Note: This is the first book in a new series that has four books releasing on this date.
It’s book week at school, and nonbinary fourth grader Riley and their best friends craft hard for the Dress Like Your Favorite Character Day. Colorful fabric! Paint! Glitter! They are ready to make the biggest and best group costume ever! But most of the other kids are having trouble coming up with costumes. Riley is ready to use their creativity and vision to help as many kids as possible so dress-up day will be a big success!
Well, this is a pretty exciting post for me, considering I’m the editor of this particular anthology! Getting to see different takes on Poe was fun in itself, but getting to see half the collection come back with queer protagonists? Now, that was utterly delightful. I asked the authors of those stories to share a little bit about them, so come check it out!
Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.
Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake ( “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).
Tessa Gratton, “Night-Tide”, a retelling of “Annabel Lee”
“Annabel Lee” is one of the poems that used to get stuck in my head when I was a kid. Something about the rhythm, the longing, and the weird imagery—not to mention morbid aesthetic—spoke to thirteen year old Tessa. I used to recite it to myself in a sing-song way, letting the imagery wash over me. When I set out to write a short story inspired by it, I knew I needed a story with a refrain, and that it needed to be filled with longing and angst, and the anger I felt as a kid when adults pretended they knew better than me what I was feeling. It wasn’t until I was a few pages into writing that it occurred to me I never actively decided to make “Night-Tide” about girls in love with each other—because, to me, the poem always had been about emo teenaged lesbians.
“Annabel-Lee” is so unapologetically passionate, and as a poem it’s unashamed of its melodramatic nature. When I was a teen I was passionate and melodramatic, but I knew shame, because the world had already taught me what I was and was not allowed to love and desire. That makes me angry, and as an adult I see more shades of anger in “Annabel-Lee” than I noticed as a teen. It’s all woven into my story “Night-Tide,” which I hope inspires passion and drama and, yes, anger, in readers. Because love is so messy, and queer people deserve the space to embrace melodrama, anger, and to confront shame. We deserve the chance to take risks as we discover and decide who we are and want to be.
Caleb Roehrig, “The Glittering Death,” a retelling of “The Pit and the Pendulum”
With a cast of one, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is one of Poe’s simplest narratives: an anonymous man, alone in a dungeon, tries to evade a series of inventive death traps set by the Spanish Inquisition. The sexuality of the prisoner is irrelevant to the story—and, in my opinion, that was the perfect reason to queer the character in my adaptation of it. Laura Bonelli, the central figure of “The Glittering Death,” is questioning. (Possibly bi, though she’s not sure yet.) This fact has nothing to do with how she ends up in the clutches of a villain who calls himself the Judge; it has nothing to do with the dangers she faces, or how the story eventually concludes; but it has something to do with who she is. It’s her identity, and would still be if the story was about a driving lesson, a graduation party, or a first kiss.
I balk at saying a protagonist “just happens to be queer,” because nothing about identity can be reduced to pure happenstance; but there’s power in bringing casual visibility to identity—especially when the character in question is the one to whom it matters most.
Rin Chupeco, “The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay,” a retelling of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
“The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is the story of Ogie Dupin, a Filipino-French amateur detective investigating a strange murder set in a supernatural island getaway. In keeping with the original Poe story, it’s told by an unnamed narrator, this time a young trans girl. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is not an easy story to retell – I had to write a locked room mystery believable enough for Ogie’s deductions to make sense, and yet complex enough to keep people guessing at the solution till the end. But more than that, I also wanted to write my trans narrator in a way that would give her just as much agency as Ogie, in stark contrast to how these detective stories are often written. It’s difficult to find the right balance, showing off her own intelligence without taking away from Ogie’s skills and the murder mystery, but I think I was able to pull it off!
“Hop-Frog” is, in its essence, a story about monsters. About who gets to be human and who is considered a monstrosity. About how we can be monstrous in our humanity–or our inhumanity. It’s a story about disability, too. Historically those two–disability and monster narratives–intersect quite often. (After all, every changeling story is a disability story at heart.) So when I brainstormed reimagining Hop-Frog I knew I wanted to include both those elements. I wanted to center it on disabled characters, my two queer, broken girls who are both looking for revenge—or perhaps belonging. I wanted to throw in an element of historicity (which Poe alludes but never quite commits to). And I wanted to play with monsters. I’ll just leave it up to you to decide who the monsters are: the fae, the unseelie folk, or the humans?
Emily Lloyd-Jones, “A Drop of Stolen Ink,” a retelling of “The Purloined Letter”
“A Drop of Stolen Ink” came about the way so many of my stories do: with a weird sequence of events. I was at work, thinking about Poe because the always-lovely Dahlia had mentioned how awesome it would be to rewrite those tales for a modern audience. (I believe I responded with, “OH PLEASE PLEASE LET ME DO THE PURLOINED LETTER.”) I’ve always adored mysteries – and Poe created the detective archetype with his character of C. Auguste Dupin.
And then I reached beneath a cash register scanner. Which would have been fine and normal – up until the scanner beeped and brought up a number on the computer. I made a joke about someone equipping my arm with a barcode and then my brain immediately jumped on the possibilities.
I adored working on this short story because it’s about how much of ourselves we share with the world. There are some characters’ names who are never revealed and others who put all of themselves out there. It’s about identities, both stolen and reclaimed. And I also just wanted to write an adorable budding f/f romance set in a cyberpunk near-future world, I’ll admit it. I’m really excited to share this story with both new and old readers of Poe.
Dahlia Adler, “Lygia,” a retelling of “Ligeia”
People ask me how I chose to retell “Ligeia” in particular, and the truth is that it basically chose me. I don’t share the horror/thriller strengths of my co-authors here, and I knew that whatever I did was going to have a sort of romantic contemporary sensibility, just a lot more Gothic and tragic than my usual.
“Ligeia” is a story about a man who loses his first wife to illness and remarries, but never quite finds that same love for his second wife before losing her to illness as well. The second wife, however, is the one who returns from the dead…but she returns as his first wife, Ligeia.
Knowing I didn’t want to go paranormal, I knew this was going to be a story about turning a new girlfriend into an old one, trying to revive something that couldn’t be revived and going to mad, toxic lengths to do it. It’s a story that requires praying on insecurities in a way teenage girls have truly mastered, a story I knew would thrive on a specifically female main character. Add that to the perennial queer problem of never quite being sure when your next possibility can or will come along in an area where so few people are out, making the narrator’s loss all the more dramatic and her new venture feel all the more necessary, and you have so many of the components that created “Lygia.”