Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Indie publishing articles and links

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I promised the WGA Indie Pub Event people some links to articles and resources about e publishing, so here it is (a little late, yeah… it’s summer!)

1. Here are some of my own articles and findings about different aspects of e publishing. Each article will have links to other sources.
A little bit on how the Bestseller Lists on Amazon give your book automatic exposure. (Note: sometimes tagging is available and sometimes it isn’t. I don’t know what the current status is. )

This compares some methods and results I got from a group book promo, another marketing tool to use.

Another way to get more product out there, instantly.

This is a post I did several years ago on marketing in traditional publishing – I’m including it because a lot of screenwriters don’t realize how important the conference circuit is to authors.


2. These are the three most important sites to start with to get information on indie publishing:
Joe Konrath’s blog is the one essential site on e publishing.

Browsing this message board a couple of days a week will give you a very practical crash course on everything from cover design essentials (what works for traditional publishing is not what works at thumbnail size), to promotion, to what indie authors’ actual sales figures are. People on the boards are friendly and helpful; I also found my two great proofreaders there. It’s also interesting to see the politics of indie vs. traditional publishing; personally, I just don’t see it as an Either/Or proposition.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, should read Kristine Rusch’s incredible series on the essentials of publishing and the changes in our world.


3. Here are some interesting blog posts by others in the field:

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff



By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I’ve got a couple of promotions going on for Huntress Moon:
* A Goodreads giveaway: Enter here for a chance to win a signed (or personally inscribed) paperback.

* And I’m interviewed on Novel TV’s Thriller Thursday here, with an associated giveaway: you can enter for a chance to win a signed paperback OR one of the brand new Huntress audiobooks, narrated by multiple Audie Award nominee R.C. Bray.

While I’m in announcement mode…
* The Bloody Scotland program (or programme, if you like!) has been revealed, a fantastic lineup, including UK stars Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Mark Billingham, Peter May, Craig Robertson, and sister Americans Kathy Reichs and Megan Abbott. On Sunday, September 21 I’ll be there talking about crossing crime thrillers with the supernatural, or possibly supernatural, with James Oswald and Gordon Brown.

* And this Saturday I’m at the Writers Guild in Los Angeles for an e-publishing event:

How to Publish, Market and Sell Your eBook to Hollywood!

Saturday June 21, 10 am – 2 pm
WGA west
7000 W. Third St, Los Angeles, CA
Amazon and Audible representatives will discuss how to produce, publish and market books. Audible will also be announcing a new WGA-signatory project.

This will be followed by a panel with best-selling authors and WGA members, Lee Goldberg, Noel Hynd, Alexandra Sokoloff, Susan Rohrer and Rick Marin, and producer Lane Shefter Bishop. Moderated by Christiana Miller. WGA members only.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


Act Climaxes, Turning Points, Plot Points, Curtain Scenes

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Here’s the second post I promised the New Orleans workshop people – an in-depth discussion of Act Climaxes. (Here’s the first part:)
For those new to the idea of the Three-Act, Eight Sequence structure, I always suggest this incredibly useful exercise:
Watch a few movies just identifying the eight sequences (every fifteen minutes or so), and act breaks, paying particular attention to the ACT CLIMAXES.

Breaking down a movie into its three (or four) acts and identifying the Act Climaxes (plot points, turning points, act breaks, curtain scenes, whatever you want to call them!) is a short-cut method of analysis that will get you used to recognizing that basic storytelling rhythm. I swear, taking this exercise seriously will improve your writing to no end, and it’s worth starting from the very beginning with this exercise to lock that structure into your mind for the rest of time.

So let’s take several movies in a row and identify the Act Climaxes of each, so we can look at what all happens at those crucial junctures.

This act/climax structure happens exactly the same way in books, with a bit more flexibility in where the climaxes take place because books vary more in length and proportion. But because movies are such a compressed form of storytelling, it’s often easier to see the structure of the story in a movie than it is in a book. And it’s a lot faster!

To review: a two-hour movie has three acts: Act One is roughly 30 minutes (or 30 script pages) long, Act Two is 60 minutes long (but broken into two very different sections of 30 minutes each, separated by the MIDPOINT CLIMAX of the movie) and Act Three is a bit shorter than 30 minutes, because you almost always want to speed up the action in the end.

The proportion is exactly the same in a book. In a book of 400 pages, Act One will be roughly 100 pages, Act Two will be 200 pages, divided in two by a Midpoint Climax at p. 200, and Act Three will probably be a little less than 100 pages.

In a 90-minute movie or short book, you’ll probably have just three acts of approximately equal length.

These are very rough guidelines, not rules, and will change proportionately with the numbers of pages in your book. But essentially, you can look at any book or movie as being divided into four roughly equal quarters of story, with four crucial act climaxes:

– Act I Climax

– Midpoint Climax

– Act II Climax

– Act III Climax (the whole story climax)

Now, the easiest way to identify an Act Climax in a movie is just to use your watch, or the timer on the DVR. When something bigstarts to happen about thirty minutes into a movie, either psychologically, sexually, visually, or action-y, you can pretty much count on that being an act climax. Same at 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and of course, the scenes before the end.

Remember, in general, the climax of an act is very, very, very often a SETPIECE SCENE — there’s a dazzling, thematic location, an action or suspense sequence, an intricate set, a crowd scene, even a musical number. Act climaxes also tend to be GENRE-SPECIFIC: meaning if it’s a romantic comedy, the climax should be both funny and sexy, if it’s romantic suspense, it should be both suspenseful and sexy, if it’s an action thriller, there’s probably going to be a car chase or a murder, and so on.

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

Now, specifically:


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

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

• The Central Question is set up, and often is set up by the action of the act climax itself. We know the hero/ine’s Plan to get what s/he wants (but sometimes the Plan is stated early in Act II).

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

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


• 60 minutes into a 2-hour movie, 200 pages into a 400-page book.

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

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

• Completely changes the game.

• Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action.

• Is a point of no return.

• Can be a “Now it’s personal” loss.

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

• May start a TICKING CLOCK.

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


• 90 minutes into a 2-hour film, 300 pages into a 400-page book.

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

• Often comes immediately after the “All is Lost” or “Long Dark Night of the Soul” scene — or may itself be the “All is Lost” scene. Very, very often the Act Two Climax is a double-punch of a devastating All is Lost scene followed almost immediately by a revelation that leads to a new plan to take the hero/ine into the final battle.

• Answers the Central Question (often in the negative).

• Propels us into the final battle.

• May start a TICKING CLOCK.


• Near the very end of the story.

• Is the final battle.

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

• Takes place in a thematic Location — often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare (even if it’s a wedding gone bad!).

• We see the protagonist’s character change.

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

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

• There is possibly a huge final reversal or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you’ve been saving (as in Back to the Future and It’s a Wonderful Life).

• In a romance, is often a Declaration of Love and/or a Proposal.


Below I’ve identified the Act Climaxes (plot points, turning points, act breaks, curtain scenes) of several classic movies with scenes you probably remember:

All times are approximate — I’m a Pisces.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, written by Lawrence Kasdan


(30 min.) The great Nepalese bar scene. A total setpiece scene: the visuals of that snowy mountain and the tiny bar, the drinking contest that Marion wins, the fight between Indy and Marion with its emotional back story and sexual chemistry, the entrance of Toht and his heavies, who are ready to torture Marion for the medallion, the re-entrance of Indy and the huge, fiery fight, which ends in the escape of Indy and Marion with the medallion and Marion’s capper line: “I’m your goddamn partner!”

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


(60 min.) Having determined that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place in the archeological site, Indy goes down into the Well of Souls with the medallion and a staff of the proper height, and in a mystically powerful scene, uses the crystal in the pendant to pinpoint the exact location of the Ark.


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


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

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


Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottleib, from the book by Peter Benchley


Jaws is a 2 hour, 4 minute movie and I would say the first act climax is that big crowd scene 30 minutes in when every greedy fisherman on the East Coast is out there on the water trying to hunt the shark down for the bounty. One team catches a tiger shark and everyone celebrates in relief. Hooper says it’s too little to be the killer shark and wants to cut it open to see if there are body parts inside, but the Mayor refuses. We know that this isn’t the right shark, and we see that Sheriff Brody feels that way as well, but he’s torn – he wants it to be the right shark so this nightmare will be over. But the real, emotional climax of the act is at the very end of the sequence when Mrs. Kitner strides up to Brody and slaps him, saying that if he’d closed the beaches her son would still be alive. This is the accusation – and truth – that compels Brody to take action in the second act. (34 minutes)

It’s a devastating scene – just as devastating as a shark attack, and a crucial turning point in the story, which is why I’d call it the act climax. Brody is going to have to take action himself instead of rely on the city fathers (in fact, the city fathers have just turned into his opponents).


