Showing posts with label Alexandra Sokoloff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alexandra Sokoloff. Show all posts

Monday, April 28, 2014


I'm over at IWSG today doing the A-Z Challenge. X is for X-factor. Come visit me.

Oh, before you go...

Remember that steampunk anthology I told you about? The one that caused me nothing but grief and I was so sure I'd never finish.

It's gone to press!

I'll tell you more when I know more.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

book review - THE SPACE BETWEEN by Alex Sokoloff

How can you prevent the future? Would you dare? 
Sixteen-year old Anna Sullivan is having terrible dreams of a massacre at her high school. Anna's father is a mentally unstable veteran, her mother disappeared when Anna was five, and Anna might have been able to chalk the dreams up to a reflection of her crazy waking life—except that Tyler Marsh, the most popular guy at the school and Anna's secret crush, is having the exact same dreams. 

Despite the gulf between them in social status, Anna and Tyler connect, first in the dream and then in reality. As the dreams reveal more, with clues from the school social structure, quantum physics, probability, and Anna's own past, Anna becomes convinced that they are being shown the future so they can prevent the shooting... 

If they can survive the shooter—and the dream. 

Based on the Thriller Award-winning short story, "The Edge of Seventeen."

Honestly, doesn't the synopsis above sound fascinating? I read that and thought Wow, now that's worth checking out!  

Alexandra Sokoloff writes about one of society's most compelling issues: school shootings. I'll admit I was hesitant to read the book, but because I love her writing so much, I decided to take a sneak peek and leave it at that.

I ended up reading the first chapter and immediately ordering the eBook. The prose were that powerful and the story was that compelling.

Do you remember the most popular guy in school? If you were like me, you watched him from a distance, right? You may even have gone through those 5 years without ever having shared a word or even a glance between you. 

Anna is in love with Tyler, the most popular guy in school, from a distance. One day she realized they're both having the same dreams. That's incredible, but guess what? They can talk to each other through their minds. Anna, the girl who has no one, connects with Tyler in a way that is at once profound, disturbing, and gratifying to anyone who has experienced the heartache of being considered invisible.

Anna is an incredible young woman with a bright mind, a sad past, a hopeless existence, and a huge hole in her heart left by the abandonment of her mother. The mother in me wanted to embrace her and make that pain go away. As I read, I saw that it was even worse than her having no friends. Her father suffers from PTSD and is capable of doing who knew what. But that isn't the worst of it. Anna discovers that she and Tyler are having the same nightmare. There's going to be a school massacre... unless she and Tyler can stop the shooter.

This is a story about what if...

What if you knew something very very bad was about to happen and you could prevent it from happening, but not without a huge cost.

I believe that when you read a good story that disturbs you, brings back memories you never expected, makes you feel different for having read it, I think that book is worth mentioning. THE SPACE BETWEEN is that book. It came alive for me very quickly. I love being so engrossed in a character's life that I hate the thought of saying goodbye. THE SPACE BETWEEN made me remember clearly what it meant to be young, in love, and desperate for a hopeful future.

Here's a glimpse:

At the foot of the staircase, on the landing below, Tyler Marsh stands looking up at her, as real as she is, even now heart-stoppingly beautiful, perfect profile and long, dark silky hair falling into his eyes. The alarms pulse around them, vibrating through her body.


She takes a shaky step toward him.

Run,” he says, without opening his mouth. 

I enjoyed this novel very much and highly recommend it. THE SPACE BETWEEN is a story about a brave and courageous young woman who epitomizes what it means to take a chance and make a difference. 

*  *  *  * 
Meanwhile, winter has arrived at Cluculz Lake:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Huntress Moon: book review

In addition to thanking you for stopping by, wish I could offer you a cup of java and some home made gluten free oatmeal-raisin cookies. Wonder if it'll ever come to that, when I can beam you over to my place and we can have a lovely real-time visit. Of course, that means I'd have to change out of my jammies... brush my hair... clean a path to the dining room table. Ah, scratch the beaming over idea.

Anyhoo, (sounds like a cross between a Canuck and an owl, eh) thought I'd do something different today. (Ha, like that's unusual)  I don't write a lot of book reviews, because, well I'm terrible at them. Every once in awhile, though, I read a terrific book and think "Wow, I have to share this!"

