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Tag: Mr. Wicker

Mr. Wicker: One Year Later

On September 14, 2014, Mr. Wicker was released by Raw Dog Screaming Press. A year has passed, and what a wild journey it’s been…

Suicide Prevention Month

When we chose to publish the book in September, I had no clue it was Suicide Prevention Month. Mr. Wicker opens with Alicia committing suicide and succeeding, however briefly. As a result, some who have struggled with suicidal thoughts have had a hard time reading the book. It vividly portrays someone acting out that intention.

Alicia’s frame of mind had been validated for me in the worst possible way when a friend committed suicide in 2009. Her suicide note bitterly echoed Alicia’s pre-death rants in the first chapter, as well as her post-death lashings out. They say depression is frozen rage, but I’d say it’s more like rage turned inward. I knew Alicia and her obliterating rage wouldn’t be immediately likable, although anyone who’d experienced this kind of pain would instantly recognize it.

And then just days before the book trailer was released, Robin Williams took his life. Suicide was burning up the news headlines, which was awful because I didn’t want to profit from the Zeitgeist of despair.

Besides, Mr. Wicker isn’t a “suicide story.” It’s a reclaiming story. How do we make ourselves whole? That was the question I was facing when the inspiration for the tale came to me in all its gothic glory.

Critical Acclaim

The critical acclaim for the book was strong from the start, with a Starred Review from Library Journal, which also named it Debut of the Month, and a really lovely review from Publishers Weekly, not to mention the many glowing reviews from genre magazines and individuals. I had almost no time to celebrate my success as I was in the publicity crush of countless guest blog posts, interviews and signings thanks to my wonderful publicist, Beverly Bambury. (And thank the gods I had both plenty of spare time and my voice technology to write everything because I suffered a hand disability at the time.)

I even attended three conventions in November 2014 to promote Mr. Wicker: BoucherCon, the World Fantasy Convention (official launch) and LosCon. Crazy, right? I don’t recommend that, by the way. But I do recommend the International Thriller Writers Debut Author Program. They supported me in a major way as I struggled to figure out the publishing terrain. I made some lasting friendships in that program, as they were all like midwives to my child.

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Me and Gil Roth in my home recording the Virtual Memories Podcast.

Some of the interviews were especially perceptive, like the one with G.G. Silverman, who’d picked up on the subtle yet powerful feminist themes in the book. Gil Roth’s interview for the Virtual Memories Podcast was a real highlight for me, too, as he asked a lot of intriguing questions, weaving in my knowledge of swords. The Storyforward Podcast with Steve Peters cut to the chase and asked me to tell everyone how I really felt about that dumbass lightsaber. And in my interview with old friend Adam Campbell for Anywhere But Hollywood, the story came full circle as Adam had read the original Nicholl Fellowship screenplay and as well as the novel. (It felt like the best interview I’d ever given, although that might be nostalgia talking.)

Almost everywhere I went, the book sold out of copies. I loved interacting with readers, particularly book clubs. I discovered that people have rich imaginations and that your story is never your own once it’s out in the hands of the reading public. Reading is a deeply collaborative process; new ideas grow when your words mingle with other people’s thoughts. I had been publishing short stories for years, many to acclaim, and I’d never experienced this as I did with readers of Mr. Wicker. It was kind of magical.

The Award

When Mr. Wicker was nominated for the 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, I was thrilled. That was about the time I signed with Alex Slater at Trident Media Group for a Young Adult horror novel I’d written. I’d long had my eye on Trident, and Alex had come on board as a regular agent after handling foreign rights for many years just as I was finishing up Snowed. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, actually winning the award in Atlanta at the World Horror Convention was cathartic. For a story that survived so many incarnations to achieve so much was a “reclaiming” all its own.

The Aftermath

After the award, a number of negative reviews hit the novel on Goodreads. Before, there were certainly readers who didn’t like the book for whatever reason. That happens. I honestly wondered if some folk had bought the book without reading the synopsis, because they clearly had expected something more like Stephen King rather than the Gaiman-esque story they got, which annoyed them. Regardless, I appreciated those reviews as much as the positive ones because people gave a damn, one way or the other. That’s awesome!

