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Thoughtful Research

Dracula V. Arabus: The battle of the Undead

Published in May 1897, Bram Stoker's Dracula became a success after his death and has never been out of print since. How many of us authors fear this? Sure we do, not living to see our own success. I often say, since Arabus Drake was created in 1983, that I'll be dead before anyone pays him any attention. Sure, he was published once, but in lousy form by a lousy publisher (though they sounded good at the time). Now just try to get another publisher to pay attention to one that's been published before and DIDN'T sell a million that first year. At the same time, I am determined not to self-publish any more books than the copper artifact ones.


Fortuntely for me, but not for Stoker, mine is a trilogy.  That makes three books that could make me famous after I die! Well, considering I don't have a lot of time, and I just keep editing and researching, researching and editing…


But let's see what other comparisons I can make to Stoker and whether mine will ever have the chance of success, dead, undead or otherwise.


Bram Stoker chose Transylvania because it was, to them at the time, a faraway "Never-never land," to use the words of authors Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. A word about their book, In Search of Dracula, from which this research is taken (p. 133-155), they wrote first about all the history and folklore of Vlad Tepes Dracul, before getting to how Brom Stoker used research and myth to create Dracula, and finally into famous books and films of vampires. Anyway, Stoker did his research, and the authors proceed to give us a blow by blow of this famous book.


Here Dracula lives with "a harem of female vampires," and here I part company with Stoker and many other vampire writers. If you have even one extra vampire in your book, how do you retain that element of reality? You have to keep vampires fed on human blood, you see, and creating more vampires just creates more until … well, you know the rest. Zombie vampires rule the world. Dracula is enamored of women, apparently, as likely Stoker was as well. I try to downplay that effect a vampire has on women. Arabus will repel as well as attract, depending on his mood. But he does want to be accepted by other mortals as one of them.


That doesn't seem to be the case with Dracula, this desire to be accepted. Of course Dracula is also more easily destroyed, unless he has mortal help to get other mortals away from his coffin while he sleeps. Arabus has no such weakness, although I do need to give him a weakness. Otherwise Arabus does seem impossible to kill. I thought that was one of the appeals of Arabus, but maybe a weakness will add a little more of a chill to the storyline. I thought maybe that the bite of a cat could kill him. But that's too easy. And yet, he is terrified of them. What else can kill Arabus? Sunlight can, but he can go out in the daytime if he stays covered from the sun. His undead skin cannot heal from sunburns. Of course the stake in the heart, that would kill anyone, and cutting off his head. Not easy to do. I'm open to suggestions!


Dracula also needs sacred earth for his coffin. There's a great deal of Christian references here, likely indicative of the times, but also of the Rumanian legends that Stoker researches. I use Greek legend, and though there are Christian ways recounted in which one can become vampiric, there is no fear of holy water or crosses in Arabus's story. Yet if you are buried in a shallow unhallowed ground, and buried in rage because of an unjust death, it's easy to come back vampiric, which is what happened to Arabus. There's also a Christian reason Arabus got his name, as a derivative of Barrabus, the one released from the cross instead of Jesus.


Stoker was born in November 1847 and was a sickly child. He was Irish Christian. I was born May 1953, Belgian Catholic, and not at all sickly, that I can remember, although I do remember getting the nickname Mono Monnie. No idea why. People blaming me for passing germs, I guess. Things like that, even once, can stick and hurt.


He was favored by his mother, who didn't care a whit for her daughters. My mother was much the same. He was more interested in drama than in athletics, though he got over being sickly and excelled in sports. I became enamored of drama at age 11. Stoker became a drama critic, seeking ways to get closer to a famous actor of the time, of who he was enamored. He also became friends with George Bernard Shaw. I simply sought my love of the theater from the stage, rather than the audience.


Stoker wasn't the first to write vampiric material. There was a short story called Carmilla written by Joseph Sehridan Le Fanu, considered one of the greatest vampire stories of all time. So of course I had to order a copy. Le Fanu uses some of the same vampiric myths you'll find in my work.  And Stoker wrote other horror material before Dracula.


Stoker finally got to meet his actor idol in 1873 and began to work for him in a part-time capacity as private secretary and confidante. If I gave the impression Stoker was gay, I didn't mean to; he married in 1878 and they had a son. But his relationship with Irving was as close as any two men could be. The authors believed that part of his relationship to Irving was developed in his Dracula book.


Arabus had a similar arrival; he came in a dream but he developed as part Armand Assante and part Adam Cartwright. He has very high morals but he was, as mortal, a bit of a coward. It's as a vampire that his similarities to my heroes emerge. Because of that I have a bit of a harder time make this a true horror.