The midpoint climax occurs in a highly suspenseful sequence in which the city officials have refused to shut down the beaches, so Sheriff Brody is out there on the beach keeping watch (as if that’s going to prevent a shark attack!), the Coast Guard is patrolling the ocean – and, almost as if it’s aware of the whole plan, the shark swims into an unguarded harbor, where it attacks a man and for a horrifying moment we think that it has also killed Brody’s son (really it’s only frightened him into near paralysis). It’s a huge climax and adrenaline rush. (This is about 60 minutes and 30 seconds in). Brody’s family has been threatened (“Now it’s personal.” ) And as he looks out to sea, we and he realize that no one’s going to do this for him – he’s going to have to go out there on the water, his greatest fear, and hunt this shark down himself.


As in the first act climax, here Spielberg goes for a CHARACTER sequence, an EMOTIONAL climax rather than an action one. About 83 minutes into the movie, the three men, Brody, Quint and Hooper, who have been at each other’s throats since they got onto the boat, sit inside the boat’s cabin and drink, and Quint and Hooper start comparing scars – classic male bonding, funny, touching, cathartic. In this midst of this the tone changes completely as Quint reveals his back story, which accounts for his shark obsession: he was on a submarine that got hit during WW II, and most of the men were killed by sharks before they could be rescued. It’s a horrific moment, a complete dramatization of what our FEAR is for these men. And then, improbably, the three guys start to sing, “Show me the way to go home.” (I told you – a musical number!) It’s a wonderful, comic, endearing uplifting, exhilarating moment – and in the middle of it we hear pounding – the shark attacking, hammering the boat. And the men scramble into action, to face the long final confrontation of ACT THREE. (92 minutes in).


The whole third act of Jaws is the final battle, and it’s relentless, with Quint wrecking the radio to prevent help coming, the shark battering a hole in the ship so it begins to sink under them, the horrific death of Quint. The climax of course is water-phobic Brody finding his greatest nightmare coming alive around him: he must face the shark on his own on a sinking ship – he’s barely clinging on to the mast – and blowing it up with the oxygen tank. The survival of Hooper is another emotional climax. (2 hrs. 4 minutes).

The interesting thing to note about Jaws is that despite the fact that it’s an action movie (or arguably, action/horror), every climax is really an emotional one, involving deep character. I’d say that has a lot to do with why this film is such an enduring classic. . It’s also interesting to consider that in an action movie an emotional moment might always stand out more than yet another action scene, simply by virtue of contrast.

Silence of the Lambs
Written by Ted Tally, from the book by Thomas Harris
I’d say it’s a two-parter (remember that Act Climaxes are often double-punch scenes). The lead-in is the climax of Clarice’s second scene in the prison with Lecter. She’s followed his first clue and discovered the head of Lecter’s former patient, Raspail, in the storage unit. Lecter says he believes Raspail was Buffalo Bill’s first victim. Clarice realizes, “You know who he is, don’t you?” Lecter says he’ll help her catch Bill, but for a price: He wants a view. And he says she’d better hurry – Bill is hunting right now.
And on that line we cut to Catherine Martin, and we see her knocked out and kidnapped by Bill (Hence the double-punch: first we have a climax to the psychological storyline, then a second scene which climaxes the horror storyline).
So here we have an excruciating SUSPENSE SCENE (Catherine’s kidnapping); a huge REVELATION: Lecter knows Bill’s identity and is willing to help Clarice get him; we have a massive escalation in STAKES: a new victim is kidnapped; there is a TICKING CLOCK that starts: we know Bill holds his victim for three days before he kills them, and the CENTRAL QUESTION has been set up: Will Clarice be able to get Buffalo Bill’s identity out of Lecter before Bill kills Catherine Martin? (34 minutes in).
The midpoint is the famous “Quid Pro Quo” scene between Clarice and Lecter, in which she bargains personal information to get Lecter’s insights into the case. This is a stunning, psychological game of cat-and-mouse between the two: there’s no action involved; it’s all in the writing and the acting. Clarice is on a time clock, here, because Catherine Martin has been kidnapped and Clarice knows they have less than three days now before Buffalo Bill kills her. Clarice goes in at first to offer Lecter what she knows he desires most (because he has STATED his desire, clearly and early on) – a transfer to a Federal prison, away from Dr. Chilton and with a view. Clarice has a file with that offer from Senator Martin – she says – but in reality the offer is a total fake. We don’t know this at the time, but it has been cleverly PLANTED that it’s impossible to fool Lecter (Crawford sends Clarice in to the first interview without telling her what the real purpose is so that Lecter won’t be able to read her). But Clarice has learned and grown enough to fool Lecter – and there’s a great payoff when Lecter later acknowledges that fact.

The deal is not enough for Lecter, though – he demands that Clarice do exactly what her boss, Crawford, has warned her never to do: he wants her to swap personal information for clues – a classic deal-with-the-devil game.

After Clarice confesses painful secrets, Lecter gives her the clue she’s been digging for – he tells her to search for Buffalo Bill through the sex reassignment clinics. And as is so often the case, there is a second climax within the midpoint – the film cuts to the killer in his basement, standing over the pit making a terrified Catherine put lotion on her skin… and as she pleads with him, she sees bloody handprints on the walls of the pit and begins to scream… and just as you think things can’t get any worse, Bill pulls out his T–shirt to make breasts and starts to scream with her. It’s a horrifying curtain and drives home the stakes. (about 55 minutes in). Again, a double-punch: a psychological climax followed by a horror climax.


The act two climax here is an entire, excruciating action/suspense/horror sequence: Lecter’s escape from the Tennessee prison, which really needs no description! It’s a stunning TWIST in the action. But it’s worth noting that the heroine is completely absent from this climax. The effect on her is profound, though: She was counting on Lecter to help her catch Buffalo Bill. Now that is not going to happen (the Central Question of the story is thus answered: No.) – it’s a complete REVERSAL and huge DEFEAT (All is Lost). Clarice is going to have to rise from the ashes of that defeat to find Bill on her own and save Catherine.
The sequence begins about 1 hour and 12 minutes in and ends 10 minutes later, at 1 hr. 22 minutes.

… of course is the long and again, excruciating horror/suspense sequence of Clarice in Buffalo Bill’s basement, on her own stalking and being stalked by a psychotic killer while Catherine, the lamb, is screaming in the pit. This is one of the best examples I know of the heroine’s greatest nightmare coming alive around her in the final battle, and it is immensely cathartic that she wins.

Note that the climaxes in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS are very true to the genre, with elements of suspense, action, thriller and horror. Every single climax delivers on the particular promise of the genre – the scares and adrenaline thrills, but also the psychological game playing.

And here are a few examples for the romance writers.’

New in Town

Written by Ken Rance, C. Jay Cox


(37 min.) After being humiliated by the workers at the factory she is trying to turn around, protagonist Lucy tries to leave town on the next plane, but a big blizzard cancels the flights. As she tries to drive back into town, she runs off the road into a snowbank, and is rescued by the hero/antagonist, Ted.


(57 min.) After Lucy helps Ted’s daughter dress up for a school dance, Lucy and Ted open up to each other about old wounds, then make out on the couch (and of course are caught in the act by his daughter).


(1 hr. 11 min.) A series of ALL IS LOST moments: Lucy’s bosses close the factory, Lucy is excoriated by her main ally Blanche, and then by her love interest, Ted. At home, Lucy tries to drown her sorrows by scarfing down Blanche’s tapioca pudding … then gets a big idea. REVELATION THAT LEADS TO FINAL BATTLE.


(1 hr. 26 min.) Lucy comes back to the factor to announce that she’s put together a team of investors who will back the workers in buying the factory themselves, with Lucy serving as CEO.

Sea of Love

Written by Richard Price


(30 min.) At his new partner’s daughter’s wedding, Frank comes up with a PLAN to catch the killer: they will place a personal ad and draw her out.


(58 min.) The first sex scene between Frank and Helen, and it’s a great example of how you can make sex a setpiece scene. First both Frank and Helen nearly scare each other to death with the gun Frank thinks he sees in Helen’s purse, his reaction to it, and her reaction to his reaction. Then Helen is dominant, forcing Frank against the wall in a role reversal that is both erotic and unnerving, because it puts him in the same position as we’ve seen the murder victims in. Then after sex, she calls someone while Frank sleeps, putting us in the position of knowing more than he does and making us afraid for him.


