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Poe’s Mother Guest Blog 1 (topic: Poe’s Mother)
THE CULT OF POE
What if a family believed in the works of Edgar Allan Poe the way others believe in the Bible?
I began my third novel, POE’S MOTHER, sometime around 1997 at The Writers’ Room of Boston. Like most budding novelists, I had expected my first and second novels to be on the New York Times’ best-sellers list by the time I started my third. I was sadly mistaken. I knew nothing about this business.
Yet, after four solid years of writing and no success to speak of, I began what was my most personal and intimate novel to date. Poe’s Mother came from the spark of an idea – it captured me and wouldn’t let me go until I had hammered out a first draft of about 62,000 words in six months. I then revised and revised and revised yet again; I submitted the novel to an online workshop, in addition to my monthly critique group. I changed the tense, the voice, the punctuation, always looking for perfection. After eight years of working on it – on and off – I finally put it aside to join novels one and two in the cardboard boxes that contained my hard copies and notes. Along the way I had gathered lots of positive feedback, even from recent agent and editor submissions, but the novel never found a home.
When I looked back recently on the journey this novel had taken, I suddenly realized that finding a publisher for Poe’s Mother would be much like looking for gold in the Everglades. I had taken the cult of Poe and wrenched it to an extreme, pushing past boundaries to the realm of taboo. What traditional publisher would touch it? It could have been the most exquisitely beautiful novel in the world; yet, how to market it? I could see editors and marketing people, sitting in their cramped New York offices, scratching their heads. Horror? Suspense? A psychological thriller? A coming of age story? Actually, it’s all of these.
The idea for the novel came to me when I remembered an incident that had occurred long ago in my hometown in southeastern Kansas. When I was 10 years old, I had purchased, through the Scholastic Book Club at school, a copy of Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe. I loved horror when I was a kid, so this book was up my alley. Of course, like many children, I was unaware of Poe’s mastery of language and story. I bought Wuthering Heights for the same reason – thinking I would enjoy a good ghost story – only to give up and go back to it years later. (It’s now one of my favorite books.) Poe and his ilk are not the Hardy Boys.
Finding Poe a bit of a slow go, I asked my mother to read me some of the stories. The Black Cat. A Descent into the Maelstrom. I recall the afternoon vividly. The sun was slashing through the fiberglass curtains that were popular at the time; it was a summer’s afternoon. The day was broiling hot. My poor mother was forced to read Poe to me. I’m sure she would have rather been doing other things. But it was that sharp image in my memory that led to the novel.
The cult of Poe. What if some people believed in the works of Edgar Allan Poe the way others believe in the Bible? I asked myself that question, and, thus, the novel grew. The book has two narrators: Sissy Baxter, a 15-year-old, living in Nodoline with her 17-year-old brother, Riven; and Madeline Poe – the matriarch of a very dysfunctional family who takes the writings of Poe seriously. Very seriously. It is a novel about small towns, isolation, wanting to escape, death, addiction, about the power of sex and words. It is a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when ideology moves us toward absolute power. If you love Poe and the themes he brought forth in his work, I believe you’ll appreciate Poe’s Mother.
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Author Michaeil Meeske
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