Category Archives: Contemporary Gothic Novels

New Dracula Prequel Builds on Stoker’s Unpublished Manuscripts

Dracul, the recently published prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written by his great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, is a treat for both Dracula enthusiasts and Dracula scholars. The novel tells a fictional story about Bram Stoker’s childhood and early life from the 1850s through 1868, including his encounters with Dracula. Although the story is obviously fictional, the authors drew upon Stoker’s early versions of Dracula, including his handwritten notes, to create this spellbinding tale.

Dracul, a prequel to Dracula, allows Bram Stoker to meet Dracula face to face.

When the novel opens, Bram is a sickly child growing up in Ireland during the potato famine. He nearly dies at birth, but his nurse Ellen Crone saves him, although no one is quite sure how. She continues to care for him during his illnesses and the family notices that afterwards, as he grows stronger, she becomes weaker. Over time, Bram and his sister Matilda continue to notice strange things about Ellen. At one point, Bram sees her naked limbs, which have the appearance of those of a wrinkled old woman, although she seems fairly young. They investigate her room and find the floor dirty and dusty with no sign of footprints. Ellen realizes they are curious about her, so she taunts Bram for going out at night to investigate her wanderings, all the while climbing the walls and ceiling like a spider. Many other strange incidents occur that make it obvious Ellen is not human, but then she disappears from the children’s lives for many years.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot beyond that, but it’s sufficient to say that Ellen has had dealings with Dracula, and as a result, Bram also encounters the great vampire. I found the book entertaining, although some readers might find the novel far-fetched and not like it’s lack of being accurate to Stoker’s biography—I am not aware that Stoker ever had a nurse named Ellen and could not find evidence of her in the recent Stoker biography by David J. Skal, Something in the Blood, or that he ever traveled to Munich to fight vampires. Regardless, the authors raise some interesting questions about Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the possibility that it was based on real events. Consequently, the novel’s afterword alone makes Dracul worth reading.

I won’t go into full details about the afterword, but here are a few points worth mentioning. At the end of Dracul, Dracula warns Stoker that he will be back to claim him when he dies. Of course, this is supposition on the authors’ part, but in the afterword they note that Stoker had himself cremated, which was unusual in 1912. The suggestion is that Stoker may have feared becoming a vampire like the corpse of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. More significantly, in the original manuscript of Dracula, which was titled The Un-Dead, Stoker wrote a preface in which he states that the novel’s events really took place. Of course, this literary trick—the claim that the book was based on true events to make fiction feel real—was around long before Stoker. Such claims were an effort to validate fiction and make it more reputable, as well as more interesting to readers. For example, in the early days of the novel, Daniel Defoe claimed Robinson Crusoe (1719) was a true story and Samuel Richardson claimed Pamela (1740) was a compilation of real letters. Neither claim was true, so there is no reason to believe Stoker’s tale had any truth to it either. Regardless, it’s fun—in a scary way—to think it might be.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Dracul’s afterword is how it builds on the recent scholarship that revealed the version of Dracula published in Iceland, known there as Makt Myrkranna and recently translated into English as Powers of Darkness, with a preface by Dacre Stoker, is not the same version of Dracula we have in English. According to Dracul’s afterword, Stoker’s publisher made him do serious revisions to the novel, including cutting the first 101 pages and changing the title, plus toning down the idea that it was based on true events. The publisher feared the Whitechapel murders of 1888-1891, blamed on Jack the Ripper, were still fresh enough in people’s minds that claims of vampires in England might cause a panic. (This fear may seem far-fetched to us, but let’s not forget the panic stirred up by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of A War of the Worlds in 1938.)

The most recent biography of Bram Stoker.

Stoker, to get his novel published, went along with his publisher’s desire for changes for his English reading audience, but he did not make the changes to copies of the novel he personally sent to publishers worldwide. As a result, Powers of Darkness is a very different novel from Dracula in many ways, and in the afterword to Dracul, Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker suggest more foreign editions of Dracula need to be translated to see what other changes were made.