(1 hr. 31 min.) Frank is at Helen’s apartment, begging her to come home with him after a fight … and then he finds the personals ads with all three ads placed by the murder victims circled, making him sure she’s the killer. He leaves in a hurry and she watches him from the window.


(1 hr. 38 min.) In his apartment, Frank accuses Helen of being the killer and she flees, terrified by his rage. Then Frank is attacked by the real killer, Helen’s ex-husband, but is able to kill him with a trophy he has hidden under his bed.

The Proposal

Written by Peter Chiarelli


(27 min. ) … is a proposal: Margaret’s assistant Andrew makes her get down on her knees on a crowded sidewalk to propose to him.


(57 min.) The GETTING TO KNOW YOU scene. In the bedroom they are being forced to share, Margaret and Andrew bond over an obscure song.


(1 hr. 30 min.) Margaret stops her own wedding to say she can’t go through with it — Andrew deserves better than a false marriage. And she walks out to surrender herself to the INS agent.


(1 hr. 42 min.) Andrew catches Margaret in the office as she’s packing to leave and proposes to her, overcoming her fears.

Sense and Sensibility

Written by Emma Thompson, from the novel by Jane Austen


(45 min. into a 2 hr. 15 min. movie) Marianne is dramatically rescued on a rainy moor by dashing Willoughby. But Elinor has doubts …


(1 hr. 11 min.) Lucy Steele reveals to Elinor that she is secretly engaged to Edward. Elinor — and we — are devastated.


(1 hr. 49 min.) Elinor tells Edward about Col. Brandon’s offer of a parish. Edward and Elinor are both clearly torn up that Edward will marry Lucy, but neither does anything to change that (ALL IS LOST).


(2 hr. 12 min.) Edward returns to the cottage to say he has not married Lucy, his brother has. He proposes to Elinor, and we immediately CUT TO the joyful wedding of Brandon and Marianne — Edward and Elinor are in the procession, already married.

And here’s a bit more expanded Sequence breakdown.

You’ve Got Mail

Written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, based on the play Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo

You’ve Got Mail is a good romantic comedy to look at structurally if you are writing a love story in which the hero and heroine are completely equal characters; it’s almost a toss-up as to who is the actual protagonist, here.

For me it’s Tom Hanks, simply because he has a bigger character arc to experience, but he also drives the love story and he clearly takes control of the movie in the last thirty minutes. But the point of view, I think, is more Meg Ryan’s, and the Ephrons give her some crucial scenes that usually belong to the protagonist.

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



I think it’s interesting that the Inciting Event or Call To Adventure of YGM actually happens before the movie starts: Meg and Tom have already met online, in a chat room, and are well into their emotional infidelity, I mean, internet romance, when the movie opens.

Another fairly unique thing about the movie is that the opening image and the Into The Special World, or Crossing the Threshold scene, are combined. This is the earliest I’ve ever seen an “Into the Special World” scene, although now that I think about it, the opening image often is our first glimpse at a Special World (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Witness, Bladerunner, Star Trek, Arachnophobia). What we see as the opening image is — of course — a computer screen, and the animation of an unseen user clicking through icons to sign on to the internet, which turns into animated graphics of the skyline of Manhattan, zeroing in on one graphic of a specific building on the West Side (which this movie really is a love poem to), which dissolves into the real building, which is Meg’s home.

We meet both characters on opposite sides of this computer connection, and see the premise in action right away: while Tom and Meg are completely infatuated with each other online, in real life Tom is the corporate suit who is threatening Meg’s charming independent children’s bookstore (called The Shop Around The Corner, a nice nod to the Ernst Lubitsch-directed/Samson Raphaelson-written film which was the first adaptation of the play on which this film is based).

It’s easy to see Tom’s problem and NEED/INNER DESIRE right away: while he is a terrific guy online, in his real life he is a corporate asshole (as much as Tom Hanks is ever really an asshole), who doesn’t care that his mega-volume bookstore is putting all the independent bookstores in the neighborhood out of business (even before the store opens!). Meg has an immediate external problem: the mega-volume bookstore is going to be her bookstore’s direct competition, but she doesn’t really have an internal character flaw that needs to change — except, of course, for that online infidelity thing, which isn’t taken seriously as a problem by this movie. (But really, doesn’t anyone else see that as a little problematic?)

The CLIMAX OF SEQUENCE 1 is the office scene with Tom and his father and grandfather, where the men revel in the fact that they’re putting indie bookstores out of business. (15 min. 22 seconds.)


In Sequence Two, Tom and Meg continue to exchange emails while Meg’s bookstore staff worries about the impending opening of Fox Books. Meg writes her online “Friend” about having doubts about her work (which sets up somewhat of a character arc).

The ACT ONE CLIMAX takes place at the end of a montage in which Tom spends a day with his four-year old brother and nine-year old aunt (Tom’s father and grandfather both have penchants for younger women). In this montage we clearly see Tom’s INNER DESIRE: he wants children and a real family, and obviously has a heart full of love to lavish on — someone.

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

So of course, he CONCEALS HIS IDENTITY (one of the most classic elements of romantic comedy), in a scene in which he is ALMOST DISCOVERED several times, as his young brother almost spills the beans, repeatedly.

Also, this Act I Climax escalates the romance in a very concrete way: the online romance becomes real-life — on Tom’s side, anyway. (Act I ends at about 29 minutes.)



In Sequence Three, the megastore opens and immediately cuts into Meg’s bookstore’s business. Meg and her significant other, Frank, attend a party, and Tom and his significant other, Patricia, are also there. Meg learns that Tom is the owner of Fox Books and confronts him over the canapés. They have an extended fight which ends with them both dragging their significant others out of the party. Later that night, they both sneak out of bed to go online to write about the incident to each other. Off-line they keep seeing each other around the neighborhood, and try to avoid each other, but then Tom rescues Meg when she has no cash in a grocery store line.

The CLIMAX OF SEQUENCE 3 — you could say is the dueling Thanksgiving party scenes (the hero and heroine singing with their extended families; they’re on parallel tracks that show they are right for each other). But I’d say it’s the scene after, in which we and Meg realize that her shop really is failing. This is a good example of the dual climax pattern you often see in a romantic comedy, in which you’ll have a scene that shows the hero and heroine are meant to be, and then undercut it with a scene of what is keeping them apart.


Now there’s another escalation to the online romance: Meg emails Tom that she needs help, she needs advice, and Tom IMs her for the first time. And he gives her the advice to “go to the mattresses.” This is another classic romantic comedy trope that goes with FALSE IDENTITY: one lover playing the CONFIDANT to the loved one while the loved one obliviously babbles on about the lover to himself — and in this case counseling her on how to destroy him. Subsequently the negative media attention Meg brings to Tom and his store makes Tom resent and dislike her. But even with all the publicity, the shop’s revenue continues to go down.

The MIDPOINT CLIMAX comes when a despondent Meg asks her anonymous online “Friend” to meet her. In the big reveal, Tom (through his ALLY, an extremely underdeveloped character, here) looks through the café window and realizes the woman he has fallen in love with online is Meg, his enemy. (58 minutes.) Tom tells his ally he’s just going home, not meeting her, but then in a twist turns around and goes back into the shop and pretends that he’s just run into her by accident — as himself. (FALSE IDENTITY again.)


…is first the very long scene of Tom and Meg getting to know each other — and fighting again — in the “chance” meeting in the café, then a scene of Meg’s staff speculating why her online friend stood her up, and then an email exchange in which Meg writes to her online friend expressing her disappointment that he didn’t show up to their date, and then Tom’s response, which climaxes as he finds himself unable to lie to her, and promises that although he can’t tell her what happened right then, he will tell her eventually. (1 hour 17 minutes.)


Meg resigns herself to closing the shop and makes preparations to do so. A lot of tearjerking going on in this sequence, but remember, one of the promises of the premise of a story like this is that it will make you cry.

There is a double climax at the end of Act Two: first, Tom gets stuck in the elevator of his apartment with his girlfriend, and as other people in the elevator get serious about how they are going to change their lives if they ever get out of the elevator alive, Tom has an epiphany about how shallow his girlfriend is. He moves out on her that night, as soon as they are freed.

