A Haunted Genius (Encouragement for Creators)

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O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? —1 Corinthians 15:55 King James

The chill of Autumn fills the air. The days grow shorter, the night lingers on. Draw close to the campfire as we share with you a true ghost story. Come closer. Closer! We’re now turning back the cold hands of time, slicing through the fog of the past, to delve into the tortured life of a great American author who was continually haunted by tragedy!

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was a writer, editor, and literary critic, best known for such macabre tales as “The Fall of the House Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as the classic poem “The Raven.” During his lifetime, Poe was lauded by critics and contemporary writers, including the author of The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poe’s verse was hypnotic, and his prose vividly depicted the darker side of human nature. Today he’s regarded as the genius who: invented detective fiction; created the first recurring fictional sleuth (Sorry, Sherlock!); advanced the art of the short story; and made major contributions to the emerging genre we now call science fiction.

During his lifetime, Poe accomplished all this … and yet he was never able to support himself as a writer. In fact, debt and financial difficulty stalked him throughout his career. But his continual money problems were simply further evidence of a life plagued with adversity, scarred by tragedy.


Poe was born in Boston, the second child of two traveling actors. While Poe was still an infant, his father abandoned his family. A year later, when Poe was two, his mother died.

Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, a prosperous couple residing in Richmond, Virginia. The Allans never legally adopted the boy, but Poe’s new “father” did take frequent opportunities to berate the lad regarding expenses. When Poe entered the University of Virginia, John Allan refused to pay his tuition, and after a single semester Poe was forced to drop out for lack of money.

In 1827, in an attempt to raise the money for his tuition and further his education, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army under an assumed name. Two years later his stepmother passed away, and afterwards, for a brief time, Poe and John Allan had an uneasy truce. Poe was able to enroll at West Point as an officer’s cadet. By then, however, Poe’s heart was in his writing, and within a few months he’d washed out from the prestigious military academy.

Poe’s initial verse and stories quickly sold to various newspapers and literary magazines. The writer thought he was on his way financially. So, in 1835, when Poe was 26, he married young Virginia Clemm. The two struggled together through twelve years of debt and, later, Virginia’s rapidly declining state of health.

Poe’s wife died of tuberculosis in 1847. Two years later, in Baltimore, and under mysterious circumstances, the still grieving writer followed his beloved to the grave. He was 40 years old.

Poe dealt with the specters of death, debt and despondency throughout his short career. But this haunted genius never allowed such things to kill his creativity. When their shadows fell across his life, he used them as inspiration and atmosphere, a backdrop for a body of work we’re still studying, still imitating two centuries later.

Got problems? Take them to the Lord. He’s got big shoulders and He can carry you through any adversity. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT) Keep the faith and keep creating. God has won the victory through Christ Jesus. Nevermore need we suffer the bitterness of defeat. Nevermore!

“…Each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgement….” (Hebrews 9:27 NLT)

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NLT)

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In the Wake of Rejection (Encouragement for Creators)

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New York book publishers in the early 1960s thought the idea stank — like old fish and seaweed — and that as a writer, Ricou Browning was wet behind the ears. And he actually was, both figuratively and literally. Browning was an underwater cinematographer and stuntman in his early thirties, who had no previous writing experience. But in a splash of sheer inspiration, Browning got a great idea for a novel. At least, he thought it was great. Book editors at practically every publishing company, however, thought he was “all wet.”

Browning was born in Fort Pierce, Florida on November 23, 1930. As a child he spent most of his time playing on the beach, and grew up to be an accomplished swimmer and diver. By the time he was 20, Browning was producing elaborate underwater shows for various theme parks. By the time he was 24, Hollywood had discovered him.

Hollywood had a history of making bankable stars out of excellent swimmers. In the early 1930s, two Olympic Gold-medalists dived into film roles that made them box office attractions. Buster Crabbe surfaced in cliffhanger movie serials, playing the seminal space heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Johnny Weissmuller swung into action as Tarzan of the Apes, making 12 crowd-pleasing motion pictures before his expanding waistline forced him to hang up his loin cloth. (Not to worry, though, because savvy film producers simply clothed Weissmuller in a safari outfit, and started making a slew of Jungle Jim movies.)

And throughout the 1940s and 50s, champion swimmer Esther Williams starred in flood of “aquamusicals,” which featured elaborate sequences of diving and synchronized swimming.

Following in the wake of these three great swimmers-turned-actors, Ricou Browning landed his own starring role … well, sort of … portraying the title character in Universal Studio’s classic horror movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Hey, it was good money, and the film spawned two sequels which kept Browning swimming in the dough — as well as the large fish tank used to film all the creepy underwater sequences. Unfortunately for Browning, no one could recognize him under the green latex gills and fins.

By 1960, Browning was directing and/or filming the underwater sequences for television shows such as Sea Hunt (with Lloyd Bridges) and The Aquanauts. But the young man had even greater creative aspirations. One day, while watching an episode of the ever-popular series Lassie with his kids, Browning started sloshing around a highly original concept in his waterlogged brain, for an adventure tale about an “aquatic Lassie.” He took his ideas to a good friend, and together the two men wrote a novel … which nobody wanted to publish. Period.

That might have been the end of the story, had Browning not bumped into his old boss, movie and television producer Ivan Tors. Browning had worked with Tors on Sea Hunt, and figured he’d found a fellow with whom he could drown his sorrows; but after Browning explained his “novel idea” to Tors, the Hollywood producer immediately suggested they turn the unpublished book into a movie.

Tors was an innovator, as evidenced by such successful television series as Science Fiction Theatre, in 1955, and a 1961 show called Ripcord, which ultimately popularized skydiving as an extreme leisure sport. Then, too, Tors was a huge animal-lover. He’d eventually create and produce two long-running TV shows, one about a vet in Africa, Daktari, and one about a boy and his bear, Gentle Ben. So the producer was eager to sink some time and money into the heartwarming story of … a boy and his dolphin.

Flipper, the novel nobody wanted to publish, soon became Flipper, the motion picture. The movie was a box-office hit, and earned a sequel less than a year later, quickly followed (in 1964) by a television show that lasted 3 seasons and 88 episodes. In fact, Tors ended the show while it was still a ratings hit, only because he wanted to pursue other projects. But not before Flipper (played by a bottlenose dolphin named Mitzi) helped its creators to soak up lots of cash, through licensing deals that included lunch boxes, coloring books, toys, and games.

Got a novel idea? Have faith and stick with it.

Browning (left) and Mitzi’s trainer, Ric O’Feldman, with “Flipper.”

Has someone tried to convince you, regarding your dreams, that you’re all wet? If their resistance to your work smells a little fishy, well, perhaps it is. Think of all the people who initially faced rejection, only to make a big splash later, in writing, illustrating, singing, acting, inventing, innovating and, in general, creating. So keep on treading the often turbulent waters of life and success. Swim with the “dolphins,” gentle and intelligent; and look out for the sharks.

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 TLB)

It’s okay. I’m really just a dolphin, ma’am.
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