Ella Biber Reviews THE GILDED GIRL by Alyssa Colman
1. What was your inspiration for your book The Gilded Girl? The Gilded Girl is a loose retelling of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, set in a Gilded Age boarding school for magic. In this magical, Gilded Age New York, the divide between the magical haves and have-nots is as black and white as the foyer tile at Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic. Twelve-year-old student Emma can afford the education that will teach her the secrets of kindling her magic, while the school’s servant girl, Izzy, is doomed to see her magic snuff out before her thirteenth birthday like the rest of the lower classes. When Emma loses her father and fortune in a tragic accident, she loses her access to magic as well. Though not natural allies, Emma and Izzy team up together to find a way to kindle their magic, despite the fiery danger that kindling presents. I got the initial idea for this story while listening to the audiobook of A Little Princess in the car. I’d loved the main character, Sarah Crewe, when I was a kid and thought she was perfect. As an adult, I thought she was TOO perfect and I couldn’t help but think I would have been jealous and annoyed by her if we were at school together. That realization became the voice of Izzy. I also found inspiration in a conversation I had with my mom, who is a high school guidance counselor. We were talking about the high cost of college education and she said, “Education is the greatest barrier for class mobility in our country.” I began to think about education being a barrier to magic and the novel unfolded from there. 2. Who was your favorite character, Emma or Izzy? I love them both equally and for different reasons. I love Izzy’s spunk and her wry comments were fun to write. I relate to Emma for being bookish and shy, and I loved writing the scenes between the two of them! To be honest, my favorite character is probably the talking cat (a.k.a. house dragon), Figgy Pudding. He gets many of what I think are the best lines in the book! 3. Why is the title “The Gilded Girl”? That’s a great question. The title has multiple layers. First, it refers to the fact that the book is set during the Gilded Age, during which America had a huge economic divide between rich and poor. I saw a lot of parallels between that time period and today while doing my initial research. The title also refers to Emma’s shiny status at the beginning of the book and how she learns that her true mettle is deeper than what’s on the surface. 4. How did you come up with the house dragon idea? Sometimes ideas just come to me while I’m writing that I hadn’t initially planned to include. Figgy Pudding walked in my head very much as he appears in the book: someone interrupted an argument and I realized it was the cat! He introduced himself and became an integral part of the story. I can’t imagine the book without him now! 5. Why was Emma’s mantra “grace and poise”? Emma doesn’t remember her mother, who died when she was a baby. Emma struggles with her temper, unlike her mother, who everyone says always carried herself with “grace and poise.” When Emma gets angry or upset, she uses the mantra to control herself and calm down. It’s part of Emma’s growth that she learns no one is perfect all the time and that there are things in the world that deserve her anger, including the injustices she witnesses. 6. How long did it take you to write the book, publish it, and sell it? In total, it took about three years from when I wrote the first word to when it appeared on store shelves. I wrote the first draft of this book in 44 days, but then revised it for several months before sending it out to literary agents. After I signed with my agent, we did two more rounds of revisions on it to polish up the story and dig deeper into the worldbuilding. My agent handled the multi-publisher auction for the book in April 2019—two full years before it came out in stores! Publishing moves slowly because there are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes. Revisions, copy edits, cover art, marketing, and printing the actual book all take time. My next book, The Tarnished Garden, which is a companion novel to The Gilded Girl, comes out on April 5, 2022, which seems far away, but will be here before I know it! 7. Did you always want to be a writer growing up? Funny enough, no. I was always a reader growing up and I liked writing stories, but most of the books we read in school were by dead people, so being an author didn’t seem like a real career option! I kept writing for fun my whole life, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to get serious about publishing—and luckily, I’m still alive! 8. What was your favorite chapter in The Gilded Girl? Oh, this is a hard question! I’ve always loved Chapter Four, “The Blandings” because it’s so much fun. In this chapter, Emma meets the other students at Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic and gets her first taste of the terrible school food which the students have to use magic to make edible. She also sees the cross stitches on the wall change to reflect Miss Posterity’s statements and meets status-obsessed Beatrice Scorn and wallflower Frances Slight. I hope people have as much fun reading it as I did writing it! 9. When you started writing The Gilded Girl, did you know what was going to happen and how it was going to end? I had a general sense of what was going to happen but didn’t know exactly how it would play out. The central question of the book is whether Emma and Izzy will succeed in kindling their magic, and I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t know all of the obstacles that would get in their way. Writing a book is a bit like putting together a puzzle. You know the main pieces, but part of the fun of working on it is seeing how everything fits together. I hope readers enjoy the story!
About the Author
Alyssa Colman won the 2013 Primary Stages ESPA new play competition and was a semifinalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference. She has participated as both a mentee and mentor in the Author Mentor Match program and is a member of SCBWI. Alyssa now lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys making a mess in her kitchen and hiking with her family. Her next middle grade fantasy, THE TARNISHED GARDEN will be available 4/5/22.
About the Reviewer
Please welcome Ella Biber, my returning junior partner! Ella is a seventh grader and an avid reader. When she’s not swimming competitively or hanging out with her friends and family, she’s curled up devouring the latest book series.