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Mystery Scene Magazine


Sacred Prey was born out of my frustration as a screenwriter caught in the collaborative process of Hollywood. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of seeing life through someone else’s perspective. This is what led me to acting; acting led me to writing. As an actress I’ve played everything from a gun-slinging Calamity Jane to a German nightclub singer ensnared within the chaos of Hitler’s rein. I love the vast spectrum of personalities and situations that life has to offer, but found early on in my acting career that Hollywood’s palette of female characters was not only limited but highly suspect. In the land of film, the population of men outweighs women ten to one while in real life the count is somewhat more equitable. Needless to say, the pickin’s are slim, so I began screenwriting to create roles for myself. And while I became a screenwriter to satiate my love for acting, I became a novelist to satiate my infatuation with storytelling.

Sacred Prey began as a 90-page screenplay. I had just finished my last film, and was beginning the “shopping” process on the project, when I became very saddened at the idea of letting yet another story pass from my grasp into the director’s. Unlike a novel, which is in its final form when it leaves the writer’s hands, a screenplay is an every changing road map from which the director, the actors, the set designers, and the rest of the creative force behind a film takes their cue. It’s a baby that grows through the collective voice of collaboration. And at the idea of someone else raising my child, so to speak, I became very disillusioned. That’s when I turned to the literary world, where the writer is queen or king and reigns over their own domain. With the novelization of Sacred Prey I discovered the pleasure of telling the story exactly as I wanted it told and without compromise.

When I began the first page of Sacred Prey, I set out imparting the story as I had envisioned the film. I took the director’s seat behind my computer, watched the title Sacred Prey flash across my screen, and then let it unfold before me.

The first scene begins with a slam-bam car chase through the back woods of a Louisiana bayou. A Pontiac takes the lead with a rattling old Ford in pursuit. They whiz past in a cloud of smoke and dust when the headlights of one more car bursts across the screen. It’s a sleek Lincoln Continental cutting through the night like a bullet. I pull in for the “tight shot” of my leading man, Adam Claiborne. He is sweating profusely and his brother Kyle is behind the wheel concentrating on the disappearing taillights in front of him. The brothers are tense, their thoughts on one thing only: they’re in the business of loan-sharking with an overdue debt to settle.

I was nearly to the end of the third page when my mind finally yelled “cut.” I was beside myself with excitement: for the first time ever I could control elements of the story that were impossible on film. There were no budget limits or worries about dwindling light, no schedules, screaming assistant directors or producers telling me how to cut the story to save on time. I was suddenly in control of what my reader saw and heard, and smelt. I could jump into the thoughts of my characters and let my “audience” hear them as well. I became consumed with the possibilities and soon found myself caught up in the life of my story like never before. The film continued in my head but with it came a deeper dimension of sight, sound, and sensation.

With its steamy, sultry unpredictability, New Orleans became the perfect soil from which my characters were born. Adam Claiborne was the first to materialize before me with his own voice demanding to be heard. I discovered that he was not the wealthy heir I had sketched in my screenplay, but a self-made success born into the worst of poverty and then driven by the demons that had haunted him as a child. With his polished suit and perfectly manicured hands, he was a man desperately seeking control within the confining walls of his own limited perspective. Though he had known the pangs of hunger, he had no tolerance for the penniless—for the lazy, boozing vermin like his father who nibble on the very backbone of society. He carried nothing but disdain for those who could not transcend misfortune, his prejudice bleeding over into his life as a loan shark, giving justification for his otherwise questionable actions—even murder.

It’s just business as usual, the night he and his brother ruthlessly hunt down a young couple through the dark bayou and settle their outstanding debt with bloodshed. As the dawn breaks through the sweltering swamp, the brothers drop the bodies of Charlie and Monique Sinclair into a well and close the lid tightly behind them. The debt has been settled … or has it? The vision of Monique laying lifeless in the murky waters stays with Adam. They shared a past—a secret he thought would die with her, yet the acid in his stomach tells him otherwise.

He returns to his mansion in the Garden District where his family awaits him in their Sunday best, for it’s Saturday – the day of confession in the life of a Catholic family. Like a good father, he takes his family to church, sits behind the dark screen of the priest and tells of the murders. But the voice on the other end of the admission is not the regular priest but that of a new one who refuses to absolve him of the act, “Until you know the sorrows of your victims your sins may not be forgiven.” Adam is tormented by the refusal. That night, hellish dreams suck him inward then release him in the morning to the worst nightmare of his life. The beautiful woman he murdered is now alive in the bed beside him. The room around him is not the posh bedroom of his home but that of a seedy, dank apartment surrounded by the sounds of the French Quarter. The clothes on the floor are not the ones he left on the hook but those of a slimmer, weaker, more vulnerable man. They are the clothes of Charlie Sinclair. Adam soon discovers that it is now three days back in time and he is inhabiting the flesh of his own hapless victim. And through the eyes of Charlie Sinclair the world takes on a whole new meaning. Nothing is as it seemed. The clock is ticking and unless Adam can change the outcome of the next three days, he will be hunted down and murdered … by his own ruthless hands.

Many have told me that Sacred Prey would make a good film, but there are no Hollywood endings here. I let the characters speak for themselves and the pieces fall as they may.


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“Schilling writes with all the passion of lightning.”

—The Book Reader

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