Taking the gift

by Alexandra Sokoloff

You all get more tour journal today because tour is ALL I’ve been doing, since – I can’t even calculate since when.  I don’t even remember what it’s like to write, by now, which scares me, oh, just a little.   This is the last day of traveling, though, at least until one big week at the end of the month, but apart from some cool publicity with that, that week is going to be just about writing, MY writing.

Whatever that is.

My last stint has been teaching Screenwriting Tricks For Authors on a beach in Charleston – an incredible week long retreat for writers and aspiring writers sponsored every year by the Lowcountry Romance Writers.  It’s all women except for one man, who is taking those odds very much in stride, and the focus is paranormal, historical romance, and romantic suspense, although to my delight there is one horror chick so I don’t feel like the complete voice of doom.

I had a fabulous drive from Raleigh to Charleston, nice to be on the road again.  The great thing about driving toward South Carolina is that you get all that beach music, which I never knew it was its own genre of music until I actually lived in the South, and then I could see it in EVERYTHING – the Spinners and Temptations and Marvin Gaye and everyone. 

I got to the bridge over to the island where our retreat house is, just at sunset – WOW.  I drove straight out to the beach strip and pulled into this – incredible – mansion.   To say it is luxe is the understatement of the year.  Exquisite.  Cherrywood floors, and three levels of absolute perfection, elevator accessible of course –  but in a very beach, livable way – there’s a lot of Southwest influence, which is where the family of owners is from.   This porch that I’m out on now, or terrace or whatever you call it in the South, has multiple living areas, with fireplaces of course, and the ocean is right there, in front of me (past the pool and volleyball court, naturally) and  that SOUND, and the air –  I’m just in a tank top and I’m fine, and this incredible fragrance – it’s not jasmine, but something sweet and completely intoxicating, and there are turtles, apparently, out there in the sand doing their thing in a way that is so protected that you can be arrested for turning on porch or pool lights after sunset.

And my room.   Well, the word is suite.   With sweeping ocean view, entertainment center and kitchen, and spa bath.   Yes, I could get used to this.

I truly believe that anyone who commits to this kind of week-long writing intensive, at the prices that get charged for them, is ready to move to another, professional level, and I’ve never been disappointed in the calibre of students.  

We had a fantastic dinner and got to know each other a bit, and out of 25 people about half are either psychiatric professionals or law enforcement or social welfare.    Unbelievable stories at dinner, I’m so psyched to be here – as usual, I’m going to learn every bit as much and more as the students.


Funny, here, how it’s incredibly cloudy, layered and stormy and brooding and you look away for a second and when you look back the whole sky has gone dazzlingly sunny, just the slightest wisps of clouds.   I have noticed, oh man, have I, how Southern temperaments are just like that weather.   Violent moods and storms that shake the earth and are forgotten in the next minute.   Not what I’m used to.

It’s another warm day but not so humid, easier.    I’m on the terrace again (and that sweet smell is jasmine, I found the vines) and I am noticing that in the overgrown yard next door there is a swing set, rusting, covered in brambles.   Tragic.   It would be lovely to swing and look out over the ocean.   But an overgrown swing set is a good image…

Romance conferences are great – for many reasons, but what I’m thinking of specifically right now is the swag.   Authors who can’t come contribute these extravagant giveaways for the swag bags – lush beauty products, flavored condoms, chocolate lip gloss, chocolate cock suckers (chocolate, chocolate, women and chocolate – someone’s in the kitchen right now making double chocolate biscotti).  Once in a while there’s even a mini-vibrator.   I used the body lotion from my bag and now, in the sun, my whole skin is sparkling with tiny iridescent flakes – the label on the bottle says it’s mica.  It’s making me feel like a mermaid or something.

