Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Why so dark?

by Alex

We’ve talked about what our literary influences have been, and JT talked yesterday about how we collect characters from around us (that is, so I hear – I wasn’t able to get on for some reason).

But I spent a couple hours yesterday in an interview talking about how to write horror and that got me to wondering about the life incidents that led us to choose this dark genre of ours (some of us darker than others….).

For instance, I realized after seeing the movie ZODIAC this week that the Zodiac killer was a huge early – influence?  Inspiration?  Impression?  What I mean is, I grew up in California and even years after this guy had dropped off the map, we kids were scaring ourselves senseless by telling ourselves Zodiac stories around the fire at Girl Scout camp. He was our Boogey Man.   

My dad grew up in Mexico and he had a passel of ghost stories that he’d pull out around the campfire to scare us with.

Also, since Dad is a scientist and Russian, and attended a lot of scientific conferences that got turned into family road trips, I have early memories of us in the family station wagon being followed by the CIA because, you know, Russians were out to destroy the world at the time.    All that ever happened was that they followed us around but naturally I’d spice the whole thing up in my imagination – my first attempts at thrillers.

It’s only recently occurred to me that perhaps I write ghosts because I went to a haunted high school – specifically, the grand and decrepit old auditorium where I spent most of my high school, rehearsing choir programs and plays, was supposedly haunted by a girl named Vicki who died the night of her prom back in the 20’s.    Yes, yes, I know that’s a classic urban legend,  but we all believed in  Vicki, and there were parts of that auditorium where you just didn’t want to go, alone or with others.    Cold spots.   Strange noises.   Disappearing props.   

(But somehow it never once crossed my mind while I was writing THE HARROWING that I was writing about a haunted school because I went to a haunted school).

I also had some pretty scary experiences early on in life that made me realize that there was evil out there.    A child molester who’d been trolling the streets around my elementary school tried to grab me one afternoon when I was walking home from school.   He was a small and creepy man, and even though I didn’t have any sense of what child molesting was at the time, I knew there was something just wrong with him and I ran.    That was my first full-on experience of what evil looks and feels like, and it’s not something you forget or let go.

And I had friends, as we all do, who were not so lucky about escaping predators, and the anger about that has fueled a lot of my writing.

There’s more, of course, and once you start thinking of influences, it’s pretty fascinating how much you uncover about your motivations.

So I wondered what kinds of experiences from real life have made you all the dark, twisted writers you are…. and what in their own lives would make our ‘Rati readers seek out this genre?

Let’s Talk About… Gender

by Alex

Ooh, scary.   But maybe I can get away with it because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and everyone’s going to be drunk by noon anyway, right?

Maybe I’ve been thinking about gender and writing because there have been some little mini-explosions on the subject on several listserves/message boards I’m on.   Some female writers challenging a list of favorite mystery authors because there were practically no women on the list.  A guy storming out of a romance writers class on “How Men Think” because, from what I gather, the instructor basically said that – well, they don’t.   (That is an argument I don’t intend to touch, by the way…). 

Or maybe I’ve been thinking about it because I made the unbelievably stupid move of writing my second book from the male protagonist’s POV.   Never again, let me tell you.

I’ve got to say that with a few notable exceptions (Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Ira Levin, F. Paul Wilson… Shakespeare…)  most of my favorite writers in any particular genre, but particularly my genre, are women.   The Brontes,  Jane Austen, Lillian Hellman, Anne Rice, Shirley Jackson, Madeleine L’Engle.   Current mystery reading – can’t get enough of Karin Slaughter, PD James, Val McDermid, Minette Walters, Margaret Maron.

Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?   I’m a woman,  I think like a woman, I react to the world as a woman.   Don’t get me wrong, I love men (um… to distraction, is the problem…)

But frankly, they’re exhausting.   And reading men can be that way, too.   I mean, it takes work.   Like, it’s great and exciting and sexy and stimulating to travel in a foreign country, but doesn’t it also feel good just to come home, where everyone talks like you do and dresses like you do and you’re not fighting with the language and culture and mores?   Where you can just relax and be yourself?

That’s what reading women is like, for me. 

I’m not talking about quantity, by the way.  I certainly read just as many men as I do women.   It’s the comfort level I’m getting at.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I read and write violence.   Crime, mystery, suspense, supernatural terror.   Danger, jeopardy, death.

