Invited by Karna Small Bodman . . .
I am delighted to welcome Bestselling and Award-winning Author Alexandra (“Alex”) Sokoloff as our guest blogger. We all know Alex as a member of International Thriller Writers where she was nominated for the Thriller Award. We love her supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers which The New York Times has called, “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”
A multi-talented young woman, she majored in theater at U.C. Berkeley and wrote, directed and acted in productions from Shakespeare to street theater and later worked as a screen writer, selling suspense and horror scripts to Sony, Fox, Disney, Miramax and penned a terrific “how-to” manual in textbook format for aspiring screenwriters titled Stealing Hollywood.
Today Alex tells us about the extensive research she does when penning her great novels:
“I love research as a discussion topic – it’s my second favorite part of writing a book (the best part, of course, is FINISHING a book).
There are two kinds of research I’m doing all the time.
One kind is very specific to the particular book I’m writing – which always includes going to key locations of the book to get a sensory feel for the place and the people who live there, so I can give my readers the real sense of the place. My Huntress Moon thrillers are an FBI procedural series, and
my agents are constantly working with other law enforcement agencies, so I need to do interviews and reading about how particular investigations would play out, both within the FBI and in collaboration with local agencies.
The other kind is a more general research into topics that are part of my personal thematic DNA as an author. I’m always reading broadly about forensics, criminal psychology, paranormal experiences (I have several standalone supernatural thrillers, too…), theories of evil. I’ve been researching all of these subjects for pretty much all of my adult life. And you never know when all that random reading is going to turn up story gold. I have tons of examples, but one particular nugget has turned into a five-book series , which I’m also developing for television.
Here’s how that happened.
I worked as a screenwriter for eleven years before I snapped and wrote my first novel, and in that time I worked on several film projects featuring serial killers. (Hollywood loves its serial killers…) One of my core themes as a writer is “What can good people do about the evil in the world?” – and as far as I’m concerned, serial killers are an embodiment of evil. So for several years I was doing targeted research into the subject every way I could think of besides actually putting myself in a room with one of these monsters. I tracked down the FBI’s behavioral science textbook before it was ever available to the public. I stalked psychological profilers at writing conventions and grilled them about various real life examples. I went to forensics classes and law enforcement training workshops, including Lee Lofland’s excellent Writers Police Academy.
And while I was doing all that research, one fact really jumped out at me about serial killers. They’re men. Women don’t do it. Women kill, and sometimes they kill in numbers (especially killing lovers or husbands for money – the “Black Widow” killer; or killing patients in hospitals or nursing homes: the “Angel of Death”) — but the psychology of those killers is totally different from the men who commit serial sexual homicide. Sexual homicide is about abduction, rape, torture and murder for the killer’s own sexual gratification.
I have a real problem with the way most authors portray serial killers – because it’s so incredibly dishonest. They romanticize and poeticize serial killers – portraying them as evil geniuses that play elaborate cat and mouse games with detectives and law enforcement agencies. Yeah, right. These men are not geniuses. They don’t leave poems at crime scenes or arrange their victim’s bodies in tableaux corresponding to scenes of great art or literature. They are vicious rapists who brutalize their victims because the agony of those victims gets the killer off, and a large number of them continue to have sex with the corpses of their victims because they are that addicted to absolute control and possession.
I know, I know – you’re going to bring up Aileen Wuornos, “America’s only female serial killer.” But I’ve questioned every profiler I’ve ever interviewed about exactly this, and they’ve all said the same thing: Wuornos was not committing sexual homicide; she was a spree killer with a vigilante motivation. (I write about her case, and the psychology of other real life mass killers, in the Huntress Moon series.)
I find that psychological and sociological distinction fascinating.
So this fact, gleaned from research – that women don’t kill this way, has always been at the back of my mind while I’ve been writing other books and scripts. And finally it clicked how I could take that fact and build a series around it.
Because – also for years – I’m becomes so sick of reading crime novels and seeing movies and TV shows about women being raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered.
I’m not too happy about it happening in real life, either.
I do get that one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those years (centuries, millennia) of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there… wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say — “Enough”?
And maybe even strike back?
Well, that’s a story, isn’t it?
So then I had my series through line. The Huntress Moon books turn the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for what he thinks may be a female serial killer, who kills men – lots of men. As a former profiler Agent Roarke knows that women don’t kill like this.
And the tension and mystery of that: Who is this killer, what is she really doing? – is what pulls both my agent/detective and my readers in.
It took me YEARS to figure out how to do that right. But it’s by far the most satisfying writing I’ve done in my life.
So do your research. Dig. You never know when you’re going to strike it big.”
– Alexandra Sokoloff
And Alex tells us there is a special sale going on right now – check this out:
Thanks to Alexandra Sokoloff for being with us today. Leave her a comment below about her extensive research and great stories.
…..Karna Small Bodman
What a terrific blog, Alex! Love your description of research, and the payoffs. But then, you write great novels!
Great to see you here Alex! Love the post and good luck with HUNTRESS MOON!
Gayle! Thanks so much – I'm honored. Hope you're well. As well as any of us can be…
Hey Jamie – thanks to you and all of the Rogues for having me.
Alex, what I want to know is, how do you research the supernatural elements of your work? I am so fascinated by ghosts, but they terrify me. I love all of your work, but The Harrowing was, well, harrowing! Thanks for being a guest blogger!