TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. Your new novel Mirror Image was published on August 23rd by Tor Books and is the first time you two collaborated. Michael, please tell us something about Melanie. And Melanie, please tell us something about Michael.
Finding the right collaborator is the key to success and I was very fortunate to find that working with Michael. He is incredibly well read and his knowledge on mythology and history is endless.
When we began writing Mirror Image we had to overcome a few obstacles. Michael resides in Ireland whereas I live in Los Angeles so there is the eight hour time difference to contend with. Thought as time went by we managed to make that work to our advantage. I could write a piece, send it to him and by the time I got up the following morning, an edited version would be waiting for me. Having not just one, but several modes of communication was essential. I was certainly familiar with Skype, but he introduced me to WhatsApp and Facetime, Google Voice and Slack. And then there was Dropbox! Before meeting and working with Michael, I was used to writing on my own and backing up to a local hard drive. Now I backed up to a Dropbox folder. (It’s always a slightly odd experience to watch your dropbox update and suddenly find a new document waiting for you on your hard disk.)
As we worked together, I found I learned several incredibly important writing lessons from Michael Scott: patience, how to plot a story and, I think, how to be a better writer. What more could I have wished for?
Here’s what you don’t see when you look at Melanie’s author photo: you don’t see this five foot six bundle of creative energy who looks more or less as she did when she was dancing in musicals on the West End of London. You don’t hear the cut glass British accent which eighteen years of living in LA have not softened. You also don’t realize that she is an extraordinary artist, photographer and an interior designer to some of Hollywood’s top stars.
I have collaborated with writers before. Every experience is different. Ideally you want a collaborator who understands the genre. Melanie has been reading horror since she first discovered James Herbert’s The Rats and she is a huge aficionado of horror movies – especially the bad ones! So, what she brought to the Mirror Image collaboration was not only her incredible creative energy and boundless (and sometimes exhausting) enthusiasm, but also a great knowledge of the horror landscape.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Reading most definitely, along with circumstances in life; personalities/characters I’ve met, places I’ve visited. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot throughout my life and I still draw on those experiences when I write.
When writing Mirror Image I visited London for a week. It’s changed a lot since I was last there over fifteen years or so ago, but what hasn’t changed are the smells and the appalling weather! It was those memories that added the genuine layers to Mirror Image.
I currently live in Los Angeles so researching Jonathan Frazer’s home in the Hollywood Hills, his store in Beverly Hills the other locations in Mirror Image came quite easily. These are areas that I know well, and was familiar with. It is that familiarity that’s lends itself to authenticity.
The short answer is everything influences your writing. Indeed, we live in a world now which is catching up on a lot of horror tropes and that is already changing the nature of the work. What was once fantasy and unimaginable is slowly becoming true and truth is always stranger than fiction.
But I tend to look back for my inspiration, rather than forward. My primary interest is in myth and legend. These stories are universal and filled with some of the most terrifying creatures ever to haunt the human imagination, and I am constantly finding creatures, monsters, beasts, heroes and villains who have not been overused in movies or TV. Although Mirror Image is fiction, it is built on a solid core of truth: there really is a haunted mirror and all of the historical characters mentioned in the book, like Dee and Kelley, lived.
Travel is also an incredibly important part of broadening your writer’s world. Yes, you can read about a place, or drop down in Google Earth, but to really understand a place – the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere – you have go there and be there. As part of the research for Mirror Image, for example, Melanie spent a week visiting the auction houses in London, soaking up the atmosphere (and thankfully, not buying too much!) But that scene in the book is only a couple of pages. All of the LA locations – Frazer’s antique store, his home - also really exist. I spent a month mapping out the lead characters - Frazier, Harren and Talbott’s – LA. Grounding your writing in a reality, especially fantasy or horror writing, gives it an extra layer of authenticity.
TQ: Describe Mirror Image in 140 characters or less.
An ancient 7ft tall mirror: spill blood on it and you will see the Image within. Spill enough and she will come out. And she’s hungry. (this is 136 characters)
TQ: Tell us something about Mirror Image that is not found in the book description.
