Author Interview: Steve Berman on Magic in the Mirrorstone

Steve Berman on Steve Berman: “At 17, Steve Berman sold his first children’s story, a makeshift fairy tale, to a small Midwestern journal. The editor promptly removed all mention of magic from the story without ever telling Steve. Since then, he’s been a bit more fortunate retaining the fantastical in his words, with over 80 articles, essays and stories sold. Magic in the Mirrorstone, an anthology aimed at young fantasy readers, released from Mirrorstone Books in February 2008. Steve resides in New Jersey, the only state in the Union with an official Devil. He has been well-trained by his polydactyl feline, Daulton, who is not impressed by writing but by one’s ability to nap well.”

Magic in the Mirrorstone edited by Steve Berman (Mirrorstone, 2008). From the promotional copy: “In this anthology for teen readers, fifteen best-selling and acclaimed fantasy authors weave all-new stories filled with magic. Comic and dark, epic and entertaining, these stories introduce new voices of Mirrorstone beside the treasured favorites of YA fantasy. Holly Black (New York Times best-selling author of Tithe, Valiant, Ironside and The Spiderwick Chronicles)(author interview), Cassandra Clare (New York Times best-selling author of City of Bones)(author interview), Cecil Castellucci (acclaimed author of Boy Proof and Beige)(author interview), Tiffany Trent (acclaimed author of Hallowmere)(author interview), and many more offer tales as varied as they are bewitching. A voodoo princess, a necromancer, and a wizard’s apprentice mingle with enchanted jewelry, talking amphibians, and an aloof unicorn. What binds these stories is the spell they cast over readers.” Note: “Includes a ‘lost’ story of Hallowmere by Tiffany Trent!”

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

As a kid, I wrote some really terrible stories. It had never been my intention to become an author–I wanted to be a physician, but when I discovered I fainted at the sight of blood, medical school was out. That left creative writing classes. I sold my first story while still a teen and thought, Wow, this is pretty easy.

Only, it wasn’t, and it took me a few more years before I sold another and then another. Along the way, I learned how helpful it is to work in the publishing industry, so you can understand the how and why books are bought and sold, and make friends who’re also invested in writing, so you develop a support network of trusted critics.

How about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Plenty of stumbles. I worked on several books before I ever managed to complete a novel. Then, after a single rejection, I dumped the manuscript into a drawer and never looked at it for years. I then started Vintage, a young adult novel, in 1997. Ten years later, it released to great reviews and award nominations, only for the publisher to fold months later.

Congratulations on the release of Magic in the Mirrorstone (Mirrorstone, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Well, the book collects fifteen fantastical short stories. Some are by well known YA authors, like Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Then there are some terrific newcomers, like J. D. Everyhope and Craig Gidney.

I’ve always considered fantasy as much a genre of exploration as it is escapism, and one of the greatest times to read such stories is when you’re a teen. Your suspension of disbelief is less wary, and you aren’t so jaded, allowing you to immerse yourself in fiction with such eagerness. Reading becomes a magical act of its own.

And the fantastical elements within the story engage the teen protagonists, who struggle to incorporate the wonders into the chaos of their lives. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, which makes the unreal very realistic by the story’s end.

How did the project develop?

I had been invited to submit proposals to Mirrorstone for a dark fantasy series. They went with Tiffany Trent’s Hallowmere but remained eager to work with me. I had just finished editing So Fey for Haworth Press and, feeling ambitious, I pitched to Stacy Whitman (editor interview) several ideas for a Mirrorstone anthology. It took a couple of years, many ideas exchanged, before we finalized on a showcase for the sort of fantasy tales that Mirrorstone wants to offer young readers in the days to come.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I think I began corresponding with the editorial staff in 2004 and had a contract by early 2006. For So Fey, I relied on an open call for submissions in addition to asking some close friends to submit.

That worked well, but for Magic in the Mirrorstone I chose an invite-only approach that significantly trimmed the time spent reading submissions. I did not personally know all the authors I invited—I’d stalked Nina Kiriki Hoffman once at a convention–but others I’ve come to know well from sharing table of contents in other young adult anthologies.

The deadline was the first of 2007. I had an estimated word count and finalized the manuscript with 15 authors by the spring of 2007. The final manuscript was turned in by late summer. The book released this past February.

During the Midwinter ALA Conference, Mirrorstone sponsored an event at the Mummers Museum (more sequins and feathers than I ever wanted to see) and Greg Frost, Lawrence Schoen, Ann Zeddies and I attended. We signed a lot of free books for the librarians.

What challenges are inherent in putting together an anthology? Did any additional ones creep up that were specific to this book?

Well, because most successful authors are novelists, some people you invite just cannot spare the time to write a short story; they are facing deadlines to turn in a manuscript ten or twenty times the length. I almost lost Holly Black because of this. Fortunately, I know where she lives so I started sleeping outside her door. Nothing says “dedication” like an unwashed editor in a sleeping bag. Really, despite the restraining order, we’re close friends.

Then there are unforeseen problems. Late in the process, one author pulled her story from the book for reasons I can’t go into. But it created a ripple effect that jeopardized the editorial deadlines. Fortunately, I could rely on another member of the Nameless Workshop, a secretive Philadelphia-area writing group I attend. She revised a trunk story into a terrific piece. Crisis averted.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

My day job still involves writing, but it’s for a small consultant company in the field of human resources.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Vintage was named a finalist for the Andre Norton Award and has been reprinted by Lethe Press, who will release my second short story collection in August. I hope to soon finish another YA novel, Glamour & Gaslight, a historical fantasy with plenty of soot and grime and snogging.