No, not that one. This one.
Artemis Greenleaf here. Today I’m interviewing the multi-talented Monica Shaughnessy, and we’ll be discussing The Black Cats, the latest installment in her Edgar Allen Poe historical fiction series.
AG: You have a wide variety of books – an Easter picture book, a mid-grade superhero story, and some young adult romances, all for the 18-and-under set. How did you get from kid lit to adult historical fiction?
MS: I’m lucky (unlucky?) enough to have a brain that jumps from one thing to the next. I constantly crave variety. When it doesn’t come to me, I seek it out. When I can’t find it on the bookshelf, I write it! I guess the word for it is eclectic. This isn’t just how I write books, though. It’s how I live my life. In the car, I listen to Hank Williams and Rage Against the Machine. In the kitchen, I experiment with tagine cooking one night and wok cooking the next. You get the idea. On the flipside, “eclectic” turns to “scattered” if I don’t stay focused.
AG: Why did you choose Edgar Allen Poe’s cat as the POV character? Do you have a tortoiseshell cat yourself?
MS: The idea for this series began with a wish: to write a cat cozy. I really like mysteries, and the cozy market seemed like a good place to dive in with my adult writing. This, of course, lead to the idea of Edgar Allan Poe’s cat. So I had a choice – either narrate from Eddy’s perspective or from Cattarina’s. Since there’s something a little sacred about the master, I decided not to write from his POV. How can anyone truly know the mind of a genius? Alas, I didn’t realize that I had a third, and no less interesting, choice: Eddy’s wife, Sissy. In early outlines, however, I didn’t understand her pivotal role in the story. But now, Cattarina has taken on a life of her own. One reader even called her a diva. (so true!) And about that tortoiseshell…no, I don’t have such a creature in my home. But my grandmother was blessed with one. If I had to describe that tortie in a single word, it would be feisty.
AG: Eddie just had a birthday. Did you do anything special? Raise a glass in his honor? What is your favorite work by Poe?
MS: Sadly, his birthday passed without much notice in my house. I was hard at work on a ghostwriting project for a client, and the date zipped right by. But next year, when I’ve completed my Cattarina series, I’ll probably have a big book sale in his honor. (How else do indie authors celebrate?) My favorite work by Poe would have to be the poem, “Annabel Lee.” I even allude to it in my novella, The Black Cats. Though it was written years after “The Black Cat,” I suspect he received his inspiration much earlier.
AG: Your first Cattarina book, The Tell-Tail Heart, came out last spring, and you’ve just released a prequel (To the River) and a second Cattarina Mystery – The Black Cats. Are you planning on doing a Cattarina book for every Poe story? Poe died a mysterious death – is Cattarina going to have anything to say about that?
MS: From what we know, Poe acquired Cattarina (or she acquired him) in Philadelphia. So many of his early works are out of the question. After he left Philadelphia and moved to New York, he eventually brought Cattarina over, along with his mother-in-law. But during those later years, he traveled quite a bit due to his growing fame over “The Raven.” Sadly, he and Catters spent more and more time apart. This would make writing about his later works somewhat problematic. That’s why I chose to concentrate on his “golden days” in Philadelphia, where he was on the cusp of fame. And it’s a fascinating city to write about. To answer your second question, Cattarina won’t have much to say about Eddy’s passing because they were apart when it happened (he was in Baltimore, and she was in New York) AND they both died within days of each other. Bittersweet, no?
AG: Not unlike Lord Carnarvon’s terrier. What did you enjoy most about writing The Black Cats?
MS: I enjoyed writing about the interpersonal relationship between Eddy and Sissy. Since temperance and drinking to excess are the thematic elements of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” I used these as a springboard to explore the ups and downs of what I’m sure was a very rocky marriage at times. It’s no secret that Mr. Poe leaned toward alcoholism. And while he’s inebriated during several scenes in my book, I never say, “He was drunk.” Even his wife and mother-in-law never say it. Why? I suppose out of respect for the man. I wanted to discuss his problems in a way that didn’t tarnish him.
AG: 1840’s Philadelphia really comes alive in this story. Have you been to the city? Do they have a Poe tour?
MS: I would LOVE to visit Philadelphia one day. But we mostly vacation in places we can drive to (we own an RV), and Pennsylvania is a loooooong way from Texas. I’ve been bugging my husband about it lately. So we’ll see. J But! I have been to Richmond, Virginia, where I visited the Poe Museum. It’s a lovely place, but a thin substitute for his actual home. And yes, they give tours of his former dwelling on North Seventh in Philly. I watched hours of video footage, both from the National Parks Service and from amateurs, so I could get a sense of the interior.
AG: What projects are you working on now?
MS: Right now, I’m finishing up a collection of horror/suspense stories that I plan to release in February (fingers crossed!), titled Hell Cent and Other Fine Stories of Death and Dismemberment. After that, I’m going to start on the third book in the Cattarina Mysteries series: The Raven of Liberty. At the book’s conclusion, she inspires…. Well, I don’t have to tell you, do I? It’s obvious from the title!
AG: Ooooh! I’m looking forward to reading that. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us.