20 Years Through the Looking Glass: A Tribute To a visionary Editor and Agent

Greetings, Wonderlandians and literary aficionados! As I stand at the precipice of time’s ever-turning pages, I mark a momentous occasion. Two decades have flown since a fateful encounter with a guiding star, my editor, Cally Poplak of Egmont Books – the true White Queen of editorial wisdom. It took a mere year under her meticulous gaze for my narrative to transform from a manuscript into a published book.

Author, Frank Beddor, signing copies of his first edition hardcover book: The Looking Glass Wars, sitting at a desk with a stack of books, a telephone and a fax machine.

In the sprawling labyrinth reminiscent of Wonderland’s enigmatic pathways, Cally emerged as my beacon. In an era dominated by traditional notions, her decision to champion the voice of an American storyteller seemed as audacious as challenging the Red Queen to a game of chess.

The rejections from American publishers stacked up, much like the mysterious riddles of Wonderland’s denizens. Yet, it was Cally’s unwavering faith that guided my story out of the shadows.  Her words have always held a touch of magic, a dash of praise that ignited confidence and propelled me to push boundaries. With a keen eye for perfection, she knew how to nudge me in the direction of my best work.

From Cally’s first editorial letter:

“Keep in hand my letter of Sept. 8th, 2003, to remind you of all that is brilliant about this exceptional script and keep in mind the fact that this is your book, Frank, so you should only accept suggestions that are in tune with your vision, your voice. I am just a perfectionist who wants to ensure the book we publish for you is the best it can possibly be, and I do think I can push you a little further. Also, you did mention wanting a hands-on editor…”

Frank Beddor and Cally Poplak, standing in an antique shop, looking at copies of Frank's book: The Looking Glass Wars, that is for sale in the shop. There are vintage Christmas decorations up around the mostly stained wood walled shop.

With that began our illustrious journey, draft after draft, passage by passage, line by line, under the meticulous scrutiny of Cally’s ever-pruning pencil. But one remark, sharp as the Jabberwocky’s tooth, still stands out even after two decades, a gentle jibe that stung, yet was irrefutably true:

“It is evident that you have done an enormous amount of research for the story and that you have an entire world in your head and the backstory for each character. But, be tough on yourself, Frank: are you including a piece of information because it moves the story on or because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of your research?” Then, with a blow softened only by its accuracy, she continued, “The research and back-stories are what give your fantasy its integrity and authority, forming its invisible foundations but, to be brutally honest, when immersed in a book, the reader DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE HARD WORK YOU PUT INTO WRITING THE STORY. They just want to know what happens next.”

Her words, though a jolt to my pride, were a necessary awakening. It was through such honest feedback that Cally helped shape not just a manuscript but this wanna-be author’s understanding of his audience. “Show, don’t tell. Let your splendid characters and actions assert themselves. Trust them, Frank,” she would often emphasize.

Reflecting on this Looking Glass journey, I tip my top hat to mentorship, to champions who dare to dream beyond the ordinary, and to visionaries like Cally who see potential in the heart of creator’s imagination. More than an editor, she was the guiding North Star, leading a tale from the wilds of Wonderland to the hearts of readers.

Author, Frank Beddor, with a group of people, posing for a photo. He is joined by characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and some kids holding up copies of his book, The Looking Glass Wars.

Our journey was a collaborative dance, a beautiful synchronization of creativity and meticulous editing. Cally’s hands-on approach was exactly what I needed – a partner who shared my dedication to excellence and a mentor who was unafraid to push me further. Her faith in my potential, her unwavering encouragement, and her ability to see the story’s essence were the driving forces behind the book’s enduring impact.

Having pruned all 358 pages of The Looking Glass Wars, Cally’s editorial letter delivered the pitch perfect closing paragraph:

“Frank, this letter may seem overwhelming, but an awful lot of my comments are very minor line edits (and this is a long script) and NOTHING IS MANDATORY. Don’t feel you have to explain any suggestions you don’t want to take on board, but let’s talk once you have had time to digest everything. Also, I hope you notice all the ticks marking favourite passages. If I’d listed those, too, the letter would have been twice as long. So, congratulations once again. I am longing for all my colleagues to read the final script, because I know they’ll be as dazzled as I am, and then the really important people – your future fans.”

In the tapestry of my literary journey, Cally-the-pedant, and her pruning pencil

remain irreplaceable, and as I type these words, my heart swells with an immeasurable depth of gratitude for her involvement, forever altering the course of my narrative life.

But before Cally Poplak, there was Barbara Marshall, my agent — the indomitable force from the city that never sleeps, who took London by storm. Her energy was quintessentially New Yorker – bold, relentless, and always a step ahead. I sometimes wondered if she had an internal compass that unerringly pointed toward success, or perhaps just an innate knack for sensing where the next big opportunity lay.