However, some of these subsequent reviews were not only negative but they featured a whole new “unfiltered” flavor of nasty. One reviewer in particular sounded like she’d stayed up all night grinding glass to mix into my breakfast yogurt. I started calling the site GoodBleeds because it was like getting paper cuts every time I went there.

Seriously.

At that point, I decided to stop reading reviews. It just wasn’t productive. Instead, I bathed my Stoker award with my tears.

Prophetic Advice

Before I’d even won the award, the renowned science fiction writer David Gerrold had quite prophetically advised me at dinner one night, “Maria, remember that fame is like being the tallest tree in the forest. You’ll be hit by the strongest winds, but you’ll also get the most sunlight.”

I’ll always cherish this advice, David. You have no idea how much it’s helped.

So, Thank You

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A massive, tremendous, stupendous THANK YOU to everyone who bought the book, reviewed it (yes, even you, glass-at-the-bottom yogurt lady), spent time interviewing me, published my guest posts, helped me with the book trailer, voted for the book, and everything else. Special thanks to Steven Barnes, Lisa Morton and Jonathan Maberry for their pre-publication blurbs. Domo arigato!

The biggest thanks of all go to John and Jennifer at Raw Dog Screaming Press. I’m so proud to be part of the Raw Dog family. You guys are the best!

What’s Next?

cranberry-clipart-SnowFlakes39_1_2Scarlet_RedAs I mentioned, my agent is shopping my YA horror novel, Snowed, the first in a trilogy. At this moment, I’m almost done with the first draft of the sequel. No matter what happens, Snowed and its sequels are getting out there. I’m extremely proud of this story and its characters, especially my main character, Charity Jones, the teenage skeptic and engineering prodigy. Between the teen beta readers and their moms, as well as my film industry friends who’ve read it, the response has been spectacular. (And we all know that teenagers don’t like anything, right? Except maybe Harry Potter.)

Plus, it’s clear from multiple sources that Snowed is hitting a new Zeitgeist, one that’s just coming to America from lands foreign and invading our storytelling. Fingers crossed that one of the houses that currently has it falls truly-madly-deeply in love with it tout de suite.

I think you will, too.

Goodbye, Roger Rees: I’d Know Your Face in Ten Thousand

I heard the news that Roger Rees had passed away while I was in New York on Saturday. It was like a mule kick to the gut.

The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby

Back in 1982, my parents patiently indulged me, their wide-eyed child, as I watched The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby, which had been broken up over four nights in a row. This was astonishing for many reasons, mostly because my dad’s soul mate was Archie Bunker, and he prefered movies like Friday the 13th and Bo Derek’s 10. (He once took me and my sister to see Bo Derek’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, which was straight up child abuse.) So, it was a huge deal that they sat with me through all eight-and-a-half hours of PBS as it aired Trevor Nunn’s production.

Roger Rees’s Tony and Olivier Awards-winning performance as Nicholas made me a lifelong fan. I don’t know if he ever landed another role that used his unique talents quite so well, but I continued to follow his work, ever hopeful. In 1999, I decided to create a fan website for him. It was crude by today’s standards, but it adequately reflected my devotion. I even started a Yahoo group so I could meet other fans. That’s where I met Jolande Hibels, who had this incredible collection of playbills for every stage production in which Roger had ever appeared. I linked to her astonishing Roger Rees gallery on my feeble website.

(I still recall the bitter outcry of the women on the Yahoo group many years ago when I informed them that Roger was gay. I suppose I should have broken the news more gently.)

Mrs. Winchester

As I wrote Mrs. Winchester in 1998, Roger was my muse. Mrs. Winchester is about a rich woman’s obsession with the dead and a poor man’s ill-fated love for her. I pictured him as Carl, the bewildered foreman who comes to work for Sarah Winchester as she builds her “bizarre yet beautiful” mansion, yet winds up falling in love with her.

