Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.
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Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago and currently lives in the UK with her husband and dog, Moose Barkwinkle. She has an MFA from Emerson College and has had short fiction published in Bellevue Literary Review. Before turning to fiction, she worked as a creative copywriter at several advertising agencies.

Visit her online at www.stephaniewrobel.com, Instagram @stephaniewrobel, and Twitter @stephwrobel.

Stephanie Wrobel credit Simon Way

In this post, Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, getting inside the head of an unusual character, and more!

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Name: Stephanie Wrobel
Literary agent: Madeleine Milburn
Title: Darling Rose Gold
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: January 19, 2021
Genre: Suspense
Elevator pitch for the book: Darling Rose Gold is the story of a young woman who, despite being poisoned by her mother for 18 years, makes a calculated decision to take her in after her prison sentence.

darling_rose_gold_a_novel_by_stephanie_wrobel_book_cover

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What prompted you to write this book?

I learned about Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) from my best friend, who is a school psychologist. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became. The perpetrators of MSBP are usually mothers—interesting in itself since the mother/child bond is supposed to be sacred. Perpetrators act out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community, a motivation both intriguing and heartbreaking. I wanted to get inside the head of one of these mothers, to try to understand whether they know they’re lying or if they believe they’re doing what’s best for their child. Along came Patty Watts.

(Surprise vs. Suspense and How to Pair Them in Your Writing)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

Roughly three years from idea to publication. I came up with the idea in February 2017, wrote the first draft that summer, then threw it out and rewrote it throughout 2018. In 2019, I signed with my publisher, and in March 2020, the book hit shelves.

The original idea involved the same two main characters, Patty and Rose Gold, but took place during Patty’s five years in prison, rather than after. The idea was a bit too contrived, so I’m lucky to have had a professor gently help me realize I had to start over.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

I’m still learning every day! I was surprised how quickly the agent search went, as everything I’d read told me to expect otherwise. I also continue to be blown away by how many people are involved in getting a book to market—to see the machine at work is both fascinating and humbling.

(Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

Research-wise, I was surprised to discover that the perpetrators of MSBP are usually women, often mothers. When we think of violent crimes, we typically don’t think of women as committing them—or at least I didn’t. I wanted to explore that puzzle.

The hardest part of the writing process was getting Rose Gold’s voice and character development right. In some drafts, she was too tough in the opening chapters. In others, she was still too much of a pushover halfway through the book. It took me a while to understand that I had to leave behind much of my own knowledge—pop culture, colloquialisms, social etiquette—because Rose Gold grew up in a captive, sheltered setting. I had to imagine what it would be like not to recognize any famous faces on the covers of magazines, to not pick up on a coworker’s sarcasm or understand when a friend was avoiding you. The world would feel entirely alien because you never really belonged in it.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

That ‘good vs. bad’ is not as clear cut as we want it to be. People with MSBP commit terrible acts but typically have complicated histories of childhood abuse and/or neglect themselves. I hope readers will consider the reasons victims become perpetrators and vice versa. We all believe we’re the hero of the story. Patty is no different.

Wrobel_1:20

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Set a measurable goal. It can be words/hours/scenes per day/week/month, but come up with something so you can watch yourself make progress. The idea of writing 90,000 words is daunting but less so if you break it down into bite-sized pieces. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’d have a first draft in 3 months! It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you do it—work as your schedule allows. The important thing is to chip away and keep to your schedule. I also find it rewarding to keep a spreadsheet of chapter word counts so I can watch the total word count climb.

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