Twisting Poe and Stealing From Life

Velda BrothertonVelda Brotherton has always loved to read mysteries, and recently had her first published. She writes from an office in the home she shares with her husband. Located on ten acres of land that borders against the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, she often goes for days without seeing another human being. Visitors include herds of deer, red foxes, bobcats and occasionally a shy black bear, along with all the tiny critters that live in the Ozarks. Since 1988 she has been multiply published in historical nonfiction and fiction, as well as short stories and articles.

Velda is the co-chair of a large critique group, she mentors young writers, holds workshops and speaks at conferences.


Most writers go through a long process to finish a novel. When I originally wrote The Purloined Skull, #1 in A Twist of Poe Series, it was much longer. Originally titled Buried Bones, it needed a real makeover to fit today’s audiences.  Among the changes I would make would be the title. After trimming it down, I realized that some of the story was very dark. So I went online and began to check out Edgar Allan Poe titles I thought might fit. You know, find one, twist it around to fit my story, then use it. After all, titles aren’t copyrighted. Still I didn’t want to copy one, but make mine different. Then I found the following information:

Shortly after the first printing of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective story “The Purloined Letter” in October 1844 in the anthology The Gift, the story was reprinted in abridged form in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal. In the absence of an international copyright law, Poe was not paid for this printing.

I settled on The Purloined Skull, and was fortunate enough to land a blurb from a descendant of Edgar Allan Poe. Christopher Poe read my book, liked it and wrote a blurb which my publisher added to the cover of the book.

Curious about Poe, I found that in the 1820s he served in the U.S. Army under the alias of Edgar A. Perry. His battalion was ordered to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, and later to Fortress Monroe, Virginia. He obtained an honorable discharge from the Army and published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in 1829. Later Poe received an appointment to West Point. I had never imagined this man so haunted by his demons as a soldier. Many have said he was a drug addict and alcoholic, even that he died drunk in a gutter. But according to Thomas Dunn English, a physician, Poe was not drunk nor was he suffering from drugs when he died October 7, 1849. Doctor English felt it more than likely that Poe suffered from diabetes and met his end in a diabetic coma. This author of poetry and fiction was disliked by most critics of the era, yet most of his work has become eternal.

I chose to set my book in a fictional county in the Ozarks, but based on a real one where The Washington County Observer was published, because I was a feature writer for that paper for nine years. Using so many people, places and things with which I was familiar helped greatly when it came to research. And because of my experience on that weekly rural newspaper, I found I have more than one story to tell. So I named the mystery series A Twist of Poe, and am working on the second book in the series featuring the two main characters and a few of the minor ones as well. The title? The Telltale Stones. Those familiar with Poe know his story, “The Telltale Heart”.

The old familiar advice to writers to write what we know is fine if we know things that will interest others. I’ve always thought it was better to write what we want to know, and do the research that will not only make for a great book but teach us things we’re curious about. Yet, when it came right down to it, this mystery series made it possible for me to write about what I know. Still, in all the years I worked for the paper, I never helped solve murders, like my reporter does in this series. So while I did steal from real life, I also made up large portions of this dark tale of mystery and suspense.

Since I’m known for writing sexy, dark and gritty books, I added a blazing sensual attraction between my hero and heroine, which the publisher liked because most of their mysteries did not have this sexy twist. This did not come from my real life either, though many readers may insist that it did.

Writing in several genres makes work a little more difficult to promote, and having two books come out so close together makes promotion more challenging. One thing I think we as writers must learn, especially if we write in more than one genre, is to promote ourselves rather than a particular book. Make people so curious about us that they want to read something we write, hopefully all of what we write. Still, in the end it’s necessary to promote our titles everywhere we can while sharing interesting information that informs our readers.

An Excerpt From The Purloined Skull

The Purloined SkullThough she heard him, she couldn’t reply. His shoulder, so close she could have lain her head there, his mouth within kissing distance, distracted her.

“No marks or signatures on it. Uh, Jessie?” The question seemed much more than her name, and she glanced up. Caught by the lure of those lips, she stretched to brush them lightly with hers. The immediate shock brought tears to her eyes. “I didn’t want to do th — ”

His mouth covered hers, muffled the word.

Too late, oh, God, too late. She’d stepped right off that edge she walked.

A tingle headed for her toes, slowing to form a tight coil deep in her belly. Now she knew why women swooned.

His lips pulled away and he leaned his forehead against hers for a moment. “Sorry, sorry about that.”

“Me too, I mean . . . no, it’s okay. Uh, maybe one of the local Craft organizations could help. I could, well, I’ll call around if you like.”

He straightened so their bodies no longer made contact. His breath came in long swigs before he spoke again, almost sounding normal. “Might be a good idea. Maybe we could get a fix on where our killer might have lived. Go ahead, but it’s probably a long shot. And even if you did find the crafter, they probably don’t keep records of the names of purchasers. Might not be worth the effort.” He looked out across the yard. “Jessie.” Not a question this time. Firm, almost harsh.

“Yeah, I know. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. So, you’ll let me lend a hand?” Tone an octave too high. This was ridiculous.

“Sure, lend a hand.”

“Mmm. Okay, I’ll see what I can find out. Did Kathy say anything else?” Peeking at him was out of the question, wasn’t it? No. She’d just sneak a quick look.

He grinned, rubbed her arm. Oh, God, as if they’d become comfortable lovers. Not yet, not yet. She concentrated on what he was saying.

“She thinks they have enough bone marrow for a mitochondrial DNA. Too bad the college doesn’t have the equipment to do the profile. Now all we need is a female relative. Mitochondrial is passed by the mother, but as I understand it a sister would carry it too. If we had teeth we might get a profile, but the guy has to be in LDLS or SDIS for an ID of him to be possible. Too bad it may be a year or more before we get a DNA profile.” He shook his head, then grinned at her. “Sounds like alphabet soup, this new language, doesn’t it?”

“LOL,” she quipped and they both laughed. How good to joke around with him. Maybe he’d kiss her again, but he didn’t make a move, and when he did speak, he was all business again.

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