Monday, October 12, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Dacre Stoker: Co-Author of Dracula the Un-Dead

C. 2009 James J. Gormley and Vampire Books Navigator.

VBN: Can you tell the readers of Vampire Books Navigator a bit about how you descend from Bram Stoker and what that was like for you and your family?

Dacre Stoker: Bram was one of seven children. His youngest brother George was my great grandfather, which makes Bram my great grand uncle.
No one in my family ever made a big deal about our famous relative, but of course we were always aware of his achievements, particularly Dracula. As children in Montreal, it seemed to be our friends who made a bigger deal about the family connection, especially around Halloween. I heard more than once, “Is it safe to go to the Stoker house?” but we never lived in anything resembling creepy houses like The Addam’s Family or The Munsters.

Bram’s three great grandsons live in England, I have gotten to know two of them. They feel the same way the Canadian Stokers do; we are aware of our family connections, but we make our own way.

VBN: Can you tell us about you, your background, work/occupation, interests, etc., especially as relate to writing and to your continuing the Dracula legacy?

Dacre Stoker: I taught high school P.E., athletics, health, science and outdoor education for 22 years. More recently, beginning in 2003 I have worked for a Land Conservation organization in Aiken, S.C. and also teach CPR and First Aid. None of my formal education really prepared me for writing this book with Ian. However, I am a very adaptable person, a fairly quick learner, and Ian’s positive, upbeat attitude helped me carry through the steep learning curve. I focused on Ian’s mentoring and also that of our editors, which was invaluable. Of course the writing was still a struggle, but very rewarding.

VBN: Have you been very involved in the Bram Stoker Society; has the dream of a Bram Stoker Museum in Dublin been realized yet?

Dacre Stoker: I have been very involved with the Bram Stoker Society in Dublin. We are currently working together on seeking approval, then raising funds for a proper bust or statue to be a fitting memorial for Bram in Dublin. Hopefully the museum will be next.

VBN: Can you tell us the story behind the writing (co-writing) of Dracula the Un-Dead? Aside from the great Dracula text itself, what inspired you to write Dracula the Un-Dead now?

Dacre Stoker: Ian had the original idea for a screenplay, but he had gotten frustrated with numerous rewrites, and needed some fresh ideas. He convinced me that after 100 plus years a Stoker should be involved in writing a proper sequel to the novel, Dracula. After Ian and I worked together for a few years, I provided my extended family members with a general outline of the story, which included Bram as a character, and asked for their support. With the interest in vampires which was starting to build, even a few years ago, we knew the chance would be soon just right to introduce this generation of readers to Bram Stoker, who is sadly not nearly as well known as his book. I received unanimous family approval! Then, crafting each of our ideas and writing styles into one product was up to Ian and me.

VBN: How did Ian Holt become involved in the project? Can you tell readers a little bit about him?

Dacre Stoker: Ian has been a lifelong Dracula fan. Unlike me, he was educated as a writer, and works as a screenwriter, mostly in the horror genre. He has attended many Dracula events world-wide, has visited all the pertinent Dracula locations in Romania, and is an authority on both the fictitious and factual Dracula history. Having this book published is helping fulfill a lifelong dream for Ian. I think, for him, having an appropriate film project arise from Dracula the Un-Dead will be the ultimate.

VBN: Dracula the Un-Dead, is, I understand, based on Bram Stoker’s own handwritten notes for characters and plot threads that were not included in the original, 1897 edition. Can you shed any light on how these documents were assembled and brought to bear?

Dacre Stoker: One hundred twenty-five pages of Bram’s handwritten notes for Dracula are housed in the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia. Since the time when I researched the notes, a friend of mine, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, and her co-author Robert Eighteen-Bisang, have published these notes in an annotated book called Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula, which is a wonderful resource for both scholars and Dracula fans. The notes include Bram’s list of characters originally intended for Dracula. Some of the characters made it into the final version, some were edited out. In addition to the original characters from Dracula, Ian and I used a few of the discarded characters in our story as well.
Bram’s widow, Florence, sold the notes at Sotheby’s in 1913. After a few more documented sales, the whereabouts of the notes were unknown for a time, until they surfaced again and were acquired by the Rosenbach in 1970. Two visiting professors from Boston University stumbled upon them in the mid-1970s and, since that time, the Rosenbach has been very generous, making the notes available to numerous scholars. When I visited the museum, the staff told me I was the first “real live” Stoker to inspect the notes.

