Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Apocalypse!

I know, I shouldn’t joke, the day is young... but apparently they all survived in New Zealand and Australia, so I’m optimistic. 
Actually this end of the world is turning out to be a lot less viral than the one with the crazy – or Really Media-Savvy - preacher last year. Maybe we just had too much lead time on the aptly named Mayan Long Count - sort of the way I feel about hurricanes as opposed to earthquakes, actually. There’s so much anticipation to a hurricane that by the time it hits, no matter how much of a disaster it really is you’re already emotionally burned out on it. Earthquakes, you get all your adrenaline rush at once.
More likely, though, we’re all too numb from our two most recent real-life end of the world tragedies, Superstorm Sandy and the Newtown massacre (that my friend Gar Haywood posted so eloquently about on Murderati this week, my feelings exactly) to be able to make light of any theoretical apocalypse. It feels like we’ve had it. 
And then there’s just the ordinary anxiety of the holidays. The first day of January is really just one day after the last day of December, so why do we put all this pressure on the END of one year and the BEGINNING of another?
A better way to look at it would be that we get to let all of the baggage of the old year go and start over fresh. Maybe some people do do that and I’m just late to that party.
I think a lot of my Christmas anxiety is because my tendency is ALWAYS to think I’m not doing enough, and the end of the year brings that out (What did you DO all year, anyway?). So today I’m going to go back over my year to remind myself I got a hell of a lot done, and even enjoyed myself doing it. (Sort of like Facebook is encouraging us all to do now with some app about our 2012 Year in Review highlights.  If someone could tell me how Facebook knows what the highlights of my year were, I’d be grateful.)
But these were my own highlights, in relative order.
- E books have been good to me. I got my backlist up; every one of my books is now available for the infinitely reasonable prices of $2.99 or $3.99, and I’m thrilled to have more control over my writing schedule, release schedule, and book pricing, not to mention a regular, understandable, and perfectly livable income.
- I launched a new series, my first direct-to-e thriller, Huntress Moon, which instantly became an Amazon bestseller in mysteries and police procedurals, and I’m thrilled to report that it made Suspense Magazine’s list of Best Books of 2012.
- Writing the series is giving me a chance to get reacquainted with all my favorite places in California, where I’m living again, though I’m still unsure if I’m going to settle in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles area. I love them both! I’m loving the research, though, and Book Two in the series, Blood Moon, will be out in late January or early February. 
- My dear friends Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak and I had a blast co-writing the next installments in our paranormal mystery series The Keepers; this time we took the series to L.A., and the new books come out in January, March and May.  
- I’ve also been teaching a film class in L.A. – basically I screen my favorite movies and talk all the way through them, raving about all the visual excellence and story structure brilliance. And they call this working! Such a scam!
This summer I was the keynote speaker at the Romance Writers of Australia National Conference on the Gold Coast, and had a wonderful time teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop and doing panels on e books and writing paranormal suspense with all those crazy Aussies.  Then my friend Elle Lothlorien and I did a wild road trip down to Sydney, driving on the wrong side of the road and leveling – I mean visiting - every beach city along the way.  Love the country, love the people, want to go back as soon as possible.

- Then I came back and put my house on the market (meaning two months of the worst kind of emotionally fraught prep), and it’s currently “under contract”, so a lot of the beginning of my 2013 is going to be house-hunting. If I can ever narrow the prospective location down from just “somewhere in the world, possibly California.”
- Throughout the year I did my usual insane conference traveling, with appearances at Left Coast Crime, Romance Writers of America National Conference, Romance Writers of Australia National Conference, the ever –inspiring Bouchercon – and I just returned from paneling, performing, and dancing the night away at Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans, my favorite conference in my favorite city, which is just as fabulous at Christmas as it is every other time of year.

(French Quarter photo with Elle Lothlorien and Chantelle Osman)

Somewhere in there I did an entire website overhaul: designed by the fabulous Madeira James of 
- I've also embraced Facebook as the virtual cocktail party it really can be. This might not sound like an accomplishment, but promotion and networking is a fact of life for authors, and to find a way to do that that feels a little like taking a break to hang out at the conference bar with witty and like-minded friends - without ever leaving my chair - is pretty damn cool, if you ask me.  
- Even though I didn’t quite get Blood Moon finished (finished in my definition of the word) for a December release - I’ve put together a boxed set of three of my spooky thrillers called Haunted. Anyone who doesn’t already have these books can now get them all for just $5.99, and give themselves or special friends nightmares for days! 