And then, ALL IS LOST: Meg has to close the shop. In voice-over, she writes to her “friend” telling him her heart is breaking, while in the empty shop she visualizes her mother playing with her, as she closes the door for the last time. (Her DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL.) (ACT TWO CLIMAX — 1 hour 30 minutes.)



Here is where I think structurally the movie wobbles a little. The filmmakers give Meg the moment of defeat, and it’s a very powerful one. But really Tom is the protagonist, and he needs to be the one affected in this way — at least in that when Meg emails her “friend” about closing the shop, Tom should think he has lost her for good, because he’s caused her such pain. Boy Loses Girl.

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

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

But now Tom has another revelation when his father separates from his current girlfriend and comes to stay with Tom on his boat. Tom clearly doesn’t want to be like his father, and when his father says. “Come on, has anyone ever ‘filled your heart with joy’?” Tom has the realization that Meg has. So he starts his FINAL PLAN to win her: he is going to court her as himself, and make her fall in love with him.


Tom visits Meg when she’s sick; they have chemistry and we see her think of him romantically for the first time (well, since their initial meeting). (1 hour 45 minutes)


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

And in the final, final scene, the ACT THREE CLIMAX, he arranges for her to meet his online persona in the 121st Street Garden — and shows up as himself. Meg starts to cry and tells him, “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly,” before they finally kiss (1 hour 55 minutes).

Which for me redeems the whole movie, although I could have done without the swelling “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but I’ve heard from others that they find it a weak ending. And some people really hate it. The sticking point seems to be that Tom never really atones for putting Meg out of business, much less has any kind of character revelation that would make him help her stay in business; it’s just “business as usual” for him. While I think Tom Hanks as an actor has the decency and charisma to make the character likeable, the character as written is a turn-off for a lot of people I’ve heard from.

So you get this film as a short sequence breakdown instead of one of the long ones!

– Alex


Want more? Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II are available in multiple formats, $3.99 and $2.99, with fully story breakdowns in each.
Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


Huntress Moon is an audiobook!

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I said I had announcements to make – well, here’s the first. The audiobook of Huntress Moon is now available!

Even better: if you already own the Kindle edition, you can add audio for just $3.47.

One of the reasons I’ve been so silent these days is that along with my usual writing schedule I’ve ben working on the audiobook of Huntress Moon. Audiobooks of Blood Moon and Cold Moon will be coming later this year, but this is one I worked on myself through Amazon’s ACX program – that’s Audiobook Creation Exchange.

I just got back from the Romantic Times Booklovers convention, one of the biggest conventions I go to all year, and I was surprised at how many panels and workshops there were with titles like “Audio is the New Black.” I met up with lots of author friends who have been doing a brisk business in audiobooks through the ACX program, and I thought I’d better blog a little about it here, because this is another potential income stream that authors need to be aware of these days, and ACX is a terrific production and distribution resource. Even if you know exactly zero about audiobook production (that would be me!), the ACX site has streamlined the process into a step-by-step system that anyone can follow to produce a quality audiobook.

ACX has thousands of professional and highly experienced actor-producers already signed up for the program. When you start an audio book, you choose a five-minute segment of your book for actors to audition with and upload that to the ACX site, and specify the qualities of voice that you’re looking for (comic, brooding, spooky, etc.) You choose whether you’ll pay the narrator a flat fee yourself, or do a royalty share deal. Then the project gets posted to ACX’s entire stable of actor-producers, and immediately auditions start coming in. You can also browse for actors yourself by searching vocal and tonal qualities and listening to samples. I was having flashbacks to my directing days as I listened to over three dozen auditions. (I know, yike – but you don’t have to listen to the whole audition to know if a narrator is in the running).

I actually found my terrific narrator, RC Bray, myself, by searching auditions on the site. I was blown away by Bob’s vocal range (just wait till you hear his reading of Epps!), and the way he’s able to convey theme and suspense in his reading. Bob loved Huntress and signed up to do the book immediately, and he’s such a professional that we had no problem working together by e mail. I could ask him to do something in a slightly different way and he’d instantly get it. I’m thrilled with the book and I hope you audiobook listeners will be, too.

I’ve really enjoyed working on the audio version of Huntress, though I have to warn it’s a lot of work. But ACX’s team was incredibly supportive and helpful – any time I hit a snag or didn’t understand a step in the process, I could contact the support team and get talked through it. I know other authors opt to make audio deals with great companies like Audible rather than taking on production themselves, but I love that I’m now going to make the lion’s share of profit from this book. I think maybe a mix of self-produced and company-produced books might be the way to go, just as a hybrid mix of indie published and traditionally published books can be the most profitable (and manageable!) route for authors these days.

I highly recommend that all authors check out the ACX site and read about how the process works. And of course I’d love to hear from others of you who have worked on your own audiobooks! What was your experience?



FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is just closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murder, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

Now available in audio!

Also, Huntress Moon is now available for Nook for just $3.99.

Barnes & Noble

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


Wait, what?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’ve been a bit sick and rather distracted these last few weeks so this whole “Long Goodbye” has had a dreamlike quality for me. I keep thinking, “Did we really say we were going to do that? Surely not.”

But now it’s my turn, and it’s all starting to feel alarmingly real.

I’ve been with Murderati since, well, let’s look at the archives. Friday, December 8, 2006.  That would have been just after my first book, The Harrowing, was published.

I switched from screenwriting to writing books so quickly I really knew nothing at all about the book business, and even less about book promotion. I’m a pretty quick study, though, in general, and I jumped into the Internet research. And in 2006 it was pretty clear that blogging was the thing for authors to do, and pretty clear to me that Murderati was the mystery blog to beat.

So I became a frequent commenter. I came from theater, I know how to audition.  I figured I’d just be so sparkly and irresistible and indispensible that they’d just have to ask me to join. Which apparently worked, because they did.

It’s been a long time. I blogged here every week for several years.  I was quickly so sick of talking about myself (within a month, I’d say…) I started blogging on story structure instead, and ended up writing almost my whole Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook here, one blog at a time. That’s a pretty amazing thing, right there.  A lot of what I’ve written has been scribbled (typed) frantically at the end of long days when I’ve simply forgotten what day it was, an occupational hazard of a full-time writer. Other times I felt inspired, or felt like I had to top some tour de force of Steve’s, and I ended up feeling like a real writer of other things besides books.

I don’t have to tell any of you this, but a blog becomes a kind of PLACE, where people know they can stop by and find other people of like mind, a whole batch of regulars. Sometimes fun, sometimes comforting, sometimes confrontational, often emotional.  You actually work with your blogmates, so this is feeling like leaving a long-loved job.  As well as, as others have already said, like a favorite restaurant or bar or club closing down.

Only we did it to ourselves.  Why?

Honestly, it’s not the bi-weekly blogging that’s so hard – it’s the turnover.  Anyone leaving throws the balance into turmoil and the rest of us have to scramble to get back on track. I’ve done that scramble more times than I want to count over these six years. And the truth is, writers don’t seem to have enough time to blog any more. It feels like diminishing returns, when there’s a fast and easy alternative conversation on Facebook. The technology has changed. The conversation has moved.  We’re having to reinvent.

I used to run a huge cyber bulletin board of 2000+ screenwriters.  In many ways I’ve never been as comfortable with the blog format as I was with the bulletin board format. On WriterAction, ANYONE could start a thread. It was perfectly egalitarian that way. Some of our beloved backbloggers here on Murderati have been confessing that they had hopes of joining the lineup here. My feeling is that you often WERE the lineup – it just didn’t appear that way to a casual visitor because of the hierarchical structure of a blog. But on a bulletin board, you guys would clearly have been the lineup. I can’t help but feel that’s a better way.

Facebook eventually made our bulletin board unnecessary. It’s possible that it was mostly Facebook that made Murderati unnecessary as well. I’m an intensely social person and I need my social contact, but I see so many of you regularly on Facebook that I may have been lulled into feeling it’s not goodbye, just a change of venue that seems better suited to the times. I guess I’ll never know how many people regularly read my blogs here, but it’s easy to see that I’m getting massive traffic from my Facebook mini-blogs and random silly or profound comments there, because I get so many comments back.  More people take that time to comment on Facebook.  It feels more real, and I can be political, or brief, or cryptic, or completely idiotic. I like the informality, and I love the pace of conversation when it gets going.

In previous years I would have taken on the burden of reinventing Murderati as a bulletin board community or something similar. But I’m getting what I need out of Facebook, and I’m providing anyone who cares to drop by my FB page with the same thing I’ve done here, whatever the hell that is! – and with MUCH less time investment, leaving me more time to do what I’m supposed to be doing.  And we all know what that is. We all keep saying it.

