by Alexandra Sokoloff
Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of all 3 of Alexandra’s books at the end of this post.
I’m on the road doing research for book four in my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series. I spend quite a lot of time on the road these days, since the Huntress series is at its heart a road trip, following a haunted FBI agent on a California-based interstate manhunt for a female killer who never stays in one place, who is constantly crossing state borders to confuse jurisdictions for her crimes.
It’s a series that takes a lot of research to get right. Luckily, I’ve been doing that particular research my whole life.
I know that there are certain life lessons generally associated with the back seats of cars. And okay, I’ve had a few of those, too! But I really believe that the back seat was where I learned how to write.
My father was a peripatetic kind of guy. Because of various revolutions and natural disasters and immigration restrictions, his Russian family moved from Leningrad to Tokyo to Mexico City before he was three years old. (We think we live exciting lives, but if you ask me nothing we do holds a candle to what our parents have lived through.) That sense of movement never really left Dad. He got into the U.S. when he was fifteen and rode the rails all over the country before he was eighteen and I’ve never seen him happier than when he’s behind the wheel of a car.
Both my parents are educators, and at the time my siblings and I were growing up, California schools still had those three-month long summer vacations. And we always spent those long summers on the road, driving all over the state and all over the US, different routes every year, because my parents thought that we should see the country. All of it. Intimately. You might even say (would definitely have said if you had seen how grimy we all got after two months on the highway) that we became one with it.
So, some of my earliest and most enduring memories and sensations are – movement. Perpetual movement. Constantly changing scenery and huge contrasts: endless brutal deserts turning into palm oases. Towering craggy mountain ranges with pockets of ethereal fields of wildflowers. Geysers and glaciers… and grizzly bears trying to claw their way into the car.
I don’t think it’s any surprise, then, that I’m a sucker for big visuals in my reading and my writing, or that I crave stories that have a constantly moving pace and surprises around every bend. I definitely picked up those rhythms and preferences on the road.
And God knows all that traveling – the national parks, the different cities, the museums and art galleries and reservations and ghost towns along the way, gave me a whole lifetime of fodder for different stories.
I’m eternally grateful for the traveling because it’s made me not just unafraid about doing research traveling, but eager for it. I write supernatural thrillers as well as crime thrillers and the place of a ghost story is sometimes the most important part of the whole deal. I always want to visit and explore the city or region I’m writing about, because it’s the best way to give a reader a true and complete experience. I need you to believe in the reality of the story – to feel and smell and hear things – so I can sneak in there and scare the pants off you.
In between the childhood road trips and the more recent research for my thirteen novels, I’ve seen every one of the fifty states, and I’ve appreciated every one. But I have to say, I love California the most. I love it even more now that I’m living half my life out of it (my partner is the Scottish crime writer Craig Robertson, and we split our time between Los Angeles and Scotland. Talk about a commute!)
In my Huntress Moon series, my main characters are all native Californians, and reviewers often say that California itself is a major character in the books. I am creating a sensory experience of place, not just for my readers, but for myself. Even this far away from California, I can indulge my sense memories of it, and pour all of that into the books:
the eeriness of rest stops in the middle of the night and the vague menace of desert truck stations. The magical realism of San Francisco and Berkeley and Santa Cruz. The anachronistic charm of Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. The surreal Daliesque landscapes of Blythe, Indio, and Joshua Tree. The primal power of the Sequoias. But especially, especially the roads.
There is power on the road, for good and for bad. Serial killers are travelers. That’s why they’re able to kill without detection for as long as they do. And that’s a stark reality of my Huntress series. But there is also something profoundly healing about the road – it’s a place out of time where sometimes, even in these dark and haunting books, magic can happen.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books in the Huntress Moon series, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Huntress,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 18, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out the rest of Alexandra’s Blog Tour: