Reimaging Poe

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Washington D.C. writer Louis Bayard’s work has appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times. He has published four books, including two gay romantic comedies, “Fool’s Errand” (1999) and “Endangered Species” (2001), the acclaimed “Mr. Timothy” (2004) and his latest, “The Pale Blue Eye” (Harper Collins), a murder mystery set at West Point and featuring a young Edgar Allan Poe.

The Examiner: Why do you write?

Louis Bayard: It keeps me off the streets.

Q: What are you reading right now and why?

LB: “Mohr,” by Frederick Reuss. “Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life,” by Balzac.

Q: Your last book followed the further adventures of a fictional character (Tiny Tim), and now you have a real person. How did you prepare for each?

LB: Getting into Tim’s world was relatively easy — I think we all carry around a little Victorian England with us — and because Tim was a fictional character about whom we’re told relatively little in the original story, I felt free to “re-create” him. With Poe, by contrast, I had to hew to the actual contours of his life, which involved biographical spadework. I also had to figure out what West Point would have looked and felt like back in 1830, and that took some doing. All in all, the research took me twice as long with “The Pale Blue Eye” as it did with “Mr. Timothy.”

Q: How did you find the process of writing a mystery?

LB: Fascinating. You really have to plot your story in advance or you’re sunk. (I was a little lazier about that with the first two books.) But you also need room to make discoveries as you go along.

Q: Some people have pointed out that your murder victim is missing a heart, which is similar to one of Poe’s most famous tales. Was this deliberate?

LB: Oh, yeah. Part of the fun of writing the book was prefiguring some of Poe’s later work. It becomes a kind of a portrait of the artist as a young man.

Q: It’s fairly unique to feature a fictional character, your detective Augustus Landor, alongside a “real” character. What kind of access did he offer you into the world of Poe?

LB: He holds up a kind of mirror to Poe. As the reader’s surrogate, he gives us the necessary distance on Poe’s extravagance and extremity.

Q: Will Augustus return?

LB: Not likely. All my books tend to be one-offs. I would go mad if I had to write a series.

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