Frank Beddor and his agent, Barbara Marshall, standing in front of a store named: Lewis Carroll's Alice's Shop - The Old Sheep Shop. They are standing next to a life-sized cutout of Alice from Alice in Wonderland and holding up a copy of Frank's book: The Looking Glass Wars.

Barbara was never one to back down. In the daunting maze of the publishing industry, she was my guide, my advocate, and my unwavering champion. Securing that pivotal meeting with Cally was no mere stroke of luck; it was Barbara’s foresight and tenacity.

Her expertise truly shone during the negotiation phase with Egmont, one of the U.K.’s publishing stalwarts. While they held firm on certain clauses, Barbara’s adept navigation ensured that our interests were never sidelined. Her comforting note to me during these intense discussions: “Not to worry. They have their standard clauses, and we have our particular requirements and we will find a way through it.” And find a way, she did.

Barbara not only secured for me one of the most significant advances Egmont had ever awarded at the time, but she had another ace up her sleeve. Unbeknownst to me, she had also kindled interest from two other publishing companies. Her ability to keep multiple irons in the fire while ensuring the best possible outcome for her client is a testament to her unparalleled proficiency.

And oh, the bidding war! With the success of our Egmont deal as her rallying banner, Barbara orchestrated a masterclass in negotiation, pitting giants Penguin and Random House against each other for US. Rights. To say Barbara is a mere agent is an understatement. She’s a friend, a visionary, a trailblazer, and above all, a fierce guardian of her authors’ dreams.

To these incredible women who championed my vision, my tales, and the world of Wonderland I wanted to share, I tip my hat. Our collective journey mirrors the adventures of Wonderland: unpredictable, thrilling, and utterly transformative.

Cally Poplar, Frank Beddor and Barbara Marshall, standing together on a dock, in front of a river, under some green trees.

The Top Alternate Versions of Alice In Wonderland You Should Read To Be A True Fan

Alice in Wonderland has ever remained a staple in the young adult fiction landscape, and I’m not just talking about the original. Since Lewis Carrol first took readers down the rabbit hole in 1865, authors have continually attempted their own spin on the storied Wonderland, whether they be dark, comedic, or even more fantastical versions. 

But why? Why do young adult authors and filmmakers alike return always to the world of Wonderland? What is it about Alice that stands the test of time? Maybe that’s it exactly: time. Time marches on, with or without our consent. Like Alice is always thrust from Wonderland at the end of her stories, so are we thrust from childhood, ready or not. Innocence is a most rare virtue because it can’t be bottled up and preserved. Our speeding world aches for it and there is so little to be found.

Enter, Alice. A girl frozen in time, perpetually lost, confused and in desperate need of guidance. Isn’t this how we all really feel inside, though we try to appear otherwise? Alice’s encounters with riddling insects and smiling felines represent our own interactions with the unpredictable, unreliable world around us. How many of us have learned the hard way that when two squabbling idiots give you conflicting directions, you don’t listen to either one? And what is our reaction when we listen to a mysterious little bottle that says, “Drink Me”? The same as Alice: it seemed like a promising idea at the time.

We love Alice because we are Alice. She validates the parts of us that ever remain frightened children trying to find our way home. 

Which is why we never stop telling her story. In just the last two decades alone, we can see a plethora of Alice in Wonderland retellings in the young adult genre. And there are always more on the horizon (hint, hint). Let us explore 5 of the best modern retellings out there and discuss exactly what makes them unforgettable.

5.) Heartless, Marissa Meyer

First, we have an instantly recognizable name (although, I am biased on this front). Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles saga, a scientific retelling of various classic fairy tales including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White, also authored a standalone novel titled Heartless, a humanizing backstory to the Queen of Hearts, tyrant of Wonderland.

Heartless is a perfect example of the deliciously romantic and darkly twisted retelling at which Meyer excels. This 2016 novel is perfect for lovers of a villain-turned-hero, and a classic forbidden love story. Catherine, our one-day ruler of all Wonderland, is now only a potential suitor for the King of Hearts, even though her own heart belongs to another. Jest, the loveable and mysterious court jester, draws her away from all she was destined to be, and into a story of true love. This star-crossed tale will remind readers that before she was Alice’s adversary, the Queen of Hearts was just a girl fighting to live life, and find love, on her own terms.