We need to write books.

I know I’ll still be seeing a lot of you as much as ever, elsewhere.  But because Murderati is a PLACE, I am already missing and mourning it. It’s the end of an era, and we all take change hard. 

Please keep in touch, or it’s just too unbearable.

– Here’s where I am far too often on Facebook.

– I will be blogging regularly on my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog – I teach a college film class, now, and will be doing a lot of movie breakdowns in the future.  I would love to have people come by and talk.

– My website is regularly updated, and you can join my mailing list there to get book news (no more than four updates a year.)

– And I am going to make a point of checking the Murderati Facebook page every day and posting/responding there.

And… I have to let you all know, since I have shared so much of my e book journey here: Huntress Moon was just nominated for a Thriller Award in the International Thriller Writers’ brand new category of Best E Book Original Novel.



That’s partly down to you, you know.

Thanks for everything.  I love you all.

Now tell me. Am I just an idiot for thinking Facebook is the modern alternative to blogging, and that it could ever be the same? If so, what WOULD be an alternative?



Be sure to tune in on weekends, too this month for posts by alumni.  J.D. Rhoades is first up, tomorrow! 




Left Coast Crime report

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’m back from Left Coast Crime and I always try to do the con wrap-up for anyone who can’t be there in person and so that I can sort out my own memories of the whirlwind that a conference always is. LCC is one of my favorite smaller cons, as laid-back as its name implies and one of the friendliest out there.

The actual conference was in Colorado Springs, but my con experience started in Denver, the night before, because mystery powerhouse and sweetheart Twist Phelan and her wonderful other half, Jack Chapple, were getting married and had arranged the wedding to coincide with LCC so that all their author friends could come (and also to say their vows on the Equinox, don’t think I didn’t notice that excellence of timing).

I’ll set the stage: Denver is a fairly good-sized city in a great bowl of plains, surrounded by a ring of very high snowy mountains. Gorgeous. Downtown is very funky – there’s a Gold Rush feel to it and an instant sense of eccentricity – in the layout of the streets (narrow and veering wildly all over the place, coming to strange triangles everywhere), in the buildings (many of which are built in strange triangles to fit the strange triangular intersections), and the overall dress is Wild West: lots of cowboy hats and boots and fur vests. The people – well, the people are a trip. As in San Francisco (another Gold Rush town – think about it), Denverites cultivate their eccentricities. One of my favorite sightings was a homeless guy perched on a bridge with a sign that read: SPACESHIP BROKE DOWN – NEED MONEY FOR PARTS. And from the look of him, he wasn’t kidding.

I shared a shuttle to the wedding with always amazing Guest of Honor Laura Lippman, superfun debut author Leslie Silbert, conference organizer/goddess Christine Goff, and the debonair Reed Farrel Coleman, who was liking the gender balance very much. Then the women somehow got into a appallingly detailed discussion of rape statistics and Reed had to explain to the suddenly very quiet male shuttle driver, “Crime writers, what can you do?”

The mood lightened immediately upon arrival at the Space Art Gallery. Knowing their friends, Twist and Jack had an open bar before the ceremony got started. The industrial style space was a great backdrop for all the red attire we had been requested to wear, which also matched the paintings. The latent production designer in me approved. And of course crime writers create their own special blend of drama everywhere they go: the vows and Twist’s dress got locked in an upstairs storage room- with a steel door. But that’s where your law enforcement/author friends come in handy – the bride and groom had retired police detective Robin Burcell trying to break in to retrieve everything to get the wedding started.

I’m not usually one to cry at weddings (partly because I’ve often been the minister and that would be bad), but I shocked all my friends by starting in the moment Twist started down the stairs (to “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night”) in a shimmery pale gold dress that was worth breaking down a door for and being in every way the definition of radiance. I loved her little dance in the aisle. Then when minister Jan Burke (who was rocking her vestments) stepped up and opened the ceremony with a reading from The Velveteen Rabbit, well, it was all over for me – I don’t think I stopped crying, all through the speeches by Harley Jane Kozak and Reed Farrel Coleman, straight through the most excellent vows.  I think Jack actually might have outwritten Twist… he started deceptively simply and then killed it at the end (when I told him so after he said, “You do learn SOMETHING about structure, hanging out with you guys…)

It was all perfect loveliness, so wonderful to share an experience like that with the tribe.

As we moved on to Colorado Spings and the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a storm front moved in.  Now, rational people understand that any conference in the winter is going to be dicey, but I am famous for forgetting that outside of California they have this thing called “weather.” As usual I showed up with a suitcase of clothes far better suited to the Bahamas than the Rockies. I had checked, but too far in advance to have gotten the latest snow warning.

Still, there are worse things than being confined to a gorgeous resort hotel with stunning views outside and all your favorite people inside. This hotel was probably the best con venue I’ve ever been in as far as views go.  Every level of the place had floor-to-ceiling windows. Those of us from California were permanently parked in front of them; we could sit in any number of luxurious armchairs and sofas and watch the snow falling, or blowing, outside, while having conversations that ranged from comparing the storytelling intricacies of Stephen King and Ira Levin (with John Rector) to a howlingly funny discussion of toilet – um, etiquette (with Naomi Hirahara, Keith Raffel, and sparkling Catriona McPherson, who I’m pleased to say won the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award), to the pleasurable challenge of deciphering the accents of designated Scotsmen Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown, Tartan Noir authors and organizers of Bloody Scotland, a brand-new international crime writing festival that is looking to be unmissable. And of course the inevitable ongoing e book marketing conversation (with LJ Sellers, Keith Raffel, and Elle Lothlorien).

There was work involved, too – I did a paranormal panel, the established author breakfast, and my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop, which I am thinking of retitling The Author’s Guide to Great Climaxes. It was more of a challenge than usual – Denver is the Mile High City and altitude sickness is always a problem for me and it’s an actual miracle I got through the workshop without passing out. Just walking across a room was winding for a lot of attendees, not just me. Still, even though I had just 45 minutes to do what I have learned never to attempt in less than a two-hour block, it turned out to be one of the most rewarding workshops I’ve ever taught, on a multitude of levels. I was surprised by how many readers (non-writing) were in the audience and really got a charge out of it. One man I spoke to afterward said he had no interest in writing but he came to conferences, and workshops like mine, to improve his reading ability. I thought that was lovely, and heartening, and it answered a question I asked here on this blog just two weeks ago.

I was pondering how valid the conference experience is going to be in the future, now that authors can reach so many more people at once, and without cost, through online promotions, and Facebook has made it so possible and so much fun to have ongoing conversations between readers and writers. But obviously I had no idea what I was talking about.

A lot of people I know have been freaking out about piracy recently and panicking about how it will cut into authors’ royalties. Well, maybe.  And as was to be expected, panels like “The Future of Publishing” generated some friction (she said diplomatically) between authors, booksellers, and publishers.

But there is nothing like a conference to demonstrate that readers are savvy, loyal and intensely interested in preserving “their” authors’ welfares.  They know they have to buy us for us to keep writing for them. And we really don’t have to reach a million readers to make a comfortable living at this; a writing career can also be sustained by a much smaller, hardcore core, many of whom you meet and bond with at these conferences. It’s a symbiotic relationship that is fed by these magical encounters. We are a tribe, and I have every confidence that no matter how rough the publishing waters get, the tribe is going to have our backs.

Thanks a million to conference goddesses Christine Goff and Suzanne Proulx and all the fabulous volunteers for throwing a spectacular party!

In other news, as I’m sure people are hearing, Amazon has bought Goodreads, and everyone’s atwitter (sorry…) Others here are far more active on GR than I am, so I wondered what you all thought.

And on the subject of Amazon, there’s this new wrinkle that authors need to be aware of.



To con or not to con?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

There’s nothing like packing for Denver in March to make you realize you have no clothes suited to temperatures under seventy degrees.

