Actually, I started writing MIRA, MIRROR as a formal challenge. I wanted to see if I was a good enough writer to write an entire novel from the viewpoint of an inanimate object that people still would want to read. I had been trying out fantasy, and fairy retellings in particular, and the object that seemed the most likely to have an interesting story to tell in that genre was the mirror in the Snow White fairy tale. I actually hate the Walt Disney version of the fairy tale, but in some ways, this was a good thing. I didn’t have any temptation to borrow from the movie.
I wrote the whole book and sent it off to my agent, Barry Goldblatt. He was really excited about it, thought it was a breakthrough manuscript in many ways, but he also thought that in order to make readers really care about the mirror, I should think about making her a mirror that had been human. Before that, the mirror was really only a mirror, although she had picked up some nasty human habits from the Evil Queen. I wondered what kind of human would be turned into a mirror, and that was when I really figured out Mira’s story. She would have to be poor, and alone, with a family that had abandoned her. And of course, she would have to be betrayed by someone she thought she could trust.
I think that young adult books are often about finding your identity. The magic of fantasy allows for an author to play with themes of identity in a little bit different way than a realistic novel could. You can literally have a character who wakes up in a body that isn’t her own. But for me, and I think for many teens, it feels like that when you hit puberty. Suddenly, your body is doing things that it wasn’t before. It looks different. It feels like you can’t control it. When you look in the mirror, it seems like you are not the person you feel like you are inside.
I had sold my first novel, The Monster In Me, to Holiday House in 1999, and it came out in 2002. I tried to sell my editor there a second novel, Counting Steps, about an autistic boy and his brother who come to understand each other through numbers and card-playing. The novel was originally told from the point of view of both of the brothers. But after many revisions over a period of two years, the book was turned down.
Frustrated, I went to Writing for Young Readers at Brigham Young University, a local conference all day for a week, where authors study with an established author in the mornings and get to meet editors and agents in the afternoon. I met Tracy Gates, who came into the morning session when I read a chapter out of another unpublished manuscript, about a girl who wakes up one morning and finds the ghost of her best friend has come back to haunt her. Tracy expressed interest in seeing the rest of the manuscript. I worked like a dog to try to get a revision of that chapter finished, based on the comments in class. She was impressed with my work ethic, but I ended up sending her a different manuscript.
My agent recommended I send her a rough version of Mira, Mirror. She liked it, and guided me through a long, two-year revision process before she bought it. Then I revised it some more. The manuscript became longer and darker, with almost all of the flashbacks scenes added at this point. I had originally envisioned the book not as a retelling, but as a continuation of the story of Snow White.
I have a few ideas. Click here if you'd like to read a sequel first chapter starring Ivana's daughter. Click here here if you'd like to read the one about Talia. I'd love for you to contact me and tell me your opinion of either of them.
No. Authors are often asked this, but it is the publishing company that arranges with a professional artist to do the cover work. Often, an author is not even given a preview of the cover, or any say in it. Sometimes the publishing house will show the author a sketch early on, and then the author has an opportunity to say something, or to give some advice on how a character should look.
What was interesting to me about the cover of Mira, Mirror, was that when I saw the figure in the mirror, I was struck by the resemblance to my youngest sister, and to one of my older sisters, as well. Since the book was already dedicated to all four of my sisters, and is about the theme of sisters, this seemed very appropriate.
I have been very lucky in regards to cover art for all of my books. I wouldn’t change a thing on any of them.
I love the hedge witch scene, and the scene with the cook in Talia’s father’s kitchen. Sometimes smaller characters have a tendency to try to take over the plot. I had to work hard in these two cases not to allow it to happen.
I also love the romance with the Duke of Fensky, not because he is hideous, really, but because Ivana is forced to come to know him through letters. I find the idea of falling in love with someone because of what they say—or write, rather than how they look, very romantic. And the only way to really see if you are uninfluenced by looks is to fall in love via letters.
Yes, I did. For the three years I worked on it and a year after the manuscript was accepted for publication, the title was “Mirror, Mirror.” Then one day I was playing around on amazon.com, and discovered that a book by a well-known children’s author of fantasy, Gregory Maguire, was coming out soon, by the title of “Mirror, Mirror.” Covers are not copyrighted, so I could have gone forward with the title, but it seemed like it would be wise to change it.
In the end, it was the marketing department at Viking that chose the title, “Mira, Mirror.” I had some reservations, because I felt like few people would be able to hear any distinction between that title and my old one when it was said out loud. But it’s still useful for it to look different on the cover. Some of other other titles considered (perhaps not for very long) were:Sister, Sister
I changed the ending to Mira, Mirror many times. It wasn’t until after the book had sold that it came to have anything like its current ending. At one point, I had imagined that the mirror would fall in love with Duke Fensky, and would become human again and marry him. At another point, the mirror agrees to stay a mirror and give her magic to Ivana for Duke Fensky. In the earliest versions, the mirror met a witch who wasn’t the evil queen and worked with her.
No. I like this one.
Yes, in the earliest versions they fell in love, but as I wrote draft after draft with my editor complaining that she didn’t see what Talia saw in him, I realized she was right. There wasn’t anything in Peter. And maybe I didn’t want to have two romances, anyway. Talia was a very different character than Ivana. Maybe she would choose another path in life.
I have a manuscript called The Stepmother’s Story, that was my first attempt at fantasy back in 1990. I almost landed an agent with it, but ended being unable to revise it. I wrote three completely different drafts of the manuscript and I like all of them in different ways. The one thing that remained the same was that the stepmother was the one telling the story, and that she did not believe in magic. See, for me, the scariest villain of them all, in the Disney movies, was the stepmother in Cinderella, because she has no magic, and she still has such power.
In one version, there is a memorable (to me) doll scene where the stepmother is attacked by Cinderella’s dolls, after cutting off all of Cinderella’s hair. In another version, Cinderella is a math whiz and secretly steals the stepmother’s money and runs off with the princes. In my current favorite, the stepmother is seventeen years old, has two children and no husband, and has to figure out how to take care of herself. She ends up with her own pumpkin magic, ball, and magic shoes, but it’s a kind of dark version of Cinderella, the story of the girl who didn’t get everything she wanted.
I have a few short stories that are retellings of fairy tales, one about Rumpelstiltskin, one about Rapunzel. They might show up as novels someday.
Who can compete?
Some part of me thinks that I might one day a retelling of Tristan and Isolde, at least in part because of my background in German literature and my reading of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Middle High German version. When studying the German stories of the Middle Ages, I began to see how originality in storytelling is overrated. At least, the kind of originality where you think up all your own story. It’s in the details, the characterization, the little twists and turns that you make to an old story, that sometimes the greatest storytellers are known.
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