Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Writing Buddy Wednesday: Alexandra Sokoloff


I'd like to welcome to the Taverna my special guest  for today - screenwriter and author, Alexandra Sokoloff. I met Alex via email when being on the committee for the RWAustralia conference on the Gold Coast this year. Alex gave a one day workshop on screenwriting tips for writers AND since she's into the supernatural thrillers, she was on the Paranormal panel that I moderated. She's good people and a very intelligent and fun person to be around.




Now over to Alex....



Eleni invited me here to do a Halloween-themed post, and of course I jumped at the chance. October is my favorite month of the year. Always has been – the wind, the lengthening shadows, that subtle chill in the air. I guess that speaks to an early taste for the dark. Is that nature or nurture, I wonder?

Writing what we do, I suspect that not only Eleni but pretty much every single darker writer of us has at some point gotten the question: “What’s a nice girl (or boy!) like you doing writing stuff like THAT?”

Well, first of all, “nice”? Um… responsible, sure. Compassionate, empathetic, thoughtful. Kind, even. But “nice” isn’t the first word that comes to my mind. Still, much as I may disagree with the word choice, I know what these nice people are trying to ask. Really I think they’re wondering about the life incidents that led us to choose this dark genre of ours (some of us darker than others….). I think that’s a fair question, and one that writers should ask themselves once in a while. The answers can be fascinating.


 For instance, I realized after finally seeing the movie Zodiac recently that the Zodiac killer was a huge early – influence? Inspiration? Impression? What I mean is, I grew up in California and even thought it was years after this guy had dropped off the map, we kids were scaring ourselves senseless by telling ourselves Zodiac stories around the fire at Girl Scout camp. He was our Boogey Man. And dozens of years later that eerie legend worked itself into my newest crime thriller, Huntress Moon.

It’s also only recently occurred to me that perhaps I like to write about ghosts because I went to a haunted high school – specifically, the grand and decrepit old auditorium where I spent most of my high school, rehearsing choir programs and plays, was supposedly haunted by a girl named Vicki who died the night of her prom back in the 20’s. Yes, I know that’s a classic urban legend, but we all believed in Vicki, and there were parts of that auditorium where you just didn’t want to go, alone or with others. Cold spots. Strange noises. Disappearing props.


But somehow it never once crossed my mind when I was writing my ghost story The Harrowing  that I was writing about a haunted school because I went to a haunted school).

Also when I was a teenager I experimented with the paranormal, as teenagers do - ESP, dream interpretation, Tarot, spending the night in graveyards, all that fun stuff, that also ended up in The Harrowing  and Book of Shadows. And you know, there's a lot more in heaven and earth, Horatio! It never ceases to fascinate me.

A lot of the blame for my chosen genre I can put squarely on my father. Dad loved horror and suspense -- books, movies, plays, anything – the house was full of mystery and horror and sci-fi classics, so early on I developed a taste for being scared senseless – possibly in self-defense. Also, my father grew up in Mexico and that country lives with spirits in a much different way than we do in the U.S. (don’t you just love this month for all of the Dia de Los Muertos art?) Dad had a passel of terrifyingly realistic ghost stories that he’d pull out around the campfire to scare us with. Come to think of it, I had a lot of campfires in my childhood…


Also, since Dad is a scientist and Russian, and attended a lot of scientific conferences that got turned into family road trips, I have early memories of us in the family station wagon being followed by the CIA because, you know, Russians were out to destroy the world at the time. All that ever happened was that they followed us around but naturally I’d spice the whole thing up in my imagination – my first attempts at thrillers. And this mixture of science and the supernatural also comes out in my books; I like to walk a very thin line between real and unreal, keeping a reader constantly guessing about whether what is going on is a real paranormal experience or a delusional psychological state, or even a con job. To that end I like to put myself in situations where other people claim to have experienced the paranormal; next week I’m going to be staying (again!) at a notorious haunted Southern mansion that I used as a setting for my poltergeist thriller The Unseen.  (I’ll have six other writer friends with me - this is NOT a place you want to stay in alone!)

I have to admit, though - to me those otherworldly experiences are never as horrifying as the evil that people can do. From the time I was a very young child I was very sensitive to the fact that there's a lot of weirdness out there, and a lot of danger from unstable people. My family did quite a bit of traveling, so along with all the good stuff - great art, ancient cultures, different mores and political beliefs - I was exposed to disturbing images and situations: poverty, desperation, oppression, madness.

I had some pretty scary experiences early on in life that made me convinced that there is actual evil out there – in the form of people who have something terribly wrong with them, who actively want to hurt and destroy. A child molester who’d been trolling the streets around my elementary school tried to grab me one afternoon when I was walking home from school. He was a small and creepy man, and even though I didn’t have any sense of what child molesting was at the time, I knew there was something wrong and dangerous about him and I ran. That was my first full-on experience of what evil looks and feels like, though certainly not my last - and it’s not something you forget or let go.

And I had friends, as we all do, who were not so lucky about escaping predators, and I’ve taught abused kids in the Los Angeles juvenile court system, and my anger about what I’ve seen has fueled a lot of my writing, especially Huntress Moon.

There’s more, of course, and once you start thinking of influences, it’s pretty fascinating how much you uncover about your motivations.

But the great, cathartic thing for me about good mysteries, thrillers, horror, suspense - is that you can work through those issues of good and evil. You can walk vicariously into those perilous situations and face your fears and - sometimes - triumph.

So, all, I wondered, for the writers out there - what kinds of experiences from real life have made you the dark, twisted souls you are? And for the readers – why do you think you seek out this dark, twisted genre?

- Alex


To celebrate Halloween I’m giving away 31 signed hardcovers of my spooky thrillers Book of Shadows and The Unseen


 (covers may be different from those shown above)


If you’re a U.S. resident, enter the drawing, by filling in this form.

And I’m sorry – the drawing is open to U.S. residents only. But all my books are available in e-versions for $2.99 and $3.99. 




~~~
Thanks, Alex!!

And yes, I've always questioned the 'nice' too

I've read both The Harrowing and Book of Shadows and LOVED them. 
You will not be disappointed folks. 



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