Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hunger Moon now available for pre-order!

Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI thrillers is now available for pre-order. Just $3.99! 

Special Agent Matthew Roarke and mass killer Cara Lindstrom return in Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers. 

College rapists better watch their backs…. 
         Out October 24, 2017 in print, ebook and audio:      Pre-order here

In the new book, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists... while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

(It's always hard to talk about this series without spoilers, so I'll save the longer synopsis for below! If you're new to the series, please read in order, starting with Huntress Moon.)

I have to say the book has probably my favorite cover ever. Ray Lundgren also designed the new Stephen King Dark Tower/Gunslinger covers and he perfectly captured the post-apocalyptic feel of this new book.

As always, you're in for a road trip: the book takes Roarke and Cara (not
together!) to the canyons of Arizona; the wealthy coastal enclave of Santa Barbara; the gorgeous campus of my alma mater, UC Berkeley; the Santa Ynez wine country; and the surreal desert wasteland of the Salton Sea.

And speaking of surreal - there's the political... roller coaster. Imagine trying to write a realistic contemporary FBI series with all of the current madness going on. (Actually, imagine how hard it is to write ANYTHING with all of the current madness going on. My publishers had to ask me if they could move the book out a month because none of the authors who had deadlines before me had gotten their books in on time. Yeah. That bad.)

So no, I haven't backed off from writing about the unreality of it all. And you'll find out what's been happening with some of the other characters while Roarke was off in the desert in Bitter Moon. It's - complicated.

Best of all, some college rapists are going to learn that no matter what complicit judges say - they're not going to get away with it any more.

--------------------------------   SPOILERS -----------------------------------------

Special Agent Matthew Roarke is back from his desert sojurn to head an FBI task force with one mission: to rid society of its worst predators. 

But when the skeletal symbols of Santa Muerte, “Lady Death,” mysteriously appear at universities nationwide, threatening death to rapists, Roarke’s team is pressured to investigate. Then a frat boy goes missing in Santa Barbara, and Roarke knows a bloodbath is coming.

Avenging angel Cara Lindstrom is in hiding in the Arizona wilderness, still on her own ruthless quest - until an old enemy comes after both her and the FBI team, forcing her back into Roarke’s orbit. This time, the huntress has become the hunted . . .

           Out October 24, 2017 in print, ebook and audio:      
Pre-order here

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Slice Girls - upcoming performances!

One fabulous and unexpected perk of being an author is that I get to use my musical and theater training constantly. 

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!).
Well, It turns out that a lot of other 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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Junowrimo Day 10: Are you stuck? Do you have a PLAN?

One third of the way through June! This is a very good time to pause (briefly) and ask yourself: 

The Protagonist's PLAN drives the entire STORY ACTION. The Central Action of the story is carrying out the specific Plan. And the CENTRAL QUESTION of the story is – “Will the Plan succeed?”

Take a favorite movie or book (or two or three) and identify the PLAN, CENTRAL STORY ACTION and CENTRAL QUESTION and them in a few sentences. Like this:

- In Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant’s PLAN is to break up Katharine Hepburn’s wedding by sending in a photographer and journalist from a tabloid, which he knows will agitate her and her whole family to the point of explosion. (So the CENTRAL ACTION of the story is using the journalists to break up the wedding, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is – Will he be able to break up the wedding?)

- In Inception the PLAN is for the team of dream burglars to go into a corporate heir’s dreams to plant the idea of breaking up his father’s corporation. (So the CENTRAL ACTION is going into the corporate heir’s dream and planting the idea, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is – Will they succeed in planting the idea and breaking up the corporation?).

- In Sense And Sensibility the PLAN is for Marianne and Elinor to secure the family’s fortune and their own happiness by marrying well. (How are they going to do that? By the period’s equivalent of dating – which is the CENTRAL ACTION. Yes, dating is a PLAN! The CENTRAL QUESTION is, Will the sisters succeed in marrying well?)

- In The Proposal, Margaret’s PLAN is to learn enough about Andrew over the four-day weekend with his family to pass the INS marriage test so she won’t be deported. (The CENTRAL ACTION is going to Alaska to meet Andrew’s family and pretending to be married while they learn enough about each other to pass the test. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: Will they be able to successfully fake the marriage?

Now, try it with your own story!

- What does the protagonist WANT? 

- How does s/he PLAN to do it? 

- What and who is standing in his or her way? 