VBN: Your sequel picks up 25 years after the character, Dracula, apparently crumbled into dust. It is written that "Dracula the Un-Dead is deeply researched, rich in character, thrills and scares, and lovingly crafted as both an extension and celebration one of the most classic popular novels in literature.” Other Dracula-inspired books have reached back into Dracula pre-history (such as Jeanne Kalogridis’ Covenant With the Vampire) or into the future (such as Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian). Were these books true to the Dracula legacy? How so? If not, why not?

Dacre Stoker: I have not read Covenant, but I feel Kostova painted a realistic picture in her very well researched book, The Historian.

VBN: Your sequel joins the “fictional” characters in the original with its “real-life” author. Is your sequel the first to do so?

Dacre Stoker: Of course, other authors have used some of Bram’s original characters, some have done a better job than others. I feel what separates Dracula the Un-Dead is that we not only recreated, but extended, these characters in the manner which Bram might have, if Dracula was not written in the journal form. We provide the reader with back stories involving the relationships between the central characters, which we believe are true to Bram’s work.

I don’t think we were the first to include Bram as a character either, but perhaps no one else has him woven in with his characters’ lives in quite the same way.

VBN: Is Dracula the Un-Dead an effort to refocus Dracula literature in a way that is more true to Bram Stoker's creation or purely in tribute to that great work and as a way of rekindling the literary legacy?

Dacre Stoker: It is a mixture of both of these elements. We felt the time was right to give readers of present day vampire stories an opportunity to go back and reconnect with the origin of the genre, but realized that to compete in today’s world, our book needed to be written in a fairly modern style.

VBN: Is there a favorite Dracula or vampire novel you have (aside from Dracula), that you can mention, and an all-time favorite movie version of Dracula? (I understand that Bela Lugosi’s 1931 version was the only one authorized by the Stoker family).

Dacre Stoker
: I loved Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot- it made a big impression on me. As it was written, it resembled Bram’s work; set in the present day and very realistic.
I also liked the 1931 Lugosi version of Dracula. Although many  critics  are tough on it, and it definitely takes liberties with Bram’s story, I also really like the 1992 Coppola version. I found Gary Oldman very convincing as both the old and the renewed Count.

VBN: One anthologist, Matthew Beresford, in his From Demons to Dracula, wrote: "Although there have been several adaptations since the novel's release, on both stage and screen, the definitive Dracula [movie], a version that remains true to Stoker's original story, is yet to be made." Is this true? Are you working on a Stoker-family approved movie version of the sequel?

Dacre Stoker: I suppose that is the case with almost every movie adapted from a novel. I believe a well-written novel leaves itself open to different visions. The “mind’s eye” of each reader sees things differently, and I suppose a movie director makes the movie he sees.

Ian and Alexander Galant, our researcher, have written a script to Dracula the Un-Dead. We are in the process of having it looked at by studios and independent filmmakers, and only hope we can retain some control over how a movie is adapted.
VBN: In his introduction to an anthology of Dracula-themed stories, Martin Greenberg wrote: 'What is clear [over] one hundred years later, though, is that in his efforts to adapt a medieval legend as a horror story with resonance for his era, Stoker defined an archetype, a monster that transcended time and place." Do you agree? Would you add anything?

Dacre Stoker: Absolutely, I agree. The mysterious and sinister character that Bram introduced to the world in 1897 is still very relevant today. Most elements and attributes of the character Dracula appear again and again, in a wide variety of vampire stories and movies as they define the leading villains. Dracula never dies.
VBN: Beresford also wrote: "The way ancient traditions, such as the folkloric elements of vampires or the influence of the early demon forms [...] were intertwined with cutting edge technology, such as the use of shorthand, Dr. Seward's phonograph and Van Helsing's blood transfusions, allowed for the creation of what was in essence the vampire's passport into the 20th century and its manifestation once again as a socially relevant being." Do you agree? Would you add anything?

