Q&A with Ronald Kidd

Ronald Kidd has written several books for Albert Whitman, but it’s his latest novel, Room of Shadows, that is perfect for Halloween. Here’s a brief synopsis: Ever since his dad left, David Cray has had anger issues. So after he beats up school bully Jake Bragg, his mom grounds him in their creepy new house. Bored, David discovers a secret room with an old-fashioned desk, a chest, and a carving of a raven. Suddenly he’s having strange dreams about the room and the house, and violence seems to follow him wherever he goes. Who is the Raven who is taking responsibility for these violent pranks? And why do the pranks resemble Poe’s stories?

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We were lucky enough to chat with Ronald about Edgar Allan Poe, writing children’s books, and Room of Shadows.

Q. What inspired you to write about Edgar Allan Poe?

A. Poe was amazing! He invented three genres: mysteries 50 years before Arthur Conan Doyle, science fiction 50 years before Jules Verne, and horror 100 years before H.P. Lovecraft. He lived so long ago that when he was born, Thomas Jefferson was president.

But what fascinated me the most about Poe was his death, which itself was a mystery. Found in a Baltimore tavern, sick and incoherent, Poe was taken to a hospital, where he died muttering the word “Reynolds.” That’s all we know. It was a sad, squalid death. I decided to resurrect Poe, take him to modern-day Baltimore, and give him the glorious death he deserved. The result was Room of Shadows.

Q. How does Poe come back to life?

A. Ah, but you see, he never died. Using a method he discovered when researching his horror stories, Poe suspended himself between life and death, where he ended up trapped for 150 years. Then one day, in a rickety house with a secret room, his spirit is summoned by the anger of a young man named David Cray. Just a quick preview: When Poe returns, David isn’t the only one who’s angry.

Q. You write in so many different genres. How do you decide which one to work in next?

A. I love reading about music, history, sports, all kinds of things. Typically I’ll stumble across something in a book, and it will send me spinning off into a story. So I guess you could say that I don’t pick the genre; it picks me. With Poe, I had thought I would write a historical novel and was surprised to find I was writing a horror story.

Q. Why write children’s books?

A. I once read that we’re shaped by what happens when we’re thirteen—no longer children but not yet adults, in that awkward and exciting time when we become ourselves. It was that way for me, and it’s that way for my characters. We meet them at a turning point, faced with a decision or a crisis that crowds in on them, grabs their attention, and forces them to act. It’s that way for Billie with the Freedom Riders in Night on Fire, Callie and Jeremy and their rigid dystopian world in Dreambender, Frances and the Scopes Trial in Monkey Town. I guess in some way, deep down inside where writers live and work, I’ll always be thirteen.

Q. Are you working on any other projects?

A. Funny you should ask. I’m just finishing up Lord of the Mountain, in which Nate Owens (yes, he’s thirteen) witnesses the birth of country music in 1927 in his hometown of Bristol, Tennessee. Nate’s father is a sad, wild-eyed preacher, and his mother hides a secret melody that drives Nate into the mountains, where he catches up with the Carter Family and uncovers his own family’s musical heritage.

Q. Writing is such a solitary activity. Do you really enjoy it?

A. The answer is an enthusiastic yes, for two reasons. (1) I’m not alone! I’m surrounded by my characters, and through them I experience colorful people and places. (2) When I write, I take my readers with me—the kids, parents, teachers, and wonderful librarians who enjoy my work and keep it alive. I love staying in touch with them through my books, website, Facebook page, and email newsletter.

Thanks so much, Ronald! To find out more about Room of Shadows and Ronald’s other novels, check out our website.

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Q&A with Ronald Kidd