A nerdcation, if not obvious, is a trip that some people might consider pedestrian, strange, boring. I took such a trip this winter, and I found the trip quite the opposite. Perhaps, it’s because the recipe that is me includes one-part nerd.
Anyone who knows me, understands I’m a Poe – addict. January 19th 1809 is Poe’s date of birth, making this past Monday the 206th anniversary of his birth; hence, his birthday. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virgina, planned a celebration. I decided, almost last minute, to fly cross country to the chilled Eastern U.S. to do my very own Poe Tour.
His mothers are buried there (there were two), his first true love’s house (he was 14, she was his friend’s mother) is a landmark, his first and last fiance (Elmira), the places he grew up, schooled, played, worked, proposed. I marked all of the locations and addresses, a walk in a dead writer’s footsteps that would culminate with the day long event at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, which promised to include readings, discussions, and cake.
If some of you find this boring, you’ll find what follows probably even more banal. Unless, you’re a visual person and browse the photos
My first stop was E.A. Poe’s birth mother. Her body lies somewhere on the grounds of St. John’s Church. St. John’s is famous for Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech. I’m told Henry is buried there, as well as numerous other revolutionaries.
Poe’s Father, David Jr, purportedly said, the day that ruined my life was the day my son was born. He never wanted to be a father. After Edgar’s sister, Rosalie, was born, David Poe disappeared. His parents, Elizabeth Arnold and David, were actors. By the time Edgar was two, his mother perished.
Because her profession was considered a mere step above prostitution and no respectable person would agree to be buried near an actress, she was laid in the ground without a headstone or location notation. It seems three different organizations pulled together, built and placed a marker to honor Poe’s mother.
The day I arrived, the sun shined, melting the ice from the streets. The lovely magnolia tree nearby the grave dropped melting ice, giving me my own personal rainstorm.
I meandered around the cemetery. Remembering, honoring the dead.
Across the street from the Church is Elmira Royster’s home – or what was once her home.
She was Poe’s first fiance, her father disapproved of Poe, so they met secretly at the gardens (which is now the Lindon Row Inn – where I fortuitously reserved a room. My room overlooked the back garden patio where Poe is supposed to have taken Elmira’s hand and asked her to marry him, to wait for him until he returned from college).
Poe’s letters never reached Elmira (thanks to her father); she thought she’d been abandoned and entered the marriage arranged/approved by her father.
Many years later, after she’d been widowed, her maid involved herself in an argument at the front door, refusing entry to the tall, dark, caped stranger at the front door who insisted he be allowed to see Ms. Elmira on this Sunday morning. The lady of the house admitted him, listened to his argument. Anyone who’s seen someone they once loved knows what she was feeling, understands those “no, I shouldn’t, yes, I want to,” back and forth feelings she may have been experiencing as she told him, “I have church this morning, you may return another time.” No doubt she watched him go through the window slats and hoped he’d return. His cape blew back in the wind as he walked determinedly away, formulating a plan, even then, to win back his first love.
Poe did reappear, and too soon asked for her hand in marriage. She was one of the last people to see him before he left Richmond…. She was, officially, Poe’s first and last fiance.
Poe’s first true soul love (his words) was his friend’s mother; she supported his writing whereas his adoptive father did not. Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard’s house is not far from either the church or Elmira’s house.
Coming home with his friend on an average school day, he met the lovely Mrs. Stanard. Maybe they said just a few words, but Poe was smitten and returned again and again. They talked of poetry. It was a gentile relationship, an appropriate one, even if possibly it made his friend uncomfortable. (She died when Poe was 15).
It’s known as the Craig House, is privately owned and boasts the original structure, although it has been restored. The house stands as the second oldest structure in Virginia.
Poe was never officially adopted, but the Allan’s are referred to as his adoptive parents. Edgar’s middle name Allan comes from their family. His adoptive mother, Francis Allen was a great love of Poe’s. She passed in 1929. His adoptive father doesn’t come across as a nice man. He didn’t appreciate Poe’s writings, his mannerisms, reminded him often that Edgar lived off his charity. There’s some evidence that Allan cheated on his wife, he had illegitimate children with another woman (even left them $ in his will). Poe didn’t seem to respect the man, and I believe that is part of the reason why. There are some allegations that Poe involved himself with married women and single women as well; however, when he married Virginia, and loved a woman, he seemed to be wholly involved and didn’t consider turning to another.
