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Mirrorheart – Retrospective

I started writing this retrospective in January, and I’m publishing it at the end of March, to give you some clue of how busy I’ve been outside the world of cookies, hackers and suits.

I did a short retrospective for Mirrorfall after it was done, but I don’t think there was much to say. Although the word to word and chapter to chapter content changed; some characters were tweaked a little towards the versions we’d worked on for the last ten years and the tone made slightly less miserable…it was more or less the same book.

Stef gets recruited, gets adopted, gets killed.

The basic flow and outline didn’t change – it’s been pretty much the same story since 2.0.

The same can’t be said for Mirrorheart.

If you’ll indulge me, here’s a short history of the previous version of Mirrorheart.

Mirrorheart – 2.0 Canon
Ryan hides dead Stef in her apartment, Jane (then Emma) is a hellllll of a lot more antagonistic, and Stef is only granted immunity at the very last minute.

2.0 was…rough. There were a few things I did like about it – I remember distinctly a scene of Ryan sitting by dead Stef and it being the moment he really clicked for me, that moment when author and character finally get into sync and it’s no longer a chore to try and get their voice right.

There was also a chase scene with a howler (basically a monkey-ish looking fae that steal shiny things) when it stole dead Stef’s heart and Ryan had to chase it through the city – the first sequence I ever used Google Maps to plan out.

And Ryan really, really did a lot of shit agents are discouraged from doing in order to chase this thing. Like…ok, not “Matrix Reloaded highway scene” levels of chaos, but he did dismiss the engine from a car causing an accident and he…might have flipped a bus? Or at least threatened everyone on board with a gun.

It was serviceable, but not perfect.

Um, Oops
Then there came…”Um, Oops”, the first attempt at 3.0, which got like dozen chapters in before I felt it was the wrong direction to go in and called a mulligan.

And Um, Oops is really interesting, because of how things ended up.

In UO, Ryan takes dead Stef back to the Agency and…well, that’s starting to sound familiar, right? But whatever I was doing with it didn’t feel right.

In thinking about it more, I think it was the fact that Stef wasn’t dead – she pretty much came back to life as soon as Ryan made the wish, and then there were going to be complications from there – and it felt like I had skipped something really important.

In the previous version, I had always found it interesting that our protagonist is dead for ¾ of the book, and that we get to see the world going on without her – and it wasn’t until we lost that, that I realised how vital it actually was to the substance of the story.

Stef dies, and no one cares. Well, almost no-one. Stef dies, and the world keeps spinning – and I found that really interesting, as usually when a protagonist dies, everything stops or everything changes – here, it’s barely a ripple in the pond.

And I needed to keep that.

So I went “um, oops” and tried again.

Mirrorheart – 3.0 Canon
3.0 – I think 3.0 is as interesting in its own way as UO, in that I felt like I got both the most right and the most wrong; and strangely, I think it might be the version I kept the least from.

So I went back to the original idea of keeping Stef dead, good, that works. It’s also where I introduced (???? maybe there was a previous namedrop of it) and used the oubliette, and it’s also the only version of the four that use Carol in such a major way.

I’ve had a lot of changing feelings about Carol over the years – and I think that’s probably going to show in the 4.0 canon – she’s such an integral part of how certain things work that I can’t get rid of her (without her, there’s no dead Taylor, there’s no guilty Ryan that saves baby Stef, etc); but the more I get comfortable writing Ryan’s demi-or-aceness, the more Carol seems almost out of place.

But I think that in it’s way has value – while I definitely think Ryan had affection for Eilise, I definitely think his marriage was something that Reynolds…almost coached him into? That behind the scenes of a lot of moments, Reynolds would be going “this is how you act human” or “why aren’t you boinking someone every other day of the week?” and guiding his son into really what amounts to compulsory heterosexuality.

And Carol comes after Reynolds has gone to sleep – originally before I realised how much Stef and Ryan were alike when it came to not seeking out sexytime, it wasn’t really a problem. It was more the fun contrast of a kickass, exciting, outgoing recruit paired with a rather reserved, low-key agent.

Carol totally thinks Ryan is far more like James Bond than he actually is.