Also of importance is that the original manuscript of The Un-Dead still exists, minus its first 101 pages. The authors of Dracul state that it is now owned by Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft. He allowed them to view the manuscript after signing a disclosure agreement not to reveal what was in it. They can only disclose that the short story “Dracula’s Guest” is from the original manuscript and also that the manuscript begins on page 102, the page number of which has been crossed out and renumbered as 1. Stoker apparently cut the first 101 pages of the novel and they have been long missing, which is one reason Powers of Darkness is so interesting since Jonathan Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle is extended in that version.

Of course, the discovery of Powers of Darkness was a field day for Dracula scholars. Hopefully, more foreign editions of Dracula will be translated and published, but more importantly, we can hope that Paul Allen will eventually allow The Un-Dead to be published.

Powers of Darkness is the new translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

Finally, what fascinates me most is that anyone who has read Stoker’s other novels will admit that despite a few stirring passages, they largely fall flat beside Dracula. Certainly, as fascinating as Powers of Darkness is from a scholarly perspective, the writing is far from first-rate, and that can be said of most of Stoker’s other novels. I think this difference lies largely in the revision process Stoker went through to get Dracula published in England. According to Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, Stoker’s editor, Otto Kyllman, worked with him for several months to reshape the novel, the two butting heads over what to cut and what to save. I had never heard of Kyllman before, but he seems to have been very astute as an editor. Surprisingly, he did not die until 1958, which means he must have been extraordinarily young when he was Stoker’s editor at Archibald Constable & Company. Unfortunately, I could find little online about Kyllman. His Wikipedia entry does not even give his birthdate, but it says he was the senior director at Constable & Co. from 1909 to 1950. This is a man whose editing career spanned more than half a century and who worked closely with such authors as George Bernard Shaw and May Sinclair. Surprisingly, Kyllman is not even mentioned in Skal’s biography of Stoker. While I don’t want to downplay Stoker’s genius in creating Dracula, one has to wonder how much credit Kyllman deserves for the Dracula we have today. It is definitely a topic that deserves more exploration.

Dracul is a fun read for those who like novelizations about famous authors, but it’s more than that—in a roundabout way, it helps to add another piece to the mystery of Dracula and how it came to be the incredible novel it is, one that has captivated our imaginations for 121 years and counting.

Thank you to Robert Burke for bringing Dracul to my attention.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

Interview with Tantra Bensko, Author of “Encore: A Contemporary Love Story of Hypnotic Abduction”

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Tantra Bensko to the Gothic Wanderer blog. She will enlighten us about her latest work, the standalone book, Encore, which is Book III in The Agents of the Nevermind series of Psychological Suspense novels about the heroism of exposing social engineering. The US Review of Books says about Encore: “From the description of Miriam’s post-abduction ride to her captivity in the castle, one is reminded of such Gothic treasures as Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.”

Tantra Bensko, author of ENCORE

Tantra, who has an MA from Florida State and an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, has given her life over to writing and helping others create their stories. She has hundreds of publications in magazines, has taught writing for fourteen years with universities such as UCLA Extension Writing Program, and edits manuscripts with Book Butchers.

Tyler: Welcome, Tantra. Can you give us some background to the series and your approach to writing about social engineering?

Tantra: Thank you, I’m honored to connect with you, Tyler, as you’re one of my heroes that I’ve learned a lot from.

Well, you’ve probably noticed that rarely in a novel is our own president of the United States the president in the book, as that would be quite awkward, particularly in fiction with a strong political awareness. So, in that sense, these kinds of books are always Alternate Reality. In this series, the timeline of reality shifted slightly when President Planda gained office in conjunction with the new intelligence agency, the Nevermind, which took over certain propaganda functions from the CIA, etc. and networked strongly with the UK.

