Back in the eighth grade, I wasn’t thinking about becoming an author, I was just looking for a temporary escape from the misery that is puberty and other struggles that I kept tightly to myself. Here, I was able to slip into a fantasy world with a heroine named “Beauty” who was not terribly different from me. She was socially awkward, had pimples, was unsure where she belonged in the world. And here she was, having a grand adventure, winning the everlasting love of a cursed prince who would die for her. I won’t say the pacing is all that tight. The descriptions are as lush as they are lengthy, the writing style is old fashioned, and utilizes a staggering number of semi-colons, but I checked this book out of the library dozens of times.
Eventually, I hunted down a copy in a used book store. It’s the most frequently re-read book on my forever shelf, however when I read it now as an adult—and a writer—I observe different things (such as the semi-colons). But I love it just the same. Here’s a short excerpt:
“I was fond of horses, once,” said the Beast; and his words had a distant sound, as if they echoed down a cold corridor of centuries. I look at him inquiringly, but said nothing. He replied in answer to what I did not say: “Yes; I have not always been as you see me now.” Not Cerberus, then, I thought absently, still petting my horse; but I did not pursue the question any further. For my own limited peace of mind I preferred to admire the small victory I had just won, and leave the castle’s immense secrets to themselves.
—BEAUTY, by Robin McKinley, page 153
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that makes me love this book so much. Maybe it’s the mystery, the weight of the words. The delicious, slow unraveling of a puzzle everyone knows the answer to. It’s no secret how Beauty and the Beast ends, but McKinley writes as if it is a secret, as if there are still things to discover about this oft-told tale.
If I were to distill the purpose of my writing down to a single thing, it would be to write books that delivers to others the impact this book had on me. As a first time author, it’s humbling knowing readers will be spending some of their precious time reading my book. Black Bird of the Gallows is my debut, and I hope it offers a temporary escape for someone in need of it. I had so much fun writing this book about harbingers of death, the darkly cursed Beekeepers, and the teenage girl who gets swept into their world. I owe much of my love of writing to Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY, which was the first book to win my heart. The first book that made me want to create worlds and characters of my own.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Black Bird of the Gallows
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.
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.