I’m not sure when I first got my grubby little hands on a copy of the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. But I do remember curling up with that battered black paperback and being delightfully scared in a way that Nancy Drew just couldn’t quite deliver.
From “The Pit and the Pendulum” to “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and all the other dark and sundry delights Poe provided, I tore that book apart over and over again. I even memorized “Anabelle Lee” (after all, her name was close to mine and that was enough to thrill me). Even now, “we loved with a love that was more than a love…” comes readily to mind.
But Poe was my gateway to horror. I grew up in a strict Fundamentalist home where Stephen King and Anne Rice were not allowed. But Poe was a “classic,” and therefore, he was allowed.
To this day, I’m not sure my mother (sorry, Mama) knows quite how dark and twisted Poe’s works actually are. The downward spiral of his unreliable narrators as they descended into madness, the brutal murders, and the accompanying psychological torment spawned countless modern spin-offs. I don’t even know how many nights I lay awake in the night, staring up at the darkness and wondering if, unseen, the pendulum was waiting for its first razor-sharp swing over me.
Quite often, when I tell people that I’m a writer, the invariable response is “Oh, you must write children’s books.” And then I laugh.
Because those stories by Poe were the ones I loved. They led me to smuggle home other horror novels in my backpack and read under the covers until I was too scared to walk to the bathroom at night. And when I started writing, I quickly realized the stories I wanted to tell were in the same vein–dark, drawn out, and downward spiraling with narrators who should never be taken at face value.