For example, in my thriller, Book of Shadows, here's the Act One set up: the protagonist, homicide detective Adam Garrett, is called on to investigate the murder of a college girl - which looks like a Satanic killing. Garrett and his partner make a quick arrest of a classmate of the girl's, a troubled Goth musician. But Garrett is not convinced of the boy's guilt, and when a practicing witch from nearby Salem insists the boy is innocent and there have been other murders, he is compelled to investigate further.

So Garrett’s PLAN and the CENTRAL ACTION of the story is to use the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate the murder on his own, all the while knowing that she is using him for her own purposes and may well be involved in the killing. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: will they catch the killer before s/he kills again - and/or kills Garrett (if the witch turns out to be the killer)?

- What does the protagonist WANT? To catch the killer before s/he kills again.

- How does he PLAN to do it? By using the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate further.

- What’s standing in his way? His own department, the killer, and possibly the witch herself. And if the witch is right… possibly even a demon.

The PLAN, CENTRAL QUESTION and CENTRAL STORY ACTION are almost always set up – and spelled out - by the end of the first act, although the specifics of the Plan may be spelled out right after the Act I Climax at the very beginning of Act II. 

Can it be later? Well, anything’s possible, but the sooner a reader or audience understands the overall thrust of the story action, the sooner they can relax and let the story take them where it’s going to go. So much of storytelling is about you, the author, reassuring your reader or audience that you know what you’re doing, so they can relax and let you drive. 

It’s important to note that the Plan and Central Action of the story are not always driven by the protagonist. Usually, yes. But in The Matrix, it’s Neo’s mentor Morpheus who has the overall PLAN, which drives the central action right up until the end of the second act. The Plan is to recruit and train Neo, whom Morpheus believes is “The One” prophesied to destroy the Matrix. So that’s the action we see unfolding: Morpheus recruiting, deprogramming and training Neo, who is admittedly very cute, but essentially just following Morpheus’s orders for two thirds of the movie. 

Does this weaken the structure of that film? Not at all. Morpheus drives the action until that crucial point, the Act Two Climax, when he is abducted by the agents of the Matrix, at which point Neo steps into his greatness and becomes “The One” by taking over the action and making a new plan, to rescue Morpheus by sacrificing himself.

It is a terrific way to show a huge character arc: Neo stepping into his destiny. And I would add that this is a common structural pattern for mythic journey stories - in Lord of the Rings, it's Gandalf who has the PLAN and drives the reluctant Frodo in the central story action.

Here’s another example. In the very funny romantic comedy It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep’s character Jane is the protagonist, but she doesn’t drive the action or have any particular plan of her own. It’s her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), who seduces her and at the end of the first act, proposes (in a very persuasive speech) that they continue this affair as a perfect solution to both their love troubles – it will fulfill their sexual and intimacy needs without disrupting the rest of their lives. 

Jane decides at that point to go along with Jake’s plan (saying, “I forgot what a good lawyer you are.”). In terms of action, she is essentially passive, letting the two men in her life court her (which results in bigger and bigger comic entanglements), but that makes for a more pronounced and satisfying character arc when she finally takes a stand and breaks off the affair with Jake for good, so she can finally move on with her life.

I would venture to guess that most of us know what it’s like to be swept up in a ripping good love entanglement, and can sympathize with Jane’s desire just to go with the passion of it without having to make any pesky practical decisions. It’s a perfectly fine – and natural – structure for a romantic comedy, as long as at that key juncture, the protagonist has the realization and balls – or ovaries – to take control of their own life again and make a stand for what they truly want.

I give you these last two examples – hopefully - to show how helpful it can be to study the specific structure of stories that are similar to your own. As you can see from the above, the general writing rule that the protagonist drives the action may not apply to what you’re writing – and you might want to make a different choice that will better serve your own story. And that goes for any general writing rule.

ASSIGNMENT QUESTIONS: Have you identified the CENTRAL ACTION of your story? At what point in your book does the reader have a clear idea of the protagonist’s PLAN? Is it stated aloud? Can you make it more clear than it is?

And you guys, you really need to understand this. This idea of a CENTRAL STORY ACTION goes back THOUSANDS of years, to the Golden Age of Greek drama. Aristotle laid it out in the POETICS.

If you think you can fight thousands of years of dramatic structure (which is by now, I would venture to say, part of our DNA strand...) well, good for you, you rebel, you! But why make things so hard on yourself? Think about it. Thousands of years, this stuff has worked. Fight it at your peril, is all I'm saying.

- Alex


                                        STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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