After writing three novels blending history and historical sleuthing, including 2010's Bridget of Kildare, local author Heather Terrell has branched into young-adult fiction. Her new supernatural thriller Fallen Angel (HarperCollins) follows a teen-ager who learns that she has unusual powers -- think vampire-angel -- and, oh, yes, partial responsbility for the fate of humankind.
Terrell, who's in her early 40s, spoke with CP from her home in Sewickley.
Fallen Angel was inspired by the noncanonical religious text the Book of Enoch?
[Enoch] tells the story, just briefly, briefly mentioned in Genesis, of these angels that God sent down to mankind. The one things the angels were not supposed to do was procreate with man. But Enoch tells a very beautiful story about how the angels fell in love with mankind. And they have these half-men, half-angel children called nephilim.
God banishes these angels to walk the earth. So I started thinking "Gosh, what if these fallen angels really were roaming around?" And I've always been interested in the vampire legends. What if their presence explains the simultaneous emergence in across cultures about the vampire myth?
And when you told your agent ...
She said, "You need to read these other books." I'm like, "What are you talking about?" She's like, "Hello, where are you living? Vampires are huge!"
Your other protagonists have been adults, rendered in third person. Was doing a teen voice in first person a challenge?
One of the books [The Map Thief] has a 15th-century eunuch. So that was really a stretch! I don't think anything was as much of a stretch as being Zhi, honestly. And it's a little bit different because there aren't any 15th-century eunuchs reading my book, but there's a lot of teens reading my book. They can sniff out a phony really fast.
And writing a high school kid?
I went back there! I have friends who have children who are in that age bracket, and I spent a lot of time talking to them about the kind of things they deal with now.
Lots of friends set up these evenings where I would talk with their teenage duaghters! It was pretty fun and ceratainly very illuminating.
How is Fallen Angel selling?
I get e-mails and Facebook notes from all sorts of teens. The book's only been out three weeks and I have all these people writing me notes about how they loved it. They have that thirst for reading which is just so exciting.
I'm still editing the second book [in the Fallen Angel series]. It was going to be released a year from now and they moved it up. It's coming out in June. I've never had to write a book in my life this fast.
Why are fallen angels appealing?
There is something appealing and in some ways romantic about this celestial being falling in love with mankind. Finding man irresistibly beautiful and compelling, such that they would even defy god to have relationships with them.
Do your creatures have the metaphoric resonance of vampires?
The fallen angels, once they turn away from God, they turn away from the light, the light of purity, the light of goodness. And they turn more toward the darkness. Not the darkness of necessarily death and war, [but] the darkness of serving ourselves, rather than something larger than ourselves. These fallen become symbols for the sort of immoral decline, the commercialization of our culture. There's an opportunity toward reclaiming that ... that certain of the fallen have chosen. Ellie has the opportunity to fulfill her destiny.
Did you read young-adult fiction as a teen?
Growing up, my favorite books were of the fantastical realm -- the C.S. Lewis series. I'm actually re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia now. Those kind of books. I don't want to say pure fantasy, because they really transcend the fantasy genre. They deal with larger issues of space and time and different worlds. As a teen, I was reading Anne Rice, the early vampire books. ... If you're not looking at that stuff, if you haven't always been looking at that stuff, it's not going to leap out at you to link up the fallen-angel story in the Book of Enoch with the origin of the vampire legend!