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.

Imagination, Caterpillars, and Light: How the Magic of the Wonderverse Works

How does magic work? That might seem like a silly question. Magic is defined by its ability to bypass the laws of our terrestrial world. It transcends rules. That’s the point, right? Well, not quite. Storytellers fixate on the rules and forms of magic in their worlds, consistently aware that one misstep might cause them to lose their audience.

What if Harry Potter suddenly just started Force Choking Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows? Okay, that might be kind of cool. But it’d be weird (and a massive copyright infringement). The act of making a clenching motion to invisibly choke someone is not part of the Wizarding World, where magic is channeled through wands, incantations, and concoctions derived from plant and animal matter. It would damage the story, by breaking the rules of the magic system.

Frank Beddor’s Wonderverse has an interconnected web of elements and rules which fuels Queen Alyss and Hatter Madigan’s exciting adventures in Wonderland and beyond. It’s the reason Alyss was able to escape to London when Queen Redd took her crown and why Hatter was able to finally bring her back to Wonderland to reclaim her birthright.

Wonderland’s magic powers everything in the realm and beyond, including Hatter’s ever-reliable top hat. So, how does it work? Let’s explore what makes The Looking Glass Wars’ intricate and exciting magic system rank among the A-listers of our favorite fiction works.

First, the primal source of all magic in Wonderland is Light. From the Everlasting Forest to the Chessboard Desert, Light makes Wonderland wonderful and fuels the two chief pillars of its magic: Imagination and Caterpillar Thread.

Illustration of Hatter Madigan using magic -  appearing as yellow ropes or lightning bolts in Wonderland, or the Wonderverse as seen in Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


Imagination, as it exists in the Wonderverse, is an immensely powerful form of magic, created by the Great Light of the First Wonder and the White Butterfly. In many ways, it is similar to the Force in Star Wars. Imagination is an energy current within every being that those who are trained in its use can manipulate to create almost anything. The key is not to use it selfishly. This is where we get to Light Imagination and Dark Imagination.

Light Imagination is reflective and generous, sharing and spreading the energy it uses. Dark Imagination, however, does not give, it takes. It hoards and absorbs Light, utilizing it for selfish purposes and never sharing the energy with the rest of Wonderland.

Light Imagination the basis of almost every magical item in Wonderland: looking glasses, pools, shards, and crystals. The latter two are the main receptacles for Light Imagination and their uses and creation are heavily studied and monitored by the Millinery. The most important source of Light Imagination is the Heart Crystal, which radiates the energy across the Queendom and into different realms of existence (like Earth).

A consideration to always make when crafting a system of magic, is to bake in dichotomy. This interplay between oppositional magic is the everlasting source of conflict and tension in good fiction. For instance, Imagination is not inherently good or bad, its morality is determined by the user. This allows for not only Light Imagination to play against Dark Imagination, but also the mixed shades of grey that will complicate matters at every opportunity.

Be it two school magic systems like those of The Looking Glass Wars, Harry Potter, and even Warhammer 40,000, or multi-faction systems such as the elemental powers of Avatar The Last Airbender—the strength of the conflict generated by magic is contingent on the interplay between oppositional powers. Remember, these points of fiction can even exist within a single group, spurred by differing philosophy on the usage of their magic.

Caterpillar Thread:

Much like the tension and conflict created by the diametrically opposed Light and Dark Imagination—Caterpillar Thread introduces a more tangible mode for magic to be utilized in Wonderland. Similar to the potions of Harry Potter or the Alchemy of The Elder Scrolls, Caterpillar Thread is an expression of magic that can be manipulated physically—and in almost infinite combination.

Simple systems with well thought out interconnected relationships of strengths and weaknesses create a web of possibilities. Not only can users specialize based on their personality and style—but this world building can be the foundation of endless dramatic tension. Leave no element of your magic system without an opponent that can genuinely threaten it.

Legend states that Wonderland was woven using Caterpillar Thread from the First Caterpillars. Now spun by the caterpillar-oracles deep in the Valley of Mushrooms, Caterpillar Thread is the tangible, tactile counterpart to Imagination. A condensed, physical form of Light, Caterpillar Thread has a plethora of uses ranging from the construction of magical gadgets to even imbuing life into an inanimate object. But first, to understand how Caterpillar Thread is used, we need to understand the different types and their unique properties.

