Yesterday, I posted my review for Dracula in Love, as part of the Dracula in Love blog tour. (You can check out the other stops here.) The story is a retelling of the classic gothic horror novel, from the point of view of Mina Murray-Harker. Today, I am pleased to welcome the book's author, Karen Essex!
Make sure you stick around to the end to find out how you can win one of 5 copies of Dracula in Love!
Kittens and toms, I give you...Karen Essex!!
I'd read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was fifteen years old, and even at that time, I was sure that the character Mina Harker was dissatisfied with her role as the passive, cooperative Victorian virgin. Then, several decades later, strangely—inexplicably—I was sitting at my computer one night staring into space and the thought popped into my brain: What if I retell the original Dracula myth from Mina Harker's perspective? The idea just descended on me. But it took hold because all my books are about women and power, and this was the perfect opportunity to put the girl power back into the Dracula myth. I have also been a bit of a vampire freak since childhood.
What were some of the difficulties in working with established - and well known - material like Dracula?
It was both challenging and intimidating, but I soon realized that I had to get over that if I was to deliver a story of my own. At some point, I had the revelation that I would make Stoker a character in the book. He would encounter Mina, become intrigued with her situation, and begin to investigate her life. And he would get it all wrong! That element freed me from having to follow his narrative, and allowed me the story to take on a life of its own. It changed everything. It made telling the story so much more fun and gave me license to deviate from the original.
Can you tell us a bit about the research involved?
Whenever I begin a work, I do a massive investigation into the time period. I read all the relevant history and I also seek out as much of the contemporary writing as possible. In the case of Dracula in Love, one of the most helpful things was to read issues of The Woman’s World, a slick magazine that was edited by Oscar Wilde. That gave me a real feeling for what was going on in the female mind in 1890. I also actually MOVED to London, where I now reside, to research and write the book so that I could drink in the atmosphere of late Victorian England as I wrote. I never write about a place that I do not visit (unless I can’t get in because of visa problems).
Another fascinating area of research was the late Victorian obsession with the supernatural. Things like séances and spirit photography, which factor into the book, were common practices at the time in the upper echelons of society.
In addition, I did a tremendous amount of research into the early days of psychiatry and Victorian insane asylums, which I wrote about in a post: http://blog.readinggroupchoices.com/?q=node/640
Readers tell me that the most harrowing parts of the book are not the vampire sequences but the asylum scenes. Sad but true: women in Victorian times had more to fear from their own cultures than from vampires!
Your take on the story is infused with sexuality, a trait that many feel goes hand in hand with the story of Dracula, even though bold expressions of sexuality would have been highly controversial when it was published. How did you approach the sexual aspects of the story, both in general and in telling it from Mina's perspective?
The vampire’s kiss has always been representative of sexuality, and in giving Mina Harker a voice, I wanted to include expressing what could not have been expressed in the 1890s—unbridled female pleasure. As is clear from the sequences in the book that take place in the insane asylum, women were being locked up and given bizarre treatments to cure them of having sexual pleasure. That was the state of things at the time. I wanted to liberate Mina from the bonds of her Victorian virtue, and giving expression to her sensuality was an important part of that. I have written extensively about my feelings on this matter: http://www.weeklylizard.com/blog/2011/07/15/no-sex-please-were-literary/
What is your favorite scene from the original Dracula, and from your re-imagining of it?
The two scenes I like most in Dracula are the scene where the Russian ship crashes into port in Whitby, and the scene with Dracula’s brides. Consequently, I had to work trebly hard to make those scenes of equal quality and value in my book, and I must say that they are now the two favorite scenes of mine in my own book. The bride of Dracula scenes I re-envisioned as a sort of mystical Venetian masked ball that takes place out of time, and I’m really happy with it. In fact, if anyone knows a way to get me invited to that particular party, I’d love to go!
Are there any other classic tale you'd like to rework?
Yes, I am researching one now but I have to keep it a secret at this point!
Can you give us a teaser of what you're working on next?
I am strongly considering a sequel to my book, Leonardo’s Swans, which takes place in the Italian Renaissance and is about the women Leonardo painted when he was the court painter in Milan. I just returned from a trip to Italy that reinforced that idea. But I also want to write a sequel to Dracula in Love. Some readers aren’t happy with the choices that Mina makes in the end, so I want to make it up to them in the next book.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Karen! You can visit Karen on the interwebs here:
You can also see Karen talk about the creation of Dracula in Love, and her New Orleans spiritualist roots, here.
Or maybe you just want to read the book for yourself?
5 lucky readers are going to win a copy of Dracula in Love of their very own!
To enter, fill out this form.
Additional entries for tweeting, leaving some love for Karen or commenting on my review.
Ends July 31st.