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The script was a quarterfinalist in the Austin Film Festival competition the next year (I think), but nothing came of it. It has since been optioned twice and placed in other competitions, most recently as a Finalist in the 2012 Shriekfest Screenwriting Competition. Everyone who reads it raves about it. I think Roger’s spark brings the story to life.

(Haven’t read it? Don’t worry. I’ll probably adapt it to novel as I did Mr. Wicker. Then maybe someone will realize what a brilliant fucking role Mrs. Winchester is for a late-50s actress. We desperately need that.)

When I First Met Roger

It was after an L.A. Theatre Works production of Lady Windemere’s Fan in 1999 that I made my way into the lobby to meet him. At first, I wasn’t going to do it because the theatre people very coincidentally had sat me right under Roger’s microphone in the front row, which made me feel profoundly uncomfortable. But afterward, as I chatted with a friend in the parking lot, I decided I’d be damned if I was going to let this opportunity slip away due to embarrassment. That just wasn’t my style.

On my way back to where I’d hoped to encounter Roger, I had a delightful, flirty encounter with Eric Stoltz in the elevator, which helped me relax a bit. I sat on a bench, waiting until he appeared. As he approached, I stood and introduced myself, explaining that I’d built him a fan website.

Eyes cast downward shyly, he asked, “Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?”

I replied, “Well, you’ve given many people like myself so much joy. I just wanted to do a little something to give back to you.”

He melted before my eyes, making all kinds of utterly charming and sweet declarations that I no longer recall. All I remember is that he signed my program and I left, walking on clouds. I didn’t even sleep that night, I was so pleased.

1776

RogerandMeTwo years later, he appeared in a production of 1776 that opened on September 4, 2001, here in Los Angeles with my friend Mark Ryan.

It was so much fun seeing Mark and Roger on the same stage. I’d asked Mark to vouch for me, to tell him I’m not one of those fans.

After the show, I waited in the courtyard and, to my terror, Roger emerged before Mark did. He recognized me immediately and was incredibly darling. He kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and kept telling me how wonderful it was to see me, asking how I was doing, etc.  I managed to wrangle a friend of his (Rick?) into taking a couple pictures of us with my camera. The poor guy, bless his sweet heart, had a lot of trouble with my camera. As he messed with the settings, the whole time Roger kept turning to me, still just as lively and happy, asking questions as to get to know me better.

For a long time, I was unhappy that it was more of a Roger photo than a Roger-and-fan photo, but you can see by my expression that I was delighted beyond words to be standing next to him.

(I should note that national disaster had struck the day before I was originally supposed to see this performance. They moved the show out to the following weekend. That night in the courtyard before Mark and Roger emerged, I met a young man who was friends with Mark’s agent. He’d lost two friends in the Towers, including one who had proudly just hired a staff of 45 people… He broke down. I hugged him, a total stranger, whispering to him my sympathies as he wept. What a terrible time that was. But what a perfect time to see 1776. Roger announced to the audience that they were selling signed posters of the show and that proceeds were going to the NYC Fireman’s Relief Fund. I bought one, naturally.)

Bad Fan! No Biscuit!

Years passed. Work and writing displaced the time I’d previously spent doing fannish things. I neglected the website, but I never entirely lost track of Roger’s career. I didn’t see everything he was in, but I tried. I was bitterly disappointed by Going Under, even though it had seemed as though someone had made a movie just for me, as BDSM and Roger Rees were two of my favorite topics. I was not remotely disappointed by his appearances in CheersThe West Wing, Robin Hood: Men in TightsThe Prestige and Frida. But to be honest, there is so much that I’ve missed, it’s ridiculous. I’d probably love his work in shows like Oz, Warehouse 13 and Boston Common. And so much more. He was a prolific performer, not just on stage, TV and film, but even in audio books.

