This thriller starts with Patty, mother of the titular character, being released from prison after serving five years for aggravated child abuse in a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Why, with so much trauma between the two, is Rose Gold the one to pick up her mother? We sat down with author Stephanie Wrobel to learn more about her research for the book.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
“When I first found out about Munchausen by proxy, I was immediately intrigued and horrified, so I started doing some research. What really surprised me is that most of the perpetrators are mothers; that was really the impetus for the story. I wanted to figure out why and get inside the head of a mother who has the syndrome.”
Why did the novel start after Patty was released from prison?
“The real draw for me was trying to figure out: Do the mothers know that they’re lying? Or do they think they’re doing what’s best? I was less interested in the surprise twist of revealing why this child is unexplainably sick. I think we’ve read a lot of that, and I just didn’t see a way you could get inside the head of this person if that was being kept a secret. I wanted to explore somebody who is doing bad things and yet acting like they’re not. Starting at the halfway point just made the most sense for what I was exploring.”
Was it your intention to make it difficult to trust these characters?
“It wasn’t, to be honest. I was really just trying to consider: What would Patty think? I think she would just ignore the horrible things she did and focus on the stuff she did like. I was surprised to hear that people didn’t know if she was guilty, but I think that works because perpetrators with this mental-health illness are often able to get away with it.”
There was an added element of generational trauma—was that from the research?
“It was true to my research and pretty universal that those with Munchausen by proxy have childhood histories of abuse and neglect. When writing, I first built these general profiles—like, what is almost always true of the perpetrators? And what is almost always true of the victims or survivors? I wanted to stick as close to real life as possible. I also think that makes Patty more interesting. A lot of people have terrible childhoods and don’t grow up and do the things she did, but she definitely didn’t have an easy go of it as a kid.”
What do you hope people get out of reading this book?
“I didn’t really write with a message in mind. I like the idea of giving the reader questions rather than giving them answers. I’m interested in complicating people’s perceptions of who is good and bad. We’re so quick to judge people, which is natural and human, but everyone has their own story, and bringing those stories to light is what is really interesting.”
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