I have my favourite writers: Keith Pyeatt, I'd write a review of one of his psychological horrors any day. Christopher Hoare's regency romance novels and S/F are excellent. Vicki  Lee Smith's historical epic novels; except, I have to wait for her publish something first. I'm working on her. Meg Webster's S/F Fantasy. Jan Holloway's suspense, Martha Engber, literary, Judy Avila...

If you've followed my blog long enough, you know I'm a huge fan of award-winning dark suspense author, screenwriter, and workshop teacher Alexandra Sokoloff. I've been following her blog for a few years, (she shares her screenwriting tricks for authors) and last year I took her Three-Act Structure online course, which was absolutely fabulous. (Can't you tell I'm Canadian? What other nationality uses so many "awesome, terrific, absolutely and my all-time favourite: kewl! Also, the not to be forgotten: EH)

Told you I get long-winded, or as my dear old dad used to say, "Josephina, the laughing hyena" with verbal diarrhea.

With no further ado: HUNTRESS MOON. 

Here's what the online synopsis says:

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization when he witnesses his undercover agent killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at the scene of a years-long string of "accidents" and murders, and who may well be that most rare of all killers: a female serial.

Roarke's hunt for her takes him across three states... while in a small coastal town a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach, and strike up an unlikely friendship without knowing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

Now for the part where I try to explain why I loved this book so much. Since the synopsis does such a good job of describing the plot, I thought I'd skip that part and explain three reasons why I enjoyed HUNTRESS MOON so much.

One -- great writing.
Two -- appealing characters.
Three -- believable and riveting storyline.

HUNTRESS MOON is a lesson in voice, in creating characters that immediately tug at your heart and leave you with a suddenly and inexplicable urge to know everything about them. Roarke is definitely kewl and endearing, but the antagonist, Alex's female serial killer is a haunting portrayal of a woman coping with the most horrendous history any person could possibly deal with. Not many of us would have survived. 

Alex doesn't focus on the horrendous though, but instead shows through story the long-term effects of violence against women and children, a subject that she feels very strongly about and uses as the theme to many of her books. Her antagonist is broken, yes, but she's also intelligent, focused, clever, determined, and an equal to any man. In fact, she's the victor because every bad man she comes up against underestimates her. Think: Nikita, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Point of No Return, and the new series ARROW.

As a reader I was enthralled by the complexities of Alex's characters. As a writer, I loved her descriptions, her character's monologues, the setting, and the way she used set pieces to enhance my experience as a reader. I read the book through once, then read it again to study her techniques.

If your genre is suspense, you're going to love this book. Even if you don't read suspense thrillers, but you're excited about improving your skills as a storyteller, I can't recommend HUNTRESS MOON enough.

Alexandra Sokoloff majored in theater. She excels in her ability to create characters and story in a way that is so gratifying and even amazing because of the simplicity and beauty of her style. I, for one, love it when I can lose myself in a good story that is both credible and extraordinary.

I just learned recently that Alex is working on the sequel to HUNTRESS MOON titled BLUE MOON, and my first thought was: YAY!!!

In case my sense of humour was a bit too profound and you really do believe the above dining room is mine, here's my real workstation:

Okay, it's not always this tidy, but check out the view!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Infamous Alex, Jordan and Margaret

Alexandra Sokoloff is at it again; she has a great post on First Chapters that's a must-read. When you're finished, check out Jordan McCollum's post on Don't Tell Me How You Feel: showing emotions.

But before you head over, listen to what Margaret Atwood has to say about The Publishing Pie. She speaks for 20 minutes, then takes questions for 10 minutes, and although that may seem long, I promise it's worth the time. I first caught her speech on Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Renovating a WIP

Alex Sokoloff's online screenwriters course for authors is nearing to a close. It was a great course for many reasons. Understanding the structure of the 3-Act play, originating 2000 years ago, is an essential writing tool for writing "great" novels. Grasping the mechanics of storytelling will lift a "good:"manuscript to the next level; and who doesn't want that to happen? That's why I took the course, and that's why I'm feeling gung-ho about my latest work-in-progress.  Understanding story premise, story question and story action are a sure fire way of renovating myself out of a WIP wreckage. Composing a logline for any story I write will aid me for the rest of my career.

If you're struggling with your current WIP and need help renovating, spend some time at Alex's blog or order her book Screenwriting Tips for Authors. On her blog you'll find post links on story breakdown, the 3-act structure, and analyzing movies in your genre. Start with her Table of Contents. Invaluable stuff.  

