The Scary Story behind "Mirror of Hearts"
I refuse to accept any fantasy, science fiction, or horror in this classroom…
It was my senior year of college, and I'd finally gotten into the hardest short fiction class on campus. People spoke this professor's name in trepidation, whispered of her amidst dark oaths in shadowy corners, cursed her existence in the private conversations I had in the writing center.
I couldn't freaking wait!
I'd glided through most of my writing classes with minimal effort for my As. I wanted an instructor who would challenge me.
But she despised the writing I loved most.
Never mind. I would do it. I could skirt the border of magical realism; people considered that "literary." Shoot, I'd even try to write "literary." I wanted to learn! I wanted to be a better writer!
But that first C- stung way more than I expected. It was exactly what I needed, though.
The first A- I got, though—the next to last assignment for the semester--that was "Queen of Hearts." It was completely dark fantasy bordering on horror. There was no chance the magic could be in someone's head. It wasn't some great symbolism. Nope. It was a magic freaking mirror that wanted beating human hearts and granted immortality.
Perhaps because I was playing in the realm of twisting classic faery tales. Perhaps because I'd thrown in a very Jane Austin narrative voice. I don't know what it was. But I broke the first rule of the classroom and had written fantasy-horror.
That was what I was meant to write, clearly.
In addition to the coveted A-, I also got a handwritten positive comment "very creepy."
I was so proud of this story.
So, naturally, when I got to a point where I started submitting fiction to professional magazines for pay, "Queen of Hearts" was one of the first ones I sent. Everywhere.
In a matter of a few short years, it became my most rejected piece ever. It still is. Mind you, I got rejections that the writing was beautiful and the story was sound, but "it doesn't fit our needs right now." It wasn't horror or gory enough for the horror markets. It had too much horror for the fantasy markets. It was to genre for the literary markets. It definitely reeked of "girl cooties" with the hint of romance and the Austin tone.
But it was Professor Dace's favorite thing I wrote! And she was the hardest professor I'd met! What was wrong?
The answer came when my friend, Kelly Harmon, told me about a novella publication, Fantasy Gazetteer. She'd just had a piece accepted there through a contest. And they were running another contest this quarter!
The rules for Professor Dace's class were that all the short stories had to be close to the under the 4000 word mark. (I would later learn, in my professional life, that that is actually quite short for a short story. Anyway, I digress…) I always felt that there was more to Roger Hunter's story. And Nieve White's. Stuff that couldn't fit into the 4000 limit for the class.
I started teasing out the opening, and then I started exploring character back stories. And then I discovered more about the ending.
After a few hours, my creepy short story blossomed into a dark, lovely, and still creepy novella of about 11,000 words. I renamed it "Mirror of Hearts" because it really was a new piece; it deserved its own name.
I submitted it. And it won!
My most-rejected short story, to this day, is the highest paid "short" publication I've had.
And I'm much happier with it in its novella form. It needed the journey it took, and I needed the lesson that sometimes the story needs its proper medium. I've taken that journey with quite a few stories and story-poems which I've had published once I matched the tale to its correct form.
Once I got my rights back to "Mirror of Hearts," Kelly came to my aid once more and introduced me to Pole to Pole publishing. I contracted the amazingly talented Rhea Ewing for a cover, and now "Mirror of Hearts" is back out in the world again! My baby has grown up!
The moral to this tale is to never give up on a story. It may need to go on a journey and find its true form…but never give up hope.
Trisha Wooldridge's "Mirror of Hearts" novella is available through Amazon as a paperback or ebook, through Barnes & Noble ebooks, and all ebook distributors.
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