The Philadelphia Experiment

The Black Cats

The Black Cats

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.



Organize Your Writing Life in 2015 – Five Strategies for Success

by Monica Shaughnessy

a-good-time-to-start-something-270663-mIf you’re like me (and most of the world), you want to make a fresh start in the new year. In fact, as soon as I write this post, I’m going to clean my office. It’s crammed with stuff from the holidays. Starting in October, my personal writing space becomes a cornucopia of crap – glitter, spider stickers, leftover fabric, Christmas bows, pinecones, paper pilgrim hats…you get the idea.

So once the decks are cleared, I’m going to look to the following list to help me get organized this year. It’s not your usual “use Evernote more” kind of list. It goes a bit deeper. It may get you thinking, too, about your own strategies for 2015.

1. Tame the Social Media dragon – I’m going to develop a social media calendar at the beginning of each month and stick to it. And each month, I’ll use my platform to support one book and/or promotion and not get too bogged down with minutia and side stuff. I’m also going to put off social media until the end of the day after I’ve done my writing (or during lunch breaks/weekends). This is a biggie. I’ve wasted too many hours fiddling around on Twitter and Facebook when I could be moving my plot along. Books first, platform a close second (but still a second). I know a lot of writers who put platform first and writing second (and it shows). I don’t want to be one of those writers.

2. Develop a High-Yield Income Strategy – I spent time last year experimenting with different speaking gigs, side projects, books signing, etc. Realistically, I can’t write more books and do ALL of the above. So I’m going to scale back and do only the things that a) yield the highest income or b) significantly develop my platform (which leads to higher income). This may sound harsh to those who write only for the love of writing. But for me, writing is also a business. The good thing about doing all that in 2014 is that I now know what works and what doesn’t. I’m also going to develop more of those high-yeild projects.

3. Get Serious About Genre – This is a biggie for me. If you look at my backlist, I’ve got children’s projects, historicals, thrillers, and more. But unless I stay put in one spot, fans don’t know where to find me. I’m finally gaining a following with my historical mysteries, so instead of writing a sci-fi book next, I will probably follow up with a new book in this genre to capitalize on my foothold. But I can’t resist releasing a few modern-day short stories in the meantime (hey, they’re already written). Throughout 2015, I will keep my eye on one genre and try NOT to get distracted by shiny things.

4. Write Like My Pants Are On Fire – Oh, how I agonize over words! In 2015, I will stop striving for PERFECTION and strive for finishing as many projects as I can as quickly as I can (without sacrificing quality). I’ve got to write like every day is NaNoWriMo. It really helped to have this mentality when finishing The Black Cats (now on sale!), and it can help this year, too. I’m going to develop a REALISTIC publishing schedule and bet against fellow author, Mandy Broughton, that I can finish it.

5. Try New Things – I know, I know. I said in #2 that I’m only going to do stuff that yields a wheelbarrow of money (or at least a Starbucks cup worth). But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try more things. Never know, right? A few things on my hit list for 2015: sell books from my website, create an app for at least one book, ratchet up my editing business with giveaways, lectures, and digital content, make another “graphic-centric” book project, and try a new branding strategy.

Well, this little chat has been nice. But as you can see, I’ve got SO much to do. Until next time!


How about you, dear readers? Have any tips for writing success in 2015? I’d love to hear them!