Please welcome guest author Lynn Cullen to The Debutante Ball today! Lynn 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.
Lynn has offered to send one lucky commenter a copy of Mrs. Poe—more details at the end of this post!
What Doesn’t Kill You From Fright Cures You
The best thing that ever happened to me as a writer came to me out of the scariest time of my life. It was two years ago, during the height of the Recession. My husband was out of work like so many others, having lost his job the year before. I’d just gotten word that the book I’d been working on for the previous eighteen months was turned down by my then-publisher. In an insecure market, my publisher wanted a book with a feisty heroine. It seemed that feisty heroines sold during that time when so many of us were feeling decidedly uncertain.
A few days after my book had been rejected, my husband became ill. He had a terrible headache and was in an odd daze. With misgiving, I went shopping with my daughter, but cut the trip short, sensing something was wrong at home. When I returned, Mike was sitting on an ottoman, staring into space. His beloved Atlanta Falcons had a big game then and the TV wasn’t on. A touch to his forehead revealed that he had a fever.
That made him look. But he had no answer.
I asked him again, my skin tingling with alarm.
He could not answer. He looked confused. Every pore in my body jangled with fear.
I rushed him to the hospital. By the time he was admitted, a few hours later, he had regressed into a primal state. A spinal tap confirmed that he had a viral form of meningitis or encephalitis.
I almost lost him. He was unconscious for a few days. I stayed by his side, fearful that he would stroke out from inhuman blood pressure readings and an untamable fever. When he awoke, he was no longer my Mike but a confused wounded creature. I took him home three days later, still uncertain that I would ever get him back.
The evening I brought him home, I was pacing in my office, desperately wracking my exhausted, panicked brain for an idea for a new book. I had to support the both of us and writing was my only skill. I was thinking feisty heroine, feisty heroine, when into my frazzled mind popped “Poe.”
I looked him up. Even in my unhinged state, I saw that Poe was my kind of subject: He was misunderstood. Poor. An underdog looking for redemption. I loved him.
But I wanted to write from a woman’s point of view. I saw that some scholars suggested that he had an affair with a poet named Frances Osgood. She herself had been abandoned by her husband and was trying to support herself with her writing when she met Poe. Once again, my skin tingled, but this time with an alarm of a different sort. I knew instantly that I had to write about her. I knew this woman. She was me.
That was the beginning of the most deeply emotional book I have ever written. It has made me many fascinating new friends and opened doors to incredible places, including up into the bell tower of Trinity Church in New York City.
As I wrote the book that would become MRS. POE, Mike worked hard to restore his brain function. I am proud to report that he is now fully recovered. And to what does he owe his recuperation? Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, he re-taught himself to read, eventually inching through dozens of literary novels. You could say that books saved my husband. Writing one saved me, too.
What has cured you or a loved one?
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, October 31, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Mrs. Poe. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!