The Caterpillar from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars. 3 images of caterpillars in blue, yellow and green.

Blue – Connection

The Wonderverse’s answer to cell phones and glasses, Blue Thread is used to communicate across long distances and enhance one’s senses through goggles or earphones, for example. It is highly useful for the spies and bodyguards trained by the Millinery while the Blue Caterpillar is so attuned to the Thread’s abilities that he can even see into the future and make prophecies.

Yellow – Energy

Yellow Thread is an essential item in any Milliner’s wardrobe, yet it can be very dangerous if not used correctly. When used with good intentions, Yellow Thread can power objects and be used as an electrical self-defense device (like a taser). Yet, in less scrupulous hands, the Thread can be used to drain energy from other lifeforms.

Green – Growth

The favorite salve of the Milliner Medics (the Green Berets), Green Thread closes wounds, heals burns, and can also be used to mend a Milliner’s gear. A multi-faceted fabric that can heal the living and inanimate alike.

The Caterpillar from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars. 3 images of caterpillars in orange, red and indigo.

Orange – Strength

Orange Thread is the perfect item for a Milliner who wants to upgrade and reinforce their equipment. For example, if a Milliner weaves Orange Thread into their hat, they can turn it into a buzzsaw through their mastery of Imagination. Pretty handy if a ball turns into a brawl. 

Red – Imagination

Red Thread enhances the Light Imagination of which a Milliner is already a master. It takes our earthly concept of visualization and turns it into reality. If a Milliner wants to jump over a broken bridge or outrun a herd of stampeding horses, they only have to imagine it using Red Thread.

Indigo – Consciousness

The most advanced and mysterious Thread that only the most learned Milliners can use, Indigo Thread is the spark of identity. It’s essential to the construction of a Milliner’s hat, imbuing the headwear with “life” so it can help and advise its wearer. Indigo Thread can be dangerous, however, as it can be used to manipulate the consciousness of living beings.

Hatter Madigan's hat, flying through the air, with blades coming out of the brim of the hat along a blue background.

Using Caterpillar Thread:

How a Milliner can incorporate Caterpillar Thread into the execution of their daily duties is just as varied as the types of Threads themselves. There is a wide range of Thread Spells such as knots, hems, lacing, darts, and buttons, all tapping into the power of the Thread (or a combination of Thread Types) according to the Milliner’s needs.

The most iconic example of the use of Caterpillar Thread in the Wonderverse is certainly the Milliner’s hat. Just as important as a Jedi’s lightsaber or a wizard’s wand, and much more versatile, the Milliner’s hat is woven from a combination of different Caterpillar Threads and features a vast array of capabilities.

As mentioned above, the use of Red Thread gives the hat sentience, with its red eye that can survey the surrounding area, alert a Milliner to danger, and execute the transformations ordered by the Milliner. Such transformations include acting as a shield, smothering assailants, projecting illusions to confuse the enemy, and protecting their Owner from heat or cold. Above all, the hats know to whom they belong, and, no matter how far-flung, they will always return to their Milliner.

Caterpillar Thread and Imagination combine to form the twin pillars upon which the magic of Wonderland is built. Light, channeled through either the ethereal or the tangible, can be harnessed by the attuned and used to defend and enhance the Queendom. Yet, when used for selfish purposes, Light becomes Dark and saps Wonderland of its energy.

It is this eternal conflict between Light Imagination and Dark Imagination that caused the civil war that ravaged Wonderland before the events of The Looking Glass Wars and it was Queen Redd’s obsession with Dark Imagination that drove her bid to steal Alyss’ crown.

This final point illustrates the golden tenant of Magic System Creation: always think of narrative integration first! Cool magic will win big style points, but if the small details and the sturdy rules of the system don’t serve the emotional journey of your characters—you may need to rethink how you are building your story.

Enjoy the ride of creating your own universe, and never fear sharing your work with the world. Sometimes the boldest ideas are the most terrifying and uncertain… and ultimately the best. Your imagination is the finest tool you will ever wield, and it is worth the work to manifest your own magic system.

If you enjoyed this article listen to the All Things Alice Podcast with guest David Sexton for a great discussion of Magic Systems!

Meet the Author:

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.