We welcome author Alexandra Sokoloff to The Book Nympho! I first met Alexandra over a year ago when her book, Huntress Moon, was selected as a group read in the Shelfari Mystery & Suspense group. It was a huge hit and Alexandra participated in a discussion with our group. The second book in this series is (finally) available and she's here to talk with us.
Hello and welcome to The Book Nympho, Alexandra! I'm anxious to talk about your book but first want to learn about you personally so let's get started. Your father is a scientist. What was his area of focus and how did this influence your educational and career choices?
- Thanks so much for having me! Who could resist a blog name like that - and your always great questions! My father was a biologist and geneticist, my mother a teacher of mentally gifted and talented children. I guess my parents influenced my career choices by driving me to the complete opposite side of the spectrum: musical theater, dance, and then screenwriting and novel writing. But both my parents are very analytical thinkers, which truly helps with plotting, especially the kinds of complications you need in thrillers and mysteries. And their emphasis on travel and a very broad range of cultural experiences was a fantastic education for writing.
I can see both influences. I've heard so many interesting stories from others who attended UC at Berkeley. What was your most interesting or unusual experience? How do you feel the school may have shaped you in ways other schools may not have?
- Trying to get me arrested, are you? You know, Berkeley was one continuous fascinating and unusual experience. Such a great, vital political, intellectual and musical history. So many brilliant, open minds and exceptional talents. I loved every minute of it... but some of my favorite experiences were the street theater pieces I did with friends – the kind of thing that you now see these days on YouTube under “flash mob.” Theater that hits you when you least expect it, that is such a rush, I think!
Since you majored in theater, did you at one time (or still) have Broadway aspirations? Have you been involved in any major productions since graduation?
- Now that you mention it, I guess I did have Broadway aspirations when I was in high school. But I knew I was really a better dancer than an actress, so I wasn’t really thinking of acting as a viable living. I was already writing by the time I was sixteen. Then I did so much improvisational theater in college and after that I wasn’t that interested in doing Broadway shows. And it wasn’t long after graduating from college that I decided that film writing was the best way for me to make a living at writing, so that was the end of the theater road. But I do get to act (I use the term loosely) on a regular basis with bestselling author Heather Graham’s all-author Slushpile players – we do what I guess you could call musical comedy at various conventions. Huge fun!
I can see you doing that! You really seem to embrace every aspect of the arts and embody it in what you do. What's brought you the greatest joy?
- Dance brings me the greatest joy, it’s an instant ecstatic high. But writing books brings me the deepest satisfaction. Screenwriting brought me the most psychotic rage.
You're not the first I've heard say something similar about screenwriting:) What set you on a writing course? Any reason why you decided to focus on mystery/suspense/horror?
- I started out as an actress in musical theater when I was just a kid. But I very quickly became more interested in the big picture of telling stories. I started directing when I was sixteen. Writing was a natural progression from there. As for my genre focus - although I performed in musicals, I always read much more in the darker genres. I love anything suspenseful and twisty!
How has your experience in the arts influenced your writing?
- Oh, I could never write if I hadn’t done theater and danced as much as I have. Live performance teaches you how to tell a story on a very visceral level. You get instant feedback about what works and what doesn’t. You learn EVERYTHING – plot, character, emotion, timing, suspense, comedy, theme, spectacle. And I think that also particularly translates to a very sensory quality in my writing. I can create suspense and scares as well as I do because of all the live performance. I know what it makes to make people jump!
I can attest to that! You also do screenwriting and adapt novels for film. I imagine that the writing styles are very different from crafting a novel. Does it help or create issues for you when you're writing your books?
- Actually the storytelling aspects of film and novel writing are exactly the same. When I write a book, I think about putting a movie into the reader’s head. I call it “directing onto the page.” The thing that I had to learn that is different in a novel is narrative voice. But film has voice, too – it’s just the most different aspect in terms of the two media.
Tell us about your first book, The Harrowing. What was your motivation in writing it...where did the idea for the storyline come from?
- The Harrowing is a ghost story (or maybe not!) set on an isolated college campus. Five troubled students stay in their spooky old dorm over the long Thanksgiving break, and as they bond, they seem to attract an equally troubled spirit. I had originally written The Harrowing as a script, and we had gotten my top choice for director attached, but as usually happens in Hollywood, he was attached to several movies at once and one of the others got financed first. I was so heartbroken I didn’t want to start over with a new director so I wrote the story as a novel instead. Luckily the book sold right away and I’ve never looked back – writing books is SO much more satisfying than screenwriting! The inspiration for the story – well, I was the kind of teenager who experimented with the paranormal a lot – Ouija boards, Tarot cards, séances in cemeteries, that kind of thing. And when I was sixteen I had what you might classify as a poltertgeist experience, that really made me wonder about whether supernatural phenomena are real or could possibly be evoked by a borderline mental illness, or just the rampant hormones of teenagers. The Harrowing explores those issues in the form of a mystery/thriller.
All of your books to date have some paranormal aspect. Is this a space you plan to continue in?
- I like where I am now with the paranormal aspect in the Huntress series – that is, you can believe there’s something paranormal if you want to, but you can also chalk up any weirdness to just strange life coincidences and the Huntress’s shattered mental state. It’s really more metaphysical than paranormal, I think.
You've written three other standalone novels, also paranormal mysteries. What would you like to share about them?
