Former Weymouth Writer-in-Residence Has New Book
Author Alexandra Sokoloff loves being “scared senseless.”
So when mystery writer Margaret Maron invited her to stay at the historic (and haunted) Weymouth Center in Southern Pines to work on one of her supernatural thrillers, she wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s a fantastic place to write — pages just fly,” Sokoloff says. But the house that she found “creatively inspiring in the day” was “completely terrifying at night.”
“Every time I turned around there was knocking on the walls and weird manifestations. There were rooms that were just too creepy to go into by myself after dark. I would break into a cold sweat just moving up to the door.”
The psychic energy Sokoloff experienced there inspired her to use Weymouth as the model for the haunted mansion with poltergeist manifestations in her thriller, “The Unseen.” The story is based on the real-life experiments done in the Rhine parapsychology lab on the Duke campus, “surely one of the most Gothic campuses in the country,” she says, “totally spooky!” When “The Unseen” was published in 2009, it was praised as a “spine-tingling story that has every indication of becoming a horror classic.”
On Thursday, July 15, at 4 p.m., Alexandra Sokoloff will present her newest supernatural thriller, “Book of Shadows,” at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in Southern Pines.
“It’s about a very male, very rational (he thinks) Boston homicide detective who reluctantly must team up with a very female, very irrational, mysterious (and of course, beautiful) witch from Salem, to solve what he thinks is a satanic killing — which she insists involves a real demon,” Sokoloff explains. “He’s constantly fighting his own unwillingness to believe there is a supernatural element involved in the case. This is actually a police procedural, but the question is ‘Whatdunit?’
As a writer, Sokoloff says her favorite thing is to walk that “Is it or isn’t it?” line between reality and the supernatural.
“I am committed to leaving everything ambiguous,” she says. “I want the reader to decide — or not! — whether there was anything truly supernatural going on.”
To understand the nature of paranormal experiences, Sokoloff does extensive in-depth research and personal interviews.
“I try to create supernatural situations for my characters and readers that are as close to what would happen in real life as possible,” she says. “Part of that experience is the suspicion that the occurrence(s) might be being faked or based on some psychological condition, and part of it is a sensual thrill of the unknown that is not really quantifiable. I really hope that by depicting the paranormal as how it is actually reported, I can get even the most skeptical reader to — well, at least ponder.”
The author says she owes her love of horror and suspense to her Russian father, who “collected just about every sci-fi and horror classic out there,” and who had a “passel of ghost stories” that he would pull out around the campfire to scare her. Her own reading gravitated toward the spooky, the thrilling, the fantastical, the twisted.
“I discovered ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ when I was in sixth grade and something in my mind said, ‘THIS is what a book is supposed to be, do, feel like,’” she says.
As a teenager growing up in California, she experimented with the paranormal — ESP, dream interpretation, tarot, Ouija and spending the night in graveyards. But, she says, those otherworldly experiences were never as horrifying as the evil that people can do.
Sokoloff admits she didn’t start out thinking she would be a writer. She got the acting bug first, acting, singing, dancing and playing classical piano all the way through high school. She majored in theater at UC-Berkley, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After college, she wasn’t interested in being a traditional playwright, nor was she drawn to novels.
She moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a story analyst for several Hollywood production companies, then as a screenwriter for 10 years before she decided to call it quits.
“In all that time I had one movie made,” she says. “I was sick to death of having things I wrote butchered — and THEN not made. That’s why I started writing novels. Although it’s sometimes sheer agony, writing a novel is about seven billion times more satisfying than writing a script.”
Her first book, “The Harrowing,” published in 2006, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel and for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. The New York Book Review called her second supernatural thriller, “The Price” (2007), “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”
She has won the Black Quill (horror) award, and is the first and only woman so far to win an International Thriller Writers Thriller Award for her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen.”
“The horror genre has been degraded by years of real dreck,” Sokoloff says. “Those books have turned off a huge percentage of potential crossover audience, so it’s not at all surprising that publishers prefer to market dark suspense books as thrillers.
“Dark suspense is by its very nature cross-genre: mystery, supernatural, horror, thriller, suspense, paranormal. There are readers who enjoy a supernatural edge to their mysteries. I’m not a hard-core horror writer, but my subject matter is dark enough to satisfy most horror fans, even though my plot structure owes a lot more to traditional mysteries, and the scares I offer up are more psychological than overt. A lot of readers read me because I really do scare them, in a nail-biting, hair-raising kind of way — I just don’t do that in-your-face stuff. The sensual thrill of the unknown … the chilly feeling of something unfathomable behind the door … that’s what I’m after.”
Alexandra Sokoloff teaches Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops all over the country and online. Next to writing, she “loves dance more than breathing.” She performs with Heather Graham’s Slush Pile Players and with the all-author Killer Thriller Band as a Killerette. She lives in Raleigh and California.
For information, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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