By J. H. Bográn
I first met author Maria Alexander in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City during the 2010 ThrillerFest. We exchanged book pitches and business cards. Hers was made of thick pink cardboard, with black lettering, lilac leaves on each corner, and neatly framed. There was this message on the back that has haunted me ever since: “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” We kept in touch, and when I got this month’s assignment I was thrilled to find out it was for Alexander’s MR. WICKER.
Tell us about MR. WICKER.
Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must find it before it destroys her. 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 lethal.
What can you tell us about Alicia?
She’s intelligent. Independent. Passionate. Depressed. Angry.
Authors rarely kill off the main character in the first paragraph, but that’s exactly what I’ve done in MR. WICKER.
While she is certainly in a bad way at the outset, her enormous imagination and courage later help her process extraordinary events that would drive you and I insane. Her strong will and rebellious streak don’t always help her make the best decisions. However, you can see the size of her heart in her defense of and compassion for those weaker than herself. Publishers Weekly said some lovely things about both the book and Alicia. It made me very happy.
Can you give us some dirt on the librarian? Without giving away the ending, of course.
Mr. Wicker, who presides over The Library of Lost Childhood Memories, is one unforgiving bastard, even when it comes to centuries-old hurts. The contents of the Library have corrupted his mind, yet there is still a chance for him to learn forgiveness. Whether he takes it or not is to be seen, but Alicia’s life might depend on it.
What kind of research did you have to do?
I haunted the online forums where former mental health patients congregated, people who had committed suicide and survived. I tried very hard to get information about what it’s really like inside a lockdown from a professional point of view, but I didn’t have much luck. It wasn’t until a friend who had recently become a doctor shared with me her experiences on rotation in a lockdown that I got an idea of what it’s like. I wish there had been more transparency in the industry.
My favorite research by far was for the historical fantasy section of the book. In the course of the tale, we learn Mr. Wicker’s origin story, which starts on the eve of the Gallic wars. I went to the UCLA library and found journal articles written by a scholar named Dr. Maurice James Moscovich who specialized in precisely the information I needed. He’s now an Emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Western Ottawa. I wrote to him and he immediately took me under his wing. He even read what I wrote and gave me feedback. Where I might have struck out on the previous subject, on this one I was extremely fortunate.
Do you have a trailer for the novel?
Yes! I worked with some real Hollywood talent to create it. I wrote the music, too, but it was the award-winning musician Jill Tracy who brought the tune to life with her gorgeous adaptation and performance. I’m quite happy with how it turned out. (Warning: could be triggery for some folk. In fact, I jokingly call the book Mr. Trigger Warning.)
Plus, there is a puzzle at the end. If you solve this puzzle, you will unlock a trail of puzzles that reveal the bizarre yet true story that inspired the book. Two people so far have solved it. Both admit it wasn’t that difficult once they realized that the first sequence of letters looked familiar. That’s the only hint I’ll give.
Will you be making appearances for promotion of MR. WICKER?
Yes, quite a few. I have appearances scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego and even in Washington, D.C. at the World Fantasy Convention, where the book shall make its debut this November. I’ll be at Bouchercon in Long Beach, California, shortly thereafter, stirring up trouble as usual.
We seem to share a liking for a certain British madman in a blue box. How much of a Doctor Who fan are you, really?
I think this link is the best way to answer your question.
But to be honest, my faith in the show is failing. As much as I adore Peter Capaldi, the stories aren’t making any sense. “Listen” is the worst offender of the current season. During the Doctor’s entire opening speech, I was thinking, “Have you forgotten about The Silence? What about simple Earth chameleons?” (If you saw the episode, you know what I’m talking about.) I hope the show can be saved because Peter Capaldi is a gem and they are very lucky to have him.
You call yourself a “samurai-in-training.” Can you tell me more about that? Is that real?
Yes, on both counts! For the last four years, I’ve been studying Shinkendo, which is samurai swordsmanship. Before that I’d spent several years studying stage combat with top Hollywood swordmasters, focusing on the seventeenth-century European small sword (like in the first scene of The Duellists with Harvey Keitel). These days, however, I wield a katana. I was recently featured in Katsujinken, a Sword Arts Journal in their “Women of the Sword Arts” issue. I had to take a break for a bit, as I was recovering from typing injuries, but that gave me the opportunity to study bun bu ryo do.
I study at Mashuu Dojo with Sensei Matthew Lynch, who is a direct student of Master Toshishiro Obata, the man who created Shinkendo by bringing back together all the separate Japanese sword arts into one discipline. I’m very passionate about the art. I’d love to see more women in it.
Maria Alexander is a produced screenwriter, published games writer, virtual world designer, award-winning copywriter, interactive theatre designer, 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. When she’s not wielding a katana at her Shinkendo dojo, she’s being outrageously spooky or writing Doctor Who filk. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats and a purse called Trog.
To learn more about Maria, please visit her website.