- My standalones are supernatural thrillers: The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, and Book of Shadows. And you could also count my very edgy dark YA, The Space Between. I like to cross mystery, crime, thriller and a bit of the occult, so that a reader is always guessing whether what is happening is supernatural or maybe a prank or a con or drugs or a fragmented mental state. I’m told all the books are very spooky and nail-biting without being gory or exploitive. I like to depict paranormal experiences as they actually occur, pretty realistically. I don’t write creatures, except for in the paranormal mystery series I write with Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozak: The Keepers and The Keepers L.A. Those are much lighter than my thrillers, and have all kinds of paranormal species in them. They’re more like the musicals I used to do, actually.
Huntress Moon, the first book in your The Huntress/FBI series, was the first book I've ever read that combined a traditional FBI mystery with paranormal elements. It ended with so many issues unresolved and our group went off the boards with speculation. Were you already certain of the storyline at that point?
- I knew the basic plot for Blood Moon by the time your group was reading Huntress Moon, but a lot of things changed during the writing. Your group notes and discussion really helped clarify how I felt about where the story should go. Thank you! And then the characters always have their own ideas, of course…
Well, we just responded to a pretty compelling story! FBI agent Matthew (Matt) Roarke is one of the main characters in the series. What do you think is important for us to know about him? Who have you modeled him after or is he a complete figment of your imagination?
- You always ask questions that make me think. Honestly it’s always hard to say where a character comes from. But I tend to write books with equal male and female characters who are two halves of a whole. I knew who the Huntress was first, because she drives the stories. She’s the criminal, so as in most police procedurals, she acts, and the law enforcement characters react. So for the love story, if you can call it that, Roarke had to be someone who was the male half of her, in his way. And they are also two halves of a crime-fighting whole, in a twisted way. But that’s being analytical in a way that is a little simplistic!
That is exactly how they both are coming across! We were very conflicted by the Huntress character (name withheld purposely). Were you deliberately hoping your readers would have a tough time with their feelings about her? Is there a specific point you're trying to make?
- Thanks for no spoilers!! Oh, yes, the ambiguity of readers’ feelings is one of the best things about this series! I love getting the emails from readers about how they are struggling with what they want to have happen. And I get surprising interpretations of what she’s doing and why. It’s fantastic. I am not trying to make a specific point; I want to encourage thought about good and evil, justice and retribution. But of course all of these questions become more interesting when it’s a woman who is doing what the Huntress is doing. You just don’t see it that often, and it’s easier to justify and excuse, even.
I'm definitely conflicted:) In both of the stories, there's a suggestion that we may have a special sense, something more than a sixth sense, more like an ability to detect the spirits of others, especially if it's dark or malevolent. Am I making this up or is this what you were hoping your readers would capture?
- You are right on the money, as usual. I truly believe that we have very sharp instincts about danger and evil. And of course, good and light! When I was probably nine years old, I was walking home from school and I was approached by a child molester who had been preying on other children in the neighborhood. I had an instant sense of not-rightness about this man, and I ran from him. Was that psychic, or just an innate human survival instinct? I believe we know more than we give ourselves credit for, and that that sense can be developed, as the Huntress has.
Agents Roarke and Epps had a symbiotic rhythm in the first book that seems to be disrupted in Blood Moon. Perhaps Epps is grounding Roarke or is this the beginning of a different relationship between them?
- Personally I feel that Epps is Roarke's friend, yes, but also symbolically Roarke's conscience. Epps is not very happy with Roarke in Book 2. And he shouldn't be. More to come in Book 3, believe me! Epps of course has his own life that Roarke is oblivious to. Also to come in Book 3!!!
So you DO have plans for more books in this series! YES!
- There is absolutely a Book Three, I’m writing it now. Lots more trouble ahead for Roarke…
What's next for you? Do you have plans for any other stories to develop?
- I’m hoping I can just concentrate on Book 3 of the Huntress series and get that out as soon as possible. There may be a fourth Huntress thriller after that, I don’t know yet! And I’m sure during the writing some completely other book idea will come up. There are always several stories cooking back there in my head. One of them right now is so dark I’m afraid to go there…
Alexandra, thank you for agreeing to join us today. It's been a pleasure and I think you're fascinating. Blood Moon was just released last month and is now available on Amazon.
I'll let you have the last word to share with our followers.
Well, I think you’re fascinating, too! I’m just thrilled that the series is attracting thoughtful readers like you and the Shelfari Mystery/Suspense group. It makes the writing such a multidimensional experience! I really appreciate the chance to talk about the books.
Alexandra Sokoloff is a California native and the daughter of scientist and educator parents, which drove her into musical theater at an early age.
At UC Berkeley (a paranormal experience all on its own) she majored in theater and minored in everything that Berkeley has a reputation for. She wrote, directed and acted in productions from Shakespeare to street theater; trained in modern dance; directed and choreographed four full-scale musicals; spent a summer singing in a Montana bar; and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, which is a miracle considering—well, never mind that.
After college Alex moved to Los Angeles, where she has made an interesting living writing novel adaptations and original suspense and horror scripts for numerous Hollywood studios.
The Harrowing, her debut ghost story, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker Award (horror) and an Anthony Award (mystery) for Best First Novel. The book is based on a real poltergeist experience from her high school years. She is the author of the paranormal mystery/thrillers The Price, The Unseen and Book of Shadows and is the winner of the Thriller Award for her story "The Edge of Seventeen."
Alex is also the author of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, a workbook based on her internationally acclaimed blog and writing workshops.
Huntress Moon, the first in the Huntress/FBI thriller series, has just been nominated for a Thriller Award in the brand new category of Best E Book Original Novel.
Connect with Alexandra: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Blog / Pinterest