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The Scariest Part: Maria Alexander Talks About MR. WICKER


Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

It’s very nearly Halloween (hooray!) and today’s offering on The Scariest Part is a debut horror novel that fits the season well. My guest is author Maria Alexander, and the novel in question is Mr. Wicker. Here’s the publisher’s description:

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.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Maria Alexander:

Since the inception of Mr. Wicker 17 years ago, I’ve faced many grim encounters both in and out of the story. But the scariest part was that I might not have lived to write the book at all.

You see, before I had the astonishing experience that ultimately inspired the book, I’d fallen into a deep despair. My health, occupation, relationships and finances — all were devastated. As a result, I was in the grip of a depression so profound that I could not see beyond the next day. Much like the protagonist Alicia Baum in Chapter 1, I felt only the cold, empty embrace of The Void. I understood Salieri’s rage in the film Amadeus. I had done everything right, I thought, yet God was against me. Unlike Salieri, I had no recourse against God, no symbolic enemy to thwart. So, I turned against myself. My computer had died. The only backups I had of my stories and scripts were printouts I kept on a shelf in my bedroom. In my wounded logic, the only way to spite God would be to burn my writing. Destroying such a precious part of me would be the symbolic precursor to the next — and absolutely final — act.

Some Hamlet scholars argue that the Prince of Denmark doesn’t commit suicide prior to the “To be or not to be?” soliloquy because he doesn’t have enough energy. That was certainly true in my case. I was too drained to do anything, really. But more importantly, no matter how much life upturns my emotional soil, some part of me remains firmly rooted in sanity. I’m lucky. I’ve experienced situational depression, but never chronic clinical depression, which might have made me more vulnerable to the charms of self-destruction. If I had, you might not be reading these words. Many of my short stories, my poetry, and especially Mr. Wicker might not have ever existed. We never know the impact of our writing. This may or may not have been a great loss to some. I don’t know. But I do know that my death would have affected many people. I thank the Loa every day that those thoughts never animated my actions.

This isn’t some sort of Halloween-time version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Rather, this is a stark testimony to the terrifying power of depression. Ever the trickster, depression hoodwinks us about the nature of reality. It suspends us in grief, convincing us that we are already dead, that the sun will never rise again. And, in a perverse way, it empowers us, telling us that we can change a hopeless situation by rooting out the “true” problem: life itself.

A bald-faced lie, to be sure. But a mind trapped like an insect in the cloudy amber of biochemical dysfunction can’t see the deception.

As depression eclipsed me, I “met” Mr. Wicker in a life-changing experience. Unlike Alicia, I didn’t have to die or hurt myself in any way to find him. I reveal the extraordinary true story through a brief series of puzzles, starting with the first puzzle that appears at the end of my book trailer. (Did I mention I’m also a game designer?) A couple of people have so far solved it: the first was online community guru and legendary Monkey Island game designer Randy Farmer, followed by the renowned actress and YouTube sensation Whitney Avalon. If you solve it, feel free to claim bragging rights by posting the solutions. I’m working on some kind of reward for the next person who contacts me with the answers.

Released last month, the novel is generating a good bit of critical acclaim. But even if it had never been published, meeting Mr. Wicker proved this: It doesn’t matter what we lose or what we are “less.” Whether we are friendless, jobless, hopeless, or even handless, it is in our lessness that we are so much more. We have so much more because, when we stand in the darkness like Alicia, embraced by The Void, our humor, imagination and spirit can finally grow.

Be well. Be safe. And, most of all, remember that, if you reach out for help, you can shatter the amber.

Maria Alexander: Website / Facebook / Goodreads / Amazon / Twitter / Pinterest

Mr. Wicker: AmazonBarnes & Noble / Raw Dog Screaming Press

Maria Alexander is a produced screenwriter, published games writer, virtual world designer, award-winning copywriter, interactive theatre designer, fiction writer, and poet. Her short stories have appeared in acclaimed publications alongside living legends such as David Morrell and Heather Graham. Her debut novel, Mr. Wicker, was released by Raw Dog Screaming Press in September 2014. Publishers Weekly calls it “…(a) splendid, bittersweet ode to the ghosts of childhood.” Naming it Debut of the Month, Library Journal gave it a Starred Review and called it “a horror novel to anticipate.” When not wielding a katana at her Shinkendo dojo, Maria is being outrageously spooky or writing Doctor Who filk. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats and a purse called Trog.

Doctor Who: “In the Forest of the Night”

If I were ten years old, I would think “In the Forest of the Night” is the greatest episode ever. As it is, it feels like a very good episode…but of some other program entirely. Because its focus is on the school children and their teachers, Clara and Danny, and because the Doctor’s presence once again feels more like a cameo than anything else, the whole thing has the feel of being some other program, like an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures without Sarah Jane. It’s a good story, despite all its plot holes, but “In the Forest of the Night” is missing something.

In fact, the same could be said of the entirety of Season 8 so far. For the most part, the scripts and acting are decent, but something’s just not there. If I were to put my finger on it, I’d say what’s missing is the Doctor himself. We’re almost at the end of his first full season, and we still don’t have a handle on who the Twelfth Doctor is. There’s very little consistency in the way the character is being written (the Doctor in “Deep Breath” and “Into the Dalek” seems quite different from the Doctor in “The Caretaker” and “Kill the Moon”) and half the time he feels like a sidekick in a sitcom about Clara’s romantic complications. The Clara Show, with special guest star the Doctor.