Now for something completely off topic. We received more photos of Bandit's puppies.



They live with their mum and her family about one hour east of here, hence the unenthusiastic response from their dad. "Puppies? Whatever."

ps. Tomorrow's forecast for Bulkley-Nechako is -31 C.!

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read. -- Mark Twain.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Inspirational Quotes - Food for Thought

A dear friend gave me a calendar of inspirational quotes for Christmas (Thank you, J.G.). I know what you're thinking, "Yuck, not another touchie-feely post."

I'm afraid so. This calendar is full of thoughts that each day make you wonder: does that describe my life?

Quotes like:

To believe yourself to be brave is to be brave; that is the only essential thing. -- Mark Twain

Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity. -- Aristotle

Women wish to be loved not because they are pretty, or good, or well bred, or graceful or intelligent, but because they are themselves. -- Henri-Frederic Amiel

No man is rich enough to buy back his past. -- Oscar Wilde

And my favourite to date:

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't. -- Martin Van Buren

As Cheryl Richardson so elegantly put it, "This year I'm all about the good stuff!"

How about you? Care to share one of your favourites?

Latest snapshot of winter on Cluculz Lake...
who is doing the online screenwriter's course with Alex Sokoloff and thinking, Wow, this course is a huge stretch for this ole gal.

I love when that happens.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alexandra Sokoloff is teaching an online course!

Alexandra Sokoloff is teaching an online course: only $15.00
Check out her site for details. The course runs a little over 2 weeks.

Hope you'll join me.  



Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Check out Alexandra Sokoloff's blog. She's a wizard at explaining STORY BREAKDOWN and making it appear easy. I can't tell you how many times I've been stuck, stopped writing, went back to one of her posts, read it twice, then returned to my work. Honestly, the woman is an outstanding teacher. Good writer, too. Her blog is full of screenwriting tips for authors.

Before you take a trip over to Alex's blog at I'm sorry to report that Cluculz Lake hasn't frozen over yet; and the eagles are still pulling my attention away from my work. (I'm not actually sorry about the lake not being frozen. Winter is long enough. Actually, I'm not sorry about the eagles either) The ice is moving closer, but we need many more days of below freezing for that to happen. Today and yesterday was 2 and 5 above Celsius. Some of the eagle shots I had to take through the window because they flew by so fast.

Yes, that white stuff is ice.

Golden Eagle
A golden eagle and a bald eagle. Not particularly friendly toward each other.
I had to take this one of the Golden Eagle through the glass because he kept disappearing before I could get outside. Eagles are not very cooperative subjects.
 --Merry Christmas

Saturday, April 3, 2010


As you know, in February, Donald Maass graciously consented for this blog to use his book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook to help writers enhance their writing. Since then we've completed exercises (no particular order from the book) on the Hero, the Bad Guy, Setting, Backstory, and Larger-than-Life Characters.

In no way should this deter you from buying his book. I'm just skimming these exercises. Their full impact can't be appreciate without reading both the book and the workbook. Besides, it's important to understand the generosity of many successful people in this business. The information is out there waiting for you, and like Alexandra Sokoloff, Mr. Maass is to be applauded.

Today, I thought we'd discuss one of my favourite subjects, Point of View. Why? Because too many writers I work with are quick to response, "I know, I know, my POV is all over the place. I'll fix it later."

Later is now.

POV, [like riding a bike: once you know, you'll never forget] is the mode by which the author shows the story to the reader.  You can't write your story without POV. We all know that. But what we forget is that every chance to convey the story through our POV character is an opportunity to show the reader who our protagonist is.

If you don't buy that, take your protagonist to the nearest park and describe what s/he sees, hears, smells, experiences so that it's deeper and more heightened. Then describe what YOU experience.

Is it the same? It shouldn't be.

Example of enhancing POV...

Valerie got off the bed. She packed her suitcase. The sun had set. Fourteen floors higher, she could see all of the harbour. The Space Needle in the background. The traffic beyond. Pedestrians rushing down crowded sidewalks. Life goes on, she realized sadly.

By creating a mood and a Valerie you might better connect to, the scene changed to:

(excerpt from Dead Witness)... Valerie rose from the bed. She zipped up her suitcase and braided her hair. Seattle's nights sounds beckoned, and she approached the window. Fourteen floors higher, she could now see clear across the harbour. The Space Needle appeared smaller, and the traffic below was a streak of lights burning down the black pavement. Life goes on, just like the night her parents died.

