saw enough of Seattle (especially the dramatic weather variations) to get my location fix.   I will definitely be using this city in a couple of upcoming projects.

And that’s just the merest taste of all the wonderful things that happened.  So why did I not feel completely at the center of things?

Well, here’s a stunning thought:  I wasn’t the center of things.   LCC is a READER conference.   Sure, there were plenty of us author types hanging around, but really this conference, more than any other I’ve been to, is by and for readers.   It’s their show.   And once I realized that, I stopped feeling like I was doing something wrong and just went with that flow.   After all, I’ve read some books in my time.   But holy bookbags, Batman – these people are pros.    They know first lines.   They know minor characters and subplots.   They can name an author from a single sentence read aloud.   They can identify the type of mystery plot at the heart of each Harry Potter book.   They have their own personal stories that make my sometimes out-of-control life look sheltered.

Seriously, if I had had any idea of the caliber of this reading audience when I set out to write a book, I would have been far too intimidated to start.   I am not worthy.    But so, I just shut up, and listened – and that’s when I really started to feel part of things.

And that is the true gem I took away from this conference.   I need to approach writing with the same reverence that readers approach reading.    A book, and these incredible readers, deserve no less.

Notes from LCC

In lieu of a real blog, today you get my to-date highly random scattered thoughts live (almost) from Left Coast Crime.   It’s only the second official day of the conference, but what else am I supposed to write about with all this joyful madness going on around me?

I have blogged about this before, but the first rule of conferences for me is that the first person I will run into at a con is Donna Andrews. 

So I get to my gate in D.C. and who do I find in line waiting to board?

What this means in the grand scheme of things, I have no clue.   But it’s nice to have that kind of certainty.  And since the Sea Tac airport makes it practically impossible to find a taxi anywhere, it was nice to have a friend to get lost with.

The con hotel, the Seattle Renaissance, is right downtown.  I haven’t been to Seattle since my cousin was a surgical resident here, and yes, I did misbehave on a Grey’s Anatomy scale with some of his resident friends.   So I think of this city – uh – fondly – but it’s clear I’m going to be too busy here to see most of it, and working too hard to get myself in too much trouble (Famous last words…)   

So far I have:   

– Been disgustingly good and worked out every morning so far – not so hard to do with such a fabulous view of the city from the 28th floor fitness center.

– Done my panel,  “Crossing Over”, on crossing genres, to a standing-room-only house, and as usual learned much more from the audience than they could have learned from me.

–  Had an amazingly fun dinner with all the attending Murderati – Pari, Elaine, Louise, Paul, Simon and Naomi, plus Barbara Franchi, Phil Hawley, and Naomi’s very cute husband Wes.

– Not seen even half the people I know are here at all, which leads me to suspect there is a whole other floor in this hotel that I have not discovered yet.

– Not done any sightseeing.   At all.   Although Pioneer Square is only a handful of blocks away, it is straight down a hill approximately the size of Mt. Shasta, and I have yet to venture forth (plus it’s  @#$%^&* freezing out there).

– Discovered that there is a maximum capacity to my e mail box and I hit it some time yesterday.

– Heard gossip – I mean psychological insights – so stunning I have yet to wrap my mind around it all.

– Gotten more sleep than I usually get at home, which is frankly a miracle for a conference.

– Had as much fun talking to people I don’t know as the ones I do know.

– Am having a much more relaxed time than I have had at any of these things yet.

– Attended more panels than usual and am feeling much better about my book.   You really do just have to sit there and let all these other authors give you precisely the information – and inspiration – you need.

– Of course there’s so, so much more, but the St. Martin’s party is – yike – now – and I will have to give a more full report next week.

Wish everyone were here.

– Alex

Faire Time

by Alex

The year is finally starting to seem underway and the whole madness begins again.   Conventions are kicking into gear – I cannot wait to get myself to Seattle for Left Coast Crime next week, where I will be reunited with almost all the ‘Rati and hundreds of other favorite and soon-to be-favorite authors, librarians, booksellers, DLers, 4MAers, MWAers, ITWers, Sisters, and readers.

Authors are strongly advised to go to conventions and festivals to build their careers.  There is no question that the networking is gold.   And except for having to continuously “sparkle”, as Margaret Maron puts it,  it’s so easy to network at these things.  All you have to do is relax and walk around and just run into the people you need to run into. Really, it works. Reviewers, booksellers, your publicist, the author whose incredible book you were reading just the night before, extraordinary friends you haven’t seen in ten years – they’re all there in a very contained space and you will drift into them if you just go with the flow.

