Where There’s Smoke

Writer’s haunted Etowah farmstead informs her bestselling YA books

Megan Shepherd won’t leave the scary house that has charmed her authorial life.
Photo by Erin Fowler

Megan Shepherd didn’t plan to buy a haunted house. When The New York Times bestselling author and her husband moved into a historic farmhouse in Etowah in 2013, they merely expected peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery.

“I had a lot of bizarre experiences in the middle of the night,” says Shepherd. “Once I woke up to the overwhelming smell of smoke thick in the house, and woke up my husband screaming that the house was on fire, only to realize it wasn’t. Another night I woke up and only saw red, like flames, and the doorbell rang at all hours, but no one was ever there. Then, as we got to know the neighbors, they told us about the eerie history of fires at the house and rumors of hauntings.”

Shepherd was not only undaunted by the intrusion of the supernatural, but fascinated. It was even a boon of sorts for an author whose books for young adults mostly center around the strange, otherworldly, and sometimes macabre. The house and farm became not just a serene spot to write, but a source of inspiration.

It’s not just hauntings that flourish at the farm, however. Outside of her writer’s room, Shepherd grows strawberries, asparagus, grapes, seasonal vegetables, flowers, an orchard with fig and apple and pear trees, and mint for the herbal tea she drinks when she writes.

“I discover magical inspiration all the time,” says Shehperd. “Once, my dog woke me up in the middle of the night, sensing that my baby was having a seizure in the nursery. Another time, an elk wandered into our pond, despite the fact that the closest elk herds are 50 miles away. There is a mystery to nature that I find oddly comforting—I’ve always liked not knowing everything, rather than knowing.” 

Having grown up in her family’s bookstore in Brevard, Shepherd had a natural affinity for good stories. “I was always the type of child to peek inside a closet to see if it led to a secret fantasy kingdom,” she says. After college and a stint in the Peace Corps, where she helped to transcribe Senegalese folk stories, she started thinking about her own tales.  

“I thought I wanted to write picture books, until I realized they were far too sweet and I was much too salty. I eventually settled upon writing teenaged characters. Young Adult fiction is full of bold ideas and cinematic plots, and it’s a place where you can really experiment with genre mixing.”

Shepherd’s nine novels (including three series) have captivated readers, winning her popular and critical accolades. The latest, Midnight Beauties, was released on August 13 to conclude her Grim Lovelies series. In it, 17-year-old enchantress Anouk must endure a “deadly trial by fire,” among other challenges, in her quest to become a witch.

“My books look for magic in the everyday world, and they usually find it—along with all the danger that comes with it,” says Shepherd. “But if you’re looking for stories with happy endings, prepare to be left wide awake in the middle of the night, cursing me.”

Megan Shepherd will hold a release event for Midnight Beauties on Friday, Sept. 13, at 6pm at Highland Books (36 West Main St., Brevard, 828-884-2424). Free.

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