And it is so cathartic for me to read women writing violence because women live with the threat of violence so intimately that it’s what I can only call a relief to read it from another woman’s POV  (But I won’t go there right now because Cornelia Read did so well with the topic recently, here.).

So given all of the above, why on earth would I be writing from a male POV with this book  (besides the obvious masochism thing, but that’s another post…)?

Well, it’s simple.   Because that was the story.   He was the main character.   So what could I do?

What I found is that it’s MUCH harder to write a book with a male lead than a script with a male lead, because with a book you have to be inside his head all the time.   Which is just, well, scary.   And like being in a body brace at the same time.

Luckily I have male writer friends coaching me along, for which I am eternally grateful, but it’s WORK, people, doing this male thing.

I was talking about my book, THE PRICE, in a college class I was speaking to and (because I seem unable to censor myself these days) railing about how hard it is to write a man, and one of them quite logically asked me, “Why didn’t you just write it from the wife’s POV?” 

Well, that stopped me for a second.   Had I been ignoring the obvious all along?

But no.   While it would have been easier for me to write from the wife’s voice, and while she actually is the one who goes through the most trauma in the story, she doesn’t really CHANGE.   She is ready and willing to make the big move from the very beginning of the story and she does it without question, while her husband is NOT ready to make that commitment in the beginning and he has far more of a struggle with himself to get to that point.   And that struggle is the definition of drama.

So it was, intrinsically, his story, and I had to tell it from his POV to make it a story.

Maybe I should have waited for a couple of books to tackle something so alien, but the bottom line is, the story is the story.   And I want to be a good writer of men, being that you all are half the human equation, and nothing really makes any sense without you.

So I guess what I want here (besides Guinness, because, you know, because) is some commiseration, and/or advice.   

For writers – how have the rest of you dealt with writing from the POV of that other gender, male or female?    Did it flow, or did you feel possessed by the demon Pazuzu?   And for readers and writers -are there writers you feel write the opposite gender (from themselves) really brilliantly?   

Connection Overload

by Alex

The i Phone is here and now this future computer.

Yes, of course, cool.   I’m not immune to the coolness.   But looking at that photo also made my heart sink.   It looks to me like even more time on the computer per day.
And that’s more than a little scary.

I was talking to a graduate school class of future librarians this week about writing and giving them an overview of Internet resources for authors and someone asked me how I manage my time on the Internet.


No, really.   That’s hysterical.   

Let’s see, now.   There’s Murderati, MySpace, Facebook, Dorothy L, Murder Must Advertise, MWA Breakout,  Mystery Babes, 4MA,  Sisters in Crime, Idiosyncratic, Newbie’s Guide,  WriterAction, Shocklines, Backspace, Good Girls Kill,  Naked Authors,  Heart of Carolina….  now CrimeSpace…. and I mean, that’s just the basics.   And then, oh, right, my friends.

The answer is, I DON’T manage my Internet time.   Some days I cut myself off.   Others… well, that’s where it can get ugly.
But obviously I’m not alone.   As I started my mini-tirade on the unmanageability of it all in this library class, the entire class was nodding in unison and looking both relieved and desperate.
We can’t really do our work as authors without the instant connection of the Internet – and neither, it seems, can people in most other professions.   But there’s got to be a balance somewhere.

Seeing that touch-sensitive computer reminded me of, well, the movie MINORITY REPORT, where Tom Cruise stood in front of a holographic computer and manipulated information through touch…. but even more of George Bernard Shaw’s play BACK TO METHUSELAH, in which (if I recall correctly) human beings had evolved into giant brains, no bodies at all, that communicated telepathically.

Sound a little familiar?    It’s terrifying, I tell you.

On the other hand, at least once the computers are actually implanted in our heads (which I have no doubt they will be) – then we can do all this obsessive Internetting while hiking or walking on the beach.

Okay, so here’s my point.  It’s Spring, right?   And even though I’m from California and Spring Break isn’t traditionally the week-long blowout orgy it is for some of the rest of the country, it is still Spring.   
So please, everyone, get out in the sun.   Roll around in the sand.   Take the computer if you really have to, that’s what wireless is for.   But we still have bodies.   Let’s remember how to use them before we turn into giant interconnected brains.

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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.


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?

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?




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