We’ve all seen paranormal novels before, but we’ve never seen anything quite like Meg Kassel‘s Black Bird of the Gallows, a wholly original paranormal universe wrapped in life, death, and forbidden dreams.
The novel follows Angie Dovage, a teen with a dark history who grows curious about her strange new neighbors, the Fernandez family– especially their teen son, Reece. When Angie is attacked by a chilling paranormal force, she discovers that the Fernandez clan are harbingers of death who follow otherworldly threats and their appearance spells doom for her small town.
We were super lucky to chat with author Meg Kassel about her big debut, writing, creating her own version of the paranormal, and building a character relationship in equal footing. Read all about it in our exclusive interview below!
Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for Black Bird of the Gallows?
Sure! The inspiration behind this book came from hundred little places. The urban myth of the mothman (a frightening winged creature that reportedly appears ahead of a tragedy) provided ideas. Apparently, this unexplained phenomena really did occur in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960s. That story was a little brain worm that wove into the characters and concept and helped form the bones of the harbingers of death and the Beekeepers, in this book.
While your novel is paranormal, it doesn’t focus on typical paranormal elements like zombies or vampires. How did the harbingers of death and beekeepers weave their way into your story?
I love unique paranormal creatures and didn’t have anything new to add to vampire, zombie, werewolf worlds, so coming up with my own creatures was the natural thing to do. I took the things that scare me the most and molded them into the elements of both supernatural characters. In particular, my fear of large quantities of insects in a location made the Beekeepers what they are. As for the harbingers of death, I really wanted to make them turn into turkey buzzards, rather than crows, but that idea was soundly rejected by everyone I mentioned it to. Can’t imagine why.
What was important for you when developing Angie and Reece’s chemistry and relationship?
It was important for me that Angie and Reece be equals! When designing my harbingers of death, I purposefully made them have no perks to their supernaturalness. They get hurt, die (although they eventually get regenerated into a younger version of themselves) and they age like a normal person. Turning into a crow at will, and sometimes against their will, isn’t a perk. I did this to put Reece and Angie on equal footing. No worrying that he will snap her in half if he hugs to her too hard. Those super-powerful boys are fun to read (I’m a fan), but I didn’t want my characters to be as unequal in this way.
What are some of your favorite paranormal tales?
The short stories in Emily Carroll’s THROUGH THE WOODS creeped me out—in a good way! I will always read a beauty and the beast retelling. In fact, my next book is essentially that, with a Beekeeper as a hero who falls for a girl he’s supposed to sting with one of his bees.
If you could be any paranormal being, what would you choose and why?
That’s a hard one! Honestly, all the paranormal creatures I can think of have unacceptable downsides. I’d like the immortality of a vampire, but (ew) NOT the drinking blood part. I like to shape shift, but only when I’d want to and those guys usually get stuck shifting at inopportune moments. There’s no universe in which I’d like to be a zombie. I’m going to go with fairy queen because the fae are wicked smart and usually land right side up in a given situation. And they have magic.
What’s your writing process like?
A tremendous amount of story building is done while I’m driving, or waiting on line, or doing whatever. Sometimes I’ll chew through an idea for months and months before writing a word. I’m doing other things during that time, obvs, usually revising a draft. The hardest thing for me to do is turn a premise into a story with a plot. I try not to begin writing until I’ve got the main turning points down, along with some big, strong scene near the end. I don’t write out of order, so getting to that big scene is what I’m writing toward. Everything builds up to that, and it keeps me motivated to write, because that ending scene is crystal clear and urgent in my head. When I finally get to it, it’s like the biggest reward ever. Look, I don’t adhere to daily word counts. I don’t write every day. I tried adhering to those things and got stressed out. I write by immersing myself in the story and shutting out everything else. Every writer has a method. The only right one is the one that works for you.
Black Bird of the Gallows is your debut novel. What have you learned during your publication journey that young aspiring writers should know?
Expect to hear the word “no” often—from agents, editors, contest judges, etc. Expect that things will not follow a clear and easy trajectory on the publication end of things. If you can reconcile that, not take the “no’s” personally, and choose to put focus your energy on the writing, rather than publication, you’re more likely to produce a publishable book. Does that makes sense? Basically, in that pre-published stage, concentrate on leveling up your skills. I’m a pragmatic lass—not of the school of thought where all things publishing and money are filthy contaminates to the writing process, but you need to keep those things separated and be choosy about where you spend your creative energies.
Black Bird of the Gallows hit stores yesterday, so be sure to snag yourself a copy via…
A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.
Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.
What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meg Kassel is an author of paranormal and speculative books for young adults. A New Jersey native, Meg graduated from Parson’s School of Design and worked as a graphic designer before becoming a writer. She now lives in Maine with her husband and daughter and is busy at work on her next novel. She is the 2016 RWA Golden Heart© winner in YA.