This shift allows me to dramatize methods of media theater, blackmail, movies, and other traditional widespread means of prompting the public to believe in the military agendas that governments are promoting, such as coups and proxy wars to steal resources, run drugs, and keep control of the petrodollar. I’m fascinated by such gaslighting of the public and the brainwashing of key individuals who have the capacity to influence the masses. That topic is a perfect fit for Psychological Suspense and the Gothic, which engendered that genre.

The Nevermind Agents, who are the antagonists of the series, are masters of hypnosis and dubious occult practices, so in Encore, for example, I delve into the history of how our mystical beliefs have been induced and used against us. We see the fallout from Enochian magick, mind control, Theosophy, Thelema, and other intersections of famous intelligence assets with metaphysical secret societies.

While the first two books in the series take place in the United States with focus on other countries which are being targeted militarily, this third book is set in England, which was great fun. I got to study all about portcullises! (Brilliant weapons built into castle entryways.) The book does have a strong international scope, as it references the time around the World Wars when the major powers were trying to manipulate public opinion through appropriating the competing legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The East favored Shambhalla and the West favored Atlantis, because each could claim divine heritage from those locations and, thus, the right to rule. The Nevermind keeps the interest in such mythologies alive as much as it was back in the New Age heyday, to continue that kind of political manipulation.

I’ve been gratified by how well readers see the parallels to today’s actual social engineering when they respond to my Agents of the Nevermind novels. I’m passionate about revealing the methods of influencing the minds of the masses through bypassing logic and critical thinking and that’s ideal for Psychological Suspense. When people want to bond with their peers or a significant other, they can be easily led into shared beliefs and they won’t let go of those ideas unless the reality shoots them in the face.

Tyler: Without giving away too much, will you tell us a little about the opening or premise of Encore?

Tantra: Encore begins with a troupe in England performing the history of a gem which features in legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The troupe’s hypnotist, Dune, has made them famous, especially his wife Susan, who is the star.

After the star’s disappearance before the show, her standby, Miriam, takes Susan’s place. Dune always hypnotizes the standbys to believe they are the actors they replace: the post-hypnotic suggestion ends when the final curtain lands, and they remember their identity. Before the curtain lands, Dune whisks Miriam to a castle.

Meanwhile, Miriam’s friend, Colin, who just kissed her for the first time, seeks to rescue her.

Tyler: You label Encore: A Hypnotic Abduction as a Contemporary Gothic novel. In what ways does it follow and expand the rich tradition of that genre in a way that is relevant today?

Encore is a modern Gothic novel using elements from classic Gothic literature

Tantra: I appreciate the education you provide on the subject on your website and in your book The Gothic Wanderer—and as you describe in those, the fall of the monarchy with the French Revolution made people worry about the stability and corresponding hierarchy of the family unit. Some of the characters in this novel are British Republicans who would like to see the monarchy abolished. The Agents fund their dubious practices through precarious illicit methods to keep the networked countries of England and the U.S. afloat.

Delving deeply into family history embedded in ancient architecture generally takes Gothic heroines into shocking-secret territory, often related to hidden relatives, improper sex acts, the return of the oppressed to gain vengeance, and strange alliances with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of decay of tradition at the same time and a desperate attempt to hold onto it—for the Agents, for nefarious purposes, and for the hecklers at the Bennu performance at the theater, because their cultural identities are attached to those traditions.

Encore gleefully celebrates all the tropes, such as first person POV of an isolated heroine, ambiguity and dissolution of identity, having to choose between the dark and light hero without knowing which is which, oubliettes, tunnels, cemeteries, grotesque caricatures, incest, paintings that follow the heroines, doppelgangers, curses, the quest for elixirs of immortality, secret societies and cults influencing the world through rituals, and a powerful, charismatic man controlling the mind of a woman. It takes place in present-time with current issues such as insider trading, the kind of “alchemical homeopathic mixtures” that are available for sale now, claims for the rare gem, Moldavite that one can easily find online, the Free Tibet movement.

