Interview with Lynn Cullen, author of Mrs. Poe!

I am delighted and honored to welcome, author Lynn Cullen. Her current novel, 'Mrs. Poe' was released October 1st, and is available at Amazon I have read and reviewed Mrs. Poe and absolutely love the way she brought Edgar Allan Poe, his ailing wife, Virginia and Frances Osgood to life before my eyes. It is an unforgettable and intriguing tale!

A bit of background on Lynn Cullen first  from her website, Lynn Cullen 
Lynn Cullen grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fifth girl in a family of seven children. She learned to love history combined with traveling while visiting historic sites across the U.S. on annual family camping trips. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington and Fort Wayne, and took writing classes with Tom McHaney at Georgia State. She wrote children’s books as her three daughters were growing up, while working in a pediatric office and later, at Emory University on the editorial staff of a psychoanalytic journal. While her camping expeditions across the States have become fact-finding missions across Europe, she still loves digging into the past. She does not miss, however, sleeping in musty sleeping bags. Or eating canned fruit cocktail. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband, their dog, and two unscrupulous cats.

Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and as an April 2010 Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. Her novel, Reign of Madness, about Juana the Mad, daughter of the Spanish Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, was chosen as a 2011 Best of the South selection by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and was a 2012 Townsend Prize finalist. Her newest novel, MRS. POE, examines the fall of Edgar Allan Poe through the eyes of poet Francis Osgood.

 1)    What made you decide to write about Edgar Allan Poe and focus on his time in New York City?
What brought me to Edgar Allan Poe?  In a word:  desperation.   Two years ago, in the height of the Great Recession, a year after my husband had lost his job like so many others, my then-publisher turned down the manuscript I’d been working on for a year and a half.  They wanted something with a more “feisty” heroine.  Feisty heroines, it seems, sold in a market that was very shaky, as were most markets around the world then.  The week I got this devastating news, my husband fell ill with meningitis and nearly died.   When I brought him home from the hospital, I didn’t know how we were going to survive.   He had a debilitating brain injury and I had no book prospect.  So there I was, pacing in my office, half delirious from fear and sleeplessness, thinking ,“Feisty heroine, feisty heroine.”  Suddenly into my crazed mind came the word Poe. 

Not having read Poe’s work since high school, I raced to my computer to look him up.  I saw that he was an orphan, very poor, and a lonely lost soul.  My kind of guy to write about.  But I wanted to write a novel from a woman’s point of view—and a feisty one, to boot—so I kept looking. Poe’s wife, Virginia was thirteen when he married her and didn’t seem so feisty.  And then I read about his alleged affair with poet Frances Osgood during his time in New York City, just after he’d written ‘The Raven.’  Frances had been abandoned by her portrait-painter husband and was trying to support her children with writing.  So here was this desperate woman trying to survive by her writing.  Oh, I could so relate.  And she was plenty feisty, too.    So I set about telling the story of Frances and Edgar from her point of view. 

Incidentally, my husband has completely recovered, thank goodness. 

2)    How much research went into Mrs. Poe? It felt so authentic. Just how did you manage it?
Frances took over the writing, it seemed, just a month into my research, so early on I was scrambling to write and research at the same time.  I familiarized myself with Poe and Frances by reading every biography I could get my hands on and then moved onto reading their own work.  I developed my story around their stories and poems from the time.  I felt that their character and their relationship could be found between the lines of their works.  

Meanwhile, I was reading everything I could about 1845 New York City and supplementing it with frequent trips to town to find firsthand the places from Poe’s time.  As you know, the New York Historical Society Library is a goldmine of NYC lore and artifacts.  I found the city directories and insurance maps from the time to be especially helpful.  I could pinpoint the places where my characters lived, worked, and played, and then hit the streets to experience them.   Some of the places still exist, like the Poe Cottage in the Bronx and 116 Waverly Street near Washington Square, where Poe read at ‘The Raven’ at the forerunner of the modern book club held there.  The Merchant House Museum on Fourth Street, a perfectly preserved home from Poe’s era, served as the model for the interiors of some of my characters’ residences.  I was lucky enough to be able to climb up into the bell tower of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street  and stick my head out one of those little windows below the clock.  I insist on going to the actual settings of every scene in my books.  It adds authenticity and it’s a whole lot of fun.

 3)     Can you tell me a bit about your writing process?
No outlines for me.  All I have to go on when I start a story is an idea of how I’d like it to end.  The twists and turns in the story come as just as much a surprise to me as they do, I hope, to the reader.   Writing this book, in particular, felt like I was transcribing a movie that was playing in my mind.  It helped that I really bonded with Frances!

Many of the best parts of the story came during revision.   I did at least four major revisions.   I also start each writing day by reading what I’ve written the day before and revising that, so  without exaggerating, I can say that I’ve rewritten every sentence in the book several if not many times.  Good thing I really like to revise.

   4)   What are you working on now?
A book on Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, from the point of view of a feisty woman in his life.   I do like a scrappy lady and a gentleman with skeletons in his closet.

 5)  Would you change any aspect of Mrs. Poe, if you could and why?
Not really.  This was Frances’s story and I just went along with her dictation.  The story didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  In fact, I didn’t plan to write a gothic novel when I started, which I suppose was pretty naïve of me.  Of course a book based on Poe’s life and work was going to end up being a tad bit dark!  But I had a blast going where he and Frances took me, so I have no regrets.   


Hermes said…
What a great, honest interview, thank you both
Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

I'm so glad to find another writer who works from nothing more than an idea for the ending. I refer to paragraph number three in the above interview. That is so me. I was just discussing this style of writing with Maria my wife last weekend, and shge asked me how could I possibly write a book without a defined plan. We I do and so it seems does Lynn.
Thank you for posting this interesting interview. It has made my day to discover a kindred soul who plans as little as I. :-)
Anonymous said…
Nice interview. I enjoyed reading about this author's creative process.
Love this interview! Thanks, Kimberly!
Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you all for taking time to stop by and comment. I'm so glad you all enjoyed the interview and what Lynn shared. Yes, thank you Lynn for being so forthright.

Kevin, I am so happy you've connected with Lynn's writing process. See, you're not the only one! I love your line 'We I do and so it seems does Lynn' because it is 'we' isn't it!
Lynn Cullen said…
Kimberly, thank you for your interest in my book and allowing me to take part in your gorgeous blog! I really appreciate the comments, too. Kevin--it's a fun way to write a novel, don't you think? The surprises along the way are our reward for taking a leap of faith.
Kimberly Eve said…
You are very welcome, Lynn! Thanks for everything. Best of luck and continued success with Mrs. Poe!