Mrs. Stanard’s headstone is closer to downtown. The cemetery is larger with long, winding, dirt roads, which supposedly are labeled A, B, C. Navigating it curiously, I found, by luck the intersection.
I must admit that in some strange way, I didn’t care to see Mr. Allan’s grave; however, his family plots were close to his the Stanards. I walked the ten feet from Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard grave to the Allan’s. It further made me dislike this ghost of a man whom I could never know. Crazy, I know.
Allan married and had more children after Francis’ death. His marker is large, looming over Francis’ marker, his second wife’s marker is larger than his first wife’s. I’m not certain why that annoyed me so much, but it did. How could his first wife merit a headstone half the size of his second wife’s? Seems somehow – assholish.
The weather was getting the best of me. I’m a thin blooded creature, the eastern sun moved fast toward the west, the sky grew gray, and the sketchy neighborhood where the cemetery lies isn’t a place a woman should challenge her fears.
I searched for at a more modern venue for refreshment. Not knowing the area, unable to locate a Starbucks via my gps, I parked in the city center and opted for a 7/11 coffee.
A block to the north, much to my surprise, laid Capital Park. With another hour on my city meter, I walked up, coffee in hand, to see if I could locate the Edgar Allan Poe Statue. Although I was lead to believe the statue was difficult to find, hidden in some far off corner, I found it quite easily.
I’m searching for Poe. I’m searching for connection. To pick up the remains of the past, make certain it’s real. Fortunately, the Edgar Allen Poe Society has done much more than I.
The house Poe grew up in is long gone to a history we can only read about: wars, fire, reconstruction. The Poe Society has marked the building. The building is currently condemned.
A few weeks after Poe’s mother passed, the show went on without her. A new stage play drew in the city’s patrons which filled the seats. It grew quite warm inside. The actors took note, the patrons noticed. They turned to one another, “it’s quite warm in here tonight.” The play was exquisite. The lighting extreme, as if a real fire burned in the background. When a single actor yelled “Fire!” The audience laughed, applauded. When more actors screamed, “Fire!” The theater goers turned to one another, nodded, “quite realistic.”
Until some astute actors and patrons made for the door, then others realized that, indeed, this was not part of the play. By then, the theater was already engulfed. Both, actors and wealthy patrons, died together. They are sealed in the same crypt under the new church built over them. Monument Churchl. Poe’s adoptive family, the Allans, worshiped there.
How might it have been for the young Poe to have his mother’s friends, his adoptive parents’ friends under his feet as he sang hymns?
Next Stop – Poe Museum. They programmed a 206th Birthday Celebratioon – a day long event of readings, museum tours, music, walking tours (Poe – related spots), CAKE! and a champagne toast at midnight.
The small building on main street is easy to pass without notice, but it is the oldest residence in Virginia, built in the 1700’s. The residence became the Poe Museum in 1922 (I believe).
The museum is made up of four small buildings and an enchanted garden. The pergola in the back of the garden which houses Poe’s bust was built from the bricks from the Southern Literary Messenger where Poe once worked.
Friday, the museum was completely empty except for the curator, the director, and those who were setting up for the celebration. I had the museum to myself, completely alone with Poe.
It featured many of his personal items, a bed, vest, cane, etc, among other artifacts. It boasted portraits of the period as well as modern work. I’ll let you check out this pics on the museum website (although their pictures are not current) as I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures. 😉
Music. Tours. Art. Poe Lovers. It was a lovely day, a soul enriching day, (even if it was too chilly for my California tolerance).
There’s little in this post that you won’t find elsewhere – as far as information about Poe and his family. The pictures are mine. (please give credit if you copy them).
Why does someone leave the warm sunshine of a winter in southern California to go to the too cold city of Richmond, Virginia in January? And why?
It’s history. It’s literature. It’s a passion of mine to know more, see, touch, be in the presence of. I am filled up, revitalized. I learned more, enjoyed discovering my penchant for boutique hotels led me to the grounds of the garden where Poe once stood declaring his love for his first sweet heart. I stood where he once stood, walked a path he may have walked (yes, with thousands, possibly millions of others. but that’s okay with me).
