Saturday, April 30, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe Biography Novel "Coffee with Poe" Interview by Author Andrew Barger


The kindle price on my novel Coffee with Poe: A Novel of Edgar Allan Poe's Life has just been dropped to $2.99. It recently placed as a finalist in the USA Best Book Awards Historical Biography Category. To celebrate, I am republishing an interview I did on the fictional Poe biography. I hope you enjoy it! Andrew Barger
Q1: Let’s start with the title. Why Coffee with Poe: A Novel of Edgar Allan Poe's Life?
A1: There’s a funny story behind that because I don’t drink coffee, but I love the smell.  My wife, who did the great cover photography for the novel, tells me that doesn’t count. She has an entire kitchen cabinet devoted to her coffee paraphernalia. I’m banned from looking inside because of my jokes about all the sifters, grinders, roasters, and foamers.  Anyway, I could think of no better coupling than books and coffee … well, actually I can.  In truth, the title is derived from a letter that Sarah Helen Whitman (one of Poe's fiancées) wrote to John Ingram on December 13, 1874, which speaks of Poe's penchant for coffee: "Mr. Bartlett has never seen him inspired by any more dangerous stimulant than strong coffee, of which he was very fond & of which [he] drank freely. MacIntosh says that the measure of a man’s brain is the amount of coffee he can drink with impunity."

Q2: Coffee with Poe is one of the only--if not the only--novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s life viewed from his own eyes. What made you write Coffee with Poe from Poe’s first person perspective?
A2: I wanted readers to get inside the head (however frightening that may be) of one of America’s best-loved and most mysterious writers. I wanted readers to live Poe’s life instead of learn about it. That’s the only way you can truly understand his horror stories and where he’s coming from. There are so many boring biographies out there.

Q3: And what an interesting and tragic life it was. You use a number of actual letters to and from Poe, including letters from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving. How did this come about?
A3: In researching Coffee with Poe I was surprised to learn that there were so many conflicting accounts of his life, so I went straight to the letters and used these as a framework to construct the novel. I was able to incorporate many of the people mentioned in the letters as characters. The novel to me is more compelling when you read Poe’s letters from his pen after experiencing the events that prompted the letter.

Q4: The letters of his three fiancées are especially interesting.
A4: Poe got around!

Q5: In one chapter Poe meets Charles Dickens. Was that hard to write?
A5: It was difficult to capture the personalities of both of these great writers as they would have interacted at this point in their careers, but it was a lot of fun to try. When they met in Philadelphia, Dickens was finishing a trip to the U.S. He was as popular across The Pond as he was in England. Poe, on the other hand, had yet to write The Raven and was not nearly as well known. Poe solicited Dickens at this time to get his works published in England but it never panned out. Poe thought any author as popular as Dickens could easily get him published in Europe. Poe thought Dickens never really tried and Poe held a grudge against Dickens until his death. Poe lampooned Dickens in his short story Thou Art the Man.
Q6: Where did Poe get his idea for The Raven?
A6: Many think it was from Dickens’s use of a talking raven in Barnaby Rudge. Poe felt the bird should have had a much larger role and I imagined Poe gently telling him such in Philadelphia. Dickens’s in turn based the raven in Barnaby Rudge off his own pet raven named Grip. There is a hilarious account of Grip’s death that Dickens gave in a letter to a friend and I included that statement as he retells it to Poe.

Q7: Was Poe strung out on drugs when he did most of his writing?
A7: It’s doubtful. Even Poe’s bitter literary enemies—and he had quiet a few—never accused him of taking drugs. Many of these enemies were also medical doctors, so they would have detected this state. I believe people over the years have confused narrators in Poe’s tales, many of whom are crazed or tripping on drugs, to be Poe himself. What these people are doing is taking credit away from a highly talented author and assuming he could only have experienced these states to write about them. Poe also wrote about being buried alive, but that never happened either!

Q8: What about drinking?
A8: Poe most certainly drank, but a medical condition caused him to have a sensitivity to alcohol. One or two drinks a day in our society, which is acceptable in certain circles and even claimed as good for the heart by the medical community, would have branded Poe as being prone to excess over a hundred and fifty years ago. As you know, I have my own theory regarding Poe’s drinking problem in Coffee with Poe and how this sensitivity came about.

Q9: Why did Poe write horror short stories?
A9: Because he could and because he was the best. I recently edited The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 and Poe wrote one third of them. It is amazing at how Poe towered above all other writers in this genre for those fifty years. There is a fine art to scaring people to death and Poe took it to levels unseen. The time was ripe for his tales. Snake oil salesmen roamed the country. Prominent doctors of the day routinely practiced bloodletting and people were buried alive because their faint pulse could not be detected. Then you have everyone frightened of reanimation by galvanic batteries thanks to Mary Shelley. Poe thoroughly enjoyed getting a rise out of people. This was evidenced by his many pranks as a child, his biting reviews of the "Literati of New York," and, of course, his horror tales. Poe had a very humorous side despite his circumstances and many people don’t realize this.

Q10: A few more questions?
A10: Okay, but I’m about to turn into a pumpkin and orange is not my color.

Q11: Speaking of horror, who do you think are the Big Three?
A11: In order of appearance: Edgar Allan Poe. H. P. Lovecraft. Stephen King. The problem is that the first two died in abject poverty and Stephen King has made slightly less money than God. Not that I’m taking anything away from King, but the other two should also have been rewarded handsomely for their work. Poe only made $15 off the entire publication history of The Raven. There are injustices in this world, and then there are outright tragedies.

Q12: Going back to your comment on Poe using deductive reasoning to craft some of his stories, he obviously used this in his mystery novels.
A12: Poe is actually the inventor of the mystery genre, or at least the closed room murder mysteries. Many people overlook this and focus only on his horror. His fmystery stories were The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, and The mystery of Marie Roget. Sir Conan Doyle got his idea for Sherlock Holmes based partly off Poe’s mysteries. Thou Art the Man is another fine mystery of his and the only one where he satired another writer (see the previous Dickens discussion).

Q13: What were Edgar Allan Poe's favorite things?
A13: Color-Black; Drink-Strong coffee; Song-"Come Rest in this Bosom"; Animal-Cat (Poe had one named Catterina with his wife Virginia and also had a black cat that he wrote about); Poem-He had many. Orion by Richard Horne was his favorite epic poem. A few years ago I edited a new edition since is had been out of print for 80 years. In it I included Poe's fine review of Orion; Place-the South in general.

Q14: Final question: Did Edgar Allan Poe father a child with Frances Osgood?
A15: That is some last question. I believe that he did. In the Kindle edition of Coffee with Poe I added a number of sections that include their relationship. There are simply too many references in Poe's Ulalume and the poetry of Frances Osgood to not believe that Fanny Fay Osgood, Fances's third child, was fathered by Edgar Allan Poe. In Edgar Allan Poe  Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems I included, in chronological order, all of the poems with a lot of background information.

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