In this case, the change was more subtle than I would have liked, but because the book is published, I can't go one step further and exaggerate.

But you can. Pick a random scene in your manuscript. Locate the spot where your protagonist verbs: experiences something through one or more of the senses. Now make it bigger, more profound, more characteristic. As Mr. Maass says, "Point of view is more than just a set of eyes looking upon the world. Those eyes come with a mouth and a brain."

Turn to another page. It doesn't matter if it's the same POV character or not. Heighten something. The way he feels. What he sees. His responses must go deeper this time.

Go to another scene. And then another.



Saturday, February 13, 2010


Compliments of Alex Sokoloff and her definition of High Concept, she includes a link to Wordplay and Terry Rossio's article on Mental Real Estate. As Rossio explains, mention something, and people either recognize it or they don't. In Canada, Mental Real Estate might be Tim Hortons, Terry Fox, Celine Dion, Cindy Klassen or Shania Twain. Some say using such a device is a cop out. Some say it's a shoe in. What do you think?

Terry Rossio co-wrote with Ted Elliot: SHREK, ALADDIN, and THE MASK OF ZORRO, to name a few.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How To Write a Novel.

Check out Alexandra Sokoloff's blog, author of The Unseen, The Price, and The Harrowing, if you're interested in How to Write A Novel - From Start to Finish. She'll start right at the beginning with the perfect idea, then go from there, mapping out over several posts exactly what to do to finish. Ladies and gentlemen, this is an opportunity of a lifetime at your fingertips. If you've always dreamed of writing a novel, do yourself a favour and follow Alex' posts.


- Phyllis Zimbler Miller's ASK PZM column is aired February 5th. If you have a question for Phyllis, send it to me at cluculzwriter at yahoo dot ca and I'll make sure she gets it in time to post her answer on the 5th.

- My guest blogger, Katherine Swarts is back on the 20th with a post titled: Someday I'll Write That Bestseller.

While you're here, for your entertainment pleasure: the legendary Bob Dylan and Things Have Changed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Readers Deserve Their Money's Worth.

The thing about doing story breakdowns is they never loose their value. Doesn't matter if you've published five book or none, all of us (writers) owe it to our readers to write the best story we can write. Readers pay big bucks for novels these days. If studying movies or novels makes us better storytellers, well then maybe more readers will get their money's worth.

I still hear writers say they don't believe in analyzing their work because it threatens their creative flow of consciousness or whatever. Maybe. But even if you never run into a problem and therefore never required extra knowledge of story structure, why not understand the intricacies of your work?

If the answer is still no, then this post is not for you.

First of all, studying story breakdown is hard work. I had to put aside my normal routine of banging away on my keyboard in favour of sharing my comfy sofa with my cats and watching Collateral starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. I chose Collateral because it's good suspense; it surprised me and held my interest from beginning to end. Cruise and Foxx do an outstanding job, and both shine on screen.

Here's the breakdown of Act One:

0:00 - The movie opens with a silver-haired man walking through a crowd. We learn within seconds that he's in an airport and he's involved in some kind of clandestine situation. The scene then switches to inside a garage where Jamie Foxx's character is killing time doing a puzzle. Almost immediately we're shown that he cares about his cab and thoughts of a particular tropical island is the motivating force behind him. Also, nobody has to tell us this is LA., it's very evident.

04:50 - Four minutes and fifty seconds into the movie boy meets girl, illustrating the basic fundamentals of any story. Chance meetings will or will not change your life forever. Meanwhile, Max drives Annie into downtown LA, letting us know that it is night. Most importantly these two characters make a connection.

08:06 - Max shares his dream of Island Limos with Annie. She flashes those beautiful brown eyes at him, making an indelible impression on Max and us. Author/Director has created a character we will not forget.

10:00 - Annie shares with Max the private preparations she goes through the night before a big case begins. Reader understands why this particular girl has made an impression on Max. Their entire time together lasts 10 minutes yet we sense that this chance meeting has happened for a reason.

13:59 - Silver-haired man (Vincent) is on the down escalator and passes Annie on her way up the escalator. This contrasts Max and Annie's meeting because they don't notice each other. We'll still privy to the question: is Max the connection between them?

14:13 - Max is in la-la land thinking about Annie when Vincent approaches his cab. When Max doesn't immediately acknowledge him, Vincent turns to the next cab. Max quickly calls to him, a small, insignifant gesture, yet marking the incident event of the opening. If Max hadn't met girl, he wouldn't have been parked at that specific spot when Vincent exited the federal building.

