When you talk about Maria Alexander, two things come to mind: smoldering intelligence, and ninja swords. Oh, and games. And plays. And Dr. Who.
Okay, so a lot of things come to mind when you talk about the multi-talented unseelie fae that is Maria Alexander, for no one who could weave such dark magic could hail from the court of Oberon. We were able to catch up with the author of the well-regarded, runaway novel Mr. Wicker, and pick her luminous brain about her burgeoning career.
1. Your first novel-length work, Mr. Wicker, is neither new, nor simple, but ethereal and transforming – much like Mr. Wicker himself. How long was the journey of the many incarnations of this story?
MA: The book started back in 1997 as a short story that I eventually adapted to screenplay in 1999. When the screenplay did well in a major screenwriting competition, I decided to adapt it to novel, but I didn’t start that process for a few years. So, if you don’t count the years that the story spent in other forms, it took about nine years to write.
2. There is a complex novelty revealed through your release, like unfolding origami. Can you tell us a bit about the puzzles that start with your book trailer?
MA: The event that inspired the book is so extraordinary and haunting that I decided to treat it like a treasure that one needs to seek out and uncover. The book trailer is the treasure map. I’ve chosen to reveal the inspiration for Mr. Wicker through a series of puzzles that start with the first puzzle at the end of my book trailer. As you solve each one, it unlocks another piece of the story.
3. Sometimes a work is so seamlessly intelligent that one becomes cocooned in the narrative, and only vaguely aware of the catwalks and girders comprising the surrounding edifice. A certain historical passage stands out as a well-researched pillar. What went into that?
MA: For the historical fantasy story that’s nested in the larger urban fantasy story, I conducted extensive research under the guidance of an expert, Dr. James Moscovich, professor of classical studies at the University of Western Ontario. Dr. Moscovich is now Emeritus, spending far more time thinking about golf than the Gauls, but he was an enormous help to me.
4. Is the idea of someone collecting traumatizing memories something you’ve been toying with for long?
MA: No. It came to me all at once in that one extraordinary event.
5. From idea to editing, would you describe the experience of your first novel as an exercise in patience?
MA: I’ve learned that all things happen in their due time, not according to our chosen schedule.
6. How did you gain the attention of your publishers, the wonderful people at Raw Dog Screaming Press?
MA: Actually, I’ve never told this story. At the World Fantasy Convention in 2004, I met Jennifer Barnes and John Lawson during the mass autograph session. They had been following my posts on LiveJournal and had read about my eerie and accurate predictions about the 2000 United States presidential election.
The convention took place just a few days before the 2004 United States presidential election, and they wanted to know my predictions. I said, “I don’t think Kerry is going to win. He doesn’t have the triumphant transits one would expect. Also, John Edwards will be having significant family problems that day.”
Sure enough, Kerry did not win and John Edwards announced that day that his wife, Elizabeth, had breast cancer. After the election, I wrote a LiveJournal post about it to which Jennifer responded, among other things, “That’s freaky accuracy.” I guess I was a hard person to forget after that.
7. There are quite a number of book signings and events listed on your website. While many new authors are anxious about the idea of reading in front of an audience, You seem to take to it quite naturally. Do you have some performance background?
MA: Indeed. I was raised as a classical musician up through my teens and I lived to perform. I later enjoyed a few years working at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire at Black Pointe Forest in Marin County, which involved lots of improv acting. Here in L.A., I performed my own songs for a few years as Lady Euthanasia in a gothic cabaret style I called “Dark Folk for Dark Folk.” But even more than singing, I love reading aloud. It’s like getting to put on a little play with the people in my head. Interacting with an audience is truly joyous for me.
8. Your friend and esteemed creator in her own right, Jill Tracy, composed a song for Mr. Wicker. Can you tell us a bit about that collaboration, and the process of working on something so personal with another formidable creative talent?
MA: The process was quite simple. I composed the Mr. Wicker song — both lyrics and tune — back in 1997. The lyrics have been in every incarnation of the story, but the tune haunted me for 17 years with nowhere to go until I decided to produce the book trailer. I asked Jill Tracy if she would adapt the tune in her unique style. I gave her a rough recording I’d made of the tune on my old Chickering upright. She then scored, performed and recorded it. I love her with my whole heart. I never doubted she would create a gorgeous adaptation. She’s extraordinary.
9. What’s next for Maria Alexander?
MA: I’ve just finished writing a young adult (YA) paranormal thriller called Snowed. It’s about a girl science genius who has to save her true love — and humanity itself — from an ancient Yuletide evil.
As I query agents about that book, I’m working on the sequel. I’m also writing my first YA horror short story. I have a feeling that Snowed is going to take me places in my writer’s journey I have never before imagined. Hell, it’s already done that. Getting feedback from teenagers on your work is quite an experience.
When I asked this particular 14-year-old in a questionnaire how she would describe Snowed to her friends, she responded, “It’s a kickass Christmas story. If you liked The Mortal Instruments, you need to read this RIGHT FUCKING NOW.” (Her emphasis.) They were all very excited about the book. Let’s hope the rest of the world will be, too.
Maria Alexander is a produced screenwriter, published games writer, virtual world designer, award-winning copywriter, interactive theater 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 just 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.