Lynn Cullen never questioned whether she was going to write, but how she was going to make a living at it.
Her career began in children’s literature, however, she has since found her niche in historical fiction centered on misunderstood figures of history. Some of her more notable works are “Reign of Madness,” the tale of Juana the Mad, the daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, and “The Creation of Eve,” the story of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first renowned female portraitist of the Renaissance.
Her latest book, “Mrs. Poe,” released earlier this month, is the story of Frances Locke Osgood and her relationship with the poet Edgar Allen Poe.
Cullen, a Fort Wayne native and North Side High School graduate, says nothing makes her happier than getting to the truth behind a legend.
“When writing a novel, I have one central question that I try to answer with my story,” Cullen said by email at her Atlanta home. “In the case of Mrs. Poe, my question was how did Poe go from becoming one of the biggest celebrities in the U.S. and in New York City, where he lived at the time ‘The Raven’ came out, to being a scorned outcast, licking his wounds in a remote country cottage, all in the space of a year? All of my research, all of my story, ultimately focused on solving that mystery.”
Much of Cullen’s book has been pieced together from poems that Osgood and Poe published under pen names in the The Broadway Journal, the magazine Poe ran from 1845 to 1849.
While the story is told from Osgood’s perspective, many other notable historical figures play a part in the tale.
Rufus Griswold, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel Morse and Louisa Alcott all help weave together the framework of the romance between Osgood and Poe.
The love story has been buried under a century and a half of history, and while little is known about Poe’s personal life, even less is known about his wife and cousin, Virginia Poe. The two were married when Edgar was 26 and Virginia was only 13. Most of history seems to link his dark writing to his mysterious life, but “Mrs. Poe” delves much deeper into the desires, motivations, and demons of the famous author.
Her search for historical details in her books has led her all over the world. While she does extensive research and study on her characters, Cullen says her favorite people to write about have gaps in what is known about them. That way, she is able to weave a story from the framework of history.
“I’m always listening for my characters to tell me their story,” Cullen said. “They surprise me all the time. Having a character find me is one of the highs of being a novelist.”
Earlier in her career, Cullen says that she received some advice from author and fellow North Side graduate, Michael Martone. He told her she needed to love all of her characters.
“I didn’t know what he meant at first,” Cullen admits. “And then I saw it. He was right – I was pretty scornful towards some of them. After that, I tried to approach every character with understanding and without condescension. It was the best writing advice that I’ve ever gotten.”