Catherine Baab-Muguira

Interview with Author Catherine Baab-Muguira for ‘Poe for Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru’

Has the pandemic got you down? Are you in need of a self-help book? Well, look no further… Author Catherine Baab-Muguria has you covered with her new book, Poe for Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru. Although Poe may seem like the least likely person you’d want to get advice from, Cat shows why he’s the perfect guy to offer advice and get rid of the negativity in your life. In this interview, learn about what inspired her to become an author, how the idea for this book came about, and more!

Catherine Baab-Muguira
Catherine Baab-Muguira

PopHorror – Hi Cat, how are you doing? 2021 treating you okay so far?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – Hey, thank you for having me here. Uh, it’s been a really weird year, as I imagine is true for most people. But it also makes this conversation—about finding hope and inspiration through one of history’s all-time gloomiest characters—more understandable, doesn’t it? My sense is we’re all digging for some kind of bright side, however dimly lit or strange or buried alive in the family vault.

PopHorror – I completely agree! Please tell our readers what inspired you to become a writer?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – It’s your typical story. I was a big reader as a kid, gulping down hauls from my local library: everything from Stephen King and Sweet Valley High to Steinbeck and Camus. I started writing in elementary school, keeping a journal, trying my hand at poetry, and producing the usual absolutely terrible juvenilia. After college, while working day jobs, I wrote three novels, but I never could find an agent, though I did start to get some bylines as a freelance writer. It wasn’t until I wrote the proposal for Poe for Your Problems that I finally got representation and a book deal. (If anyone wants a longer, more detailed version, including the money side of all this, you can check out my Substack.)

PopHorror – All of those authors inspired me as well including R.L. Stine. Where did you go to school?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – I went to the University of South Carolina, chasing the ghost of James Dickey. I majored in English. Then for grad school, I moved to New Zealand and did an M.A. at the University of Auckland. The idea of a year in New Zealand was appealing in its own right, like you’d expect, but there was also a scholar there at the university whom I was keen to meet and learn from.

PopHorror – Poe for Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru is your new book and it looks fantastic. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – Poe for Your Problems is the world’s first self-help book based on Edgar Allan Poe. No, really. In the book, I make the case for Poe as an unexpected hero and an existential saint of the arts, with each chapter based on some episode from his life and work. It’s dark, yet played for laughs, and I recommend it particularly for anyone who’s going through a rough time in their life or struggling to get their footing as a writer/artist/creator.

PopHorror – I love it and I need all the self-help I can get, lol. Where did the inspiration come from?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – Remember how I said I wrote three novels first? After trying and failing to find an agent and publisher for these books, I got very depressed. I’ve had chronic depression since I was a kid, so the episode was nothing new—while also being the worst I’ve lived through. It was late 2016, and the situation in the larger world wasn’t exactly helping, either. I couldn’t eat or sleep or function. It was so bad I had to take mental-health leave from my job.

That’s when I started rereading Edgar Allan Poe for the first time since my childhood. For whatever reason, I got the idea to take The Complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination off the shelf and I started reading it in my bathtub until there were these unconscious tears just rolling down my face. All of a sudden, I realized that Poe’s stories about ghost ships and torture were metaphors for the pain of the human condition, for depression and despair. I recognized a fellow traveler, and it was as if he could see my pain, too, if only because he’d known it himself.

From there, I moved on to digging through the innumerable Poe biographies, and despite all the different versions of his story and the paucity of reliable facts, it jumped out at me that, no matter what life threw at Poe, he somehow managed to keep picking himself back up. Despite everything, so much loss and disappointment, and all the bizarre self-owns, he got his work done. It was inspiring, even strangely healing, to spend time with him. One night I was at a bar with a friend, and I started telling him about all this—about how Poe, of all people, was cheering me up. “That sounds like a book,” my friend said.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I’m going to write a book about reading Poe for self-help and call it How to Say Nevermore to Your Problems.” It was just a joke. Still, I jotted the idea down on a napkin, and from that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The project felt so much bigger than me, which was attractive and freeing. The world needs an Edgar Allan Poe self-help book, I thought.

As it turns out, many others have read Poe in just this same way—seeing him as a hero—particularly Charles Baudelaire. So I aimed to make the experience explicit, to show people what Poe can teach us about dealing with the hard realities of our own lives. Most people associate Poe with horror, and they’re not wrong to, but he had a funny, hopeful side too. The guy is just so much funnier than he’s ever gotten credit for. Read his letters. He’s intensely relatable, full of complaints and self-regarding white lies and sarcastic jokes. Even if you come to the material already loving him, you’ll come away loving him so much more.

Catherine Baab-Muguira

PopHorror – I absolutely love this! Who did the book cover?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – The illustration is by the supremely talented artist Javier Olivares, who illustrated the whole book, and the overall design is by Rachel Peckman, who also designed the whole book and whose wit is visible throughout. Both made the book more fun, entertaining and multi-dimensional. There are drawings, quizzes, diagrams, little games and thought exercises, etc.

PopHorror – What do you hope readers take away from your book?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – You don’t need to be any less flawed, any less neurotic or argumentative or weird or emo than you are right now. You can be successful for those reasons. People may come to love you precisely because you’re so messed-up. Hell, even other people talking shit about you can work in your favor. So lean on into being a mess and focus on achieving your Poe-tential instead. It just might serve you, the way it served Poe, who’s now one of the most successful writers of all time. What other writer ever inspired the name of an NFL team, or appeared on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? People get tattoos of Poe’s face. Any of us would be lucky to achieve that kind of influence.

PopHorror – That’s fantastic advice! If Poe were alive to read your book, what do you think he’d say?

Catherine Baab-Muguira – We know what kind of literary critic he was, don’t we? The veritable GOAT of hatchet men. So I expect Poe would pan my book in his sneering signature style, pounding its little book-face in the dirt. He’d probably accuse me of plagiarism, too. And you know, I only wish that he was alive to. It would be an honor.

PopHorror – Haha so true. Well, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I definitely look forward to reading your book and relaxing with some hot coco. After this crazy year, I could truly use some advice from Poe!

About Tori Danielle

Tori has had a passion for Horror and music ever since she was a little girl. She got bit by the writing bug in high school where she was involved in both the school newspaper and the yearbook. While getting her Bachelors degree, she took Journalism and Creative Writing classes where her passion grew even stronger. Now, in between work and family, she spends all of her spare time indulging in music, Horror movies, and nerdy fandoms, all while running/assisting one of the biggest Horror groups on Facebook and writing for various websites.

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