Some people call that work.   But what it really is, is magic.   What it is – is Faire Time.

Renaissance_faire_elizabeth_court_ii

I learned the concept of Faire Time, or Festival Time, over the years of my interestingly misspent youth, hanging out at the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire –a month-long semi-historical recreation of life in an Elizabethan village, except with sex and drugs and overpriced irresistible craftish – stuff.

(Wait, what am I saying?  Of course they had all of that going on in those real Elizabethan villages, too…)

Since I am practically dying of flu at the moment, I’ll be lazy.  Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about festivals:

Among many religions, a feast or festival is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods.

Hmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?   A set of celebrations in honor of gods – and goddesses.  At Left Coast Crime this year, for example, toastmaster Gary Philips leads us in celebrating Gayle Lynds; the late and very lamented Dennis Lynds;  Dorothy L founders Diane Kovacs and Kara Robinson.   Gods and goddesses of the mystery world?   You betcha.

What else?

Festivals, of many types, serve to meet specific social needs and duties, as well as to provide entertainment. These times of celebration offer a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups. Modern festivals that focus on cultural or ethnic topics seek to inform members of their traditions. In past times, festivals were times when the elderly shared stories and transferred certain knowledge to the next generation. Historic feasts often provided a means for unity among families and for people to find mates.

Now, does that sound like a convention or what?

Treeoflife_3
Maybe it’s that first, religious purpose of festivals but I do notice this unifying principle of “Faire Time” or “Festival Time" in full force at conventions.  There is an element of the sacred about a festival – it is out of the ordinary, out of simple chronological time, out of chronos – into kairos (again, from Wikipedia): "a time in between", a moment of undetermined period of time in which "something" special happens.

And here’s an interesting bit:

In rhetoric kairos is a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.

Synchronicity and opportunity happen with such regularity at these convention things that they’re really more the rule than the exception.

It is my absolute conviction that much more important career business gets done at conventions and festivals than anywhere else because it is being done in Faire Time – a suspended moment of opportunity.  And that is not even mentioning the creative and personal inspiration of being in that state of suspended time with so many passionate worshippers of the mystery and the book.
As many of you have witnessed, I love the total debauchery of these gatherings, but no matter how many drinks I am plied with by various unnamed pliers, I’m never unaware of something also sacred under all that revelry.

I’m sure that all of us have stories of improbable connections and synchronicities at festivals, and I’d love to hear them today, to help get me through this lingering plague.

And I cannot wait to revel, debauch and worship with the rest of you at LCC– six days and counting!

Under the Influence

I asked this question of the Good Girls last month and have been dying to hear from you all ever since:

Who are your writer role models?

Now, I don’t mean who influenced your writing style, although that’s a perfectly fine question to answer, too.

What I mean is, who influenced your LIFE style?

I’ll give you some examples, since I’ve been thinking about this lately.

– Perhaps my earliest writer role model was not a writer, but she played one on TV.  Rose Marie, on the Dick Van Dyke Show. I had no desire to be a writer at the time I was watching those reruns.  I was actually more inclined toward being some kind of a biologist or vet – I had a virtual menagerie of dozens of animals as a child and would have been surprised to hear anyone say I’d grow up to be a writer.  But one thing for sure – I knew I didn’t want to be Laura Petrie.  No matter how much Rose Marie complained, and even though I cringed to see her fetching coffee, I still thought she had the great job – hanging out in a room with the guys and being creative and funny all day long.   Plus dating after.   And lo and behold, I end up spending a good ten years of my life as a screenwriter, often in a room with a bunch of guys, absolutely NOT fetching coffee, but being creative all day long, and yeah, often, dating afterward.

– Another fairly early one, God help me, was Dorothy Parker.   I think we all go through that phase of falling in love with her scathing poetry and defiant cynicism and emotional vulnerability.  I’ve done performance readings of her stories for various stage retrospectives and reveled in the life and fire of her language.   The glamour and wit and fun of hanging out with the Algonquin Round Table is a great fantasy that we all get a taste of at conventions like ThrillerFest and Bouchercon, and I think it’s hard for any woman not to see herself in those brutal alone-by-the-phone ramblings of Dottie’s.   Now, I’ll refrain from going into detail about how I’m emulating her love life, but I do have this quiet but enormous pride that I’m following in her footsteps as a Writers Guild union activist.   Every time I’ve wanted to get off that WGA/WriterAction merry-go-round I think of Ms. Parker and keep on keeping on.

