Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with Ashes on the Waves's Mary Lindsey

It's almost September, the kids are back in school, and autumn is so close you can practically taste it in the air. Perfect time for a spooky fall read! Mary Lindsey's new gothic romance, Ashes on the Waves, based on Edgar Allan Poe's haunting poem "Annabel Lee" should fit the bill. We're lucky enough to have Mary here to chat with us about her new book and its inspiration.

From Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.
With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make a wager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer.  Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.

Thanks for joining us, Mary!

EI: First, can you help us out with some pronunciation, and tell us a little about the evocative Celtic elements that give Ashes on the Waves such atmosphere?

ML:  I chose to incorporate Celtic mythology in Ashes on the Waves because of the reference to "winged seraphs of Heaven" and the "demons of the sea" from the source poem, "Annabel Lee," by Edgar Allan Poe. Angels and demons have been done frequently and well in young adult literature, so, I decided to give it a little different slant. I chose Celtic specifically because of Poe's stepfather, John Allan, was born in Ayrshire in Scotland, and I tried very hard to tie as many elements as possible to Poe himself. 

I have a friend from Ireland who is an expert of sorts on Celtic mythology who was a fantastic resource for me while writing Ashes on the Waves. The hardest part about the pronunciation is that there are so many ways to pronounce the Gaelic words in the book depending on where the speaker lives. I went with what he believed to be the most common pronunciations. Here are the most frequently used Gaelic words in the book:

Bealtaine – "bvell-ten-uh"
Bean Sidhe – “ban-shee” 
Celtic – “kell tick” 
Dòchas – “doe-khuss” 
Manannán mac Lir – “ma-nan-an-mac-leer” 
Muireann - "Mure (rhymes with pure) -een" 
Na Fir Gorhm – “naw-fear-gorm” 
Selkie – “sell-key” 
Taibhreamh – “tai-rvuv" or "tow (rhymes with wow)-rev”

EI: This novel is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "Annabel Lee." The source material is gorgeous, but vague on many of the details. I'd love to hear how you built a contemporary novel from those moody hints, and especially how you developed the very different characters of Anna and Liam.

ML: I adore the poem, and initially intended to make the book historical rather than contemporary because I wanted the narrative voice to be reflective of the voice in Poe's works. After reading thousands of pages of Poe's works, including his letters and reviews from contemporaries in addition to a couple of biographies, I realized that for me, the book would be much more meaningful set today. Poe's work has endured despite the adversity and hardships he experienced during his lifetime, and I think setting it in a modern world speaks to that--the writing of Edgar Allan Poe is timeless.

Liam is the voice of the narrator of Poe's poem. I wanted the reader to believe that he would actually write or say that poem himself. That was my intent from the very beginning and is why I set it in an anachronistic setting so that he could be isolated enough to not use "teen speak." Naturally, I toned Liam's voice down with respect to Poe's narrative in other works, but I tried to capture that melodramatic, intelligent, romantic, and perhaps unreliable voice of the poem. 

Once Liam was set in my mind, Anna developed organically. Lots of clues to her character are in the poem. Through the narrator's eyes, she was beautiful. The narrator had loved her since childhood. Annabel was the narrator's bride. She had highborn kinsmen, so that meant she was wealthy. To pull these two unlikely lovers together, I needed an isolated island and a reason for her to visit, so after researching islands off the US coast line and mansions of the elite--or American royalty--the setting came into view, which crystalized Anna even more. Poverty is a curse in the case of Liam and Poe himself, just as extreme wealth is a curse for Anna.

EI: Ashes has all the hallmarks of a classic gothic novel. What is it about the combination of the spooky and the romantic that's so compelling? And how did you use those elements when building the modern gothic world of the novel? 
ML: I have always adored gothic novels. Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Dracula, Rebecca--they are just fantastic. I love the heightened emotions, mood, and atmosphere. 

Poe is a master of the gothic genre. Fall of the House of Usher is simply perfect. The crumbling house reflective of the crumbling aristocratic family line and mental state... *shudder.* I love it. 

I tried to include many traditional components of gothic literature in Ashes on the Waves. It has a remote, isolated setting that includes a castle of sorts complete with secret passageways and tunnels--the impenetrable walls, both physical and psychological are found not only in the mansion, but the island itself. Dòchas has an extreme landscape and extreme weather. There are plenty of omens and perceived curses, supernatural manifestations, and things that go bump in the night. I also included a passion-driven hero whose true identity is revealed near the end of the novel.

EI: We often think of Poe as a horror writer, but much of his work--particularly his poetry--is full of tragic romance. Can you talk to us a little about this side of Poe, and how it resonates with young readers?