Since reviews of Encore align it with the core Gothic conventions, I may move ahead in the future with publishing the book I drafted when preparing to write this and my other novels with Gothic elements: How to Write a Gothic Novel. I certainly will cite you in that.

Tyler: Wow. You went all out with inserting Gothic elements into the book. So, tell me, what about the Gothic appeals to you so much, and why do you think readers still want to read about these Gothic themes?

Tantra: Gothic Romance on Amazon is one of the very strongest, most lucrative, and promising genres to publish in these days, with sales continually rising higher, and yet there’s not too much competition. Many books listed there aren’t what I would label Gothic, but I’m a stickler for being literal about genres. They are often really Paranormal Romance, instead, and that’s a fetish for many people. And, of course, Gothic Horror lends itself to being campy, which is a handy quality for books written with an eye toward being adapted to low budget Horror movies.

I think Gothic is extremely relevant today. We’re still worried about the crumbling of the family, still experiencing fearful guilt resulting from living under an improperly behaving government that destroys other countries for profit, creating immigrants who flood in. And for the government to act like destroying those countries is humanitarian and moral, they have to get intelligence agents to create propaganda that gets the public on board with foreign policy. They portray a war hawk like John McCain as the hero to emulate. They create false flags, making it look like the leader of a foreign country gassed his own people, so we should support terrorists to kill more of his people. And the intelligence agents in the news stations create hysteria and peer pressure to rile people up enough that they bypass logic in order to accept such easily disproven claims. That kind of gaslighting seems like the epitome of the Gothic to me.

And Gothic is fun. Who doesn’t like dungeons, tunnels, spooky cemeteries, foggy forests, exaggerated emotions, dangerous secrets? Reading a Gothic story, we vicariously travel further and further toward the dark truth as we travel down into the snaky underground in the primitive darkness, carrying a torch. People are surrounded by deception and when we’re bewildered, catching on that something is not what it seems, we can be gratified by the heroes facing the dreamlike symbolic horrors underneath the surface. We can feel like we’re strong enough to do so to and we may be able to figure everything out and expose the lies.

Will humanity ever move past the typical Gothic relationship of a person being inexorably drawn to a man who is immensely compelling yet secretive and dangerous? Is he dangerous to others enough that he will protect us? Or will he kill us instead? How can we be satisfied with a nice, sweet, open, and honest man like we should be when we’re on fire for the charismatic, powerful man instead? Sometimes we have to move through the process, trying out the intense man and being burned before we can see the charms of the simply kind man.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will feel or think after reading your book?

Tantra: I hope the liberation at the end of the novel makes them feel exhilarated after vicariously living Miriam’s claustrophobic experience of being trapped at the castle and in her own belief that she needs to be someone else to be acceptable.

That belief sounds irrational, but when you look at how people create false personae through social media, for example, it’s obviously common. Narcissists are at the extreme end of the spectrum, presenting themselves as more successful, confident, and charming than they feel inside. But according to statistics, most people lie multiple times every day. Unless they’ve plucked their eyebrows and painted new ones in, many women can be afraid to leave the house to walk among random strangers on the street. And some musicians create fan pages on Facebook, invite all their friends to “like” the pages, then unfriend them so they have room in their allotted 5,000 to make more friends and get them to like their pages. . . I think most people could benefit by learning how to drop some of that desperate need for being put on a pedestal.

I also hope the book improves people’s sense of a pattern: how intelligence agents put one over on unsuspecting people. And I hope readers will feel thoroughly entertained, their hearts full, their stride empowered, and their minds lit up by flickering images of the gorgeous English landscape.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will most appreciate about your writing?

Tantra: I hope they get value from my extensive research into history, such as the famous intelligence assets who went undercover as occultists like John Dee, Madame Blavatsky, Nicholas Roerich and Aleister Crowley, and some sinister elements of Tantric tradition as well as some applicable methods of circulating life force energy with a lover.