Sometimes, one must get out of their own head, get out of their comfort zone, do something new, something questionable, something that will add to their life experience.
I’ve swam with sharks, now I’ve walked with the dead in a city rich with literary history, with American history.
If you’ve read this far – THANKS!
This is a reblog from January 2015
Some years ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s hair was tested to determine the cause of his death. The results of all tests, including the ever popular theory of drugs and alcohol, were inconclusive.
They have a collected list of theories that have been maintained since his death, 169 years ago on this date.
I’m not sure I believe it was the flu. The doctor’s would have known the symptoms of the flu, wouldn’t they?
Cooping’s a possibility; however, that negates the fact that he was sick before he left Richmond.
Rabies is a possibility; however, again, I feel the doctor may have recognized the symptoms.
I haven’t heard the tumor theory before; anything’s possible given the state of medical care in the 1840’s compared to today.
I don’t mean to be a damper on the mystery, but the average life expectancy at that time was 40 years. He lived a long and full life, according to the people of his time.
Of course, it is a shame and a loss. He was a credit to American Literature. His writing was original, authentic, intelligent and captured the attention of audiences then and now.
I had my own theory of Poe’s Death when interviewed by Dark Times – watch the full video here
Poe has affected our literature, popular culture, music, artists etc since his death. Eddy is my tribute to the inspiration I get from his work. The story is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s suicide attempt in November of 1848.
I was invited to read at the birthday celebration in January at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. An honor and a pleasure!
Read More of My Poe Posts Here
(This is a repost from Oct 2018)
I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).
I began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books
I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.
A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.
I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.
For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.
I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.
According to science, exercise can feed creativity. Before you turn away, click the unfollow button or run off screaming – oh no, she’s telling us to exercise, I knew it! – they say just getting out of the chair, walking for twenty minutes, or even (gasp) cleaning, just moving our bodies can get some juices flowing and give us a fresh outlook to come back to our writing.
So, no, you don’t have to go to the gym, learn kickboxing, or twist yourself into a pretzel, just take a deep breath and walk around in a circle for a few moments. Who knows, dizziness of the circling might give you some great ideas!
In a writer’s group, I asked a specific person how one would use a certain program. They responded with, “I’d be glad to show you; my rates are very reasonable.”
I was shocked into silence. I asked a simple question, and they wanted to charge me for their answer?
But, then again, they have the right to earn a living by selling their knowledge.
How often have I given my knowledge for free? I could charge, I thought, for all the information and skills I’ve accumulated over the years.
But – wait a minute – writers really don’t make that much money, and we’re all struggling in the same boat of trying to get our books, articles, short stories, or other out there to larger audiences.
Think of being on a life-raft and you are the one who has the clean water, or maybe the secret to cleaning the water, would you really sell it to another passenger? Some people would.
There’s a story from a Gladwell book about how post-its came about. (To simplify:) One worker in the paper department bumped into someone from their glue department, they both talked about what they were working on and the problems there were having. If only we could…. and boom – two collaborators came up with an idea worked together to bring that to fruition by sharing their expertise and invented something we all use (and made billions for 3M!). Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, and others now use that theory to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions for every day problems!
When we all work together, we all become better humans. I want to share my ideas and experiences and share other writer’s with you, other ideas with everyone who desires to listen.
I have a job; I have many jobs. I’m not about to take advantage of others who are students in life or in writing and try to make a buck from them. I’d rather share my knowledge. I’d rather help my fellow passengers on this journey.
Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge with me. Thank you to those writers who give of themselves and their resources to make a better writing community.
When we work together, we can all benefit.
I’d hate to disagree with our dearly departed master musician, Tom Petty, but the waiting is not the hardest part – That’s a myth.
Waiting is the easy part.
If I haven’t lost you yet, let me explain.
Some people spend their lives waiting. They dream of doing more, but they create excuses of why they can’t or why they haven’t yet. They’re waiting for…. fill in the blank…. the right time, the right place, until they finish this, until that happens. It’s an excuse.
When you’ve moved forward and accomplished something, the waiting becomes the easy part.
The hardest part is jumping over every damn hurdle that life puts in front of you.
The hardest part is avoiding those people who want to limit you.
The hardest part is not buying into the self doubt that holds many people back.
