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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New blog!

So I'm not just getting a whole new website, I'm starting a whole new blog.

Some people would say this is crazy, to have two separate blogs as well as my group blog,, and all the Facebooking and Twittering I do.

Well, I'm not going to argue with them!  But I've been feeling for a while now that I needed to split off a more personal blog from the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog I do on story structure. I'd rather keep that blog just for writing techniques, and have another blog where I can be more personal about my writing process and even some non-writing related stuff, if there actually is such a thing.  Maybe I'm thinking it's cleaner, or maybe I'm a Pisces and always end up pulled in two different directions.  Or, right, it's just crazy.

Either way, here I am, and here you are. We'll just see what happens.

Could be great.

- Alex

Tuesday, November 20, 2012



Long before I really committed to writing, I was a theater kid: acting and writing and directing, first in my best friend's garage, where instead of selling lemonade we charged our neighbors a dollar to endure our theatrical extravaganzas; then moving on to community theater and school productions: singing, dancing, playing classical piano.

(Photo: Chynna Skye Pozzessere, Harley Jane Kozak, Alexandra Sokoloff: Vampires of the Wild, Wild West.)
I directed my first play at age 16, directed and choreographed full-scale, big-budget musicals in college, sang in various girl groups and seedy bars, acted in (and co-wrote) improvisational and street theater in Berkeley, and I've even danced professionally (no, not THAT kind of dance!).
One fabulous and unexpected perk of being an author is that I get to use my musical and theater training constantly. It turns out that a lot of authors are hams. Um... I mean... just as talented in other arts as they are in writing.
Here are a couple of the things I do these days in my "spare time":

The Slice Girls

My partner, crime author Craig Robertson, is one of the organizers of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, and every year Bloody Scotland hosts a sold-out event, Crime at the Coo, where readers can get locked in to a pub with the attending authors and get serenaded all night long.

I said that writers are hams, but the sad truth is that at crime festivals the musical performances tend to be testosterone-heavy. So I decided to counter that by forming an all-female all-author singing group. Here are The Slice Girls - me, Steph Broadribb, AK Benedict, Louise Voss, Susi Holliday, and Harley Jane Kozak (at the House of Blues, New Orleans). We're also often joined by Lucy Ribchester and Kati Hiekkapelto, depending on who's at what festival! At our first Crime at the Coo we got up on the bar to do the Cellblock Tango from Chicago, and we've been singing at conferences and festivals ever since.

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Review of the Slice Girls in the Independent

The Slush Pile Players

The staggeringly talented, bestselling author Heather Graham also comes straight out of theater, and she's pulled together an all-author theater troupe that performs an original comic musical revue every year at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention; at Heather's Writers for New Orleans; and other cons, such as the Horror Writers' Association Stoker Weekend.
Heather has a hypnotic gift for pulling recovering theater, film, and garage-band authors into her evil web, and the result is her gypsy theater troupe The Slush Pile Players, which includes authors F. Paul WilsonHarley Jane KozakBeth CiottaMary Stella, Debbie Richardson, Dave Simms, and Nathan Walpow, publisher/author Helen Rosburg and editor Ali De Gray of Medallion Press, actors/directors/writers Lance Taubold and Rich Devlin, and Heather's numerous and multitalented progeny: Jason, Derek, Bryee Annan, Shayne and Chynna Pozzessere.
It's truly a gift to be part of this theatrical family.

The Killer Thriller Band

The Killer Thriller Band, produced by Robert S. Levinson, and made up entirely of thriller writers, had a smash debut at ThrillerFest in Phoenix, July 2006. 

The band is John Lescroart, F. Paul Wilson, Dave Simms, Scott Nicholson,David Morrell, Blake Crouch, Nathan Walpow, Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer,Gayle Lynds, and the Killerettes: Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, and Alexandra Sokoloff. 
 Photo: Producer Bob Levinson and the Killerettes.

In the News

Killer Thriller band rehearsal: (L-R) Scott Nicholson with bass; F. Paul Wilson on drums; John Lescroart with acoustic guitar; Killerettes Alexandra Sokoloff, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak; David Simms on guitar. 

From left, "Killerettes" Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, Alexandra Sokoloff; Band members Scott Nicholson, John Lescroart, Daniel Palmer, David Morrell, Blake Crouch, Dave Simms, Michael Palmer. Band members out of view: Gayle Lynds, Nathan Walpow, F. Paul Wilson.


These days members of the Killer Thriller Band have merged with The Slush Pile Players and are performing at conferences all over the country and the UK as Slushpile.  Here's Slushpile at The House of Blues, during Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland.  With Heather Graham, Greg Varricchio, F. Paul Wilson, Alexandra Sokoloff, Dave Simms, Matthew Dow Smith.