His directing talents were formidable, as well. Bret and I saw Peter and the Starcatcher, which was written by Roger’s partner, Rick Elice, and directed by Roger on Broadway. The show had won a number of Tony awards. Unfortunately, the production we saw on tour in Los Angeles wasn’t quite our cuppa. (I vaguely recall it had something to do with the lead actress.) Still, it was entertaining (“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!”) and I’m glad we saw it.

Death

I didn’t know that Roger was ill. He hadn’t been ill for long, apparently. In fact, he’d just been the lead in a Broadway production called The Visit when his sickness forced him to leave.

On Saturday when the news came out, I’d just been part of the Thrillerfest Debut Author breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, where I’d gotten the chance to introduce myself and talk about my award-winning debut book, Mr. Wicker.

There I was in the midst of some of the most famous novelists of our time: Lee Child, Heather Graham, Sandra Brown, Charlaine Harris, and many, many more. The conference so far had been tremendous.

But later that day after breakfast, as I was sitting in the lobby between panels, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a photo that Mark had posted of himself and Roger in 1776 with the news of Roger’s death.

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Even though Roger was 71, it felt much too soon for him to leave. My heart broke even more deeply as I thought about Rick and his grief. They’d been together for over 30 years and married for four.

I’m glad I didn’t hear of it before breakfast. As the reality of Roger’s passing soaked into me, I could think of little else. Words cannot express the sadness I felt as the day wore on, knowing that such a special presence would no longer shine on the stage.

“I’d know that face in ten thousand,” Nicholas says. And it’s true. It’s a face — a voice, a person of eminent grace, humility, kindness and talent — that I will never forget.

On Mr. Wicker Winning the Bram Stoker Award

Wow.

I’m so incredibly honored that the Horror Writers Association chose to recognize my book, Mr. Wicker, for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. As I said in my speech, my heartfelt thanks goes to each and every member who voted for my book. It had very tough competition, especially from film director David Cronenberg’s Consumed and Josh Malerman’s Birdbox. Truly, all the books were excellent. I enjoyed the heck out of meeting Josh, as well as the other nominees, Michael Knost and JD Barker. I felt honored just getting to hang out with such a terrific group of people. I was already in the Winner’s Circle with these talented folk.

Reeling

But when they called my name, I was reeling. Truth be told, I was well into into my cups and enjoying the hilarious antics of poet Mike Arnzen at our table. Raw Dog Screaming Press should probably be called Raw Dog Laughing Press, as we were the most raucous lot in the room. We already had two Stokers sitting on our table as Lucy Snyder had won twice — once for Non-Fiction and then again for Short Fiction Collection. (I know, right?!?) Anyway, I managed to stand up with the help of my table mates. My shaky, tearful walk up to the podium was then supported by many hugs, handshakes and kisses from friends and colleagues along the way. If it weren’t for my friend Joe McKinney and the awesome Dacre Stoker who were giving out the award, I don’t know if I could have stayed on my feet. Thank you, both.

That Crazy Speech

If you couldn’t tell, the speech I gave was totally unprepared. My friend, the great science fiction writer David Gerrold who won his first Stoker last year, had told me to prepare something, but I didn’t. Maybe because the buzz was so strong about the other books, I lost heart. I don’t know. I do know that, from now I on, I will always listen to David because I forgot to thank Lisa Morton for her support, feedback and friendship all these years. (When someone on the Shocklines forum asked members in 2009 what their the top ten book choices were of the last decade, Lisa responded, “Unfortunately the best book I read in 2009 has yet to be published (MR. WICKER by Maria Alexander).”) I also forgot to thank the Dark Delicacies writing group for their support. Oy! Mea culpa for the lack of preparation doused in Manhattans.

Then again, as people congratulated me after the ceremony, some said it was the most heartfelt speech they had ever heard.

