Originally Alexandra Sokoloff considered herself a drama kid and threw herself into acting. She started doing theater in sixth grade and majored in it at college, the University of California, Berkeley. But when Sokoloff wrote a one-act play, she loved the feeling of control that writing gave her, and from there, she went into writing screenplays after teaching herself the business by working as a reader for a studio.
“It didn’t take me that long to get established. My first screenplay won a UCLA Diane Thomas Award and was optioned. My second screenplay, cowritten with David Arata, sold to Twentieth Century Fox in a bidding war, and I’ve been lucky enough never to have a day job since,” says Sokoloff.
Sokoloff was able to make a living with her screenwriting for ten years, but she found it frustrating when others were telling her how the story should go. “Hollywood is a seductive place to work. But it’s a sad fact that screenwriters have less and less creative power in an increasingly corporate industry,” says Sokoloff. “When it’s all about box office, and corporate executives are making story decisions, what you get is what we’ve been seeing on the big screen for years now—a mind-numbing parade of sequels and remakes. And that was really what drove me to start writing novels.”
Sokoloff’s first horror novel The Harrowing was originally a screenplay, but when deals feel apart, the author ended up buying the rights back and rewriting the story as a novel. “I wanted to take a bunch of misfit, troubled college kids and put them into a situation similar to Shirley Jackson’s great The Haunting of Hill House, and play with the idea that the emotional dynamic between them attracts an equally troubled spirit—or that the whole thing is just psychological or a prank that gets out of hand and builds its own momentum,” says Sokoloff.
Writing a novel was so satisfying that Sokoloff went that direction with her work. “Although it’s sometimes sheer agony, writing a novel is about seven billion times more satisfying than writing a script, for the simple reason that when you finish a novel, it’s a complete work,” she says. “When you finish a script, it’s just the beginning of a process that may never amount to anything except a paycheck. For me, there’s no comparison.”
The writer has always been attracted to the darker elements of life and had some of her own harrowing real-life experiences as well. She says, “I was always attracted to ghost stories—my dad used to tell them around the campfire and he loved horror and suspense—books, movies, plays, anything. I developed a taste for being scared senseless. But also from the time I was a very young child I was very sensitive to the fact that there’s a lot of weirdness out there, and a lot of danger from unstable people.”
“My family did quite a bit of traveling, so along with all the good stuff—great art, ancient cultures, different mores and political beliefs—I was exposed to disturbing images and situations: poverty, desperation, oppression, madness. Also, I was almost abducted as a child, so I was aware that there are people out there who have something terribly wrong with them, who actively want to hurt and destroy,” says Sokoloff.
Lately, Sokoloff has been writing a series about an FBI agent who’s after the rarest creature of all—a female serial killer. Sokoloff says, “I’ve been studying serial killers for years. Years ago, when I was a screenwriter writing crime thrillers, I tracked down the FBI’s textbook on sexual homicide before it was ever available to the public. I attend Citizens Police Academies and other law enforcement and forensics workshops whenever I get the chance. If I know there’s a behavioral profiler at a writing convention, I stalk that person so I can pick his or her brain about serial killers.”
In her studies, Sokoloff was puzzled to learn that there has never really been a female serial killer and decided she wanted to tackle the subject. “Here’s what’s really interesting. Arguably, there’s never been any such thing as a female serial killer in real life. The women that the media holds up as serial killers actually operate from a completely different psychology from the men who commit what the FBI calls ‘sexual homicide,’” says Sokoloff.
“Even Aileen Wuornos, infamous in the media as ‘America’s First Female Serial Killer,’ wasn’t a serial killer in the sense that male killers like Bundy, Gacy, and Kemper were. The profilers I’ve interviewed call Wuornos a spree killer with a vigilante motivation. So what’s that about? Why do men do it and women don’t? Women rarely kill, compared to men—but when it happens, what does make a woman kill?”
It’s questions like these that make Sokoloff a writer. She says, “For better or worse, my core theme as a writer is, ‘What can good people do about the evil in the world?’”
Sokoloff is sick of seeing women portrayed as prey and rape victims in literature and film. At a recent writers conference, she says, “Prominently displayed in the book tent was a new crime fiction release that featured a crucified woman on the cover. I’m writing these books because I’ve had enough of violence against women in fiction and film.”
In her own novels, Sokoloff says, “I do not depict rape or torture on the page. I can assure you, no one gets crucified. I think real-life crime is horrific enough without rubbing a reader’s face in it or adding absurd embellishments (my personal literary pet peeve is the serial killer with an artistic streak or poetic bent).”