Nevertheless, conference season is kicking in and I’m off to Left Coast Crime this week, with a suitcase full of clothes much more appropriate to cruising the Caribbean. Setting aside that I’m jonesing for some author company and for some serious dancing, which actually is on the menu this year, I have been wondering why exactly I decided to go again so soon. And then I remember that there’s a special occasion simultaneous to the conference which makes the whole thing make sense.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Left Coast Crime – it’s a big conference for a small conference and one of the friendliest out there. But the business has changed so much, I have to wonder if conferences as we know them are on their way out.  When you can reach tens of thousands of readers and sell thousands to tens of thousands of books with one free Amazon Kindle promotion, and when you can reach thousands to tens of thousands of readers with some concentrated Facebook posting, all pretty much for free, then how much sense does it really make to take five days to a week (what with packing and all the attendant readying, pedicures, pet sitting and all) away from time that you could be writing or promoting on line? Even the upcoming LA Times Festival of Books – I’m thinking that that day would be better spent just working it on Facebook – I’d sell more books and make more money from the books I sold.  Without having to fight traffic, either.

Now, I know, online connections will never be as meaningful as the personal contact you can make with a reader in person. But do I really mean that?  Really? I have readers who have been great about regularly interacting with me on Facebook, and here, of course, and my own blog, who I am getting to know… in fact, whom I feel I know much better than a lot of people I’ve only met briefly at conferences. But I DO enjoy the personal connection that conferences offer, and doing all the usual stuff – a panel, a Screenwriting Tricks workshop, the established authors breakfast where you pitch your latest book to a room of people who are always more awake than you are, given that it’s seven-thirty in the morning ON SATURDAY.  At a CRIME CONFERENCE.

It’s going to be especially great to sit down with some of my e publishing friends to compare strategies and results, the kind of summit that’s a lot more productive in person than on line. And just the camaraderie – well, I’ve written about this here before, but it’s a relief to be around other writers because we KNOW each other. We know exactly what all the rest of us do just about every second of every day, we know how we feel about it, we know what makes a good day and what makes a bad day, we know each other’s exact fears and our exhilarations – we all have the same operating system, basically. There’s nothing like a conference to reconnect with the tribe, and too much alone in our heads isn’t good for us.

So no, I could never give up conferences entirely. And most of the ones I go to I get paid to go to, anyway, if I teach a Screenwriting Tricks workshop. I’m not complaining.

But when I look at time and effectiveness, the quantifiable results I can get from online promotions compared to the much less tangible benefits of conferences, I have to wonder, and I doubt I’ll be doing as much running around this year as I used to do.

Having said all that, here’s one conference I would never miss.  Registration for Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy, held September 5-8 in North Carolina, opened this weekend: a marathon of forensics workshops; hands-on training in firearms, building searches, jail searches, handcuffing techniques; demonstrations of police/criminal shootouts; lectures in court proceedings and the life of an undercover cop – all conducted by top experts in their fields.

There are only a few slots left, which will sell out this week, and I would not be doing my job here if I didn’t say to all you crime writers out there – DO IT.  Now.  Register.  Do the extra workshops, the FATS training and driving simulation. You will never, ever be sorry. 

Here are a couple of blogs from my WPA experience last year, to drive the point home.

The Writers Police Academy and pre-emptive research

Getting Real – The Writers Police Academy

And when next September I post about how transcendent it all was, I don’t want to hear any whining from anyone who read this today and didn’t go for it.

So readers and writers, what are the cons you would never miss? Or are you shifting your writer/reader interaction to online, these days?

And here’s a big question: do you find you are making real connections on Facebook? Not to replace in-person relationships, of course, but deeper than you thought you could on line?


The Keepers L.A. – new paranormal series

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Most of you regular readers know that I have a genre identiy problem. My first novel, The Harrowing, is a supernatural thriller (because in 2006, no one in publishing would use the word “horror”). These days I’m writing a crime thriller series that’s only a little supernatural around the edges – if at all.  

But then there’s that whole paranormal thing.

Okay, yes, I enjoy writing sex. And let’s face it – the romance community not only BUYS books in delirious quantities – they also throw the best parties in publishing.  What can I say?  I was seduced.

And in 2011 I was thrilled to be asked by the mega-talented and generally amazing Heather Graham to join forces with her and sister thriller writer Deborah LeBlanc to write a paranormal suspense trilogy for Harlequin Nocturne. The Keepers series follows a special set of humans with heightened powers who are charged with the ancestral duty of keeping the peace between mortals and the subcultures of paranormal beings who hide in plain sight among humans in cosmopolitan cities all over the world.



The first Keepers trilogy is set in my favorite American city, New Orleans, and chronicles the individual stories of the MacDonald sisters: vampire, shapeshifter and werewolf Keepers, who fight supernatural crime while trying not to become romantically entangled with the beings they are sworn to protect.

(Read more about the first Keepers trilogy)

Now the series is back, with a new set of Keepers working to keep the peace between the supernatural Others and those crazy humans in Los Angeles. Three cousins: vampire, Elven and shapeshifter Keepers Rhiannon, Sailor, and Barrymore Gryffald wrestle with their new Keeper duties in a city where the mortals can be as deadly as the paranormals. Joining us for the new series is the fabulous Harley Jane Kozak, who knows a little something something about Hollywood.


Heather and Harley and I actually have a not-so-secret life together: Harley and I are part of the cast of Heather’s Slushpile Players and band, that perform and play for numerous conferences and other venues around the country, including Heather’s unmissable Writers for New Orleans Conference, held every December in the best city in the world. Over the years Heather has managed to rope us into playing Wild West vampires, zombie strippers, space aliens, and my personal favorite: pink flamingos. In fact, you might say that teaming up to write a paranormal series is one of the more sedate things we’ve ever done together.



Well, today, I’ve asked Heather and Harley to join me to introduce the books and answer a few questions about writing the series together.

+ How did the idea of The Keepers L.A. come about?

Heather: The Keepers exist to “keep” the status quo between the human life that moves along in happy bliss and the denizens of the underworld who are certainly stronger and many ways and have some very scary talents and/or habits. Our first question to one another was, if you were different and trying to blend in, where would you least be noticed? First go round, we all said, “Hm. New Orleans!” This go round, especially with Harley in the mix, we all came up with “Hollywood!” Harley has worked an “A” list acting career there, Alex has worked as a screenwriter and an activist in the Writers Guild, and my daughter Chynna graduated from CalArts and is pursuing the dream–seemed like, hm, yes! Hollywood. If there’s a third go around, my next inclination will probably be my home state and city, Miami, Florida. Trust me! We’re pretty oblivious down here. If you were a different species or an alien life form, we’d just all think that you came from somewhere else in the Caribbean or Central or South America.

Harley: I have no memory of how it started, so I’m glad Heather remembers everything. Although I was born in Pennsylvania and did a small stint in North Dakota and even smaller ones living on location as an actress, I’ve only really lived in 3 places in my adult life: New York, L.A. and Lincoln, Nebraska. Hollywood was thus a no-brainer, because I don’t think Heather and Alex would feel qualified to take on paranormal creatures living in Nebraska. 

Alex: You’re right, Nebraska would be a stretch for me. I was nervous at first about the idea of writing L.A. because I know it so well as a real place, not an urban fantasy setting. But Heather and Harley hit on the perfect catalyst for the story: the cousins live in this magnificent, if run-down, old Hollywood estate in Laurel Canyon built by a magician friend of their family. That was so true to L.A. but so timeless, I instantly understood how the whole story world worked.


+ Is it true you three only know each other because Bob Levinson was looking for blondes for the first Thrillerfest awards show?

Heather: Yes, we were introduced by Bob Levinson! I will be grateful to him for many things–he’s a brilliant, wonderful man–but that he put the three of us together was amazing. I think that first day I felt as if I’d just met best friends that I’d known all my life. We can be miles apart for months and months–and it’s still the same, incredible to see one another, as natural as if we’d never been apart. You can see people daily and not have that kind of bond. I’m so grateful!

Harley: Yes, too true. Before meeting her, I’d seen Heather on a panel at the Romantic Times conference, and was wowed by her (naturally). And of course I’d heard of Alexandra Sokoloff (doesn’t that sound like a Russian Princess?) I remember thinking, when Bob floated the idea of the three of us, “I hope they like me” — just like kindergarten. And by golly, it was like kindergarten — and it still is. Whenever the three of us are together, it feels like playtime! How could I not want to write a series with Heather and Alex?

 Alex:  We do owe Bob for life. We just can’t ever tell him that. I had the exact same “I hope they like me” feeling. I’d read Heather’s books for years, and of course I’d seen Harley in just about everything. In fact, I once won a nice chunk of money in a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” style movie trivia party game because I knew Harley had starred with Bill Pullman in a film called “The Favor”. So obviously, it was destiny. Meeting Heather and Harley for the first time, it was completely like we’d always known each other. I couldn’t believe how real they were!



