Edie is a middle grade novelist and new regional adviser for SCBWI of Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. She is busy launching her debut solo novel, “Road to Tater Hill.” It's out this month from Delacorte.
I invited Edie to join us for Poetry Friday because Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee,” plays an important role in her novel.
But first, here’s what Booklist has to say about “Road to Tater Hill”:
“Drawing on the author’s childhood roots, the heart of this first novel is the sense of place, described in lyrical words: the soaring mountains and the valley rippling outward in waves and waves of fading blue, like one of Grandma’s patchwork quilts. True to Annie’s viewpoint, the particulars tell a universal drama of childhood grief, complete in all its sadness, anger, loneliness, and healing.”Welcome, Edie! Thanks for visiting. Here are your 5 Questions:
1. Students find it hard to believe that writers plan things like literary allusions in their work. At what point in the process did you decide to refer to Poe’s poem? How did you get the idea?
It actually came as a surprise to me. In fact, up to that point, I didn’t even know that my main character Annie’s full name was Annabel. I was trying to picture what Annie’s and Miss Eliza’s first face-to-face meeting would be like, and I was searching for a way to continue the mystery about Miss Eliza and also make her unique. It suddenly occurred to me that she would be uneducated, but very well read. My own name is Edith, and I’ve always thought of it as old fashioned and rather stiff, so I started thinking of more formal names that “Annie” could be a nickname for. When I thought of Annabel, the poem “Annabel Lee” fit perfectly, especially with its theme of grieving, as well as its rhythmical repetition—just like Miss Eliza’s weaving. 2. Annie suffers a loss at the opening of your novel. What parallels do you see between Annie grieving for her infant sister and the speaker in “Annabel Lee” grieving for his young love? Even though the love experienced by Poe’s narrator is of a more romantic nature than Annie’s love for her baby sister, I think their deep and abiding sense of loss is very similar. This is Annie’s first experience with grief, and she’s ready to identify with someone else (even a character in a poem) going through such a loss. Also, the name is an instant parallel, and for the first time Annie thinks of “Annabel” as being beautiful. Another parallel is in the sense of loneliness expressed in the poem. Annie is a lonely child, and the increased isolation she experiences with her mother’s depression seems to fit with that “sepulchre there by the sea.” The words of the poem resonate with Annie throughout the book, and it’s because of the poem that Annie visits Mary Kate’s grave for the first time and suggests that Mary Kate needs a gravestone with her name on it.
3. “Annabel Lee” was written in 1849, but kids love the sound and the story in Poe’s poem. What do you think makes “Annabel Lee” relevant for the ‘tweens who read, “Road to Tater Hill?” I don’t think kids (or readers of any age) will ever grow tired of the marvelous rhythm, repetition, and unforced rhyming of Annabel Lee or other poems by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s simply fun to read it aloud.
4. Your book is set in the mountains of North Carolina. “Annabel Lee” is anchored in sea imagery. Explain how nature is a comfort for Annie as she’s grieving. (I think a similar thing happens in Poe’s poem.)
There is comfort in the natural beauty and familiarity of nature, and I think that comes through in both the poem “Annabel Lee” and Road to Tater Hill. The Appalachian Mountain setting, particularly the view from atop Tater Hill with “mountains rippling outward in waves and waves of fading blue,” makes Annie feel as if she’s on top of the world. The distant gurgling of the creek that Annie hears through her window every night is another source of comfort.
But most of all Annie draws comfort from holding the “rock baby” with its solid weight and smooth texture that fills the hole inside her. It’s a tangible means of dealing with her grief and something that Annie can return to time and again.
5. Music is an important element in your novel. When Annie hears the mountain dulcimer, there’s a sense of mystery. It reminds me of the tone of “Annabel Lee.” Can you talk about the importance of music in your book – both the dulcimer music and music in the language?
The first sounds that Annie hears of the mountain dulcimer are in a minor key, which I think lend more of a mystery to the music and to Miss Eliza’s life. That same minor tone is one that I hear in the rhythm of “Annabel Lee.” It has a certain amount of sadness to it, but also a level of comfort.
"Road to Tater Hill" is not written in verse, but I like to think there is some poetic language that brings music to the page. Poetic language…must grow from specific concrete and sensory details of the setting and the emotional core of a story. Poetic language is something I look for in everything I read.
If you haven’t read it in a while, here is the opening of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
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.
Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.
Speaking of mysterious characters, it’s true that a mysterious stranger visits Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore grave on his birthday.
“The Poe Toaster” leaves a bottle of cognac and three roses every January 19. Just sharing some Charm City weirdness with ya, hon. Want to see for yourself? Scroll down at this B'more tourism site.
For more Poetry Friday, visit this week’s host Becky's Book Reviews.