The hardest part is doing the work. And then doing more work.
The hardest party is putting yourself out there and face the possible criticism.
The hardest part is never giving up.
Rejection is not the hardest part – it’s just part of the whole. The whole world is not going to love everything we do.
Waiting for the results is not the hardest part – that’s part of the whole.
Motivation or inspiration is not the hardest part – not even sure that’s part of the whole, but it helps.
Action is what is required to be successful.
Sometimes, action makes others around you uncomfortable. They’ll try to criticize your forward movement as wrong action. I can’t tell you how many times people have harped on something I’ve done as if I’ve ruined my chances at success, when in fact it was a step in the right direction.
I’m unclear if it’s a fear of rejection or the fear of success itself that keeps people stagnated in excuses. If they become successful, their lives will have to change. They’d have to continue to work, to duplicate their success.
I consider it is not a fear of failure – because, by not trying, aren’t they failures already? Or maybe that’s it – they can claim they never “got their chance,” when, in fact, they never actually took a chance. That’s the true failure.
Success follows action. Action takes work. As long as their is forward movement, there is no failure. As long as one doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up, there is no failure.
Don’t wait. Move forward. Slowly. Consistently. Misstep and get up again. Keep moving forward.
Sometimes, I wish I was the driver of the Karma truck. But, I suppose, being a writer is better. Still have the problem of sitting too long, but we get to exact revenge too. The best kind of revenge – in print.
Many years ago, sharing some big life altering event with a friend, she responded, “I guess these things happen to you because you’re a writer.”
Of course, life awry, I didn’t think this is the best response a friend could give – but, then again, maybe it was. Because it’s true.
What writer hasn’t written the demise of someone who’s wronged them?
We writers have a way of writing life into our fiction. We work out our demons, our personal challenges, and by putting it out there in our fiction (or even in our creative nonfiction), we do one better than reap revenge, we are relieved and we are relatable to others who have gone through similar situations or similar emotional upheavals.
Recently, my life became vexed by a certain set of people and circumstances which caused great stress and loss (how’s that for vague?); and true to form, one of my writer friends said, “sounds like a great book!”
It damn well does.
But, first, I had to roll my eyes and throw back my head. I just wanted some sympathy, some empathy. But she gave me more than that – she gave me purpose, building from ashes, and a way for me to transmit sympathy to another by relating to a scenario which many of us have experienced. (I know, still too vague.)
However, the tragedy still fresh and the skin still tender, I’ve written on outline and will start on the book when the callous scars over and the sensitivity has dulled.
Darrel Laurant contacted me some time ago about featuring my book, West End, on his project website. I’m only happy to now have him talk about that project here.
Completing and publishing a book — any book — is a noble accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s only half the battle.
Writing, publishing and marketing used to be co-joined triplets, or at least close cousins. Now, though, they have drifted apart into separate entities. As a consequence, the new mantra from publishers turning down a manuscript has become: “We really like your book, but we don’t think we can sell it.”
What you realize, as you skim over the Top 100 best-selling offerings on Amazon or even the hallowed New York Times list, is that “marketability” now has very little to do with what we used to perceive as “quality.” Not that a well-written book can’t be successful, but writing well is no longer a crucial requirement, writing not-so-well no longer a deal-breaker.
The good news is, thanks to current technology and increased self publishing options, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so. The bad news is, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so.
The fact that 30 million or so books are now listed on Amazon has drastically changed the rules of engagement. The issue is no longer getting published, but getting noticed.
Writers are obviously the losers in this not-so-brave new world, but so are readers. Books go surging past us like flotsam on a flood-swollen river, never to be seen again. If it was published in 2016, it has already become a relic.
The idea of Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which started three years ago, is to become just one small voice shouting: “Whoa!”
I spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and columnist, wrote a lot for magazines and Websites on the side, published two books that sold over 3,000 copies each locally, and won a lot of writing awards from the Virginia Press Association.
In some occupations, all that would have helped ease my transition when I retired from journalism to write books full-time. In the publishing field, I had to check it all at the door.
When my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid,” went up on Amazon, I was excited. I now had my own little niche, exposed to the world. I had a publisher who, at least in theory, was prepared to spread the word. I had a distributor to transport my books to the far corners of the nation. Smiling contentedly, I sat back and waited for the orders to pour in.
