Monday, February 7, 2011

Interview with Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff is the author of novels The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows and The Shifters. She is also a screenwriter and writes a blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and released a workbook of writing advice and exercises. You can find out more about Alexandra at her website.

What drew you to the horror genre?
First I have to clarify that that I don’t write, read or watch anything with slasher/stalker/torture porn elements. I love psychological horror, psychological thrillers, supernatural thrillers, supernatural mysteries, mysteries, and any combination of the above. I think those dark genres are the best way to explore deep themes of good and evil and the nature of reality.
I get a sensual chill out of the unknown and I’ve always been drawn to the possibility of paranormal experiences. While I’m very aware that I need to entertain and thrill my readers, and to that end might compress the intensity of the supernatural experiences I depict, I am always working from how this kind of visitation or occurrence would actually be experienced in real life. And that includes the possibility that what happened wasn’t really supernatural at all, but entirely psychological or explicable by rational means.

What scares you?
Serial killers. Rapists. The Mexican drug cartels. Nothing supernatural - definitely man-made – that’s actually male-made - dangers.

Have you ever written something that scared you?
I don’t know if “scared” is the word, exactly, but I was often deeply disturbed by what I was writing in The Price – I think I went darker places than I have before.

Why do you think there are fewer women writing horror than men?
I’ve often said I don’t know why ALL women aren’t writing horror – we live with the threat of violence on a daily basis in a way that most men in developed, non-warring countries will never know.  I think we have a more intimate understanding of horror.   But I think a lot of women have been through enough horror in their own lives that they don’t want to dwell in it as a genre choice.
Also, in a business sense, horror is a pretty misogynistic genre compared to others.  I choose to write horror from a feminine point of view, but I can understand women wanting to steer clear of the genre entirely.   Who wants that kind of grief when the thriller, mystery, and paranormal communities of authors are so much more supportive?

Who are some women horror authors that you admire?
The classics: Shirley Jackson, Daphne duMaurier, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.   I have to say Anne Rice even though I don’t consider her a horror author – I’d say her classic books are paranormal fiction. Currently Mo Hayder, Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough and Rhodi Hawk are my must-reads.

What is your advice to aspiring women horror writers?
If you want to make a living at it, look at the women and men who are actually making a living writing the kinds of books you want to write, and use them for examples of how to plan your professional life.  There seem to be more self-defeating illusions in the horror community than there are in other genres. I hate to see people get caught up in that.

What are your favourite horror novels?
The Haunting of Hill House, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Treatment, The Terror, The Silence of the Lambs.

What is your favourite novel you’ve written and your favourite character you’ve created? Why?
I think Book of Shadows is my favorite book because I love all the characters and the mysterious story world so much. The main characters are all flawed people truly trying to do the right thing, and risking themselves to save other lives. I also really think I nailed this ambiguity about whether there was anything truly supernatural going on.
But my favorite character is Joanna in The Price. When confronted with a horrific situation, she does exactly what she knows she has to do to save her child, at the greatest personal cost. That’s heroism.

You were a screenwriter before becoming an author. How is writing a script different from writing a novel? Which do you prefer?
And I was in theater, as an actor, director and writer, before I was a screenwriter. Theater was fabulous training for film writing, and film writing was fantastic training for novel writing. I grew up with the three-act structure in theater and then applied it to film, and I’ve applied the three-act, eight-sequence filmic structure to novels – I’m sure that was why I was able to sell my first novel right away. While all three forms have different emphases, I don’t consider the writing much different - there are classic structural elements in drama that have worked for thousands of years, since the very beginning of storytelling, that are just as applicable to ANY kind of storytelling. (Those elements are what my Screenwriting Tricks For Authors blog  - - and workshops are about.)
I prefer writing novels because I don’t have to answer to a committee. I have to make every single creative choice, which is exhausting, but I’m only responsible for my own inadequacies.

Several of your novels deal with the supernatural. Have you ever had a supernatural encounter? Do you believe in the supernatural?
I’ve had encounters that could have been supernatural, or that just felt supernatural or super-charged at the time. Very early on I developed a fascination with the question of whether a paranormal event was a psychological experience, a supernatural one, or some blend of the two. That’s what I’m always writing about.
What I believe is that there are a lot of layers to what we call reality. I believe that psi experiences like precognitive dreams, and crisis apparitions (having a loved one appear to you at a moment of extreme trauma or death), and telepathy, and the sense of a past experience or personality imprinted on a place - really do happen to people. The interesting thing about writing ghost stories is that people you meet tell you their own paranormal stories, and there’s too much consistency about the stories not to believe that it really occurs.   Not all the time, not to everyone, but it does happen.

Do you own an e-reader? How do you think e-readers are changing the publishing industry?
I don’t own one, but mainly because I’m on the computer all day long, working, and can’t stand the thought of staring into a screen when I read for pleasure or research. As to how e-readers are changing the publishing industry – if I could boil that down into a few sentences I’d be a billionaire. The industry will never be the same. I'm watching what's happening, but I try to concentrate on doing my work.

What do you hope readers get out of your work?
I don’t consider my job done unless I have people biting their nails and jumping at shadows. I’m always trying to deliver the sensual chill of a possibly supernatural experience. I’m gratified that readers are spooked by my story worlds at the same time that they’re very caught up in the characters and themes. It’s an amazing thing to realize that readers get exactly what I write, exactly as I write it. That’s the magic of storytelling.

What are you currently working on?
I’m just finishing probably the darkest YA in the history of YA, and an adult crime thriller with only the slightest hints of the supernatural, and about to start on a paranormal trilogy. I try to just do my work for the day and not think about the entirety of my work load too much!


Unknown said...

Very good interview. I read The Price a while back, which was my first chance to read a Sokoloff novel--after I stumbled across her blog. She's a helluva talent, and I really need to hunt down more of her work.

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