The Killerettes, with Bob Levinson





+ What would you say makes you uniquely qualified to write about supernatural mayhem in Hollywood? 

 Heather: The uniquely qualified here really goes to Harley and Alex–although once Chynna headed to L.A., I definitely became qualified to write about LAX. Seriously, I definitely spend enough time in L.A. and Hollywood, although I admit I’m pretty sure my daughter became a “valley girl” before I actually understood exactly where the valley was. But I also have a young friend who is one of the most amazing “fabricationeers” I’ve ever met; she works for Legacy Studios and she’s been kind enough to bring me through her work place–it’s amazing! Robert Downey, Jr.’s Ironman suit is next to a werewolf is next to a mummy is next to a giant rat is next to . . 

Alex: Wow, I want to go see! L.A. does have the greatest costumes. Me, I’ve lived here most of my life, but this was my first time setting a book here. Which is crazy, because it turns out it’s so much easier to write a place that you know as well as I know L.A. I can make fun of it with absolute authority and also show off the truly dazzling aspects of the city. And having worked in the film business I had no problem whatsoever populating it with vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters and Elven. No stretch at all.

Harley: In the early 80’s I was flown from New York to Palm Springs to do a week’s work on location (as an actress) and I was such a yokel that until I was on the plane I actually thought I was heading to Florida. I was confusing Palm Springs with Palm Beach. (Geography is not my strong suit.) I’ve never forgotten that first time, the plane landing, the sight of palm trees, the feel of the air, so different from anywhere else on earth, the eerie quality of the afternoon light. I came here for another job in 1985 and didn’t intend to stay, yet here I am. I can truly say I love L.A.


 + What most fascinates you about the paranormal? To what one influence in your life do you attribute your fascination with the possibilities beyond the “known world?”

Heather: My mom was Irish and immigrated with her family. My grandmother watched my sister and I sometimes and was the world’s most incredible story-teller. She had tales about pixies, leprechauns, gnomes, giants, and all kinds of things that went bump in the night. She really used to warn my sister and I to behave or the “banshee’s be’d getting you in the outhouse.” Her stories were so good we trembled–and didn’t realize until we were teenagers that we didn’t have an outhouse.

Alex: My dad was my influence, totally. He was a scientist, a complete rationalist, but he grew up in Mexico City, and Mexico is just steeped in magical realism.  When I was a kid Dad would tell us ghost stories as if every single moment of them actually happened. He was so factual in every other aspect of his life that I think I got confused about reality.  Or maybe it was Berkeley that did that.  One of those. And as to what most fascinates me about the paranormal – it’s exactly that place where the paranormal and reality meet that I love to explore in my books – the blurry line between what may have been a paranormal experience and what may just be a psychological interpretation. Or drugs. Or just plain crazy.

Harley: My grandma. She was my mother’s mother, Scandinavian, and came to live with us when I was a baby. She read coffee grounds and tea leaves, had precognitive dreams, and the occasional visit from recently dead people on their way to the Other Side. And read fortunes in playing cards (along with playing a mean game of rummy). 


+ How was working together on a project for you?

Heather: The most fun ever that someone could pretend to call work!  When we’d sit together, ideas would flow, we’d laugh, we’d think. I think our first real hash-through day was in the lobby of the Universal City Sheraton. They film there frequently and the walls behind the check-in desk are covered with pictures of stars from the silent era on. I think if I was asked to walk on water with Harley and Alex, I’d be willing to give it a try!

Alex: There’s such a past-life feeling to it, really. I sometimes forget I haven’t actually lived in a magical old Hollywood mansion with Heather and Harley; it seems like something that happened.

Harley: Same. Every time I drive down Laurel Canyon and come to Lookout Mountain, I crane my neck, staring at “our” house and half expecting to see Rhiannon, Barrie and Sailor pulling out of the driveway.  

Alex: So, ‘Rati, the topic for the day is – for writers, can you ever see yourself writing something very much out of what you consider your genre?  I never saw myself writing anything in the “romance” category, but the Keepers series not only allows me to write with two of my best friends – it’s also expanded my readership to a lot of people who would never have tried my books before because they perceive my writing as “too scary”.  I’m happy to write something lighter for sensitive readers (there’s a lot that I won’t read myself because I find it too disturbing), and even happier when once they know me some of those readers cross over and read my thrllers as well. 

And readers – do you read your favorite authors in other genres, too, or do you prefer them to stick to what they’re known for?


Shop the entire Keepers series here!    



Keeper of the Night – by Heather Graham

Out now!

New Keeper Rhiannon Gryffald has her peacekeeping duties cut out for her—because in Hollywood, it’s hard to tell the actors from the werewolves, bloodsuckers and shape-shifters. Then Rhiannon hears about a string of murders that bear all the hallmarks of a vampire serial killer, and she must confront her greatest challenge yet. She teams up with Elven detective Brodie McKay and they head to Laurel Canyon, epicenter of the danger, where they uncover a plot that may forever alter the face of human-paranormal relations.


Keeper of the Moon  – by Harley Jane Kozak  

Out now!

Lust. Elven Keeper Sailor Gryffald’s body quivers with it, but is it a symptom of the deadly Scarlet Pathogen coursing through her bloodstream or the proximity of shifter Keeper Declan Wainwright?

Sailor and Declan have had an uneasy relationship ever since they met, and now things are about to get a lot more complicated. A killer is stalking Los Angeles, intentionally infecting Elven with the deadly virus, and now Sailor and Declan must work to keep the supernatural peace while bringing the murderer to justice. But, in doing so, these powerful denizens of the Otherworld find themselves straddling a fine line between lust…and love.



Keeper of the Shadows  – by Alexandra Sokoloff

Coming May 1 – available for pre-order

Barrie Gryffald’s work as a crime beat reporter is risky enough when she’s investigating mortal homicides. But when a teenage shifter and an infamous Hollywood mogul are both found dead on the same night, her Keeper intuition screams, Otherworldly.

Reluctantly, she enlists her secret crush, Mick Townsend, a journalist with movie-star appeal, and together, they dig up eerie parallels to a forgotten cult-film tragedy. But it may be too late. With a cast of suspects ranging from vampire junkies to the ghosts of Hollywood past, no one can be trusted. Least of all Mick, who may well prove to be as unpredictable as the Others Barrie is sworn to protect….


Keeper of the Dawn – by Heather Graham

Coming July 1 – available for pre-order

Alessande Salisbrooke has been warned about the legend of the old Hildegard Tomb – how human sacrifices are being carried out by the followers of a shape-shifting magician. As a Keeper, Alessande understands the risks of investigating, but she can’t shake the nagging feeling that the killings are tied to a friend’s recent murder, and she can’t turn her back.

With the help of Mark Valiente, a dangerously sexy vampire cop, Alessande narrowly escapes becoming a sacrifice herself. But as the bodies continue piling up, completely drained of blood, one truth becomes all too clear: life is an illusion, and no one-not even those you care about the most-is who they seem.




Work smarter

by Alexandra Sokoloff

As so often happens here at Murderati, a theme for the week has emerged, from Gar’s blog and Philippa’s:

Work smarter, not harder.

Well, today I’m going to try to talk about that in excruciatingly practical terms – so excruciating that some of you may find your eyes glazing over, and I wouldn’t really blame you. But the reality is, it’s pretty tough to be an author these days if you’re NOT on top of all this, and you know me, union activist and all – I feel morally obligated to expound on all this every so often.

Here’s example number 1, a quick one. Since social media seems to be a do-it-or-die mandate for authors these days, I’ve invested a lot of time recently in growing my Facebook presence.  I make time for it every day. I’ve found a way that I can do it that feels like play, not work. In fact, it has become a needed break from my writing. I don’t get the same kind of pleasure out of Twitter, so I don’t do it. And I spend the vast majority of that FB time socializing, not promoting.  But when I do need something promoted, people are amazingly happy to help, as I found out in spades last week.

So example 2, a much more detailed one.

Last week I was giving away my parapsychology thriller The Unseen as part of a big group book promo through the e book author collective I’ve written about here before: Killer Thrillers!, the brainchild of Karen Dionne.  

Some of your favorite ‘Rati, current and alums, are part of this venture – Zoe, Rob, Brett, Dusty. We’re all happy to promote each other anyway, but Killer Thrillers! gives us a bit more of a structure to do it.

 Six of us from the Killer Thrillers! author lineup (two dozen in all) participated in the giveaway, and I thought it was a great opportunity to compare notes on best practices for Amazon promotions. 