(Even I don't pick up on everything. I've watched this movie 4x and I still don't get why Vincent was there. If you know, pls let me know in the comments. Thanks)

Let's summarize. Less than 15 minutes into the movie (chapter one of novel) we meet the hero, know the theme is that chance meetings can drastically change your life, see love interest, see set pieces or plants (ie Annie's business card) and witness central story question, to name just a few. We suspect Vincent is the antagonist, thereby experiencing tension, possible conflict and suspense. We wonder if this chance meeting between Vincent and Max will improve upon Max's circumstances.

15:38 - another important hint, this time Vincent remarks about a dead man on subway for 6 hours before anyone notices him.

17:00 - Vincent reveals his schedule, and we learn the time frame of story: present until 6 a.m..

17:40 - this is where the story changes directions. Vincent entices Max with money to drive him to his 5 appointments the rest of the night. This is where Max finally connects with Vincent.

17:58 - Vincent makes his first stop and tells Max to park in the back. This dramatically alternates events.

19:10 - Dead man falls from appartment and lands on cab. A few seconds later, Act One climax, the incident that answers the story question? The answer is NO. Vincent is a hitman. Consequently, we are hooked on knowing what will happen next. And as Max comes to terms with what has just happened, Act One ends and Act Two begins.

* For more on screenwriting tricks for authors, check out author of The Unseen, Alexandra Sokoloff's blog.

I'll be back later with Act Two's breakdown.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Formula: Breaking Down the Story.

I'm in the middle of doing movie plotting exercises because I've hit a wall with my work-in-progress. I'm hoping they'll spark some ideas. Monday, I watched Get Carter twice in one day to see if I could pinpoint its turning points.

Get Carter is about an enforcer for the Las Vegas mob going home to attend his brother's funeral. It stars Sylvester Stallone and is directed by Stephen Kay. If you're into screenwriting, you must purchase a copy. Under Special Features, Mr. Kay does a complete audio commentary of the movie. He explains every aspect of the film, from cutting scenes to camera angles to inserting clues. IOWs, he explains why his filmed the story the way he did. Excellent free invaluable lessons for any one interested in writing a great story.

Alexandra Sokoloff, author of The Unseen, does story breakdowns regularly on her blog. She's an excellent teacher and she usually covers stuff that I'm struggling over. After reading the breakdown she did on Chinatown, I tried to find a copy of the movie in my area. No such luck. Of course, I'll end up ordering one online only to see it in every store I visit next week.

But, I digess. Because I follow Alexandra's blog regularly, I decided I'd take her up on the exercises. I watched Get Carter and jotted down what the three Acts were, what happened every 15 minutes of the movie and what the big climax at the one hour mark was. She suggests you keep an eye on the DVD's clock because most films follow a strict formula.

Sure enough. After the first 15 minutes Jack Carter had learned that his brother was murdered. In fact, every 15 minutes another turning point took place. An hour into the film the big climax occured. Jack discovers who killed his brother and why. He also discovers more than he bargained for.

I found the same formula in The Replacement Killers. I'm watching Collateral next and after that, Point of No Return, then Panic Room, etc etc. I might stop at 10 movies before I return to my WIP.

I should probably come clean and confess that formulas didn't sit well with me at first. I was under the impressive, for quite a few years, that formulas ruined originality. Silly me. I've come to appreciate the recipe for a good book, just like a good director does when he makes a movie. 15 minutes into a novel is comparable to the first one-third (75-100 pages) of a book. The climax happens around page 200 - 300, depending on the length.

A lot of writers write without understanding the mechanics of writing. More power to them. Me, I need to understand all of it. After publishing Dead Witness, I knew I owned it to myself to hone my skills. Even if it means going over the same old thing. Remembering that novels can be broken down into 3 Acts, prompts me to understand every intricate part of writing a novel.

Act One introduces the protagonist and the problem. Act Two is a series of complications that increase the conflict and adds minor crisis to the story. Act Three reveals the plot and answers the story question. Act Four ties everything together. That's just the basics, but it's a good place to start.

I'm only up to page 71 (35,300 words), but I'm able to rough in an outline of the three acts for my WIP. I'm focusing on the three acts. I know not every writer can write that way, and while I didn't do that for my previous 5 manuscripts, it seems to be working this time.