– Lillian Hellman, for sure my favorite American playwright.    Notorious leftist activist as well.   The whole thing with Hammett – not just for real, but fictionalized in THE THIN MAN.   Do I seek out that kind of relationship out?  Hah.

– Anais Nin… yes, well, here’s where the writer lifestyle thing starts to get out of control.   Affairs, incest, bigamy… do I really need to go there?   Yet all that lush and overblown eroticism made for some amazing writing, and I can’t deny the influence.   

So… who are YOUR writer role models?

Alex

 

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ITW is having a cool new promotion.

 

On Style

Raymond Chandler wrote:

“The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.”

Whoa.

I came across that quote this week and have been brooding over it ever since, as I (you’re going to get sick of hearing this) struggle with my third novel.

I thought it was worth posting about, so that you all can explain it to me.

In fact, what I really wanted to do was just post that quote and type “Discuss” below it and let you all go to town, but that’s probably some kind of cheating, so I’ll try to turn my inchoate brooding into a coherent post.

I’m sure you all read as much as I do and probably discard at least as many books after the first few chapters as I do.   I will sometimes skim a badly written book for story, but far too many books these days are written far too quickly, and don’t even approach a level of basic good writing, let alone a distinct style.    I know we’re all trying to make a living here, and it takes a lot more time to write a book with style, and it’s a lot harder, but I have no patience with writers who don’t go that extra mile (or continent).   So I’m stuck – if I won’t READ a book without style, then I can’t really write one without it, either.

So these are some of the things I’m wondering.

(And for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to confine my examples mainly to the mystery/suspense genre, because yeah, Joyce has a distinct and groundbreaking style, but I never even seriously tried to get through FINNEGAN’S WAKE)

1.   First of all, when you think of writers who have a distinctive, landmark STYLE – who of your favorite writers, especially those who influence you, would that Chandler quote apply to?

2.   And what’s the difference between a distinctive, landmark style and just plain great writing?   

3.   And what’s the difference between a distinctive landmark style and a specific writing device or gimmick that you use to tell a certain story?

I’ll take a stab at my own questions, to get the ball rolling.   

(1)  I’m not a hardboiled writer so, though I appreciate Chandler and Hammett and Spillane and I understand how that quote applies to them, I’m not interested in writing that way. 

But I do know that I’ve been influenced by the Gothic, sensual, and I would say uniquely feminine styles of Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, the Brontes.   

Ray Bradbury is a stylist who just does it for me – again, emphasis on the sensual and fantastical.

Anne Rice – ditto.   I think the lush eroticism of her prose and the fantastical nature of her subject matter takes her (at her best) beyond simply great writing to great style.

(2).  Now, this is something I’m also wondering: are stylists different from just plain brilliant writers?

Stephen King is a brilliant writer.   No one can hook me into a story and keep me riveted and engaged the way he can.   But I’m not sure in his case I’d call it style… I think he’s a phenomenal, addictively wonderful storyteller.   And he’s written some stylishly interesting books, like CARRIE – but I think the style of that book was more a device to tell that particular story than a groundbreaking style that defined him as a author.

Ayn Rand is another addictively brilliant storyteller, for me – but I don’t think she created a new style with her books.

Larry McMurtry, whose stupefyingly wonderful LONESOME DOVE I am now reading for the first time (thanks, G.! ) – is another phenomenal storyteller – but I don’t think he’s creating a new style.

And I don’t think the stylists I’ve mentioned are any more brilliant than the storytellers – I’m just trying to distinguish style from general writing brilliance.  In fact, most of the authors who have most influenced me in my particular genre – like King and Ira Levin and F. Paul Wilson – are more what I would define as brilliant storytellers.    But actually, now that I think about it, maybe Levin’s subtle irony and satire make him more of a stylist.

(3)  Now, to my third question – style vs. a storytelling device.   I’m also reading THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak – there’s a very interesting device there in that the book is narrated by Death.  Very stylish, because of the unique POV Death has.   But it’s a device for this particular story… we’ll have to wait and see if it turns out to be Zusak’s patented style.

