Please welcome Maria Alexander to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Mr. Wicker was published on September 16th by Raw Dog Screaming Press.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Maria: Pleased to be here! I started playing with stories when I was 8 years old while I was recovering from chicken pox. I wrote on and off throughout my childhood, but I was more of a musician until I was in college. That’s when I co-founded a company called Dead Earth Productions that designed and ran fully immersive, live-action horror games. We were based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This meant many of our players came from the big RPG companies, like Chaosium, R. Talsorian and White Wolf. Because I loved games and creating interactive experiences more than anything, I devoted my nascent writing talents to that. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until Neil Gaiman and I started corresponding years later.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Maria: Having spent a long time as a screenwriter, I’m a hopeless plotter. But I’m not so locked into my plotting that, if something cool jumps out of my head and it feels right, I can’t be flexible.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Maria: Typing. Right now, I have hand problems and I write with voice technology. You would never know it based on my output. Ask my publisher!
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Maria: Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. Clive Barker. Michael Marshall Smith. Tim Powers. Neil Gaiman. I recently realized how much Julio Cortázar has shaped my creativity. I first read him in college and he is astonishing. “The Night Face Up” is one of the greatest stories ever written, I think.
TQ: Describe Mr. Wicker in 140 characters or less.
Maria: Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must get it back before it destroys her life — again.
TQ: Tell us something about Mr. Wicker that is not in the book description.
Maria: At the midpoint of the story, Mr. Wicker shares with Alicia a story about who he used to be before the Library. He takes the reader on a brutal, chilling adventure in ancient Gaul on the eve of the Gallic Wars. The fate of those ancient people is entwined with Alicia’s in ways she could never guess.
TQ: What inspired you to write Mr. Wicker? From the description of the novel it appears to be a genre bender. Is it essentially an Urban Fantasy? You also touch on suicide on the novel. Why did you go there?
Maria: Mr. Wicker is quite similar to American Gods in that it’s mostly urban fantasy with parts that are historical fantasy. (Now that I think about it, I wonder if American Gods is considered cross genre.) The difference is that the historical fantasy in Mr. Wicker is one larger story, rather than several shorter, individual stories distributed throughout the book.
As for inspiration, I had a close encounter of sorts with Mr. Wicker himself back in 1997. If you solve the puzzle at the end of the book trailer, it unlocks something that ultimately reveals the bizarre yet true tale. Two people have solved it so far: legendary “Monkey Island” game designer/online community guru Randy Farmer, and brilliant actress/puzzle aficionado Whitney Avalon. (Remember the mom in that controversial Cheerios commercial? Yep. Her.) The puzzle is really not that hard. You’ve seen that sequence before…
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Mr. Wicker?
Maria: I haunted mental health forums looking for information about suicide and lockdowns. I wish there was more transparency in the mental health profession about what it’s like in a proper lockdown environment. The book is set in 2005. When I started writing the book in 2004, we didn’t have as much information about mental health treatment online as we do today. It was very difficult to get a solid idea of what happens inside mental health facilities from a professional perspective, and still is. Eventually, a friend of mine who’d recently obtained her medical degree graciously shared with me her experiences as a med student on rotation in a lockdown, but I could have used more information.
As for the historical fantasy, I initially started researching ancient Gaul and Rome according to guidelines that Tim Powers gave me for historical research. However, I encountered difficulties because the Gauls were so obscure and my Roman interests so particular. I went to the UCLA library, where I found journal articles written by a classicist named Dr. Maurice James Moscovich at the Western University in London Ontario, Canada. His scholastic specialty covered exactly what I needed to know. I got in touch with him and he took me under his wing. I’m truly lucky. He even read what I wrote and gave me feedback. (I took at least 90% of it.) He’s retired now, thinking more about golf than the Gauls, but he considers me one of his students.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Maria: Alicia was both the easiest and the hardest because, even when I thought she was being an idiot, I understood her. I got the most blowback about her from male agents. One jackass in particular, who had obviously read the entire book, sent me a long letter explaining how much he disliked her and that no one would ever like a female character who is angry. When my friend Edith Speed committed suicide in 2009, she was incredibly angry. (She was a very strong woman most of her life, by the way.) There was no way I was going to soften Alicia to please anyone’s aesthetic palate, especially after Edith’s death. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s honest, and I think readers prefer that. I know I do.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Mr. Wicker.
Maria: From Chapter 40:
She’ll die if you don’t come.
The words rolled before him and retreated like a riptide into the darkness. His will got caught in the undertow and he could not resist the plea.
Dr. Farron put down the water cup and sized up the hallway, the portrait glimmering. Forget sanity. Eat me. Drink me. Vomit me. Scorch me. Love me. Remember me...
TQ: What's next?
Maria: I’ve just finished writing a dark, action-packed YA novel called Snowed. It’s about a 16-year-old engineering prodigy named Charity Jones whose social worker mother brings home a mysterious boy named Aidan to foster for the holidays. But as Charity and Aidan fall in love, violent deaths occur that Charity investigates with her Skeptics Club. They wind up battling a terrifying twist on the Christmas myth that changes their lives — and human history — forever.
I recruited a team of teen beta readers and their moms for notes to help make the book more authentic. They gave me great notes, but I was not prepared for their overwhelming, unrelenting excitement. Not even the moms were able to put down the book. I also got resounding approval from my 13-year-old male beta reader. (He says it’s a mystery, not a romance. I’m good with that.) I’m querying agents now, as well as plotting the second book in the trilogy.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Maria: You’re welcome! Thank you for having me.
Raw Dog Screaming Press, September 16, 20414
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 236 pages
Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory.
Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. The Librarian is Mr. Wicker — a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal. After committing suicide, Alicia finds herself before the Librarian, who informs her that her lost memory is not only the reason she took her life, but the cause of every bad thing that has happened to her.
Alicia spurns Mr. Wicker and attempts to enter the hereafter without the Book that would make her spirit whole. But instead of the oblivion she craves, she finds herself in a psychiatric hold at Bayford Hospital, where the staff is more pernicious than its patients.
Child psychiatrist Dr. James Farron is researching an unusual phenomenon: traumatized children whisper to a mysterious figure in their sleep. When they awaken, they forget both the traumatic event and the character that kept them company in their dreams — someone they call “Mr. Wicker.”
During an emergency room shift, Dr. Farron hears an unconscious Alicia talking to Mr. Wicker—the first time he’s heard of an adult speaking to the presence. Drawn to the mystery, and then to each other, they team up to find the memory before it annihilates Alicia for good. To do so they must struggle not only against Mr. Wicker’s passions, but also a powerful attraction that threatens to derail her search, ruin Dr. Farron’s career, and inflame the Librarian’s fury.
After all, Mr. Wicker wants Alicia to himself, and will destroy anyone to get what he wants. Even Alicia herself.
Maria Alexander writes pretty much every damned thing and gets paid to do it. She’s a produced screenwriter and playwright, published games writer, virtual world designer, award-winning copywriter, interactive theatre designer, prolific fiction writer, snarkiologist and poet. Her stories have appeared in publications such as Chiaroscuro Magazine, Gothic.net and Paradox, as well as numerous acclaimed anthologies alongside living legends such as David Morrell and Heather Graham.
Her second poetry collection—At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned and the Absinthe-Minded—was nominated for the 2011 Bram Stoker Award. And she was a winner of the 2004 AOL Time-Warner “Time to Rhyme” poetry contest.
When she’s not wielding a katana at her local shinkendo dojo, she’s on the BBC World Have Your Say radio program shooting off her mouth about blasphemy, international politics and more. She lives in Los Angeles with two
ungrateful cats and a purse called Trog.