 On Amazon, $5.99

And to bring this back to the end of the world: I have a brand new anthology out this weekend: Apocalypse: Year Zero, with four end-of-the-world novellas by me and my award-winning dark fantasy friends Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, and Rhodi Hawk. We cover 9/11, tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and The Big One, as well as, in no particular order, Hollywood, sex, rage, and the Four Horsemen, who turn out to be not men at all.  
So if tomorrow you wake up, are still here, and feel cheated out of your Apocalypse, no worries - we’ve got you covered.

Okay, I bet you know the question of the day!  What were the highlights of your 2012?
Or if that's too personal, let's talk Apocalypse.  What are some of your favorite Apocalypse stories, in any media?  Yes, I am already missing The Walking Dead... and since I just got back from Australia, I'm thinkingThe Last Wave...
And don't forget - today is not just the end of the world, it's also the winter solstice, a very powerful day for manifestation. Make a wish.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New website!

Yes, there's been a lot going on backstage lately, and finally, here it is - my new website!

I’d venture to say that creating and maintaining a website is one of the bigger dreads of a professional author. You know you have to do it, but you’ll do anything to avoid it. Every couple of years you end up having to do a complete overhaul, which is a huge and stressful time suck when none of us have any time to spare, ever, anyway, and I’d bet good money that I’m not the only one who postpones it for as long as humanly possible.
But with my new series, I knew I had to bite the bullet. And I knew exactly who I wanted to hire.
David Corbett recently did a fantastic interview with the incomparable Madeira James of over on Murderati, so I didn’t want to go over the same questions.  I thought it would be interesting to write about Maddee's process of creating a website design - from the author's point of view.
Maddee asks her clients to choose 4-6 images (pulled from any number of stock photo sites), and she designs the site from those images. She recommends that the images not be specific to one particular book, as that would date the site too quickly. It’s more about the overall, encompassing feel an author wants to convey to a potential reader.
Well, that’s a brilliant and also intimidating assignment. And I’m sure Maddee gets a fair number of control freaks who are very specific about what they want (of course none of us know any of THOSE!)  
I wouldn’t dare to guess where I fall on the control freak scale – I know I have my... moments... but I think in general I’m pretty good at maintaining supreme control of my own projects but going with the flow and trusting the process when someone supremely talented is in charge, as was entirely the case here.  I really encourage you to browse through Maddee’s portfolio so you can see what I mean.  Every one of her sites is like a movie trailer: a seductive tease about a story that you just can’t wait to see. (I WISH I could see the films of some of those websites...)
Having to choosing the specific images for myself was panic-inducing, though, especially because I write so many subgenres of thriller. Five images?  Six?  How could I possibly narrow it down?
I knew I wanted to emphasize my Huntress Moon series while being general enough to give a sense of ALL of my writing. I definitely didn’t want to get too supernatural, because the Huntress series is straight crime (pretty much!) and Book of Shadows is also less overtly supernatural than my earlier novels. At the same time I did have to suggest the supernatural to encompass my other books. Also, I generally lean VERY feminine in my tastes, and Maddee does some lusciously femme designs, but I knew I had to contain myself on that front because I have a LOT of male readers who would be turned off if I let myself go that way. And I definitely didn’t want the website to give the impression that I write paranormal romance (even though I do have a couple of books out in that genre with the Keepers series),  because what I write is much darker and more ambiguous than the required HEA (happily ever after) end of any subgenre of romance.
Also, there’s the whole issue of my non-fiction, the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors books on writing. How could I suggest THAT on top of everything else I was trying to do? 
(Are you starting to see the kinds of questions you’re confronted with when you sit down to create a website design?) 
Luckily Maddee is incredibly perceptive on this front, and when we sat down to talk about the design, she instantly got what I was talking about in terms of supernatural vs. crime thriller, male vs. female, fiction vs. non-fiction. This was also easy to do because when you have the examples of a portfolio as extensive and varied as Maddee’s, it was easy to talk about the qualities of her other sites that I wanted in mine (I gave her a word list just like the word lists I’m always encouraging writing students to do: dark, dreamlike, erotic, filmic....)  I was very confident that once I came up with the images for her, she’d have all my desires and concerns in mind when she was doing the design.
That still left the problem of coming up with the images.
So I browsed and I brainstormed. Horrifying process.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a WANT IT ALL NOW kind of person, and limitation is not my idea of a good time.  But I did know four solid things: I wanted to emphasize a polarity and an erotic tension between male and female figures. I wanted the moon to figure prominently.  I wanted a strong suggestion of film, and I’m a fan of the classic LOOK of an old filmstrip. And I wanted to suggest a shattered psychological state, broken glass or a broken mirror.  So I came up with images for those four things, and a couple of others: multiple doors and a ghostlike image. 
And then I turned it all over to Maddee and waited with bated breath.  
(No, not really, but yeah, sort of). 
And she hit it out of the park on the first design:         

