Thursday, January 24, 2013

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

I have witches on the brain this week. First, I'm breaking down The Wizard of Oz with my film class, and am blogging about it on my Screenwriting Tricks blog

Then my Llewellyn's Witch's Datebook came this week. Very exciting, especially since I need to track the progression of the moon very closely to figure the exact chronology of the events in Blood Moon. I also love knowing the color of every day, and browsing through the other cool Craft tips and tricks.

Now, I’m not a witch. Really. Not really. No more than any woman is a witch.
ShadowsSMYes, my thriller Book of Shadows is about a cynical Boston cop who teams up with a mysterious Salem witch to solve what looks like a Satanic murder. And naturally ever since it came out people have assumed I’m a witch (that’s with a "w"). Oh, the interviewers don’t come right out and say it, but you know that’s what they’re asking,
The fact is, every time you write a book everyone always assumes it’s about you. Few people get that most times when you write a book, it’s about getting OUT of yourself. Just like reading is, right?
But I can’t deny that writing Book of Shadows was a really excellent opportunity for me to indulge some of my witchier nature. I wanted to dive right in and explore some of those things that make some men – and a lot of women – uncomfortable with feminine power, and feminine energy, and feminine sexuality, and feminine deity.

And I’ve been working up to this book for quite a while. I’ve been around practicing witches most of my life. That’s what happens when you grow up in California, especially Berkeley. Actually the Berkeley part pretty much explains why I write supernatural to begin with, but that’s another post. Those of you who have visited Berkeley know that Telegraph Avenue, the famous drag that ends at the Berkeley campus, is a gauntlet of clothing and craft vendors, artists, and fortune tellers, forever fixed in the sixties. Well, look a little closer, and you’ll see just how many pagans, Wiccans, and witches there actually are.

I’ve walked that gauntlet thousands of times in my life. It does something to your psyche, I’m telling you.

There was also the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where I spent many springtime days in my interestingly misspent youth. Renaissance Faires are teeming with witches (check out the Fortune Tellers’ Grove next time if you don’t believe me).

So even though I don’t actually practice, not in an organized covenish kind of way, I’ve been to a ceremony or two, and you could say I’ve been researching this book for quite some time. In fact, I think I’ve known I was going to write this book ever since I first saw a "Calling of The Corners," a Craft ceremony which is one of the ritual scenes I depict in Book of Shadows. It’s one of the most extraordinary spiritual experiences I've ever had -- such elemental, feminine power.

And in everyday life, there some things that are just useful to know about the Craft.
I’m not much for spells, I’m more of a meditator. But when I had to kick my evil tenants out of my rental house? A cleaning service was just not enough. You better believe that the second the locksmith was done changing the locks, I was down at the witch supply store, buying black and white candles (for protection and cleansing), and sage (smudge it for purification). I opened every window and swept the whole house widdershins (to the left, to dismiss) with a new broom dipped in salt and rosemary to dispel all lingering energy. Ritual works, and it doesn’t really matter what accoutrements you use; it’s really about the intention: in this case to cleanse, heal, and start over fresh.

Another concept of the Craft that I’ve always found particularly useful is Maiden, Mother, Crone. Those are the three aspects of the Goddess, and also the three phases of the moon, corresponding colors white, red and black. They represent the three cycles of a woman’s life – youth, womanhood and age – but women also pass through all three aspects every month when they’re menstruating, and knowing that has saved my life (and the lives of many of those around me) many a time.

The time right after your period is Maiden: you have a rush of estrogen, so you’re glowing, you’ve just dropped all that water weight, you have a ton of energy, and you’re – well, up for it. And men can sense it.  Best time to snag a partner, although your choices might not be exactly the best in this most optimistic phase of the cycle.

The Mother (also called Queen) phase of the month is around ovulation. You’re powerful, grounded, and can get a lot done, especially creatively, because of the pregnancy connotations. It’s a sexy time in a different way than Maiden, because there’s the extra knowledge that yes, you really can get pregnant right now.

The Crone phase is raging PMS and the "death" that a period often feels like. Wise people know to avoid you at this time unless they want a faceful of truth, and I try not to schedule meetings, especially with men, when I’m in this phase. Best for me to be solitary and contemplative. And contain the damage.

But the things that come out of your mouth during this phase are the deep truth, even if they’re not pleasant, and if you remember to breathe, put the knife down, and pay attention to what you’re feeling and saying, you can learn a lot about your life and what you really need to be doing. Also your dreams will tend to be the most powerful, vivid, and significant in this phase. I know mine are.

I appreciate the earth/nature centeredness of the Craft. I like to be aware of whether the moon is waxing or waning, and focus on bringing things into my life during the waxing, and letting go of things (or people!) in the waning. And I like knowing that there is extra power and magic at the Solstices and Equinoxes; that knowledge makes me stop at least four times a year to consider what I really want to manifest in my life.

Let’s face it: I also like the clothes. With my hair, I’ll never be able to pull off the tailored look. I love lace and fishnets and velvet and sparkles and corsets and big jewelry. I love the candles and the scents and that every day has its own color (today is crimson, if you’re wondering).
And there is another aspect of the Craft that has been truly important to me, spiritually. It’s about balance. I have never, ever bought the idea that God is male. It runs contrary to my entire experience of reality. I love you guys, really I do, but you’re only half the equation. I can’t see how an ultimate power could be anything but BOTH male and female. So the notion of a Goddess, in all Her forms, to me, completes the equation.

And a Supreme Being who likes velvet and fishnets? Even better.

