Tuesday, January 19, 2021

REFRAMING GOOD AND EVIL: Guest Post by Stephanie Wrobel

Stephanie Wrobel:

Reframing Good and Evil

From the time we’re old enough to read books and watch movies, we want to identify the good guys and bad guys. It’s human nature to categorize; life is easier, neater, when the world is black and white. But every writer knows the grey is where the story is. 

When I first learned of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP)—a disorder wherein a caregiver fakes or induces illness in the person they’re caring for, usually a child, in order to get attention or love from doctors and nurses—the roles of good and evil seemed obvious. The one being harmed was good, the one doing harm was evil. And yet, I knew MSBP was a mental health disorder. Deeper digging was required. 

With a few clicks of the keyboard, I discovered that perpetrators of MSBP are usually women, often mothers. I was stunned. Wasn’t the mother/child bond supposed to be sacred? Apparently not in some cases. 

I kept researching, devouring short- and long-form accounts of survivors, as well as news articles and a medical textbook. I examined MSBP 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 my main characters had to have before fleshing them out to make them my own. One commonality most perpetrators share is a history of childhood abuse and/or neglect, meaning they’ve survived years of victimhood themselves before committing evil as adults. Here comes the grey. 

Still, plenty of people sadly are abused as children but grow up to be loving, functioning parents. What had happened to these women with MSBP? What could possibly compel them to do such heinous things to their own children? It got me wondering: do they know that they’re lying to everyone around them? Or do they honestly think they’re doing what’s best for their kids? Where would they place themselves on the scale of good to evil? 

These questions were the impetus for my book—a story about mother Patty and daughter Rose Gold. Though the latter is the titular character, it was Patty’s head I first wanted to walk around inside. How would she behave if everyone discovered her deepest, darkest secret? Would she seek revenge on the daughter who betrayed her, who testified against her in court, thereby sending her to prison? Would she be able to stage a comeback? 

I wondered, too, how that daughter would fare once she finally broke free of her mother. Would she flail or fly? How would she feel toward the woman who adored her while also routinely poisoning her? If the person you emulated behaved evilly your entire childhood, what would be your definition of good as an adult? 

There are no easy answers—in real life nor in the fictional case of Patty and Rose Gold. As readers, the best we can do is avoid black-and-white judgments or proclamations. We have to keep leaning into the grey areas. 


Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but has been living in London for four years with her husband and her dog, Moose Barkwinkle. Before turning to fiction, she worked as a creative copywriter at various advertising agencies. Darling Rose Gold is her debut novel. Stephanie can be reached at stephaniewrobel.com or on Instagram @stephaniewrobel


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