By Ameerah Holliday
When the typical, popular high school cheerleader teams up with the school’s goth outcast, things are bound be interesting, but when that pair is swept into the chaotic and mysterious world of Edgar Allen Poe then it’s bound to be Kelly Creagh’s Nevermore Trilogy. This Trilogy revolves around cheerleader Isobel Lanley and school outcast Varen Nethers who are paired together in their English class for a project on Edgar Allen Poe. While working together they discover far more about each other and Poe than ever expected, as they are mysteriously transported into the stories and mysteries of Edgar Allen Poe.
Kelly Creagh’s familiarity with literature, theater, and all things Poe makes The Nevermore Trilogy a stunning debut. Creagh received her undergraduate in Theater Arts and her Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Today, Creagh is preparing for the release of her the third and final novel in The Nevermore Trilogy: Oblivion. In-between writing, reading and training in the art of belly dancing, Creagh was generous enough to sit down with Beyond to discuss her trilogy.
So there seems to be some strong references to music in your Nevermore novels, for instance the references to Emily Not, Not Gone by Cemetery Sighs, as well as the novel playlist you provide readers with. How big of a role would you say music plays in your novels or even your writing process?
Music is a huge part of my writing process. Every time I sit down to write, I plug in my noise-canceling headphones (I splurged on them and have never looked back!) and I bring up Pandora. I have a channel for each of the projects I’m working on. While drafting, though, I usually stick to music without lyrics so I’m not distracted. But I also build playlists of songs with lyrics. Those are the songs that eventually show up on my website’s “Extras” page. I keep my book playlists on my iPod and listen to them while driving or walking and that helps to set the tone and mood form my daydreaming. I let my mind wander from there and often get my best ideas this way. Sometimes readers will suggest songs and several of those have ended up on the playlist for Oblivion. One of those songs, “Born Alone”, by Morning Parade is so very fitting for the final book—for Varen in particular.
Your novels do something I found unique by placing your own fictional characters into the fictional worlds of another author. Edgar Allan Poe clearly seems to be a large inspiration to you. What about his stories inspired you to combine your own fictional world with his?
When I first began writing Nevermore, I was working from more of a story spark than a full-fledged concept. I knew I wanted to pair a goth and a cheerleader for a school project. I also knew that the goth boy was a writer and that the frightening things he wrote about and sketched in his journal would, through the course of the novel, come to life to terrorize my cheerleader. When I was writing the opening scenes of Nevermore (then untitled) I just pulled Poe out of the air. I thought my then-unnamed goth boy would certainly have an affinity for Poe. It made sense. But when I began doing surface research on Poe, I found out about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. I also learned about the Poe Toaster, and about how Poe cried out for someone named “Reynolds” just before dying. My brain started to weave all these elements together, knitting them with my original story spark and characters. I delved into Poe’s works, reading and re-reading his classics and many of his lesser-known pieces, too. I even read his one novel, which has played a subtle role in the trilogy as a whole. (Book three hint!)
I’d listen to Poe’s stories and poems on audio again and again, letting them sink in and saturate my subconscious. In between researching, I would write more and more, getting the story down piece by piece and slowly, Poe began to take over, becoming the very backbone of the novel. So he didn’t influence the book so much as he just commandeered it for himself. Soon, I found myself traveling to Baltimore and to Richmond to walk in Poe’s steps. I visited the place where he’s buried and even accidentally set of the alarm in his Baltimore home (whoops!) I kept searching for new information on this man who, in so many ways, seemed to echo my goth character in spirit. That helped me to draw many parallels between the two. Poe, for instance, was said to have done his writing in his attic bedroom, at a desk facing the window. That’s why I gave Varen an attic bedroom, and placed his desk at the window. Poe also had a very tumultuous relationship with his foster father, John Allan. Varen’s relationship with his father—also tumultuous—is something that haunts Varen in a similar way Poe’s relationship with John Allan must have haunted him. So it wasn’t only Poe’s stories that influenced The Nevermore Trilogy, but his life as a whole. Having learned of all the obstacles Poe faced during his life, the tragedies that befell him and difficulties and heartaches he faced, it became vitally important to me to represent him and his work in an accurate and respectful way.
Of course, when tying Poe’s actual stories and poems in with my own work, it helped that his works are so visual and cinematic. Poe had a flare for the dramatic, which probably stemmed from his birth parents being actors. Also, Poe liked to build terror slowly, sneaking up on the reader in subtle ways, letting the tension build in the psyche before letting loose with gore or phantasms. That, more than anything, is what I hoped to emulate and recreate with my own work.