And waited. And waited. Eventually, it dawned on me that since nobody outside of Central Virginia had ever heard of me, the odds of anyone randomly clicking on my Amazon page were infinitesimal. Why would they?
At some point during the mini-funk that followed, aggravated by the winter blahs, I was standing in front of my living room widow in Lake George, NY, watching it snow, when this thought occurred to me: “Getting noticed for a new writer these days is like a snowflake trying to stand out in a blizzard.”
A few months later, I started the Snowflakes in a Blizzard blog.
Each week, Snowflakes highlights three books. They could be novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs or a hybrid. What they have in common are that they are a) unique in some way and b) could use more attention. The “template” for every book is filled out by the author and goes individually to each of our 3,000-plus followers, complete with a few reviews and a sample chapter. It’s a way of getting one-on-one attention.
Also, it’s completely free. I like that for several reasons:
First, it takes the pressure off. Charging for a service is all about making a promise — in this case, pay me and I’ll sell books for you. I can’t do that, because I have no way of tracking who might have purchased a book because of a Snowflakes post they received.
Second, it makes for a better vibe between me and other writers. They are colleagues, not customers.
Finally, I don’t feel competitive with any other writer-friendly blogs or Websites. In fact, I’d be delighted if a thousand other sites sprang up just like Snowflakes in a Blizzard, because that would still not take care of all the writers who need such a service.
You may have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. In the case of the book-buying public, the enemy is our very human tendency to stick with what we know. Early in our lives, most of us have settled in on what food, music, movies and, yes, books we like.
This fact unquestionably drives the book publishing business. It has become a lot like politics — survey the public to find out what they think they want, then give it to them. It accounts for the focus on genres, the reliance on best-seller lists and the dicotomy of wealth between the top one percent of authors and everybody else.
I don’t like to point fingers at the publishing industry, because they need sales to survive. So do agents. I do, however, think that the current glut of books has contributed in many cases to tunnel vision and laziness. What used to be “Wow, this is a great book — we need to tell people about this talented new author,” has morphed into “Oh, too bad — it doesn’t have the right genre for our demographic.”
This genre fixation is one of my major gripes about the book business today. Instead of offering unique work that only they could produce, some authors are “writing to genre,” following a list of pre-prescribed rules in an effort to “fit.” Yet so many of the books that made a big impact upon arrival — think “In Cold Blood,” “The Color Purple,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Roots” — probably would have flunked the genre test.
To their credit, a lot of small “indie” publishers do seek out and nurture talented new writers. Sometimes, they are richly rewarded for it.
My other gripe is the attitude held by some gatekeepers that they are doing writers a huge favor by publishing them. I growl, internally, every time I see this on a Website: “If you don’t hear from us in two months, it means we’re not interested.”
How much time and trouble would it take to type “Thanks, but not for us,” and hit “send”? Or maybe, “We’re thinking about it.”
This lack of communication shows a naked disrespect to authors who, after all, just want to enter into a business deal with them. Think of how you’d feel if you walked into a restaurant, sat down at a table, and were then ignored for an hour before you finally got up and left.
OK, so the creative universe is awash with other books. Publishers and agents can be uncaring, potential book buyers unlikely to try something new, both realities especially hard on new writers who haven’t yet accumulated prior publications, lots of good reviews or a book club fan base.
So what can we do? I make no claims of being an expert (I’ve never had a best selling book, so what do I know?), but I do have some suggestions.
- Look at the myriad niches that might be hidden beneath the main thrust of your book. These could include the setting, the occupation of main characters, a societal issue that is addressed, etc. Find some on-line clusters of people who reflect those nooks and crannies and send them a sample chapter. Do everything you can to show a publisher or agent that your book will, indeed, have a ready-made audience.
- Don’t forget the local connection. After your book is published (or even before), show up at your local newspaper office, meet the book editor, and suggest a review of your book. Don’t forget the little free papers than have mushroomed everywhere.
- Arrange similar meetings with small bookstore owners in your area.
- Set up as many book signings as you can handle, including businesses other than bookstores.
I invite you to check out the Snowflakes in a Blizzard site, and perhaps even follow it. Or, you may have a book you’d like to have featured, or know someone else who does.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I love to talk about writing, any time.