So Carol’s always kind of been floating in the background, a pretty unfortunate carried-along plot-thread that also has that “woman got hurt for the sake of making a man’s backstory sad” energy.

But I wasn’t happy with what I did with Carol during 3.0, where she’s essentially a sad, incoherent waif in a pretty prison, so I knew that had to go.

I did like Ryan’s choice of hiding spot though – as it was somewhere where the Agency wouldn’t be able to track Stef, and there’s generally a little bit of leeway with agents disappearing from System view, as it’s understood that they may step into Faerie, or areas where the signal might get fuzzy. Good for him, it was a good idea.

Overall, it just got too muddled – I did like the extended section where Stef was alive again and they were exploring Fairyland, but then the conflict that arose (feeling abandoned, etc) felt too manufactured – even while writing it at the time, it felt like “ugh, fine, let’s just do this, get it over with, get to the next section”.

That’s rarely a good thing to feel when you’re writing.

The chapter where Curt finds Stef though, and he silently offers her coffee and doughnuts though – that chapter I absolutely love. Though I do think it’s beaten out by the utter cuteness of the Pringles can this time through.

All of that then leads to…Mirrorheart – 4.0
First of all, this did take longer than expected to get out – the cover/first chapter was originally posted on June 26, 2020 and it finished early 2022.

But, I mean, Covid, life, and…two? moves. I’m still surrounded by boxes from the second move, but due to it being government-subsidized housing, it’s unlikely that we’re ever going to have to move again, unless we choose to. (Hint: it’s going to take a lot to make me want to ever move again, it’s one of my least favourite activities in the world).

I’m not entirely sure I knew where things were going when I wrote the last chapter of Mirrorfall, and I know I made at least one scratch version of a chapter where Ryan was going to go down the oubliette route again.

But in thinking long and hard about things; and multiple hours of bothering Shade…I decided on the route that things eventually took.

And it’s really obvious in hindsight as to why things had to go the way they did.

A lot of things have been like that as I’ve been writing the 4.0 versions of MF and MH – I’ll be coming from a place where I’ve got at least four previous versions of a scene – possibly a lot more with pieces, ideas and scratched notes that never saw the light of day; and then I’ll write the 4.0 scene and it will be like “oh, this is how it was supposed to be” and it’s hard to see how any other version ever felt right.

I think that’s the overriding feeling with 4.0 is that things are just…right. That I’ve finally gotten things how they’re supposed to be, or else I have simply out of any fucks left to give to ever doing another version – though, as cynical as I am, I really believe it’s the former.

So I knew I wanted to have Ryan take Stef back to the Agency – and this tied my stomach up in knots, given I knew what had happened with UO – but at the same time, I knew the solution: keep Stef dead.

Show the world going on without her. Show that she really only made an impact on Ryan (and, well, Curt), but no one else even stops to mourn her.

The other thing that UO lost, and that were never really fleshed out before was Stef’s journey of putting herself back together.

In the earlier versions, there were a few chapters of her slowly coming back to consciousness, but after that it was really a waiting game until she was alive again. I’d had aspects before, but I feel like I did much better this time through, as I think it gave a much better impression of Stef slowly coalescing back into herself as more and more memories dumped into her soul.

I also wanted the Agency to be seen as trustworthy, or at least, that running away wouldn’t be Ryan’s first thought. We spend the entire first book building up how cool Stef thinks the suity people are, that it wouldn’t make sense to throw that away in the second.

Also by coming back to the Agency, we get more Jonesy, and more Jonesy is always good.

And as a consequence of more Jonesy, we got more Merlin. Not a lot, but I think more than any previous version of 2.0, and it gives us a chance to start to see how everyone just takes his weirdness in stride.

Just the attitude of:

“Why is there a child eating a sandwich three feet from a dead girl?”
“Why not?”

Amuses me to no end.

And it makes sense that Merlin’s around, because, well, if you know, you know…and if you don’t know, go back and read the book. 😛


In the End…

I think I’m happy with the decisions I ended up making for this version. Like Mirrorfall 4.0 before it, this finally feels “right” and after 10+ years, that’s a huge relief.

Now, it’s on to Book #3.



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