Dacre Stoker: Again I agree with this statement, one of the interesting things to remember is that Bram created Dracula to be able to shape shift and adapt to his surroundings. When we cannot easily identify the enemy, and we realize he could be among us, he is even more terrifying. As Bram’s characters in Dracula rely on “cutting edge” technology to battle Dracula’s supernatural powers, in Dracula the Un-Dead the same characters make use of the technology developed in the subsequent twenty-five years in their attempts to gain the upper hand against the evil.

VBN: Beresford concludes his book thusly: "The modern vampire is a being born of demons, burned as a heretic and reviled as a fiend; the Devil's own creation. What the future may hold for him is uncertain, yet it is undeniable that the image immortalized by Dracula, encapsulating over six thousand years of history, can never be undone." Do you agree? Would you add anything?

Dacre Stoker: I must say Beresford and I seem to be on the same page here. Dracula is both attractive and repulsive. He is incredibly animalistic, yet at times displays human-like emotions. He embodies the ultimate alpha male; no one is able to overcome him, physically or mentally. The character, Dracula, continues to be reborn in the thousands of adaptations world-wide, and although he may appear differently in each of the many films, books and stage plays, we recognize him as being born of Bram’s pages.

VBN: It is suggested that Bram Stoker got some ideas for Dracula while holidaying in Whitby in 1890. True? Would you add anything to that?

Dacre Stoker: It is a well-known that Bram and his family spent quite a few summer holidays in Whitby. In the Whitby library he read the book by William Wilkinson entitled The Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. In this book Wilkinson makes reference to the name Dracula, as he explains the politics, history and culture of this region. Bram researched actual shipwrecks, tidal and wind patterns of the Whitby Harbor, in order to recreate a realistic account of Count Dracula arriving in Whitby aboard the Russian schooner, Demetre. Whitby Abbey, Tait Sands (beach), a graveyard, and the 199 stairs which connect them were all significant settings in Dracula, and describe the Whitby Bram knew.
VBN: Also in 1890 Bram Stoker met a professor from Budapest University, Armeniur Vanbery, who, wrote Matthew Beresford, "discussed at length with Stoker ideas on vampirism and the occult as well as regaling him with tales of his travels in Eastern Europe and particularly Transylvania, and of the history of Romania and Vlad Tepes, the Impaler." Was A. Van Helsing based on A. Vanbery? If so, what other characters were based in “real life”?

Dacre Stoker: You have touched on one of the Beresford’s points that I cannot totally agree with. Although it is totally possible and very likely that Vanbery did discuss ideas on vampirism with Bram, there is nothing in Bram’s research notes mentioning or crediting Vanbery. Bram did a lot of formal research, and has listed many sources in his notes. But, it is very likely that he not list all the people with whom he discussed mythology, and folklore relating to vampirism. As far as Van Helsing’s character being based on Vanberry- it’s possible. Van Helsing could be an amalgamation of Bram himself, Bram’s brother Sir Thornley Stoker, and characters who were edited out of Dracula Bram wrote that some characters were based on people he knew, since he never was specific on that subject, we can enjoy supposing.
VBN: Kids today are arguably more familiar with Twilight and Buffy than Dracula. Will your sequel make Dracula (or Dracula) more relevant and accessible to young people today?

Dacre Stoker: I think our story will be entertaining for the present generation who are into Twilight, and Buffy; after all we did not write a textbook. My hope is that our story will help readers and movie fans, who are into the vampire and horror genre re-connect with Dracula, the novel and the character.

VBN: Do you have other Dracula sequels in the works, that you can say?

Dacre Stoker: We have an outline and a plan, but we’ll see where Dracula the Un-Dead leads us before we can determine when we be to get on with writing it. Ian and Alexander may also be very busy working on the film script.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Some Girls Bite

Some Girls Bite (softcover)
Author: Chloe Neill
Publisher: New American Library/$26.99
Date of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Kind of over the puling teenage angst of books titularly related to dusk, moons and dawn? Well then, author Chloe Neill’s Some Girls Bite may be just the book for you. Told in first-person by a character who’s a sharp, sassy and pretty third-year Chicago grad student, Merit, Some Girls Bite introduces us to a world that has, just eight months prior, found out---thanks to a vamp-called press conference---that bloodsuckers really exist.