Stoker was a better writer at making the moods needed for horrific settings. My settings just don't get there. I have to fall back on the tried and true, while he's pushing his victim into a dark corner. Oh, I get a little better than that, but no "eyes as inflexible as Fate" kind of thing. I just wrote this: "as every shriveled vein screamed inside him for Corny's blood." Well, you had to be there.


There's no clear indication why Stoker got obsessed with vampires. But he was and continued to investigate the writing of gothic novels. Before Stoker, supernatural elements all tended to have some natural or rational explanation (I'm anxious to see what they use in Carmilla). They were all highly charged with emotive language, the kind we don't really get away with using today.


Mary Shelley wrote the first one where a realistic supernaturalism was introduced, with science to explain the very real horror of bringing the dead to life. John Polidori, who was at a party with Shelly and others in 1816, responded to a challenge to write a horror (ghost) story, and came up with The Vampyre. This one is a take on the Greek legend. But it never caught on and its author committed suicide with poison two years later. The authors mention several other attempts at vampiric writings, including Varney the Vampire in 1847. We can imagine that Stoker read most, if not all of these. What's fun about Varney is that he is a good person who hates being forced to do evil and finally jumps into a volcano. I'll have to see if I have a copy. This sounds suspiciously like Arabus.


Stoker makes no attempt to explain the vampire. Dracula just is. I start Arabus with an origin story, and in fact, I go a little deeper because I also created a movie based on his origin story, which helped the novel become more descriptive, and, dare I say it? Moodier. Unfortunately, you may never know in my lifetime because no one will re-publish it and I would rather become undead than put any more of my fiction at Amazon myself.


Stoker made Dracula contemporary to his time. The last of the Arabus trilogy is contemporary, set in Sauk City, Wisconsin, and with the timing of the pandemic, will become historic if it's not published in my lifetime. Stoker's imagination was stimulated by tales of Jack the Ripper in his day, too, the way mine have been by the pandemic. Stoker did his research, including the British Museum. I traveled to Crete to create the new cover for Journal of an Undead: Love Stories. I got my history degree because of Arabus. I was researching myth and legend long before I went back to get my BA in history. In fact, I got a publisher interested in Journal of an Undead and because I'd come that close to a good publisher, I decided to go back to college to become a better writer, but was talked into changing to history instead. I also got going on the Civil War & Indian wars history of a great-uncle, which took a lot of time away from Arabus.


But Arabus was agented, during a time that I was playing with turning him into first person. That was another element that added more style to my fiction, because it made him feel more real than ever. But then I turned him back to third person again.


Stoker's first book was called The Snake's Pass, which almost sounds archaeological in its approach. I got a copy of that too, as a Kindle, because it was cheap.


His work on Dracula took seven years of research and writing, certainly deserving of bringing him a measure of success in his lifetime. The authors feel he related himself to Van Helsing, as the true hero of the book, because he's the one with knowledge of how to defeat the vampire. The description of Van Helsing reflected that of Stoker himself. It sounds as though he had some nice moody places in which to write his chapters. Always a bonus. I tried to take advantage of my two weeks in Crete to do a lot of editing, but the places I stayed at were not conducive to the imagination. If only I could have written on the 7th floor of that British castle, in the room that slanted, back in 2000.


In all his writing, Stoker still sought something real to give his Dracula that air of authenticity. The very realness of what could be vampiric is what we have most in common. We have to assume that he came upon Vlad Dracula in his research. The name of his monster could hardly be a coincidence. I use quite a bit of Vlad Dracula's real history as a bloodthirsty Wallacian king in my Arabus book, and it could be the reason my story starts in 1483, only 30 years or so after Dracula died.


My first book was titled Journal of an Undead. But my agent couldn't get it placed. I felt it was because the word sounded too zombie-ish. So I changed it a number of times. It was finally published as Adventures in Death & Romance: Vyrkolakas Tales. Stoker, too, first called his work The Un-Dead. In Romanian legend, garlic can protect people against vampires; he also used Slavic legend that said they had no reflection and were repelled by a cross. You'll find in my book only Greek legend is used, although I do make reference to how myths could be blended back in the Dark Ages.


Stoker's vampire can turn into a bat. Arabus uses the black void to travel quickly, and escape danger.


Stoker was fascinated by Freud's discoveries about the human psyche. I love Jung's work and imbue human psychology in everything I write. Stoker wrote that we can defeat him if we all work together. In Arabus, I create a legend that he can be destroyed with four working together. Stoker's book was published in 1897, although according to the authors, that's when he signed the contract. He died in 1912, waiting 15 miserable years for readers to respond, and died in poverty.


I'd have to publish mine this year and live to be 84 to understand that kind of misery.


"Stoker's Dracula is based on the notion that certain beings do not die but instead undergo a transformation into another form of life." I'd tell you what happens to Arabus in the contemporary novel but that would spoil things -- even if you never get to read it in this lifetime.

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