The great Barbara Kingsolver I think is a stylist but her POISONWOOD BIBLE is more a great example of a literary device: a single story told by six sisters (if I’m remembering correctly, not good with math) all in very unique first person voice.

Another example of a literary device would be the one in Christie’s THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD…  (you know!).   I’m thinking that’s not style, it’s a storytelling device that makes that a standout book (though Christie hit that standout mark pretty regularly).

And while we’re on the subject of style, I’m also on a Ken Bruen tear – my new literary crush.   Oh, all right, I also have a crush on Ken.   But enthralled as I am, I’m certainly not the first one to call him a unique stylist, as well as just a brilliant writer, and I think it’s because his Jack Taylor character and his stories so completely reflect Ken, who is even more poetic than the average insanely poetic Irish – poet.  Amelia Barr said about writing – "I press my soul upon the white paper."  Ken does that with such devastating honesty that it becomes its own style.   

And that – we all have the capability of doing.   If we take the time and trouble to get our unique souls onto the page, it becomes style.

So… examples, anyone?   And who do you think are our new stylists?   

– Alex   (Obviously desperately seeking procrastination suggestions…)

Free movies… and CAPOTE

Yes, boys and girls, it’s awards season in Hollywood.   For screenwriters, this means one thing above all:

                                                  !!!!!  –  FREE MOVIES – !!!!


At theaters all over LA and NY, and a few selected in San Francisco and a couple other lucky cities, you present your WGA (Writers Guild of America) card for just about any showing and get in free.   

Now, this is a joy.   Because not only do you get in, but if you’re going in with another WGA member, you can get a whole two other people in free.   You can feel like Santa, or God, simply by turning to the most lovely (In spirit, of course) moviegoers behind you in the cinema line and asking, oh so casually – “Are you going to BABEL?   Do you want to get in free?”  And watch the faces light up like Christmas….

Even better, we screenwriters get DVDs of the Oscar hopefuls IN THE MAIL.   Now, that’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like a professional.  Free stuff. 

There are some really great films up for Oscars and various awards this year.   And I’m thrilled that as a WGA member I’m getting so many more awards screeners this year than last.   Last year, in a fit of piracy paranoia, the studios sent a bare minimum of free DVD screeners out to writers.   CRASH was one of the only free screeners sent out to voting writers last year.   CRASH won every major award for Best Screenplay.   Coincidence?   Oh, I think not.   

Studios are arguably moronic, but they’re not stupid.   

Suffice it to say the studios realized that after the CRASH sweep, they’d better start sending the freebies out if they wanted the writing awards this year.  Result?  More DVDs in the mail than I’ve had time to watch.

And I’m sure I’ll get around to talking about all of this year’s fine screeners – I mean films – because there are some really good ones out there.    But not this week.

Because I finally saw CAPOTE  this week (I know, I know.  A year late.  It’s ridiculous.  I was BUSY last year, okay???)

\

                                                               CAPOTE


A Dan Futterman screenplay based on the book by Gerald Clarke, directed by Bennett Miller, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote


This film is a must-see for writers.   Stunning – from the first second: the opening image, the cinematography, the pace, the writing…

All of which get dwarfed by that incredible character and performance. 

You watch Hoffman/Capote breathlessly as he seduces what he wants out of Perry Smith, lying left and right…   

And you’re thinking – “That is one ice-cold bastard…”

And in pretty much the same thought I was also thinking –

“God, I am JUST like that.”

Now, people who know me would disagree.  Most of them would, anyway.   A few who REALLY know me, like my brother and sister, would say – “Well, not exactly like that, but I know what you mean.”

For all our sensitivity and empathy and wit and charm, which we also do have in spades… there is a ruthlessness about professional writers, combined with the thickest skins you’re ever going to find – that makes us, well, let’s just say – different.

That’s not all there is to me, of course.   I love puppies and kittens and I do ridiculous amounts of volunteer work for worthy causes and I stand up to bullies and bigots and you would definitely want me around if your small child needed saving from drowning or a burning building.   

But when it comes to my writing?   Just back the fuck off.

When Capote says, “I’m here working.   That’s all this is.   I have work to do.”   

That is so me it’s scary.

