Friend Friday

You are all in for the biggest treat of your lives when you read Susan Hill Long’s new novel, The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel (Knopf), which pubs on Tuesday, May 10. Not only is Sue one of the warmest and wittiest people I know, she is a writer to watch (and study) AND she is one of my Butterfly Sisters. It’s an honor and a delight to host Sue as my guest today.

060 For Web

Susan Hill Long

Here is that great writer Lloyd Alexander, from his essay The Flat-Heeled Muse, published in the April 1965 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes. No foam-born Aphrodite, she vaguely resembles my old piano teacher, who was keen on metronomes. She does not carry a soothing lyre for inspiration, but is more likely to shake you roughly awake at four in the morning and rattle a sheaf of subtle, sneaky questions under your nose. And you had better answer them.”

When a person is writing a book, she doesn’t expect anybody to ask about how it came to be, or the process by which it went from the head and the heart to the hand. But looking back at my notebooks, I see that somewhere along the way – maybe I was stuck, or trying to figure something out that wasn’t clear – my Author Self conducted an interview with Lloyd Alexander’s Flat-Heeled Muse. I don’t even remember doing this impertinent thing, but often I write from a dreamy place that, while deeply connected to memory, is at the same time weirdly separate from myself.

Anyway, “About this person, Margaret,” Lloyd Alexander’s Muse asked my Author Self, about my Main Character. “I presume she is meant to be a heroic figure. But what I should like to know is, how is she different from an ordinary human being?”

“I’m not suuuure,” I replied, hedgily. “I would like her to be someone who sees things clearly.”

If that is the essential, if that is how she is truly and rationally different, how is it that her nature works to add to your story?”

“She sees truth where others see what they want to see. She sees below the surface, where others are content with what’s on the surface.”


Sigh. “Because Maggie is loathed, and because she assumes she’s frowned upon as well by God, she relies upon herself. And when she gets the magic mirror (this happens!), she sees more in it than others do. The mirror says right across the back of it, Lux Vera (The True Light). She can’t read that, nor can anyone else in her circle. But she can see it.”

Yes, about that mirror.” That Muse, who isn’t even mine (if only!), crooked an eyebrow. “Tell me what you mean the use of it to be? What is the logic?”

“The mirror’s maker, Will Glazier, is a bit of an alchemist. He added a mixture of dried hayhove and heartwood to the ash when he made the glass—well-known love herbals—expecting the mirror to show the beholder’s true love.”

And is that how it worked? It’s a bit of magic, after all, and magic tends to have a mind of its own, I find.”

“Errr, well, yes. Mind of its own,” hemmed and hawed my Author Self.

I guess I’ll have to read the book to find out where you’re going with that,” said Lloyd Alexander’s Flat-Heeled Muse. “Here’s twenty dollars.”

Lloyd Alexander’s Flat-Heeled Muse didn’t say that last part, and doesn’t even carry a wallet. But a person can dream.


Magic Mirror cover

Susan Hill Long’s fiction has appeared in Hunger Mountain, and her books for beginning readers have been published by Macmillan and HarperCollins. Her middle grade novel Whistle in the Dark (Holiday House 2013), was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Bank Street Best Book, and the winner of the 2015 Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award (Oregon Book Awards). She is also a recipient of the Katherine Paterson Prize. Her next novel for young readers is called The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel (Knopf, May 10 2016). She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters.


No Responses to “Friend Friday”

  1. Barbara O'Connor

    Love this. It’s shining with Susan’s unique voice.

  2. Susan

    Thanks, Barbara! It’s actually Lloyd Alexander’s Muse’s voice. Seriously. 🙂

  3. Trudy Ludwig

    Susan Hill Long is an amazing writer with the gift of crafting lyrical prose. I adore her work!