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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey, @abuckslater! I WON! pic.twitter.com/voLWeKM7ai
— Maria Alexander (@LaMaupin) May 10, 2015
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.
At that point, I decided to stop reading reviews. It just wasn’t productive. Instead, I bathed my Stoker award with my tears.
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
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!
As 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.