People here are great.   The entire house is now vibrating with deep creativity.   Four of us who just had their periods have started them again from all the free-floating estrogen, just like in college.   Everyone is so excited.    And for me there is nothing like being able to draw a fantastic plot line out of a beginning writer – who up until that second didn’t even think she could do it.   I tell people:   “You would not have had the idea if you were not capable of executing it.”    (Something I am always fervently hoping for myself…)

Whether they do execute it or not, you never know – that’s more about endurance and a certain ruthlessness than about talent.   But I have been privileged and proud to see people I taught show up at a conference a year later with book deals – NOT saying I did it, but that I could see that it would happen, and told them so.




I taught my class again today and people are now constantly laughing out loud in surprise when they saw how brilliantly formulaic film structure is and how much easier their lives are going to be from now on, knowing a few simple tricks.  

And my horror chick is a real author.   One of those that I wouldn’t dare give notes to, she is so dead on about what she’s doing.  Naturally the most nervous one here, almost fainted before she had to read, and the most surprised that what she’s written is what it is.   And it is so great and logical and right that the Universe has put her here because I’m one of the few women out there writing what she’s writing and I will be able to save her about a year of grief  and possible disaster when it comes time to get an agent, the right agent, and between me and my other dark female author friends we can help her navigate what’s going to be her new life.    

(And this happens over and over and over again at these workshops and conferences – for authors, for aspiring authors, for me personally.   If you do it, the Universe understands that you’re serious about your writing and lifts you to the next step in a way you could never do for yourself.)

She’s one of the ones I bonded with last night, staying up way too late watching an excruciatingly bad horror movie called Orphan.   But finally there was a plot twist so sublimely ludicrous we were screaming, laughing – worth ever single minute we wasted with the rest of the movie.

Sunset was about three hours long, wave after wave of color crashing over the clouds, with a full moon on top of that, and dinner was Fettuccini Alfredo, from scratch.

No.   It doesn’t suck.




Things I love about this place.

– The spiral staircase, going up three floors, that polished, cherry wood…

– The elephant tapestries on the second floor.   Ganesh, god of happiness.

– The knockout 180 view of the ocean you get walking through the archway into the living room.

– The theme of palms – I’ve always loved that as a design element anyway, and I was in THE palm room, they were on everything, pillows, pictures, shower tiles, ceiling fan. Just like the Atlantic ocean is a softer ocean than the Pacific, these are softer palms than California palms, feathery and feminine.

– That sea foam.   Didn’t Venus come from sea foam – the sperm of Zeus?  Never got how of course the Greeks would think that, before this trip.   Totally fitting for a romance retreat.

– Omg, the food.   As anyone who has read this blog for a while has no doubt noticed I am NOT a foodie but we have had some spectacular meals –  one night crab legs and oysters, which were cracked and fed to us by the Charlestonians – this beautiful auburn-haired lithe elegant woman named Kathy, with the sexiest, butteriest accent – standing in front of me with a knife and opening oysters for me – full well knowing the picture she was creating and the primal pleasure of it all…

– And sparkly Lisa from Florida, who owns an apparently quite famous bakery/café in St. Augustine, the Cookery, made a five course Hungarian feast:  sweet beets with sour cream, flat herbed egg noodles for goulash, this incredible sour cream and dill cucumber salad, green beans.   And homemade, soft granola in the morning… ummm….

– The surfers.   It cracks me up to see surfers trying to surf the baby waves here, but some of these guys were actually catching some rides…. Mystifying.   Looked great in the wetsuits, too.

– The butterflies – so many of them, little animas, everywhere, fluttering right in front of our faces, fearless: bright yellow ones and tiger-striped.

– The company of women.   The comfort level – open, loving, supportive, sexy, giggly, earthy, hilarious.




As you can probably tell, I had a cosmically wonderful time, and got some seriously good teaching done.

And yet I kept getting these anxiety – not attacks, but prickles, that I was not getting any of my own work done, that any time I had a free moment, not that there were many, I’d walk on the beach or get talked into another horror movie marathon or just sit on the porch baking in the sun and staring out at the ocean.

