It begins and ends with a single word.

Writers spend their lives trying to catch lightning.
Writers spend their lives trying to catch lightning.

IT BEGINS WITH A SINGLE WORD much like life begins with a single breath.

None would ever breathe at all without the written word.

Writers may have grandiose hopes.

Writers may grow their expectations with every story that pours with blood, guts, love, and delirium out of their computer.

The stories may be read.

Or ignored.

They may touch one life.

But one life makes the story important to tell.

Writers mostly die in ignorance.

They never know if their words – the first or the last – made any difference at all. Sometimes great literature begins so small. Writers spend their lives with a bottle, hoping to catch lightning, and usually there is no lightning in the sky.

Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe

When the lightning struck near, Edgar Allan Poe, he grabbed it and held on.

In 1845, he wrote The Raven and sold the poem to Graham’s Magazine for nine dollars.

That’s all.

Nine lousy dollars.

Poe had been writing for years, but one little nine-dollar poem transformed him into a rock star throughout the literary world.

He toured the country and packed in large audiences everywhere he traveled.

He read his work aloud.

He kept writing.

He kept touring.

And Edgar Allan Poe became the first American author to make a living exclusively on his writing.

Small words.

Few words.

Poe always chose the right words.

He has been given credit for inventing the mystery genre, based largely on the exploits of Auguste C. Dupin in three stories: The Murder in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter. Dupin just happened to be fiction’s first real, live, genuine detectives.

In fact, Poe’s dedicated study of the criminal mind is known to have had a definite impact on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation of Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur, perhaps, wrote the most detective stories.

Poe did it first.

Poe also chased his imagination into the realm of science, which allowed him to produce his only novel: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a tale of mutiny and cannibalism as it followed the adventures of a stowaway on a sailing vessel exploring the unknown regions of the Arctic.

Poe then turned out a short story for the New York Sun, which treated his work of fiction as a genuine, hot-off-the-press news story. Maybe the Sun didn’t know any better. The great hoax centered on a traveler who flew across the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon.

In Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, hetold of a comet striking earth and triggering an epidemic that swept the country with a death that no one wanted to imagine. He had become a genius at adding just enough authentic details to make the stories seem authentic and believable.

And a nation of readers trembled at his words.

They were chilling, to be sure.

They were macabre, which was Poe’s trademark.

But Poe’s wild and vivid ventures into cosmology, the origins of the universe, and Mesmerism – the idea that a mysterious substance known as ether could be manipulated to alter someone’s thoughts – has been credited for inspiring the science fiction genre.

Jules Verne even credited Edgar Allan Poe with providing a great influence on his own writing. His Five Weeks in a Balloon came from Poe’s great balloon hoax, and Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery could be traced to Poe’s novel about the stowaway Gordon Pym.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote.

He published.

He was rejected.

He was tormented.

And his own death was as mysterious as his fiction. He disappeared for five days and was said to be wandering the street of Baltimore. He had been drinking heavily. He was found wearing clothes that belonged to somebody else. They were definitely not his own. And his cause of death ranged from alcoholism to rabies, from heart disease to suicide.

He was only forty when he breathed his last, and his last words traveled to the grave with him.

But Poe left so much for those writers who followed him

From the madness of his mind came the mystery story.

From the curiosity of his mind came the foundation for science fiction as a genre.

And all he had to offer were words.

He died.

But his words didn’t.

Words never do.

When it’s all said and done, our words are the only legacy we have to leave behind.

Our words may impact many.

They may only touch one.

But sometimes, one is enough.

 

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    That first breath is always easier to find than the first word of a story. One comes natural. The other can be struggle. So many words to choose from. Which is the right one?

  • Darlene Jones

    I was a huge Poe fan when I was younger. His writing carried such tremendous impact. He certainly knew how to put words together.

  • Another beautiful piece, Caleb. You truly know how to arrange your words for maximum effect. I read about Poe’s death and the speculation alone is mineable for a story.

    When I published Seals I liked it, but I didn’t have a big expectations. I didn’t think I was this amazing writer everyone had to read. I wanted to be, but I held no visions of grandeur. After all, this was my first made-for-public story. And yet the reaction from those who had read it was spectacular, mostly, and this reaction gave me hope that maybe I should continue, that I do have the ability to write readable prose, and so I did. Yes, I do fantasize that Seals be discovered, and like Poe’s poem, the discovery would lift me up high enough for more people to see my work. I think we all wish that.

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