Black Mirror, Backstory

I’m a writer who prefers having written to the actual task of writing—but Black Mirror was especially tough.

Frances is in such despair. I had to write my way into that place and, in fact, the words that begin the book—Have you ever been in a state of pain so intense it was like a living creature wound tightly around your ribcage and shoulders and neck?— originally appeared halfway through the first draft. It was only during revision that I understood that Frances does not work her way into a so-called “dark night of the soul.” She lives there. She begins there.

So the book had to begin there as well. And from the start we know that there is no possible way to make things right in the end for Frances. Her brother is dead, and that cannot be undone. And she’s not good at being an adolescent or a high school student. Her best bet seems to be simply to endure.

But of course, Black Mirror is a suspense thriller, not a novel of adolescent angst, and that helped considerably, because Frances cannot afford to be completely passive, as she’d prefer. She has a criminal conspiracy to deal with … and a new, vulnerable friend to protect. Life turns deadly around her, and what she does matters. So, as the novel picks up speed, her internal despair and the weird stuff happening at The Pettengill School shift from parallel tracks onto a collision course. In increasing tension, they balance each other. Or at least, I hope they do.

And that is why I like writing YA novels that are also suspense thrillers. It seems to me that putting a teen beset by serious emotional pain into external danger as well forces them to show me—or rather, to discover for themselves—who they really are. In the end, that is what Frances must face: her own self. She must look truthfully into a mirror. She is unwilling to do it; she is afraid of the darkness there. I believe that, if we are honest, so are we all.