Brevard native and best-selling YA novelist Megan Shepherd, the author of the Victorian Gothic Madman’s Daughter series, recently announced that she had sold The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, a middle-grade fantasy in the vein of The Secret Garden. The book had sold at auction, meaning that editors at several publishing houses bid for the chance to take it on.
The news of the sale broke during the buildup to the release of teen novel The Cage, Shepherd’s most recent novel. She’ll hold a launch party at Highland Books in Brevard on Tuesday, May 26.
A desire to tell stories for younger readers first got Shepherd into writing, so Secret Horses is close to her heart. “It’s a very different kind of book,” she says. “It blends fantasy and reality in [such a way that] you’re never sure what’s true.”
For that reason, the winning editor was the one who made the most personal appeal. “In the book, the little girl has to collect eight magical objects,” Shepherd says. The editor at Delacorte sent Shepherd real-life versions of each. “It was touching and thoughtful. It told me that she really got it.”
Shepherd’s fan base is likely to get The Cage, too, a science fiction story about teenagers trapped in an alien zoo. The novel had its genesis at a writers retreat in Bat Cave, where Shepherd fell into a conversation with the wildlife biologist husband of another writer. “He was talking about … different types of bizarre zookeeping practices, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh — has anyone ever done a human zoo before?’”
The idea came easily, but writing it required Shepherd and her editor to work through several drafts. One challenge was to present the viewpoint of each of the teenage prisoners. But Shepherd knew she wanted to take this approach from the beginning. “I love world cultures and languages,” she says. Before becoming a writer, she wanted to be a foreign service officer and served in the Peace Corps. “And I wanted some characters who weren’t American, weren’t white. I wanted their unique perspectives.”
Shepherd had fun designing the zoo, a biosphere-type setting that samples a variety of habitats. “It reminded me of something like an amusement park,” she says. “Something that I would just want to run around in.” Plus, the zoo’s model town features a “kind of a Victorian-style bookstore,” Shepherd says, “to tie back to The Madman’s Daughter.”
Bookstores have figured prominently in Shepherd’s own life: she grew up at Highland Books, her parents’ bookstore in Brevard. She held the launch party for The Madman’s Daughter there, so it’s the perfect setting to release The Cage.
Shepherd won’t say that growing up in a bookstore influenced her writing, but she does say her parents’ store is closely connected to the love of books that prompted her to take up YA and middle-grade fiction. Now living in Asheville, she returns to Brevard often. “I always make a beeline back to the kids section, and it’s sort of my comfort zone there,” she says. “It reminds me of what mattered to me and what kinds of books I liked to read when I was a kid.”
WHAT: Megan Shepherd’s book launch for The Cage
WHERE: Highland Books, highlandbooksbrevard.net
WHEN: Tuesday, May 26, 4-6 p.m.