By Leslie Lindsay
Chillingly unpleasant tale of a highly dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship inspired by the true story of Dee Dee Blanchard and Gypsy Rose.
~Wednesdays with Writers| Always with a Book~
A most anticipated book by Newsweek ∙ Marie Claire ∙ Bustle ∙ Shondaland ∙ PopSugar ∙ Woman’s Day ∙ Goodhousekeeping ∙ She Reads ∙ BookRiot
Stephanie Wrobel’s debut DARLING ROSE GOLD. (Berkley, March 18 2020) explores the horrific and ultimately highly dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and psychiatric issues of Munchausen syndrome by proxy; an adult knowingly abusing (injuring, starving, poisoning) a minor child in order to receive medical care/attention and other gains.
DARLING ROSE GOLD is a must-read for those who enjoy Jessica Knoll, Megan Miranda, and Elizabeth Little. This story was the talk of the London Book Fair and rights have been sold in 15 countries.
Informed by real-life cases like that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, and Julie Gregory’s story, SICKENED, DARLING ROSE GOLD, as Wrobel puts it, “Begins where most novels about Munchausen syndrome by proxy end–with the reveal upfront.”
Patty Watts is in prison serving a 5-year sentence for the abuse she invoked on her minor daughter, Rose Gold. And now, on her mother’s release, Rose Gold has agreed to pick her mother up, take her home, and allow her to live under her roof. The past crime shook up the small town of Deadwick, Illinois. Now, neighbors, grocers, former best friends shun Patty Watts; they want nothing to do with her.
So why did Rose Gold agree to take her mother in? You may have theories, and they might partially be correct, but there’s so much more, twists I didn’t see coming. DARLING ROSE GOLD is the story of two very damaged women. Patty is still the same cruel, coercive, charming mother she was before prison, but Rose Gold is no longer the sick girl she once was.
Told in alternating chapters the capture the harrowing voices of both Rose Gold and her mother, Patty, we get a true sense of the retaliation, revenge, and fragility of these women. Plus, the town of Deadwick, IL completely encapsulates the chilly vibe of the entire narrative: it’s dreary, the homes are wretched, the yards knee-high with weeds, an abandoned house across the street. In a sense, the town becomes a kind of character.
Please join me in welcoming debut author Stephanie Wrobel to the author interview series:
Stephanie, wow. What a tale. I am alternatively shocked and awed and so many things in between. I always feel we are sort of haunted into writing a particular story. What was it for you?
Thank you so much! I learned about Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) from my best friend. She’s an elementary school psychologist and has experience with the syndrome through her work. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to get inside the head of someone with the syndrome, to try to understand whether she knows she’s lying or if she believes she’s doing what’s best for her child. Along came Patty Watts.
Can you give readers a sense of what Munchausen by proxy is? Who are the typical perpetrators and why do they do it? What were some pieces of research you came across during your writing process?
MSBP is a mental health disorder in which a caregiver fakes or induces illness in the person they’re caring for. The perpetrators of MSBP are usually women, often mothers. Perpetrators act out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community, a motivation I find both intriguing and heartbreaking.
To research I read short- and long-form firsthand accounts of survivors, as well as news articles and a medical textbook. I started by painting the illness in broad strokes, then began to build profiles of both perpetrators and survivors. From these general profiles I was able to establish a few traits that my main characters, Patty and Rose Gold, had to have but then fleshed them out to make them my own. I also researched commonly faked illnesses, rigged lab tests, harmful substances to put in the bloodstream, and how real-life perpetrators trick doctors. Not exactly light reading!
“One of the most captivating and disturbing thrillers I’ve read this year. An astonishing debut.”
—Samantha Downing,USA Today bestselling author of MY LOVELY WIFE
Speaking of process, you’re a recent MFA graduate with a background in marketing. What do you see as your strengths in terms of craft? What do you wish you knew more about—or did better?
I think my strengths are concision—which comes from my years in advertising—and self-discipline. I’m pretty religious when it comes to my writing schedule. As far as things I wish I were better at, I struggle the most with creating characters from scratch. Now that I’m working on my second book, I realize how difficult it is to create fully fleshed characters with unique voices. I don’t remember this being such a struggle with DARLING ROSE GOLD, but maybe I’ve repressed those memories!
As a first-time novelist, can you walk us through your publication journey? Was writing a novel always a goal of yours? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Yes, I always wanted to write novels but that didn’t seem like a practical career choice, so I went into advertising—writing TV/radio spots, billboard copy, etc.—because it was the closest steady job I could get to creative writing. During a period of unemployment, I felt like I had nothing to lose and decided to apply to MFA programs. I attended Emerson College from 2016-2018 and wrote DARLING ROSE GOLD as my master’s thesis, which I turned in November 2018. On the advice of a few professors, I began querying agents, a process that went much more quickly than I had anticipated. In December 2018 I signed with my agent Maddy Milburn. She took the novel out on submission the last day of February 2019 and by the second week of March, she had secured book deals in several countries.
I’m definitely a plotter. I work best with structures put in place, which is why I went to an MFA program! A lot of writers say plotting ahead of time stifles their creativity but my experience is just the opposite. I think I’d find it paralyzing to sit down at my computer with no idea what’s going to come next. If I have some idea of the action ahead of time, that frees me up to focus on the sentence level. To each their own!
Without naming names or providing titles, what—or whom—inspires and influences your writing? Also, that town—Deadwick, IL. Does it exist? It’s eerily creepy. Does place influence your work?
My influences are any works of art—books, narrative journalism, movies, TV shows, paintings, music—that examine the psychological states of society’s outliers. That’s the common thread I’ve noticed in my writing: a fascination with people who are not like the rest of us.
Deadwick is not based on a real town, but we’ve all read about and seen small, dying towns even if we haven’t lived in them. I thought dropping Patty and Rose Gold into a small town would increase the claustrophobic feel of the story. If she were in a big city or suburb, Patty could find new friends and get that fresh start she so desperately wants. In Deadwick she has nowhere to turn. She’s trapped.
I’m sure place does influence my work but I confess it’s one of the things I neglect when writing first or even second drafts. I suppose I have an idea in my head of what I want the atmosphere and surroundings to be in my stories, but I often forget to put them on the page.
I found DARLING ROSE GOLD to be a tale of obsession, revenge, and retaliation. Would you agree with that assessment? And what’s obsessing you nowadays?
Yes! I think those are perfect theme descriptors. Nowadays I’m obsessing about cults: how they get started, who joins them, what commonalities their leaders have. This is all relevant to my second book, which is about a wellness center called Wisewood—located on an island off the coast of Maine—whose inhabitants are exhibiting cult-like behavior. The story is told from three points of view: the leader, a member, and a concerned relative.
Stephanie, this has been so enlightening. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like what’s next for you? What’s on your to-do list today? If you have any plans for the summer. Silly dog stories?
I hope by the summer I’ll be close to wrapping up the second book and planning the third. I love this job and am crossing my fingers I’ll get to keep doing it for a long, long time.
As for silly dog stories, when my Cockapoo, Moose, was a puppy he used to get the zoomies all the time. He’d run laps around my small apartment—down the hallway, under the bed, jump up on the couch, back on the floor—and continue doing this for upwards of ten minutes at a time. My husband and I called it “barkour” and I look back on those days fondly.
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow @leslielindsay on Instagram]
For more information, to connect with Stephanie Wrobel via social media, or to purchase a copy of DARLING ROSE GOLD, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but has been living in the UK for the last three years 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 various advertising agencies.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
I hope you do!
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, and the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this spring. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley Publishing and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow @leslielindsay on Instagram].