“Magic is woven into everything I write. I’ve tried to write realistic stories and I kept wanting to sneak in impossible things.”
Sarah Hogle’s novel The Bells of Black Magic follows Liesel Juhl, a fortune-teller, the events surrounding magical gangs at war with each other, and forbidden love. The idea came while contemplating starting NaNoWriMo.
“That weekend, ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘Oliver Twist’ were on TV. I got this image in my head of teenage orphans in 1900 banding together in gangs for survival. I am very detail-oriented and like to know my worlds thoroughly, so I created a street map of the entire town my story is set in, Black Magic. The more I thought about the shops and houses I mapped, the more I thought about the people who lived in them, and it all snowballed from there.”
Despite having the essentials down early on, Hogle went through many drafts before she was able to decide on what kind of magic would be in the novel.
“Originally, the only magic involved was Liesel’s, my main character, who is a fortune-teller. It was a small, limited magic. With every rewrite, magic gradually started eating up more pages until it spread to a flying train, time-travel, and magic tricks that were more than illusion.”
Despite her love of the subject, though, Hogle knows magic shouldn’t necessarily always be seen as the perfect answer to all the problems. Her world contains injustice, poverty and crime; her world may be magical, but “magic doesn’t always make a world pretty,” and the characters she has created are still very much human.
“Change is scary, but staying in a bad situation just because ‘it could be worse’ isn’t worth it. Sometimes you have to be selfish. Sometimes you have to take care of yourself first and stop trying to fix something you cannot fix on your own when the cards are stacked against you. A lot of the YA stories I read and love are Gryffindor stories. These teenage characters put the world onto their shoulders and risk their lives trying to save it. There is something they can do to fix it, so they choose the brave, honorable route. The Bells of Black Magic is a Slytherin story. Sometimes you choose self-preservation. Sometimes you choose flight instead of fight, and don’t save the world. It doesn’t make you a bad person to do that. It’s just a different way.”
Hogle’s road to publication was slightly more unconventional than most. The Bells of Black Magic was originally meant to be published by a small press. Problems within that publisher made her decide to not go forward with them and revert her rights. By that time, she had spent years on the novel and had written three sequels, so the idea of shelving it wasn’t one she entertained.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that traditional publication was no longer the right path for this particular book. It was time for me to publish this book now, and save traditional publishing for a different project. So I made a cover, formatted it for e-book and print, and self-published. I’ll be self-publishing the sequels as well.”
The Bells of Black Magic is available now. For more on Sarah Hogle, follow her on Twitter.