I really do find myself doing appalling things when I’m working, and justifying it all to myself because, after all, if it’s going to get me that scene or lock in that character, then how can I not?   And I don’t just mean that you better not even think of trying to talk to me when I’m writing.

If there’s some part of you that I want for a character?   Watch out.

Do not leave your diary unlocked around me.  I’m not saying I’d for sure read it, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t, either.   Letters?  E mails?   Lingerie drawer?   Depends on what I need.  I’ve slept with all kinds of people I shouldn’t have because it’s about the fastest way to get to the heart of someone.  Really, I have no shame.   Complete and total vampire.

But what I thought was especially stunning about the writing and the characterization is that at the same time that Capote was milking Perry Smith for every bit of humanity he could squeeze out of him – he was also completely and totally and honestly falling in love with the man – not as a mere sexual object, but falling in love with his soul – wanting to know him in a way very few of us are ever known by anyone.   How thrilling.   How vampiric.   How very much like a writer.   What we want is to know you.   Is that so wrong?

So, fess up now, writers.   Did you recognize yourself in Capote?  A little bit of the vampire going on?  Or am I the only sociopath here?

A Very Good Year

Simon made me do it.

I had another post all set to go today but Simon’s post wrapping up
his year has compelled me to do my own, because I’m just, you know,
obsessive that way.

The thing is, I know a recount will be good for me.  I’m a
workaholic (oh, just admit it, THIS crowd?  You all so are too…).
I’m always focusing on what I NEED to do, rather than what I’ve done.
More than that, I beat myself up about what I haven’t done.   For a
non-Catholic, non-Jew, I have the guilt thing down to a science.

But when I look back on it, it really was an amazing year.   Let’s see now…

– My first novel, THE HARROWING,
was published by St. Martin’s Press in September.   Now, that alone is
a year’s worth, right?  I’m an author now.   And having lived a good
long time as a professional writer, slave to Hollywood, I can tell you
that author is something else, entirely.   

– I joined Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Horror
Writers of America, Romance Writers of America and the International
Thriller Writers as a published author – and met hundreds of the most
incredible authors, readers, librarians, bookstore owners/staff, all
over the country.    (And let me tell you, the librarians have the best
parties of ALL…).

– I went to PLA in Boston, Malice Domestic in Arlington, ThrillerFest in Phoenix, BEA in DC, World Horror Con in San Francisco, ALA in New Orleans, Bouchercon
in Madison, World Fantasy Con in Austin, SIBA in Orlando, NCIBA in
Oakland, the LA Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles, Cape Fear Crime
Festival in Wilmington, Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans
in Paris (just kidding – I got to go to New Orleans again for that
one…).  I’m always saying I want more travel in my life – well, I’ve
got it now, in spades.

– I debuted with the Killer Thriller Band as
a Killerette and got to sing and dance with some of my all-time
favorite authors who are also kick-ass musicians.   Yes, I am a rock
star as a hobby.   Clearly I’m doing something right….

– I went on a nine-state book tour: North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, Florida, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin.
See travel fetish above.

– I finished my second novel, THE PRICE, also a supernatural thriller, which will be out from St. Martin’s at the end of 2007.

– I wrote my very first short story, “The Edge of Seventeen”, for THE DARKER MASK,
an illustrated anthology of, well, dark, superhero stories, which will
be out from Tor in January of 2008.   I am beyond thrilled with how it
came out and how fast and fun it was to write (I did a whole rough
draft on the plane from Raleigh to L.A.) and it made me realize that
there’s something to this short story thing after all.

WriterAction, the website
and union Town Hall I founded for professional screenwriters, hit 1900
members in our third year.   I am in my small way following in the
pro-union, Commie footsteps of giants: my idols Dorothy Parker and
Lillian Hellman.   The people united will never be defeated.

– I joined this horrifying, reprobate crowd at Murderati – the blog
I most wanted to be a part of but never dreamed I’d actually be asked.  Now THAT’S what I call a Christmas present!!

– I made the most amazing friends.  Truly.  I already have the most
amazing friends on the planet and now I have this whole new crop of
miraculous, witty, sexy, talented people in my life.   In one year I
feel completely part of this incredible mystery community – it’s like
family, and like heaven… and enough like hell to give it that edge,
you know?

I am so grateful.

And I am so ready for 2007.

And now I want to hear about your 2006!

Happy New Year to all…

Alex XX

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