ML: In Ashes, I touched on some of Poe's themes of the descent into madness, imprisonment (both physical and psychological), but put a strong emphasis on the absolute, consuming romantic love that transcends death found in many of his pieces like Ligeia and the source poem, "Annabel Lee."

It's not just Poe's works of fiction that are romantic. In the course of my research, I read many of his letters. He was a passionate person in real life. More so than even his characters in several instances. One of the epigraphs in the novel is from a letter he wrote to Helen Whitman in 1848. Here is a quote from that letter I simply had to use in the book: "If you will have faith in me, I can and will satisfy your wildest desires." 

The concept of a love great enough to defy or circumvent death is appealing to most readers. I think the theme of love transcending death resonates particularly well with young readers because it speaks to their concerns and lives at the moment. Mortality is no longer simply conceptual to the young adult-aged reader. Death is a reality--though remote in many cases--and an accepted (though usually dreaded) eventuality. Many readers in this age group are also experiencing and experimenting with intimate emotional relationships, perhaps for the first time.

EI: I was so impressed by all of the epigraphs in the novel--every chapter begins with a quotation from Poe that foreshadows the chapter's events or mood. How hard was it to find and select them--all forty-four (!) of them, and do you have a favorite?

ML: You made my day by noticing how and why I used the epigraphs. Pardon me for a moment while I happy dance in a circle. 

Honestly, finding appropriate quotes was the hardest part of the entire novel. I began the outline for the story after reading Poe works for months. As I read, I made notes and underlined quotes I thought would work throughout the book. As I plotted the book itself and made the final outline, I would comb back through the annotations and marks in the anthologies looking for something in the mood or voice I needed. Some parts were easy to find quotes for. The sections directly tied to the poem, for example or chapters where the mansion was featured. For those, I looked primarily at The Fall of the House of Usher. For the island, I found lots of lovely quotes in A Descent into the Maelstrom.

I wanted to be sure to feature a variety of Poe's works in the epigraphs. I intentionally sought out quotes not only from my favorite pieces, but well known ones and some that are fairly obscure. My goal is to introduce teens to a wide selection of Poe's works in the hopes they will search out the full pieces on their own. 

A list of all the epigraphs in chapter order can be found here:

My favorite quote used in Ashes on the Waves is probably the opening one which came from a lesser known piece (at least in the high schools) called "Imp of the Perverse." I pulled several quotes from this odd story that opens like an essay in which the narrator explains what he believes causes man's self-destructive impulse and ends up a story about how a man got away with murder, only to cause his own demise later--all because of the Imp of the Perverse. 

I chose it because the story opens with Anna contemplating her own destruction at the suggestion of powers beyond her control or understanding. Liam discovers her and becomes the "friendly arm" to check her. It was perfect. 
There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him,
who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge.
To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost;
for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot.
If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to
prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.
~ from “The Imp of the Perverse,” 1845

My favorite story by Poe is The Premature Burial, and I think I used quotes from it twice. This amazing story appeals to me not only because I am claustrophobic and it would be my worst nightmare to be buried alive, but because it illustrates Poe's wit when the story becomes a parody of his own genre with a surprise twist in the end. Just genius. Other favorites are Berenice, Ligeia, and The Black Cat.

I did not get to include an epigraph from Ligeia, a true front runner for my favorite, but it was the inspiration for the title. Inside Ligeia, a story about love sidestepping death (or does it?), is a familiar poem called "The Conqueror Worm." In Ashes, Anna is horrified to find that bodies on the island are not buried, but cremated on pyres and Liam is surprised by her reaction. He tells her that it makes little difference whether bodies end up food for the worms or ashes on the waves, the soul is no longer present. The minute I wrote the passage, I knew I had the title--and a nod to one of my favorite Poe stories. 
It was an honor to be given the opportunity to work on this book. I have been so blessed to have supportive, creative people help me along this path, from the readers, to the folks at my agency and Penguin USA, to amazing authors like you, Elizabeth. Thanks for having me on the blog today! 

More information about Ashes on the Waves and where to find me online can be located on my website:

interview by Elizabeth C. Bunce


  1. I love Poe, and anything gothic, so I can't wait to read ASHES ON THE WAVES. The setting alone makes me want to read it -- it sounds fabulous! Thank you both for a great interview!

  2. I just re-read Annabel Lee--what a great poem, and what a marvelous premise for a novel! I just love how you approached the story and the world-building. Congratulations, and can't wait to read it!

  3. I just re-read Annabel Lee--what a great poem, and what a marvelous premise for a novel! I just love how you approached the story and the world-building. Congratulations, and can't wait to read it!

  4. Congrats on this, Mary! Your hard work has paid off in a really beautiful story.

  5. I really, really want to read this :) Good interview!

  6. I do love gothic novels. And that cover!!!


Have your say...