With some of the freshest writing in vampire fiction today, after Merit is attacked by rogue vampires and then made a vampire by the aristocratic head of high-class Cadogan House, Ethan Sullivan, she writes: “The blood was gone---and I’d been manicured.”

Filled with deft touches that are clever and smart without being cutesie, Neill takes us through Merit’s training as the official protector (Sentinel) of Cadogan House, and shares with us the friendship of her blue-haired housemate with growing witchly powers, Mallory, a sorcerer named Catcher and a houseless vamp named Jeff, for whom Mallory falls head over ruby slippers.

Merit’s Cadogan House is part of a vampiric world of manor-like power centers that feel, to the reader, like a blending of the Talamasca motherhouse in Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and the vampires’ castle-like manse in Underworld but sans the doilies or the decadence, respectively.

As Merit trains and awes the vampires of Cadogan with her fighting and weaponry skills, there is a growing war that is threatening to endanger the entire undead society that has just been voluntarily exposed.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this book, Neill’s inaugural entry in her Chicagoland Vampires series, is that it taps into the concerns and conflicts of younger (pre-30) people today without becoming shackled by cliché or stereotypes.

Merit really hates her father, but loves her grandfather. She cares about her nails, but can destroy almost anyone (masterly male vamps included) with her sword-wielding skills. The same goes for the secondary characters; Mallory, for example, may be a blue-haired clubgoer, but she’s also a savvy businesswoman.

So, all in all, this debut by Chloe Neill is a bold fresh piece of vampire lit, indeed, and we are truly fortunate that the sequel, Friday Night Bites, has just been released.

That Which Bites

That Which Bites (softcover)
Author: Celis T. Rono
Publisher: VBW Publishing/$14.35
Date of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Celis T. Rono's own website describes the book's plot succinctly:

The Gray Armageddon has destroyed most of humanity. Vampires have slinked out of hiding, penning the few human survivors as blood cattle. Young Julia Poe survives the horror. She has dodged the undead since she was eight years old in downtown Los Angeles and has the only untapped vein in the new realm. Now she celebrates her 22nd birthday as a cattle rustler, fighting vampire factions and plotting revenge. Kaleb Sainvire, the master vampire and architect responsible for 'milking cattle,' is first on Poe’s list. That is, if she isn’t taken by his vampiric allure.

In this debut novel with echoes of the ultimate apocalyptic vampire classic, I Am Legend, Rono's fresh vision of a dystopian nightmare with fangs is character driven. Its central protagonist is a 5' 3" dynamo who has had to grow up hiding in the ruins of Los Angeles.

With no frames of reference to guide her, Poe has spent thousands of hours in an underground bunker alone watching old-school porn movies, practicing martial arts and preparing various vampire-unfriendly weapons involving bullets, garlic oil and holy water. Rono's Poe is a colorful, well-drawn, likable and fully fleshed out female badass who has a soft side, too, and who repeats this mantra when she's really in a pickle: "I am Bruce Lee's daughter, Muhammed Ali's niece and Xena's clone. I fear no one!"

Allied for years with a gun-toting nun named Sister Ann and a 6' 7" giant of a man named Goss, Poe, her friends and some cattle rustling contacts, spend most of their daylight hours helping imprisoned humans escape from blood bondage and vampire suckage.

After a bloody attack on her friends, Poe is rescued, somewhat against her will, by Sainvire. Although drawn to him, she is also repelled because he is said to have masterminded the whole human blood farm business to begin with.

Rono sure delivers an armageddon with characters involved in a fast-moving, suspenseful frightfest that is uniquely believable, characters who are, themselves, real and fallable, whose secrets (dark, heroic or otherwise) are revealed in ways which allow friendships and relationships to form, shatter and sometimes coalesce again with newfound respect or understanding.

When a council of vampire ancients gets involved and an undead war is at hand, what will Poe do? Whom will she trust? How will it all end?

You will definitely want to get a hold of That Which Bites and find out.