When I was a little girl, I liked to see things upside down. Just for fun, of course—it was a game I played with a mirror. 😊 All it takes is a mirror to see the world in an entirely new way. For instance, classics like Through the Looking Glass have long ago discovered the efficacy of mirror-travel for exploring a young lady’s relationship to the world. I never saw much of myself in Alice although I had a nice big Alice in Wonderland book. And the small, streaky, quite prosaic utility mirror over our bathroom sink was a very serviceable piece of glass, but it was sensible in the extreme and it was hard to imagine a world behind it even if I had wanted to. Besides, it reflected pale daylight from a nearby window and always made me look bleached out.
But I found that if I took a smallish rectangular mirror with rather sharp edges—no frame—that was lying in my mother’s things, I could hold it to my nose with the mirror facing up and everything up above looked as if I was walking right into it. Upside down, the ceiling of the porch, the now massive sky ringing it, and the puffy white clouds appeared, in an optical illusion, to be something I was about to walk into, to tip off into, in fact. I used to walk all over the porch because it seemed like the porch roof was a balcony and then it suddenly disappeared as I catapulted into sky that I could magically walk on! Then I walked off of it into a fantasy world of things reflected upside down in the mirror. This picture shows what I got out of it emotionally, how beautiful I thought it was--except for the ocean waves. I don't remember any of those in our sky!
Victoria: A Tale of Spain was a book that I got 100% upside down at first. It was inspired by a trip to Europe. After all, how could I not use this wonderful opportunity that I had to see historic places? Many people haven’t had that chance to improve their writing. I HAD TO write a book about it, so I started by writing two separate stories. Gradually I sewed the two parts into one, but no matter what I did with it, Victoria: A Tale of Spain was a left shoe on a right foot. I was getting something wrong. Last year, I again wondered (for the millionth time) how to describe Victoria. It really seemed to offer nothing at all to my publications. Every element I could use to describe it applied to at least one of my other books—historical, drawn from places I’d known, juvenile audience, adventure, female protagonist. What did this book offer that was unique? But I did not have a memoir or a book that actually drew on my family experiences instead of just scenery and images of where I lived. Once I thought—“perhaps this is a disguised memoir, a sort of creative nonfiction. It’s really us dressed up in historical costumes and its characters are modern, rather than this truly being a book about historical times”—the story snapped into focus. And these elements, come to think of it, had been in the book all along. I would have seen that if I hadn't been looking at it from an alternative angle, like I used to look at the sky in that mirror as a child.
The trip itself—the fact I went to live with relatives that I barely knew for three months in foreign countries—WAS the story. I can’t stress enough that I did not know these relatives well at all and then I suddenly spent all my time with them. There was plenty of complexity in all the family relationships which is why other people who are influential to our interactions on the trip are also shown in Victoria. There was no reason to look for made-up historical drama when such a rich supply of it was already available from our real lives. 😊 The action is primarily in Spain since I was there the longest but the other places we toured appear as a mashup of glamorous public buildings at the end of the book. Except for Ireland, unfortunately because this Thursday was St. Patrick's Day, but this week's book passed Ireland like a ship in the night! I guess that brief visit wasn't very meaningful to any of us. It is the only place where I bought no souvenirs. To keep identities a bit private, some of the relationships, such as age or gender of siblings, have been fictionalized, and I have not included an appendix clarifying what character is meant to be who in real life. But I will say that all the characters are based on someone from my life and I based Isabelle and Anne on myself. (For better narrative flow they became distinct characters in the completed book, but in the original set of two separate stories they were one girl, named Mary, who appeared recurringly.) And since these characters are so real, it will be easy for readers to recognize them from their own families and friends. I’m sure you have this mix of people in your lives too. An upside-down mirror is not a broken mirror, after all. All you have to do is turn it around and it will show your own face very accurately.
Have you ever toured a place and wondered what would have happened if you’d actually lived there?
I once visited the country of Spain with my aunt and cousins. While there, I wondered what our lives would have looked like had we lived in historical instead of modern Spain. This story is filled with poetic license and places real people and real places into the Spanish historical setting of the places I toured.
Victoria is a teenage duchess who lives in the Alcazar in Segovia with her parents and many sisters. But their peaceful lives are shattered when it turns out the young King, the son of the haughty and cruel Phillip II, is out to get them. Victoria’s father, the duke, owns something that could threaten the succession.
When she is warned by a hired assassin who has a strange fondness for her sister, Victoria travels incognito with a group of tourists. A visit to the royal court, a midnight escape, and the help of a handsome prince will bring her family back together and restore it to royal favor.
Both based in fact and entirely fictional, this book is a tribute to an unforgettable summer: to a country that I was privileged to visit: and to the many people who appear in the story's pages in historical disguise.
And there will be more updates.
Young Adult Fiction Writer
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