There are a million things I love about the site. The descending circles of moon, man, woman give me a sense that all of these entities are dreaming each other.  I can’t say enough about how much I love the fim strip with my name.  It wasn’t my idea to have my own image in the site design but I love how Maddee worked it in. The writing was also her idea and I swear, there’s writing on the moon - that’s so trippy and cool, and completely apropos. There’s gorgeous color in the site but subdued enough that I don’t think it will turn men off. The moon, the film strip and the font of my name give it a psychedelic carnival effect that makes me think of Ray Bradbury, one of my huge literary influences.
I could go on and on, and I haven’t even gotten to the clarity of the organization, which is obviously a whole separate post. But to say I’m thrilled is the understatement of the year. 
So obviously, I’d love your comments on the new website, but my actual question for the day is: What five images would YOU would choose to convey what you’re writing? Or – what are five images that convey YOU, personally?  I think it’s a powerful creative and psychological exercise. Scary and fun and illuminating.  Let’s hear it! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Huntress Moon

There's a game of blog tag going on with authors right now called the Next Big Thing,  in which authors respond to a ten question Q & A about our latest books. I've already been tagged and responded with ten answers about Huntress Moon, including a fun question on who I'd cast in a movie or TV adaptation of the series!  But this week horror author Mark Rainey tagged me again, and I do have this other blog... So here's Mark's interview on his latest chiller, Monarchs, and here's my Next Big Thing Q & A on Huntress Moon. 


1) What is the title of your newest or next book?

Huntress MoonThe next is book two in the series, Blood Moon.

And I just found out this morning that Huntress Moon is one of Suspense Magazine's picks for Best Books of 2012!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came to me at the San Francisco Bouchercon, always the most inspiring of the mystery conferences for me. One afternoon there were two back-to-back discussions with several of my favorite authors: Val McDermid interviewing Denise Mina, then Robert Crais interviewing Lee Child.  (Can you even imagine...?)

There was a lot of priceless stuff in those two hours, but two things that really struck me from the McDermid/Mina chat were Val saying that crime fiction is the best way to explore societal issues, and Denise saying that she finds powerful inspiration in writing about what makes her angry. 

Write about what makes you angry? It doesn’t take me a millisecond’s thought to make my list. Child sexual abuse is the top, no contest. Violence against women and children. Human trafficking. Discrimination of any kind. Religious intolerance. War crimes. Genocide. Torture.

That anger has fueled a lot of my books and scripts over the years.

And then right after that, there was Lee Child talking about Reacher, one of my favorite fictional characters, and it got me thinking about what it would look like if a woman were doing what Reacher was doing.  And that was it - instantly I had the whole story of Huntress Moon.

Because of course I’ve been brooding about all of this for decades, now. I've always thought that as writers we're only working with a handful of themes, which we explore over and over, in different variations. And I think it's really useful to be very conscious of those themes. Not only do they fuel our writing, they also brand us as writers.

With the Huntress series I finally have an umbrella to explore, dramatically, over multiple books, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s never just one for me! Psychological thriller, police procedural, hard-boiled mystery.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Because I've worked as a screenwriter I approach casting in both an ideal and a practical sense; I've got a pretty good idea about how it really happens. So I've qualified some of my choices below and provided many options, you absolutely can't get tied to one person.

I always see Kyle Chandler as Special Agent Roarke, but practically that wouldn’t happen. Maybe for a TV series.  If Russell Crowe were even remotely interested I'd die happy. And Christian Bale would work just fine!

Such a dearth of American leading men, and even fewer who can get a movie made! Ryan Gosling is too young but would be just about old enough by the time the movie actually went into production, and I think he's brilliant.

Then there's Viggo Mortenson, if I made both lead characters older. And who wouldn't do whatever it takes for Viggo!

I’m a longtime fan of Norman Reedus, which also would probably be more likely for TV. (He looks younger than he actually is!) . And speaking of The Walking Dead: David Morrissey? Yes, please.


