Maria Alexander: Five Things I Learned Writing Mr. Wicker

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.

If you don’t cut your wrists correctly, you will not only botch your suicide but also permanently fuck up your hands

When I was researching suicide for the book, I would haunt mental health forums to find out what it was like to attempt suicide and fail. One guy had done such a bad job that he’d severed all the tendons in his hands. He had to live in his parents’ basement, permanently disabled. I don’t know about you, but that could send me on a serious search for a new suicide method. Anyway, I made sure Alicia’s hands were affected.

It’s not a spoiler to say she survives the suicide attempt. I can also say that her pursuit of death forces her to confront life. LIKE A BOSS.

If you have an angry female protagonist, you might get a letter from a male agent telling you that nobody likes an angry woman

From the letter, it was clear the agent (who shall remain nameless and whose agency failed anyway) had read the entire book. Not only did he intensely dislike it, but he also found Alicia particularly offensive because she was angry. Now, she’s not constantly angry. But in the beginning when she’s ending her life? Yeah, she’s pretty fucking mad for lots of good reasons. And when she’s saved? She cusses out the doctor in the emergency room. I love reading that scene out loud at readings. It makes people laugh. But I guess some people can’t handle angry wimmins. Fuck those guys with a rolled up copy of Bitch Magazine.

Cut the cheesecake

In addition to being a short story author, I’m a critically acclaimed poet and award-winning copywriter. One would think that I would have already learned this lesson, but writing Mr. Wicker taught me the difference between being poetic and being purple. And when I say “writing,” I really mean editing. As I edited the manuscript, I found most similes are as useless as a wig on a chimp. Just fucking terminate them. Those and adverbs. If you catch yourself writing a simile, give yourself 50 lashes and turn off the computer for a week.

Actually, I give myself some slack because Mr. Wicker was the first book I ever wrote. The writing of each book since then has matured.

Historical scholars can be sweethearts

While the book is mostly dark urban fantasy, the midsection takes a left turn into historical fantasy set in ancient Gaul on the eve of the Gallic Wars. I bothered everyone I knew, including Tim Powers, for historical research tips. I hit some walls trying to find specific information about the Romans. The Gauls were obscure, but what I also needed to understand was their relationship with the Romans before the wars. (By the way, Tim is awesome. I love his books and he’s a great guy.)

I went to the UCLA library and found journal articles about the very thing I needed to know. They were written by a scholar named Dr. Maurice James Moscovich, who is now an emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Western Ontario. When I emailed him, he took me under his wing and made me one of his students. Every time one of his emails appeared in my inbox, I must have shouted, “Awesomeballs!” Anyway, he not only tutored me on the Roman specifics I needed, but also introduced me to some old scholarly books I hadn’t found on Gaul. And if that weren’t enough, he read what I wrote and gave me feedback. I tell you, a sweetheart.

For the love of Lugh, listen to Neil Fucking Gaiman

Mr. Wicker was based on a script I wrote in 1999 that was a quarterfinalist in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, a prestigious screenplay competition. While I got many meetings as a result, none of the film executives I met knew the genre urban fantasy. The term didn’t even exist back then. But if it had, they would have thought it was some kind of euphemism for porn. The literary world was well familiar with stories like this. So, years later I decided to adapt the script to fiction.

The script was based on a novelette that I wrote in late 1997. At the time, I was corresponding with Neil Gaiman quite a bit. He, too, was a sweetheart, reading my stories and giving me feedback. The feedback he gave me on the novelette went straight into the script two years later. It included this: “In fairy tales, things happen in threes. Therefore, Alicia needs to see Mr. Wicker three times.” For whatever reason, I didn’t realize I was writing an adult fairy tale. And, boy, was he right. In the book, that third meeting between Alicia and Mr. Wicker is one of the most powerful experiences of the story. I can’t say anything else.

He also gave me some great advice that he has since disseminated online. “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” I hung onto this advice at every stage of the book’s evolution and it served me well. I use it whenever I receive a critique. It’s utterly brilliant and true.

* * *

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.

Maria Alexander: Website

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7 comments

  • uhhhh – I have a thing about wrists where if people speak of certain types of injuries I can actually feel my wrists throbbing in sympathy. So uh … I’m not triggered, I’m currently just holding my wrists (really hard to type) – but maybe a suicide trigger warning at the top of this post would be good?

  • You got Neil fucking Gaiman (or anyone who’s written a book) to talk to you?

    I agree with two things you said, and one the agent said. Adverbs and similes are useless, generally, and nobody like an angry woman. Well, nobody likes to make a woman angry, which means you probably fucked something up. So no one likes to fuck up to the extent that it makes a woman angry. I think that’s what he was trying to say.

  • I haven’t wanted to read a book this much in a while. I feel like I should say more, but I can’t think of anything but how I can fudge my budget to fit it in next pay day.
    And how the word simile always makes me think of simians.

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