So what’s your take on witches? Are you familiar with the way witchcraft is actually practiced, or is that whole world completely mysterious to you? Or do you do the odd spell or two yourself?
- Alex

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New boxed set: HAUNTED

I’ve put together a boxed set of three of my spooky thrillers called Haunted. It contains the full texts of The Harrowing, The Unseen, and Book of Shadows. 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!  It's a great deal on the books, and they're all in one place on your e reader (which in itself is a reason I find myself buying more and more boxed sets).  

A haunted dormitory. A haunted mansion. A haunted woman.

Three unforgettable tales of terror.    $5.99 on Amazon


The Harrowing

Five troubled students left alone on their isolated college campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a malevolent presence – that may or may not be real.

“Absolutely gripping...It is easy to imagine this as a film. Once started, you won’t want to stop reading.” -- London Times

Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award (horror) and Anthony Award (mystery) for Best First Novel.

Watch the book trailer:


Book of Shadows

An ambitious Boston homicide detective must join forces with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem to solve a series of Satanic killings.

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


The Unseen

A team of research psychologists and two psychically gifted students move into an abandoned Southern mansion to duplicate a controversial poltergeist experiment, unaware that the entire original research team ended up insane... or dead.
Inspired by the real-life paranormal studies conducted by the world-famous Rhine parapsychology lab at Duke University.

"This spine-tingling story has every indication of becoming a horror classic... a chillingly dark look into the unknown."  -- Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars

All three books also available separately in print and e book format.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Apocalypse: Year Zero

I have a brand new anthology out this month: Apocalypse: Year Zero, with four end-of-the-world novellas by me and my award-winning dark fantasy friends Sarah LanganSarah Pinborough, and Rhodi Hawk. We range through 9/11, tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and Southern California's hypothetical 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 like so many people you feel a little let down by last month's non-Apocalypse, no worries - we’ve got you covered!)


                                                Apocalypse: Year Zero

* A cynical New York commodities broker on the eve of her wedding

* A British advertising executive on vacation with her husband in Thailand
* A troubled New Orleans pharmacy student caretaking her even more troubled little sister
* A Hollywood D-Girl cracking under the strain of her surreal life

Each of these very different women finds herself in the middle of an apocalyptic disaster: the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the tsunami in Thailand, Hurricane Katrina, and Southern California's dreaded "Big One." Each survives the ordeal with great personal loss: the death of loved ones, disfigurement, mental collapse. But each also finds herself in sudden possession of mysterious powers of Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

As the women are inexorably drawn together, their powers increase, but they quickly realize those powers can be used for evil as well as for good.

And with the signs of a coming Armageddon building around them, the women start to wonder...

What if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren't men at all?


The fiction of acclaimed dark fantasy/supernatural thriller/horror authors Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, Rhodi Hawk and Alexandra Sokoloff has garnered three Bram Stoker Awards, three Black Quill Awards, two British Fantasy Awards, two American Library Association Awards, an International Thriller Writers Award, starred Publisher’s Weekly reviews, and several nominations from venues such as the Anthony Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. Their novels have been translated into numerous languages and optioned for film; they have also written for film and television.


Apocalypse is something that my very good friends Sarah, Sarah, Rhodi and I have been cooking up ever since we were first thrown together on a panel at the World Horror Conference in Toronto. Women are scarce in the horror genre and we have a very different take on the genre than men do. Women have to live with horror on a much more intimate, daily basis than most men (in non-warring countries) will ever have to, and I think that intimacy is reflected in our writing. 
The four of us bonded immediately, and have enjoyed each other's company whenever we can ever since. We've appeared together at different conferences and bookstore and library signings and panels, and Sarah L., Rhodi and I had the immense fun of doing a mini tour together through the Southwest (you can watch the three of us on a Poisoned Pen panel here).

In a promotional sense, teaming up with other authors this way can be really productive. It's more cost-effective and a hell of a lot more fun to tour together. And - especially for women writing in a male-dominated genre - I think it's been helpful for us to share the limelight. At the end of this blog I've included some excerpts of what the American Library Association has to say about us in its Readers' Advisory Guide - if you take a look, I think you can see the practical effects of that limelight. 

It was pretty inevitable that we'd decide to collaborate. Apocalypse was conceived first as a graphic novel, but it turns out that the best way to protect your underlying rights to a graphic novel is to start with a book, first.  But writing a novel with three other people who have, you know, actual LIVES, is a daunting task, so what we did instead was create an umbrella story that would give us a format to write four separate but related novellas, each exploring the origins of four main characters, urban fantasy antiheroines who are forced into superheroine status through four apocalyptic disasters that have personal significance to each of us.

While we were writing, though, the publishing industry sort of - imploded - and  I convinced the others that we could very probably do better for this collection by e publishing it. Also, this way, our rights are completely unencumbered if we do decide to do a graphic novel.

Just another example of how e publishing is opening new options up for authors and our readers!

So if you're looking around for something harrowing to read while you wait for the next season of The Walking Dead, I hope you'll give Apocalypse a try.

Happy New Year, or Year Zero!

From The American Library Association's Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror:  

Ladies of the Night

Horror is still a widely male-dominated world, but that does not mean there aren't good female writers producing top-notch horror, namely Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff and... Sarah Pinborough. What unites these women is more than their gender; they are all known for creating entertaining, terror-inducing novels, but with a lighter touch. The horror here is quiet. There can be gruesome scenes, but it is the creation of the unsettling atmosphere that rules the works of these women.