If it’s a movie, Keira Knightly or Mila Kunis would be superb for the Huntress.


I would gladly rewrite the character as a little older for Milla Jovovich or Charlize Theron.


On the TV front, I've been impressed with Lauren Cohan and Summer Glau. 

And I am so hoping that Lindsay Lohan gets herself together and goes on to be the brilliant star she clearly could be. People forget or just don't know how many of our most beloved actors fell just as far as she has before they got a second chance from people in the industry who understand very well about demons and the perils of a too-early stardom.  I think she'd be great.

And Special Agent Epps – okay, I know what I just said about not getting tied to one ideal actor, but here there's no contest. I wrote him with Idris Elba in mind. Constantly. Did I mention how much I love my job?

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A driven FBI agent is on the hunt for that most rare of killers... a female serial.

6) Is your book self-published or traditionally published?


7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It felt like forever! I started it two years ago, and maybe I actually got to a first draft back then, but then I had a whole lot of life - and death - intervene. I picked it back up at the beginning of this year and powered down and finished it.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

People who review it compare it to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Dexter - and the TV shows Criminal Minds and CSI and Luther, but I've always thought of the Huntress as a female Reacher. Only crazier. And the structure is definitely like The Fugitive.  But with a woman. Which means a hell of a lot more erotic tension.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See # 2 above!

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

I wrote it about a female serial killer – when arguably, using the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit's definition of sexual homicide, there’s never been any such thing. I wanted to explore that very point as a social and psychological issue, and that’s one of the tensions of the book. Is she a serial killer or not? What is she doing, really?

Also, it’s very clear that the vast majority of readers end up strongly sympathizing with, and empathizing with, or even falling in love with the killer, and most of them are surprised by that.

Also, if you've ever fallen for someone who is just wrong in every way and still irresistible... well, you might relate.

My question to all you guys is a fun one today. Who would YOU cast in the book you're working on, or in your favorite book?  (You don't have to be as practical as I was, above, just go for it!)

- Alex

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holidays in the Dark

Well, the holiday season has started - I'm just waiting for the Black Friday death toll numbers to post.

You're not going to catch me out there shopping. Instead I thought I'd blog a little about holiday books.

It’s a little strange for me to think of myself as a holiday writer,  first because my own family is so exceedingly casual about holidays. The actual date means very little; as long as we celebrate within a month or so of the day, it counts.  A typical Christmas for us has traditionally been munching down avocado and turkey sandwiches while reading the (now sadly defunct) Weekly World News (Bat Boy! Alien Spawn!) aloud around the table, and ending the evening with an Absolutely Fabulous or Fawlty Towers marathon.

And since I cross mystery, thriller and supernatural, and my books fall very much on the darker side, I’m not the first person you would think to put in that cheery holiday category, either.

But then, I don’t write cheery holiday stories. True to form, my take on the holidays is a little, well, warped. And yet holidays figure prominently in almost everything I write. I’m not trying to be outrĂ© about it, honestly, it’s just that there’s so much more to most holidays than the “Good tidings to all”, overcommercialized surface we usually get.

The truth is, holidays are like candy for a supernatural author because they are so metaphorical and simply dripping with thematic and visual imagery.  You don’t have to work half as hard to create an atmosphere because the imagery and meaning have been there for thousands of years – it’s all imprinted on our unconscious.

My first novel, THE HARROWING, takes place over a long Thanksgiving weekend.  It’s an anti-Thanksgiving weekend, really: five troubled students at an isolated college have decided to stay in their creepy old Victorian dorm over the holiday break because they don’t want to go home to their dysfunctional families.

While I have to say up front I have a great time at Thanksgiving NOW, in the past it’s always been an anxious time of year for me.  Any holiday revolving around food (and what holiday doesn’t?) is fraught with tension because, to be perfectly blunt, I was a dancer, with all the attendant food issues.  I also have this theory that Thanksgiving became a major holiday mostly to give married couples a way to split up their annual holiday visits between the two different sets of in-laws. 
Take that familial power struggle, add football and drinking and the necessity of someone, meaning the women, being chained to an oven for a  good two or three days - and the potential for disaster is I believe higher than average.

But that makes Thanksgiving an almost perfect holiday for me, in a genre sense.