So while I didn’t spend a huge lot of time drawing graphs and pie charts – since I was also at a writing retreat finishing my new book (which is going very well, thank you very much!)– I did keep an eye on the general numbers, to see how effective a free promotion is compared to what it was last year, before Amazon changed its algorithm a couple of times, resulting in decreasing returns for such promotions.

The six of us were all directing traffic to a link to an Amazon Listmania page that listed all six of our books, so anyone who went to the page could download all six right there.

Here it is, with prices now back up to normal – check out all these great authors and books!

And if that had been all we did, then theoretically, we would all have had roughly the same number of downloads and the same ranks.  HOWEVER, what really happened was that we had individual numbers ranging from a few thousand giveaways to 27,000 (US only – some of us also were giving away books in the UK).

Some of us did additional promo via the Kindle free sites. Some of us were randomly picked up by one or two of the bigger sites, which accounted for the highest number of downloads.

Now, it’s always been clear to me that free sites are the key to pushing numbers up for promotions, and the bigger sites result in exponentially more downloads – that’s really how your book will go viral.  Exactly what happened this go round.

The thing I didn’t expect this time is that three days after the end of the promotion, when our books went back to paid, most of us were in about the same ranks of paid books: between 2000-2500 overall in the Kindle store – and that’s at a $1.99,  a $2.99  and a $3.99 price point – the price didn’t seem to matter at all, nor did the number of free downloads, after a certain threshold.  Interesting to know.

For me, it’s a very far cry from the number of books I sold when I released Huntress Moon in July.  Of course, that was a new release, while The Unseen is a backlist title that I’ve had up for half a year, now, and I’ve promoed it before. I wasn’t expecting to make the same numbers or money on this run.

Still, I’ve already made over a thousand extra dollars in sales in these few days after the promo, all profit, and more importantly I did get 18,600 copies of The Unseen out there.  What percentage of those will be read – well, who knows? But that’s one hell of a lot of promotional exposure in one go. Instead of paying for advertising, I am getting both income and a promotional push. Even if the vast majority of those books are never read, the book has been seen – it’s one of those six times that a person has to see your name or your book’s name before you actually stick in their brain. And the promo did sell extra copies of my other e books, generate some new reviews, and remind my Facebook friends that I’m an author and not just a fun cocktail party guest.

Now, I would get more specific about the observations I’ve made about the sites that are most effective in promos and how to do that, except that all that is set to – probably – change again as of today, March 1, with Amazon’s new changes to its Affiliate agreement, which seems to be targeting the bigger free book sites.

So as usual, those of us e publishing are going to have to scramble to adapt to the new landscape, and everything I’ve just written above may already be obsolete, not even one week later. It’s enough to give you whiplash of the brain.

I hate to admit it, but when I stopped paying attention for a while there because well, I was writing this book – my sales numbers slipped drastically. Yes, there is an ebb and flow to all of this tied to book releases, but it’s perilous to let it all go unattended for too long.

And this last promotion was well worth the time.  As I could have predicted, Kindle Select promotions are a lot less effective than they were in 2012. But promoting with a group is much more fun, and these are authors I read on a regular basis and know and love personally. All six of us agreed that we had no hesitation about plugging the group, as opposed to just plugging ourselves.  Having some joy in the process is key.

It was also a good reminder that as an indie author I make a living in direct proportion to how much QUALITY time I spend marketing and keeping up with the market, so I’m going back to a practice I’ve let slide: Marketing Monday, meaning one full day per work week devoted to nothing but business.  (Hey, it also serves as a break from all the endless writing…) 

And I’m just not going to grumble about how hard it is to e publish, because of this great blog I read this week by Matt Hilton.

Although I disagree with him on one key point – I DON’T think that midlist authors have the same dilemma selling on Amazon as they do in traditional venues – otherwise it’s one of the most realistic articles I’ve ever read about the pitfalls of signing with a traditional publisher and thinking that’s going to yield an actual career. It completely lays out the traditionally published side of the story – the hellish frustration of being a midlist author and NOT being able to control my promotional destiny.

Remembering the rage I used to feel about that powerlessness, well, I’ll take the current landscape, even shifting as it is. Because there IS joy to be had in the process, and for me, that is all about friends. Writer friends, reader friends, social media friends. For me, those friends are what make the work play.

So I’d love to hear examples of promotion that people LOVE.  Well, also, let’s have examples of promotion that people HATE.  It would be great to generate a couple of lists, a buffet, as it were, where there’s bound to be something that people can choose to do that’s actually fun for them.

– Alex

Are writers happy?

 by Alexandra Sokoloff

There’s a discussion going on right now on the mystery listserv Dorothy L, on the topic: “Are writers happy?”

Notice that the very asking of the question implies  the opposite, doesn’t it? 

I thought it was a question worth blogging about; it gives me the chance to expound on something that I’ve been mulling over this week.

You see, I’ve been car shopping, an activity that puts you into falsely intimate circumstances with strangers, and somewhat forces you to talk about what you do for a living. I always have the impulse to lie, because after all, why should I be the only one in the car telling the truth?  But car shopping is stressful enough without having to remember what story you told which salesman, so I generally end up confessing. And it’s amazing how many of these guys (they’re all guys) said the exact same thing to me when I told them I was a writer. 

“Living the dream…” 

Now, either a staggering percentage of car salesmen secretly want to be writers, or this is a fairly common feeling that non-writers have about writers and writing. Or maybe both.

It’s good for me to be reminded that I have the dream job, because I’ve been doing it so long that I tend to think of my writing career as a morbidly obsessive, slimy, desperate slog through the mountains of Moria with no torch, pursued by the Orcs of my imagination and/or the business. (Insert your own metaphor, that just happened to be the first one that came to me. I can think of worse.).

On the other hand, maybe I’ve been able to make the writing life work for me for so long because I DON’T glamorize it. I don’t sit down at my desk (or in my bed) every morning thinking that what I’m about to do for the next seven hours is going to make me happy. I think – well, I KNOW – that if I’m lucky I will lose myself in the process enough that at the end of it I will feel sluggish and stupid and barely remember what I did that day, but if I do it and two or three hundred more days like that in a row there will be a book at the end of it.

And that – is a kind of satisfaction that makes all the tedium and terror of the process worthwhile. 

Why that is I’m not even entirely sure. Because at the heart of it I’m a materialistic person and I need this stuff in my imagination to take solid form?  Because it DOES make me happy that other people read and enjoy my books? 

(And when I say MY books, I don’t really mean that. Because once the process is done, and I look at the book, it doesn’t really feel like I wrote it. It feels a lot more like I just brought this thing called a book back from some distant place, and when people praise me for it it’s really more like complimenting me on my mountain climbing or spelunking skills.)

Or is it just that old adage that if you’re a writer, you can’t do anything else? 

Most of my happiness around writing has to do with (as Dorothy Parker said), “having written.”  Because once you do that, you get to talk about the book with readers, the greatest pleasure of all, and go to writing conventions, which DOES make me happy because I get to be around people just like me, whom I don’t have to explain myself to and who maybe live life a little more fully in those moments because we’ve all just been momentarily let out of the cage we live in  called writing.

But in terms of fun, teaching writing is a lot more fun than writing.  I get to be with people who are still in love with the wonder of the process and who laugh at my jokes and when a workshop is over I am not still obsessively thinking about it for the rest of the day. Plus I feel like I’ve at least gotten some exercise, what with all that pacing around and wild gesticulation. Much more fun than sitting in a chair.

But I know that just teaching wouldn’t satisfy me the way writing books satisfies me. I think it has partly to do with mastery. When I was a kid and went to my first musical, I looked up at the dancers on the stage and thought (just like in that song from A CHORUS LINE) – “I can do that.”  Of course, I couldn’t, not then, and it was a long, long, long time and several million dance classes before I could do my own triple pirouette, but when I finally DID?  That click of – mastery – was the greatest feeling, a sense of accomplishment that never goes away, because it is in my body, now.  I’d gone from dancing to being a dancer.

The feeling of satisfaction I get from finishing a book doesn’t last that long, honestly. I need to write book after book to get that feeling.  But long ago I went from writing to being a writer. Just like with dancing, there is something in me that wanted the completion that only writing a book, and another book, and another, can give me. I’ve made that journey more times than I can count, and every single time I think I’m going to fail, but more times than not, I brought back a book.

Well, maybe that IS living the dream.

So I have to get back to the mountains of Moria. But for today, what do you think? Are writers happy?