Both of your novels involve a lot of specificity when it comes to the events the characters attend. In Enshadowed we get the appearance of the Poe Toaster (or Reynolds), the mysterious visitor who places flowers on Poe’s grave annually. This event plays a large role in the novel’s storyline. What was your inspiration to include this in your novel? Have you ever had the opportunity to attend this strange event?
During my initial research for the novel, I discovered that there was a mysterious man who visits Poe’s grave every year on Poe’s birthday to toast the dead poet. After paying tribute, this man—dressed in a cloak, a fedora hat and a white scarf—disappears into the night, somehow managing to sneak both into and out of a locked cemetery unseen. I knew I had to incorporate this figure into the Nevermore books. The mystery of it was too delicious. So I thought I would tie in another very mysterious figure surrounding Poe—the figure known as Reynolds. According to Poe’s attending physician, on the night Poe died, he began to repeatedly call out for someone who no one knew or had ever heard of, someone named Reynolds. Poe, it was said, also spoke to people who were not there, and claimed to have a wife, though by that time Virginia had been dead for several years. So I decided to make Reynolds and the Poe Toaster one and the same. Reynolds would appear to Isobel in his cloak and hat—his face covered by the white scarf that I knew was so iconic to the Poe Toaster’s visage.
Poe began to take over, becoming the very backbone of the novel. So he didn’t influence the book so much as he just commandeered it for himself.
For research, I returned to Baltimore in January of 2009. I stood out by the side entrance to the graveyard after midnight with a group of fellow enthusiasts to watch for the Poe Toaster—and I did get a very quick glimpse of him darting between gravestones. It was so fast, but I got to see him! It was really thrilling. And very, very cold!
Since I knew Isobel would need to go to Baltimore to reconnect with Reynolds in Enshadowed, I also knew I needed to go witness this event so that I could write about it accurately. Sadly 2009, Poe’s Bicentennial, was the last year the Poe Toaster has been seen. No one knows what happened or why the real Poe Toaster has stopped performing his annual tribute to Poe. Oblivion, however, may provide a clue. 😉
Now that your trilogy is coming to a close, is there anything you are finding surprising when it comes to writing the finale? And I know you can’t give us any spoilers, but we can expect any new and interesting surprises from the third and final installment of The Nevermore Trilogy?
Writing a trilogy is an equally harrowing and rewarding experience. I think it is the most difficult thing I have ever done, but also the most satisfying.
When I began Nevermore, I had so many ideas coming out all at once. My editors, in particular, have helped me to trim the extra elements that were cluttering the story. I needed help focusing the story since I was juggling so much in terms of plot, subplots, history and backstory. I’m really grateful for this guidance as it has also helped me to become a better writer and storyteller.
As far as surprises go when it comes to the finale, I think there are quite a few. In my opinion, Oblivion is the darkest of the three novels. I went out of my comfort zone with one scene in particular and having included it still makes me feel afraid. But I remember doing research for this scene even while writing book one—and I knew I needed to be as true to the characters as possible and to not censor what they were telling me. I have two favorite scenes in the book, and both of them are probably the most surprising moments. I can’t share much more than that without giving anything away!
So can we expect any new projects from you, and if so could you give us a hint as to what it may be about?
I have a few projects in the works right now, though nothing under contract yet. One of the novels I’ve written is the craziest and zaniest thing I’ve ever come up with. It is also the one that tugs at my heart the hardest. I’ve been working on that book on and off since 2007 and am always so excited to return to that world. Because it is SO different, though, I’m not sure when it will reach readers. This could be a project I eventually pursue through self-publication depending on interest.
The other project I’m working on and am in the process of wrapping up involves djinn—but not the wish-granting sort. These djinn are grittier—and more dangerous. They keep closer in concept to the Middle Eastern understanding of the djinn as beings made of “smokeless fire.” This one’s action-packed, blending darkness with humor. It centers around three characters, and three points-of-view. It’s been quite fun to write!
I’m sure it will be quite fun to read as well! We are very excited for the final installment of The Nevermore Trilogy: Oblivion which will be available July 2015. For now, be sure to check out the first two novels in The Nevermore Trilogy : Nevermore and Enshadowed as well as upcoming projects from Kelly Creagh.