I write (and read) supernatural stories with a strong psychological component, so I’m always on the lookout for psychological crucibles.  The premise of THE HARROWING is that five lonely and troubled college students combine to attract an equally troubled spirit, and I wanted to create an atmosphere that was so tense that whatever haunting was  taking place might be explained simply as the collective neurosis of the young characters.  Thanksgiving instantly provided all the gloom, bad weather, abandonment and anxiety I could possibly hope to cram into a concentrated time period.

And it’s a completely realistic situation right from the start:  students do stay at college over the holidays, they usually do so  because they don’t WANT to go home, and there is nothing on earth spookier than a deserted campus. Perfect for a ghost story.

But on the warmer side – the story is also very much about completely disparate people coming together as a true family, the first real family any of them have ever had, and Thanksgiving is a perfect setting for that theme, as well.

I’m sorry to say that in my second novel, THE PRICE, I may have  corrupted the happy holiday ideal even further. THE PRICE is set in a labyrinthine Boston hospital, where someone who may or may not be the devil is walking the wards, making= deals with the patients and their families.   Because I figure, if there is such a thing as the devil, and if what he wants is human souls, then trolling in a children’s hospital would be like shooting fish in a barrel. What wouldn’t you do if your child was dying?

In THE PRICE the featured holiday is Easter, and of course a key theme is resurrection.   Idealistic Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan is the golden son of a political family, with a stellar reputation, a beautiful and devoted wife, Joanna, and an adorable five-year-old daughter, Sydney.  Will also has a real shot in the Massachusetts  governor’s race… until Sydney is diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor.  Now Will and Joanna are living in the twilight world of Briarwood Medical Center, waiting for their baby to die, and going out of their minds with grief.   But around them, patients are recovering  against all odds, and the recoveries seem to revolve around a mysterious hospital counselor who takes a special interest in Will and his family.

Then one terrible night Sydney is rushed into emergency surgery and is not expected to survive… but instead almost overnight she goes into remission.  Except that Will doubts this miraculous recovery, and must race to uncover the truth in order to save his family.

Easter is the season of miracles, and perfect for the story, which goes from the bleak, cold, stark hopeless dead of winter (in Boston!  The very thought strikes terror into my Southern California soul…) to warm, lush, colorful, abundant spring when Sydney miraculously starts to recover (and believe me, the one actual winter I ever spent on the East Coast, it really was a miracle to see spring arrive seemingly overnight).  The themes of sacrifice for love, redemption through suffering, salvation, return from the dead, and above all, what we are truly willing to do for those we love - are all part of the deep mythos of Easter.   It’s also easy to get your main characters into church (those gorgeous Boston cathedrals…) where certain moral and thematic  issues can be played out, and the idea of the devil in the flesh – or perhaps just in the main characters’ minds – does not seem so far-fetched.

As an added bonus, Easter is an incredibly visually rich holiday to mine when one of your main characters is five years old.   Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, fluffy flowery dresses… the latent set designer in me just had a great time with that one.

And to further stand the idea of happy holidays on its (their?) head… or maybe I mean take it back to the source, my police procedural BOOK OF SHADOWS revolves around pagan holidays (that is, literally, Holy Days):  the Summer Solstice, Lammas, Mabon.  Good grief, I can’t even do Halloween in the traditional sense… it’s got to be Samhain.

But I guess that’s my point, here.  Holidays are so much more than  tinsel and glass balls and getting trampled to death at WalMart to the canned soundtrack of holiday music that malls and radio stations and elevators and grocery stores bombard us with relentlessly (now starting Christmas carols before Thankgsiving, please someone just kill me). There are layers of meaning to every holiday that resonate to the very core of human existence. And it’s all there for every author to explore and every reader to experience.

Give me the off-beat holidays, any day.

Wishing a profound, mythic, and non-fatal holiday season to one and all.


Five troubled college students left alone on their isolated campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a mysterious presence... that may or may not be real.
Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award (horror) and Anthony Award (mystery) for Best First Novel.
“Absolutely gripping...It is easy to imagine this as a film. Once started, you won’t want to stop reading.”
--London Times
Amazon/Kindle : $2.99
Nook: $2.99
Amazon UK (paperback/e book from Little, Brown)  Amazon DE Amazon ES Amazon FR 

An ambitious Boston homicide detective must team with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem in a race to solve a satanic killing.  

All e books,  $3.99

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

What would you give to save your child? Your wife? Your soul?

A Boston District Attorney suspects his wife has made a terrible bargain to save the life of their dying child.

All e books $2.99

"A heartbreakingly eerie page-turner." - Library Journal