4.) Curiouser and Curiouser, Melanie Karsak

Attention lovers of all things steampunk! New York Times best-selling author Melanie Karsak’s Curiouser and Curiouser sets Alice’s story in a dark, gadget-filled 19th century London. This exciting 2017 read takes us on a mad dash to save the Hatter from London’s criminal underworld, as Alice works together with Caterpillar, the man she once loved… and now only wants to avoid. This story is a perfect joining of the old and the new, chock full of references to Lewis Carrol’s original tale “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland”, while blending modern elements with its steampunk aesthetic. Alice has never seen a more modern revival.

If you loved Curiouser and Curiouser, and you’re dying for more, or if you need extra incentive to start, there is more to the saga. Curiouser and Curiouser is only part one in a four-book series of steampunk fairy tale retellings by Karsak. The series follows the stories of the Snow Queen in Ice and Embers, Isabelle Hawking (or Belle) in Beauty and Beastly, and Rapunzel in Golden Braids and Dragon Blades. Check out this series for more edgy, steampunk classics!

3.) The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor

Speaking of edgy, we can’t list great Alice in Wonderland retellings without talking about The Looking Glass Wars, our very own Frank Beddor’s twisty 2004 trilogy. Lewis Carrol has it wrong, and only we know the truth. The classic story is but a mangled jigsaw of names and places plucked from Alyss’ shaky memory. The real story is that of a stolen throne, a diabolical queen, and our heroine’s rise to power.

Good and evil are at war for the heart of Wonderland, and Alyss is caught in the middle when her evil Aunt Redd overthrows the suited hierarchy to assume power. The young princess, Alyss, is forced to escape to the “real world” with Hatter Madigan, where her memories of Wonderland fail her. Years later, her friends find a way to call her back. She is all grown up now, and Wonderland needs her more than ever. 

This action-packed adventure is not for the faint of heart, nor for the weekend reader. Alyss and her merry band of righteous rogues will draw you in from the beginning, and setting down this series will be nearly impossible. For those long-time fans of the trilogy, Frank Beddor has more recently continued his saga with a spinoff series titled Hatter M., and is ever expanding his Wonderland universe, potentially moving his story to the big screen!

2.) The Wonderland Court Series, Ashley McLeo

If you’re a fan of this page-turning, battle-like feel, you’ll love Ashley McLeo’s 2020 duology, The Wonderland Court. Beginning in Alice the Dagger, our heroine is a spurned princess and an unlikely, but deadly, assassin. As far as she knows, she was born to be a killer, but when a certain white rabbit calls Alice to the Wonderland Court of Faerie, she learns that she is the true and rightful heir to the throne, and the reigning queen is a usurper and a murderer.

Working with the beloved Henri Hatter, a rebel leader who threatens to steal Alice’s heart with his bard-like charms, to assassinate the Red Queen and assume the throne will be the hardest job Alice the Dagger has ever pulled. Find out how this story ends in McLeo’s sequel, Alice the Torch, complete with heartbreaking family ties and a reluctant love triangle. This time, Alice is called on to fight the Wonderland powers-that-be for more than just herself, but for those she loves. 

(If Ashley were to drop in on our All Things Alice podcast to talk with us about her books, maybe we can convince her to add a third installment to the series!)

1.) Blade So Black, L.L. McKinney

Our final exploration into young adult Alice retellings comes with L. L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black, the first book of three in The Nightmare-Verse saga. Alice is a typical teenager living in modern-day Atlanta, Georgia. Her world is rather unremarkable, consisting of school… and not much else. Until she falls asleep. In this version, Wonderland is a place that exists somewhere in the realm between asleep and awake, and only Alice knows how to get there. On this particular night, Alice must dive deep into Wonderland’s underworld to save her mentor from a mysterious enemy, without getting her own head chopped off in the process.

The series’ debut in 2018 was met with widespread and enthusiastic praise. Angie Thomas, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Hate U Give, told readers that A Blade So Black was “the fantasy book [she’s] been waiting for [her] whole life. Alice is Black Girl Magic personified.” This read will appeal to the adventure-hungry teenage girl in all of us. 

The thrilling conclusion to this trilogy is set to be released on September 19, 2023. We’d love to have L. L. McKinney visit us at All Things Alice to promote her upcoming release!

We have only begun to skim the surface of the many young adult Alice retellings out there today; this list is only a fraction. With a world so rich in lore and quirky characters, you can’t help but wonder, what if there was always more to the story? Readers have asked, and these authors have answered, returning us to this wonderful land of nonsense where we can remember what it’s like to be young, lost, and curious.

Meet The Author

Marissa Armstrong is a Los Angeles native and currently a student at Arizona State University, where she majors in Film and English. Her brand of dark comedy stems from an appreciation of both the light and the dark in humanity. It is her purpose to use her storytelling wiles to celebrate all things tragically hilarious. Or hilariously tragic.