Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edgar? Is that you?

Apologies to Joan Rivers.  But I am pleased to report that The Patriot Spy has been submitted for a 2013 Edgar Award!

"What the heck is an Edgar?" 

 A reasonable question.  The Edgar Awards are presented each year by The Mystery Writers of America for achievement in mystery writing. The Edgars are the most prestigious awards in this very popular genre.  The Patriot Spy was submitted in the Best First Novel category.  Personally, I know it is my best first novel because it is my only first novel!  Now we just have to convince the judges.

Mystery Writers of America
Founded in 1945, Mystery Writers of America is a storied organization that strives to improve the genre of mystery writing by connecting authors and fans.  To do this, it works with libraries and vendors, and at the chapter level it sponsors symposiums and events.  Authors, publishers and fans come together to celebrate the power of the mystery and its special hold on the reading public.  There are eleven Mystery Writers of America chapters throughout the country.  It has its headquarters  in New York.

Why "Edgar?" 

The name Edgar is in honor of the literary legend, Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe is among the most famous 19th Century American writers and is considered the father of mystery writing with his seminal work, "Murders in the Rue Morgue."  Poe was born in Boston in 1809.  His grandfather, David Poe, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War and is said to have been a friend of the Marquis De Lafayette and was known to George Washington himself.  There - I managed to make a Poe connection to the Yankee Doodle Spies!

West Point mid 19th Century

Edgar's Life

 Poe's parents were actors.  They died when he was a boy and Richmond tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife adopted him. They sent him to the University of Virginia but gambling debts and drinking led him to leave.  He enlisted in the US Army and served with some distinction in the Field Artillery where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major.  The military life soon wore him down and strange as it may seem Poe sought a commission at the US Military Academy at West Point as a means of escape.  Poe did well there until he decided the Academy did not suit him.  He could not resign however without John Allan's approval (declined). So he broke numerous regulations, mostly absenting himself from classes (what we call "cutting") until he was at last he stood before a court martial and dismissed in March 1831.

After leaving West Point, he dedicated himself to writing full time. As with many writers, he moved about the country, living variously in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. While in Baltimore he stayed with family and fell in love with and married his 14 year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who was the love of his life (or maybe he just didn't like saying good-bye).
Virginia Clemm Poe

By 1836 he had returned to Richmond where he worked as a literary critic of some notoriety.  In his professional life he had worked on the editorial staffs of the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond,  the New York Quarterly Review, and  Graham's Magazine at Philadelphia. It enabled him in 1843 to have a magazine of his own, the Stylus. His dissolute ways estranged him to many and ruined his magazine's prospects.   After his young wife Virginia died in 1847, Poe maintained a pretty continuous a downward spiral of drinking bouts, confrontations and impecunity that overshadowed his  inspired body of work.

His Work

In late 1830 Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of stories. It contained several of his most spine-tingling tales, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "Ligeia" and "William Wilson." Poe launched the new genre of detective fiction with 1841's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." A writer on the rise, he won a literary prize in 1843 for "The Gold Bug," a suspenseful tale of secret codes and hunting treasure.  Although best known for short stories steeped in mystery, Poe's most famous and profitable work was a poem, "The Raven." I believe a film by that name was Jack Nicolson's first feature role.  Poe also published a work of poems called, well, "Poems." He released it right after leaving the Academy and dedicated to his fellow cadets, who famously each gave him a dollar and twenty-five to fund the work.  For whatever reason, my favorite Poe short story is "The Cask of Amantillado."

More Edgar Connections

The Poe Cottage

I lived many years in the Bronx and visited the Poe Cottage at Kingsbridge Road and The Grand Concourse. Here Poe lived for a time with his bride Virginia, who speculation credits as the inspiration for the poem Anabel Lee, a ballad of love and death. 

"It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me."

Linden Row Inn
While in the Army, I often went on temporary duty to Richmond, Virginia and several times stayed at Linden Row Inn, a street of row houses now turned into an upscale but small and elegant hotel. Returning from a five-year trip to England, the Allans (including Edgar) lived with Mr. Allan’s business partner, Charles Ellis in his house on Linden Row.  Edgar Allan Poe played with the Ellis children in the gardens that had the famous Linden trees. Local legend has it that the enchanted garden is the one that Poe mentions in his famous poem “To Helen.” Poe may have also  courted another life-long love, Elmira Royster, in the garden where the Linden Row Inn now stands.

His Death

Poe was found lying in a gutter in Baltimore ranting incoherently.  Taken to Washington College Hospital he died on October 7th, 1849. Many legends have circulated as to the causes and situation involving his death but the truth is we will never know the full circumstances of Edgar's demise.  He lives on in his work and the many places that claim his presence during a life and death  punctuated by the simple word from his most famous work, the poem, The Raven:

Poe grave and monument in Baltimore

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