I also hope they enjoy the suspense of hope versus the creeping sense of dread. The cinematic, dramatic romance with the highly fetishized friend-to-lover trope should have its appeal, as Colin goes all out for Miriam while living like a wild man on the castle grounds. I have to say, writing the portion of the novel in which Miriam believes she is Susan was no easy task.

Tyler: Thanks for the opportunity to interview you, Tantra. Will you let our readers know about your website and what information they can find there about your books and how to buy them?

Tantra: People who are interested in staying in the loop can sign up for the newsletter at any of my sites and they’ll receive many gifts. All the books can be found at Amazon and Kobo.

Encore website

Insubordinate Books website for the Nevermind novels and others, such as the forthcoming Psychological Suspense book, Floating on Secrets. The links to buy should be easy to navigate from there.

Thank you very much for posting this interview on your excellent site, and very best wishes to you.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Anne Rice’s New Novel Plays Upon Classic Gothic Rosicrucian Themes

Anne Rice and her son Christopher Rice recently published their first collaboration: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra (2017). This book is a sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy: Ramses the Damned (1989), although it can be read as a stand-alone novel. (I read The Mummy so many years ago I scarcely remember it, but I wasn’t lost at all in reading this book.)

Ramses the Damned, sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy

Warning that if you haven’t yet read Ramses the Damned, there may be some spoilers in my discussion.

In the previous novel, Ramses II was the mummy who came back to life. Actually, we find out that long ago he had obtained an elixir of immortality from a Hittite priestess and had never died but lived for approximately twelve centuries, from roughly 1200 BC to 1 A.D., spanning the time from his own reign to that of the celebrated Cleopatra. He and Cleopatra had been friends and he had been her advisor, but when she begged him to give the elixir to Marc Antony, Ramses refused, and then when Antony died, she killed herself. She had herself refused the elixir when Ramses had previously offered it to her. In despair over Cleopatra’s death, Ramses then went into a deep sleep for nineteen centuries, only to be woken by an Egyptologist just prior to World War I. Eventually, Ramses gave the gift of immortality to the Egyptologist’s daughter Julia and her father’s friend Elliott. Ramses also spotted an unknown mummy in a Cairo museum and realized it was Cleopatra, so he sprinkled some of the elixir on her, bringing her back to life, although because she had died, she appears to be a sort of monster, manic and only having partial memories of the past.

The plot of the second novel continues this storyline, although I won’t go into the plot’s full details. What is most interesting in the second novel is that Rice introduces Bektaten, an ancient queen who lived about 6000 B.C. Bektaten was the original owner of the elixir of immortality, although I don’t believe we are told exactly how she came into its possession. Bektaten has been wandering the earth for millennia, accompanied by two faithful servants—they are the last survivors of the ancient African land of Shaktanu. The only other survivor of this ancient civilization is Saqnos, who had once served Bektaten and had also become immortal from the elixir. However, he stole the elixir and sprinkled it on his warriors, thinking it would make them fearless in battle since they would be immortal. Saqnos wanted his warriors to overthrow Bektaten, but now that they are immortal, they have lost any desire or need to fight, and Bektaten makes her escape.

Later, Saqnos realizes he didn’t have the proper ingredients for the elixir; as a result, his warriors became “fractals,” only living two hundred years before they die. Over the centuries, Saqnos has given this diluted elixir to his many followers, only to suffer a great deal of grief when they die. During all this time, he has also sought Bektaten to get from her the full recipe for the elixir.