“In the Forest of the Night” has a lot of missed opportunities. Courtney should have been part of the school outing, for example. Her presence could have helped the other children not be so scared of the Doctor, and could also have shown that the Doctor is having a positive effect on the people around him. The story of Maebh’s sister’s disappearance is glossed over so quickly that the sister’s return at the end doesn’t pack the emotional punch it ought to. It’s also difficult to understand what’s happening because of the way her return is presented. Did the sister run away and return home after hearing Maebh’s cell phone call? Did the sparkly forest fairies, or whatever they were, bring her back home somehow? Were they responsible for her disappearance in the first place? The sister seems happy to be back, but gives no indication of why she left, nor signs of trauma that she was taken against her will. She’s just there and we’re supposed to feel happy about it, cue end credits. On the other hand, Maebh herself is a very interesting character and I felt the episode came alive whenever she was on screen.

It’s impossible to understand Clara’s reasoning for telling the Doctor not to rescue the children from the solar flare that will destroy Earth. So they would miss their parents, at least they would survive and the human race would go on! It was incredibly selfish — and damn near murderous — of Clara to make that decision for them without even asking, and to make it for Danny, too. It’s not presented that way, of course. We’re supposed to side with her, but how can we when it’s such a bad idea? I did like the Doctor repeating Clara’s words from “Kill the Moon” back to her (“It’s my world, too. I walk your earth. I breathe your air.”), and Clara’s assertion that she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind the way the Doctor is (a moment that could have been explored a little more, in my opinion, even if it was just by Clara adding, “I’ve seen what it did to you, and I don’t think I could handle it”).

One thing that did work for me, surprisingly, was Clara and Danny, finally. I liked them at the start of their relationship, but then, once Clara started lying to him about her continued travels with the Doctor, it felt forced and stupid. Now that they’ve talked it out in a remarkably mature manner that I found very welcome indeed after all the relationship-drama histrionics, I like them again. Here’s hoping they don’t add any more forced and unrealistic roadblocks to their relationship. (Believable roadblocks are fine, of course, and the essence of all good drama.) But then, this is Steven Moffat we’re talking about and he’s writing the two-part finale that’s coming up next, so something ridiculous is more likely to happen to one or both of them than not.

Speaking of the finale, I can’t believe we’re there already! This season has gone by remarkably quickly, something I credit to the stronger scripts. With so much less to roll my eyes over than in the last couple of seasons, I’ve been pulled along for the ride. But alas, we’ve come to the finale, which means more of Missy, who is without a doubt the weakest part of the season. She and her “Promised Land” are supposed to be the season-long arc, maybe even the Big Bad, but Missy has been kept separate from everything else that’s happened this season, relegated only to brief cameos at the end of a few episodes. As a result, she feels more like an intrusion than a threat. She doesn’t feel important, and if she’s the key to this season’s arc, she needs to. We’ll see what happens, obviously, but with Moffat’s track record of confusing, nonsensical, and all around dreadful finales, I’m bracing myself for stupid. (From the trailer, it also looks like Missy is controlling Clara somehow as a trap for the Doctor, just like Madame Kovarian was controlling the Flesh duplicate of Amy, so I’m bracing myself for another of Moffat’s repeated plot lines, too.)

Sunday Reading Reminder

In case you missed the earlier announcements, I’ll be reading from Die and Stay Dead this Sunday as part of the Writers Read NYC series!

The Sidewalk Cafe
96 Avenue A (at 6th Street)
6 PM (doors open at 5:30)

If you’re coming, please try to get there at 5:30. These readings fill up fast!

Joining me will be author Gene Albertelli, poet Marcia Loughran, and essayist Malcolm McNeill. There is a $5 cover charge. I will have personal copies of Die and Stay Dead with me to sell and sign, but as I’ve mentioned before, it would be even more helpful if you bought a copy from the bookseller of your choice and brought it with you to the reading. It’s incredibly important that the publisher (and the bookstores) sees this book selling!

Hope to see you Sunday!

Demons and Catwomen

I have a guest post over at SF Signal about demons in pop culture that I think readers will get a kick out of. Here’s a snippet:

You could be forgiven for thinking most demons in pop culture are little girl-possessing Pazuzu clones — hell, in the 1970s and ’80s the Italian film industry produced an entire subgenre of cheap, lurid Exorcist rip-offs because it was so immensely popular at the time — but in actuality, there are plenty of examples in entertainment of demons as corporeal creatures with their own bodies and no need for anyone else’s, thank you very much. One of my favorites is Etrigan from the DC Comics universe. This rhyming demon with superhuman strength and close ties to Hell has crossed paths with superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and even Batman. Unfortunately for him, Etrigan often finds himself allied with the forces of good — or at least often doing the right thing in the end — which makes him distinctly unpopular with his fellow demons.

And speaking of DC Comics, look what I got my paws on last night: Catwoman #35, written by my good friend Genevieve Valentine! (I managed to snag the issue with its Halloween variant cover.)


I read it from front to back the minute I got someplace dry, because New York City last night was a friggin’ monsoon, and I loved it! It’s Catwoman like you’ve never seen her before. Go get yourself a copy!