I’ve always been fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe.
I had read some of his stories. I’d seen the iconic photo, showing a man with scraggly black hair, sunken eyes, a mustache crawling wormlike across his face and eyes that didn’t look quite right. But it wasn’t until I read more about Poe that I discovered the most remarkable thing of all: He invented three literary genres—science fiction 25 years before Jules Verne, mysteries 50 years before Arthur Conan Doyle and horror 100 years before H. P. Lovecraft. Poe lived so long ago that when he was born, Thomas Jefferson was president.
"Poe deserved a fitting death, not an ignominious one."
I felt compelled to write about Poe, and my first thought was historical fiction, a form I’ve always enjoyed. I imagined a novel featuring Poe that would consist of three parts, in sequence: science fiction, mystery and horror. I still think it’s a good idea, but something else kept nagging at me. It was his death.
Poe was obsessed with death. Death was his greatest and most terrifying subject. And yet his own death—what we know of it—was squalid and sad.
At the time, Poe was living in New York. After his beloved wife Ginny died, he sometimes traveled to Philadelphia and Richmond to raise money for the Stylus, a journal of literature and the arts that he dreamed of starting. In October of 1849 Poe found his way to Baltimore, where his writing career had begun and he had spent some of his happiest years. There he was discovered in a tavern, suffering from an unidentified illness, and was taken to a hospital, where he died a few days later. It was reported that before he died, Poe repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds.” That’s all we know.
Poe deserved a fitting death, not an ignominious one. My goal in writing this book, therefore, wasn’t to portray history but to fix it. I took those few facts, built on them, and reimagined his death—not as it was but as it should have been.
What if …
… Poe concocted a final magnificent story that he was determined to live out when he died.
… the plan went terribly wrong and left him trapped in agony between life and death.
… his soul wailed and screamed and grew twisted over time.
… a house sprouted like an evil mushroom—haunted, horrible, worthy of Poe.
… a boy moved there years later and, through his anger, unleashed Poe’s spirit.
The story gripped me, hard, and I wrote it. Eventually it became Room of Shadows, the first novel I’ve written that actually scared me.
We are in modern-day Baltimore. Thirteen-year-old David Cray is angry. Terror takes root in the closet. And Edgar Allan Poe, at long last, gets the death he deserved.
Ronald Kidd has written more than 30 works, including plays, novels and children’s books. His suspenseful new middle grade novel, Room of Shadows, follows the experiences of 13-year-old David Cray, who moves into a creepy house in downtown Baltimore with his mom and unwittingly unleashes the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. Kidd lives in Nashville with his wife and daughter. Visit RonaldKidd.com to learn more about his writing.
Author photo by Helen Burrus