Intervew: E. Catherine Tobler

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

“Beyond Porch and Portal” concerns the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Edgar Allan Poe and the opportunity a young lady has to discover what actually happened to him and why he was found wandering in clothes that were not his own.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

The story came out of a challenge from my writing group; we were provided with photo prompts and also had to use a sound in the opening paragraphs. I took inspiration from a photograph of a man handing a woman a note.

I’ve long been a fan of Poe, quite surprised when I was introduced to his work via an English class, because wow, reading about people holed up in walls and hearts placed under floorboards…this was allowed? Fantastic. The circumstances of Poe’s death have always felt like they came from a story he wrote.

Somehow, my mind matched this photo up with this idea that someone could have been warned prior to his death. Why? Who? What might they have done with that information?

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I suppose the challenge came when making the parallel world. Who lives there? What do they do? How does that world intersect with our own? Why did they want Poe? Did they want other creative people? When that last question cropped up, that’s when the story really began to unfold for me. There was also a challenge in writing Poe himself. I don’t normally write about people who actually lived, and to give voice (even briefly) to one of my favorites was tricky.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

“Beyond Porch and Portal” is somewhat personal because it involves Poe as well as Dali, an artist who never fails to inspire something in me–whether it be fear or amazement. There are untold stories in those paintings.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Most of the research concerned Poe’s death. There are many conflicting stories about it, so as any good author would, I took what worked for the story I wanted to tell, and went with that.

What is the appeal of parallel worlds stories and/or portal fantasies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about them? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

Speculative fiction has always shown us worlds beyond our own–be it a physical planet , a wonderland down a rabbit hole, a world at the end of a cyclone’s path. I think parallel worlds allow us to better explore our own, by turning certain ideas on their head. These worlds give us an opportunity to explore those ideas in a way that perhaps we can’t in the normal world. Parallel worlds also allow us to travel without having to budget for a space ship!

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Alice in Wonderland remains a favorite of mine. I cannot remember the first time I read it, it was simply always part of my life. The Oz books were also an influence. Both works have young women actively doing things and growing up, I definitely appreciated that. The Narnia books were also front and center on my bookshelves (and still are). While I love Stargate the movie (ancient! Egypt! Wackiness!), I never connected with the series. And who can forget Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror”? I hope in some parallel world, I have a pointed goatee that is JUST that fabulous!