Not mentioned in the book description, but added into the author’s note, is the fact that the Dr John Dee, the 16th alchemist, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, who once owned the mirror, was a real man. He has always existed right at the very edge of European history and yet, played an extraordinarily important role during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He was so important to the young princess that he actually chose the date for her coronation. We also have a report that she visited his house in Mortlake to view his famous “shew stone” - the magical mirror, but was so terrified by what she glimpsed in the glass that she actually refused to entered the house.
TQ: What inspired you to write Mirror Image? What appeals to you about writing horror?
So I’ll answer the easy question first: the inspiration behind Mirror Image.
Mirrors and reflections have always held a special place in legend and they wander in and out of fairy tales the world over and of course the vampire legend is now inextricably tied into mirror lore. The truth behind the inspiration to Mirror Image was far more mundane. Many years ago, I was having lunch in a rather grand restaurant in Dublin. On the back wall was a huge antique mirror, speckled with age, and wrapped around with an appallingly hideous gilt frame. However, as I walked past that mirror, I caught a glimpse of my own reflection - twisted, broken, distorted and monstrous - in the warped glass. I returned to my table and scribbled out the original idea on a napkin. (This was in the days before mobile phones. Nowadays, I would use the writer’s best friend, the phone’s camera, to grab a quick image.) I still have the napkin! However with the single idea of a monster in the glass, the idea of a haunted mirror which held the trapped souls of everything that had been reflected in the glass, was born. Then, I began research to see if there were mythological parallels and that research, in time, led me to Dee and his shew stone and, ultimately, to the real haunted mirror which is at the core of Mirror Image.
The appeal of writing horror? It is so much fun. I think the earliest horror stories were told by our ancestors in caves, listening to the creatures of the night howling and prowling outside. Humans like to be scared in a controlled way. There are so many shades of horror, from scary to outright gory, from psychological to actual monsters. Although horror as a genre gets a very bad press, some of our classic literature is straight up horror: Frankenstein, Dracula, Carmilla, even Alice in Wonderland.
Horror pushes the boundaries of what you can and cannot write to make it believable. Who could resist that?
TQ: In Mirror Image who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Secondary characters are often the easiest to write. The usually have a single role, whereas the heroes and villains can shift and slide and fulfill multiples functions in the novel.
One of the more straightforward characters in Mirror Image is Celia Frazer, Jonathan’s Frazer’s wife. On the surface she appears to have everything; wealth, a devoted husband, a beautiful daughter and a spectacular home. On the surface, everything looks rosy, but we realize that she is spending a lot of time away from her husband and has a number of lovers. This is a woman we understand; we have seen her a hundred times, not only in real life, but on the screen and in novels. So, while it is challenging to make her dislikable and yet sympathetic, she is fairly easy to write.
The hardest was Jonathan Frazer. His character starts off being an average, normal human. Boring, ordinary, with a wife who has little interest in him, he’s focused on his work, not only as an escape, but as a way of funding her lifestyle. And then he buys the mirror and everything changes. As he becomes more corrupted by it, his character begins to change. He makes terrible decisions but for all the right reasons. Creating and building that kind of psychotic fractured personality, then keeping it balanced and real around the other characters in the novel was a challenge.
TQ: Which question about Mirror Image do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q. You said the mirror in Mirror Image is real. If you had a chance to look into the glass, would you?
A. And because there are two authors, we can give you two answers:
Melanie – Absolutely! Writers are curious. I don’t think any writer would bypass the chance to look into it.
Michael – Under no circumstances! I know the story of the glass. I know what happens when you look into it. Remember what Nietzsche said: And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Mirror Image.
TQ: What's next?
Jointly, we’re completing the sequel to Mirror Image, which picks up the story a few months later. We’re arguing about the title right now. There’s been a lot of movie interest around the novel, (horror never goes out of fashion), and we’ve been approached to write the script, so that might be the next project.
Separately, Melanie has just completed the first novel in her new trilogy and the script for the television series. Michael is deep into a new young adult series