Street’s trilogy conclusion, Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead (Pegasus Crime, May.), sends the writer to Paris to team with his fictional sleuth, Chevalier Dupin.
Do you think Poe has been misunderstood?
Poe is often misperceived as a dissolute, tortured genius and friendless alcoholic and drug addict—a reputation cultivated by his detractors. Poe was actually very happily married, worked hard at his craft, had a sense of humor, was a good athlete, and was described as attractive.
What surprised you the most about him?
The joy Poe took in hoaxes. He wrote several stories that were originally presented as nonfiction and told some tall tales about himself. “The Great Balloon Hoax” was published in The Sun newspaper in 1844 as a factual account of the first trans-Atlantic balloon crossing; a vague retraction was printed two days later. “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” the purported diary of an explorer, and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” an account of a hypnotism experiment, were both suggested to be true stories. Poe also claimed in an autobiographical note that he’d embarked on an adventure to fight with the Greeks, but ended up imprisoned in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Why did you open with a section set soon before the actual Poe’s death, which ends with him anticipating that he will be murdered?
That’s my little homage to Billy Wilder and film noir, particularly Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. I imagined Poe as the hero on a downward spiral in Empire of the Dead, due to the loss of his wife. It also supports the theme—what we leave behind when we’re gone. Presenting Poe’s imminent death at the beginning of the novel, and the suggestion that attempts were made on his life before, adds a sense of doom and suggests that Poe the narrator is coming to terms with his own demise by reexamining his adventures in Paris with Dupin. Poe’s dying hope that Dupin might find his murderer tells us that Dupin lives on, as of course he does in Poe’s stories.
In what ways has your work in film affected your writing of fiction in general, and the three Poe books in particular?
I found it necessary to outline the mysteries, so the discipline of writing treatments and tricks I learned about structuring films were very useful. The same applies to writing character backstories. My experience in analyzing scripts helped in stepping back and trying to look objectively at what I had written while revising. Certainly, I visualized the novels as films in my head and then described what I was “seeing.”