Why do we do that to ourselves?  

I’ve been touring NON-STOP for over a month now, because of the Halloween thing and because The Harrowing came out in the U.K. in September.   It was a total, Universal gift to have a week on the beach, in such overwhelmingly beautiful circumstances.  I wasn’t slacking, I was teaching, and yet I was beating myself up that I had gotten no further on deciding my next book (that would be after the next TWO that I’m writing at the moment).

Is there not something a little crazy about that?

Well, finally I relaxed and decided I was just going to take the gift.   And maybe instead of forcing a decision on my next book, I will just listen, and see what I might be being told to write, if I just manage to stay quiet enough to hear.

So that’s my message today.   We’re given all these gifts, all the time.   Life is so abundant, and a writer’s life seemingly even more so – just magic things, all the time.   Do you take the gifts you’re given?    Doesn’t it work better that way?

19 thoughts on “Taking the gift

  1. billie

    What a beautiful post – proof of course that you DID work – every one of those moments you soaked up and enjoyed is in the "big pot" simmering, and by the time you need that next book idea, trust me, it will be right there waiting.

    I also think it’s true that when you share your talent with people so completely and genuinely, it opens you up to better work yourself.

    That I can read this and share a bit of it vicariously is evidence of the magic. 🙂

  2. Alafair Burke

    Just last night at dinner I was talking to a writer friend about the ways we try to control everything about our lives and that sometimes we need to just let go. It sounds like you had a great (and worthwhile) time. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Alafair, that’s exactly what I’m realizing, thanks for putting it that way. This obsession with control, as if we’re the ones doing all this, when we all know very well that writing comes from someplace ELSE.

    It’s funny, really.

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex

    Sounds like you’ve had a ball – I do envy you that house on the beach. And I hope your horror chick appreciates how lucky she is to have found you in the right place at the right time!

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Beautifully written, mon ami. You put me right there, on the beach, with the turtles and the Jasmine. I think I even started my period again.
    Oh, I cannot wait to be doing such things, to be living that life. It sounds like every moment of your day, every day of your life, is creative. So wonderful.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Zoe, I feel lucky to have found HER. Not just to give back what other authors have done for me, but because – well, how often do you find that kind of soul mate?

    Well, the answer to that is – often. Witness this blog….

  7. toni mcgee causey

    Alex, what a gorgeous post, and what a testament to how replenishing giving to others would be. Others above have said it better, already, but your soul was craving this, and sometimes the very best thing we can do for our writing is to take the time to immerse back into life, to experience those moments of peace and joy and beauty and friendship and just being.

  8. BCB

    I remember the first time I heard you say that, Alex. That we’re constantly being given gifts, that life is abundant with them. It was at a time when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself and I tried hard to dismiss your words. But you sounded so sure — it made me take a closer look at some things. Or maybe a wider view. I never thanked you for that, so, thank you.

    I’m very happy you were able to relax and appreciate that week of gifts. And good grief, you have not forgotten how to write. You’re just simmering right now, blending all the ingredients into a whole. Like soup. That’s a gift too.

  9. JT Ellison

    The jasmine-like smell might have been bougainvillea… it’s the fragrance of the beach to me.

    Sounds idyllic. And that swing set evokes so many images – I bet that sparks something brilliant.

  10. Cathy

    It was a fabulous week for all of us – and in case anybody’s missed it, Alex you’re a wonderful teacher.
    The class is a gift I give myself – the ocean, the softness of the air and light, the friendship and creativity, the generosity of the women (and one guy who can hang in there); time – to slow down, think through those nagging doubts and realize it was simply pointing out infinitely fixable details that will make the story so much better; time – to let the muse unfold; time – to see the story you want to tell
    My accent has been called many things; butteriest – hmmm, slow, flowing, lush; love the image
    Like I said, Alex, to life – live it abundantly


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