Exclusive Interview: Meg Kassel Talks KEEPER OF THE BEES

KEEPER OF THE BEES reworks a seriously disturbing paranormal being into a whole new role!

Meg Kassel‘s astoundingly original paranormal novel Black Bird of the Gallows followed one teen’s encounter with harbingers of death whose appearance meant very bad things for her town. The harbingers travel to where a tragedy is imminent and in Angie’s town, they’re going up against a beekeeper, aka a cursed paranormal entity that lives with deadly bees inside them.

Beekeepers may be the baddies in Black Bird of the Gallows, but Kassel’s follow-up Keeper of the Bees shedding a whole new light on the trials and tribulations of being one of the cursed beings.

The novel follows Dresden, a beekeeper who deeply regrets the terms of his cursed life and tries to only harm people who deserve it. Still, he wears the ever-changing faces of his victims with shame. When Dresden meets Essie, a girl whose experienced a sense of otherness thanks to strange hallucinations, she finds him fascinating rather than horrific. Could their connection be the secret to ending Dresden’s curse?

We talked to Meg Kassel about making antagonists into protagonists, responsibly portraying mental health, and the relationship between Dresden and Essie. Take a look!

The beekeepers were antagonists of sorts in Black Bird of the Gallows. What made you want to flip that script to show Dresden’s struggles?

While writing Black Bird of the Gallows, I fell in love with the villain. Rafette, the beekeeper who made Angie and Reece’s lives so difficult, had a full, tragic story that didn’t get told. I tried to work it in, but simply put, it wasn’t Rafette’s book. Loading in the beekeeper’s baggage didn’t feel organic to the story. By the time I’d finished Black Bird, I was already putting together Dresden’s story.

There’s a lot of mental health to consider in Keeper of the Bees: Essie lives with hallucinations and without the support she needs. Dresden’s bees cause psychosis. How much research did you do on how hallucinations or on how psychosis manifests?

I watched documentaries and read a lot of case studies to get Essie’s condition (which doesn’t conform to any actual human mental illnesses because it’s NOT a human mental illness) as right as I could. Sensitivity readers were a tremendous help and I don’t know if I would have published this book in this form without their input. Mental health issues run on both sides of my family, and I’m affected as well, although not in the way Essie is. I know what it feels like to try to conceal the fact that your brain isn’t working like everyone else’s, and to feel like your outside is profoundly different from your inside. Those elements of Essie were personal.

Why do you think Dresden and Essie work so well together?

Because they both think they’re broken, but each knows the other isn’t. I love that about them and it’s what made them such a wonderful couple to write. They see the beauty in each other, that’s been there all along—and Essie’s Aunt Bel sees it too—but it takes some perilous circumstances for them to see it in themselves.

Will we be seeing some of the characters from Black Bird again in Keeper?

Hmm. Maybe. I want to keep a few surprises 😉

Though neither is particularly glamorous, would you rather be a harbinger of death or a beekeeper?

Oh man, I never pondered that. Beekeepers don’t feel pain, but ugh, the BEES, and harbingers suffer terrible pain every time they die, which is often, but they get to exist in society, sort of. They’re both pretty awful things to be. I’m going with harbinger of death, because you CAN escape it if you really can’t take it anymore, although the method is gristly and horrible.

What are some of your favorite stories about characters who are not what they appear to be?

Snape, from the Harry Potter series, influenced how I handled Dresden and the beekeepers quite a bit. Even though Snape was essentially a double agent, that conflict is apparent throughout the books. I drew on that to add nuance to my beekeepers. It’s a heavy burden, to be forced to do something you don’t believe in (like Snape pretending to be a death eater) when in fact your loyalties lie elsewhere.

The rumor mill says there’s a book coming out of this world called Cleaner of Bones! What can you tell us about that?

It’s a novella, officially releasing this fall, but subscribers to my newsletter can get it for free. It’s several scenes from Black Bird told from Reece’s point of view. You see more of his side of things, what he really thinks of Angie, and behind the scenes workings of harbinger life. Also, a deal he worked out with Rafette. It was interesting getting inside his head.

Keeper of the Bees is out on September 4, 2018. You can pre-order it now via…

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo | Entangled Publishing

ABOUT THE BOOK

Dresden is cursed. His chest houses a hive of bees that he can’t stop from stinging people with psychosis-inducing venom. His face is a shifting montage of all the people who have died because of those stings. And he has been this way for centuries—since he was eighteen and magic flowed through his homeland, corrupting its people.

He follows harbingers of death, so at least his curse only affects those about to die anyway. But when he arrives in a Midwest town marked for death, he encounters Essie, a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from debilitating delusions and hallucinations. His bees want to sting her on sight. But Essie doesn’t see a monster when she looks at Dresden.

Essie is fascinated and delighted by his changing features. Risking his own life, he holds back his bees and spares her. What starts out as a simple act of mercy ends up unraveling Dresden’s solitary life and Essie’s tormented one. Their impossible romance might even be powerful enough to unravel a centuries-old curse.

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.

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About Author

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary

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