All A-Twitter

At any rate, I immediately texted my boyfriend. Next, I took a photo of the award and tweeted to my agent, the wonderful Alex Slater at Trident Media Group:

And finally, I sent Neil Gaiman a direct message on Twitter, to which he responded, “Well done!!!!!!!!!” Jonathan Maberry (who won that night for Best Graphic Novel) pointed to my Stoker and told me with the biggest smile, “That was an easy win.” Honestly, I’m surrounded by amazing people. I’m pretty sure I eventually stopped hugging him. I left a trail of lipstick marks on cheeks across the conference, that’s for sure.

You All Rock

What a fantastic weekend and unforgettable night. I so loved finally meeting in person JG Faherty, Angel Leigh McCoy, Stephanie Wytovich and Alethea Kontis. I feel like I’ve known and admired Angel forever. Bless her because, as she is also the HWA webmistress, she already knew I’d won while we were on the Horror in Gaming panel, and managed not to give away anything. Of course, Lisa Morton knew for almost two months. She is Fort Freakin’ Knox, man. At Los Angeles chapter meetings, she let nary an inkling slip past the usual mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She’s amazing, y’all.

I’m sure there are others that my jetlagged brain has temporarily submerged in the fog; I loved meeting you all.

Thanks again to everyone, but especially publishers Jennifer Barnes and John Lawson at Raw Dog. Heart you guys big time. And so does Mr. BBQ Butt.

Get Ready for the Wild Rumpus!

We’re getting close to the release of Mr. Wicker!

Hardcover copies of Mr. WickerThe Wild Rumpus starts September 16, 2014. You can still preorder your copy at a discount on Amazon. If you have Amazon Prime, you get free shipping!

Guest Blog Post at Save the Cat! on 9/19

Look for a guest blog post by me on the Save the Cat!® website next Friday, September 19th. I’ll be talking about how to approach common POV writing problems that screenwriters have when they try to adapt one of their scripts to novel. Since Mr. Wicker began as a script, I’ll be speaking from personal experience and sharing my expertise as both a produced screenwriter and published fiction writer.

Shades and Shadows Reading on 9/20

As a pre-celebration, I’ll be reading from the novel at the Shades and Shadows Reading Series. Here are the details:

September 20, 2014
8:00 pm
California Institute of Abnormal Arts
11334 Burbank Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
$10 admission fee

Official Book Launch at Dark Delicacies on 9/21

The official celebration will be a signing at my favorite bookstore, Dark Delicacies!

September 21, 2014
2:00 pm
Dark Delicacies
3512 W. Magnolia
Burbank, CA 91505

See my Appearances page for more information about upcoming events in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego.

Stay Tuned for More Sword Controversy

I’m currently writing a guest blog post for SF Signal about swords in film and fiction that might heat up the interwebs, as well as completing interviews for The Qwillery, The Big Thrill, and many more.

Catch you all on the flip side of the rumpus.

Book Trailer for Mr. Wicker

Lots of talent went into this video. John Palisano directed the trailer and created the special FX, with backup from major Hollywood effects pro and author, Mike McCarty. The gorgeous and creepy interstitial cards were created by the very talented designer, Neil A. Williams II. I wrote the Mr. Wicker theme ages ago, but Jill Tracy‘s amazing adaptation and performance of it just floors me. Her magic makes this video complete.

And, yes, there’s something special at the end. Ahem.

Is this “triggery”? Yup. So is the whole damn book. Consider this a warning. Or a big red, shiny bow. Whichever you prefer.

Thanks for watching! Don’t forget: save money when you pre-order your copy of Mr. Wicker directly from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

My First Book Deal: Mr. Wicker

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I am beyond delighted to announce that Raw Dog Screaming Press will be publishing my first book, Mr. Wicker, in 2014.

Based on a screenplay that placed highly in the prestigious Nicholl competition, Mr. Wicker is an urban fantasy about a woman who is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must find that memory before it takes her life — again.

Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. But the Librarian is Mr. Wicker — a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as deadly. Once you meet him, he will change your dreams forever…

Raw Dog Screaming Press has published many award-winning authors, including Jeff VanderMeer, Mike Resnick and Elizabeth Massie. I’m so proud to be amongst such distinguished writers.

Just remember: What you can’t remember can kill you.

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