While the other characters—Ramses, Cleopatra, Julia, and Sybil, an American novelist who seems to be a reincarnation of Cleopatra, and consequently, seems to be stealing the resurrected Cleopatra’s memory—are more at the center of the plot, for me Bektaten and Saqnos are the most interesting characters in the novel, and the most sublime Gothic moment in the entire novel is when Bektaten displays that she has the power to take back the gift of immortality and takes it from Saqnos. Saqnos’ terror over this situation is the best in the novel, although it shows he has learned nothing through his long life. Most Gothic Wanderer figures in nineteenth century novels see their immortality ultimately as a curse when they continually must grieve the deaths of all those they love, and they often seek to end their lives unsuccessfully.

I won’t discuss more of the plot, but just briefly mention that Rice is drawing upon old Rosicrucian novel themes through her use of an elixir of immortality, a theme used in countless Gothic novels of the early nineteenth century from Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne (1811) to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842), probably the greatest of all Rosicrucian novels. The Rosicrucians were a medieval order supposedly founded by Christian Rosencreutz, who had himself discovered the secret of immortality. Although likely fictional himself, Rosencreutz reputedly founded the Rosicrucians, who claimed to be helpers of mankind and possess the secrets of extended life via the elixir and also the philosopher’s stone that can turn lead into gold. The Rosicrucians, in turn, supposedly had occult knowledge from ancient civilizations—civilizations like Rice’s ancient fictional Shaknatu, the kingdom Bektaten once ruled. For more about Rosicrucians in nineteenth century Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.

That Ramses the Damned is a collaboration between mother and son is also worth noting. So how does it rate beside Anne Rice’s other works? I have to admit I thought Christopher Rice’s first two novels, A Density of Souls (2000) and The Snow Garden (2001), were pretty terrible and never would have been published if not for his being Anne Rice’s son. That said, his next novel, Light and Day (2005), was a vast improvement, and he has since come into his own as a novelist. His style is not as lush and decadent as Rice’s so I suspect he wrote more of the novel than she did. Several reviewers have complained about the lack of style. I also will say there is a definite lack of plot and more just simple focus on characterization. Plotwise, it is one of the weakest of Anne Rice’s novels, but stylistically, I found it rather a relief. Some of Rice’s later novels, especially those with Lestat, tend to be so stylistic in terms of the dialogue as to be largely unrealistic, and yet that is part of Lestat’s strange appeal. None of this decadent, flowery language is an issue here. Christopher Rice’s more straightforward style seems to dominate, although the themes are definitely Anne Rice’s. The only part of the novel really rich in Anne Rice’s atmosphere is the last fifty or so pages, where the more flowery language felt very appropriate.

Ultimately, I would not say this is Rice’s best novel, although I think I liked it even more than The Mummy. It is, whatever its flaws, a fascinating book for its treatment of immortal characters who are not vampires. I would welcome another sequel and also to see Bektaten work her way into Rice’s vampire novels farther down the road, just as the Mayfair Witches eventually did. I think any true lover of classic Gothic will find much of interest in these pages.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Balkan Vampire Novel One of the Best: A Review of Kiss of the Butterfly

Kiss of the Butterfly delves into Balkan vampire folklore to create a satisfying and fast-paced vampire tale.

James Lyon’s 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly is one of the best vampire novels written in recent years. Its author did impeccable research into vampire folklore, not relying solely on how vampires are depicted in films or even in the novel Dracula and all the vampire fiction that has followed its 1897 publication, but by digging into the true legends of vampires in the Balkans.

Lyon is also the translator of the novel After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic, which has previously been discussed on this blog. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880, seventeen years before Dracula was published. In his 2015 translation of that novel, Lyon discusses Serbian vampire folklore in detail, and many of the details he discusses he also uses in Kiss of the Butterfly. (Lyon has also written Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of World War I, so he is obviously very knowledgeable about the Balkans.) I won’t go into all the vampire lore details in the novel, but a few are worth mentioning here along with a little plot summary (with a few spoilers, but not giving away the ending) to explain why this is such a great vampire novel.

First off, an explanation about the title. You may not associate butterflies with vampires, but as Lyon explains, butterflies have traditionally been associated in Balkan folklore with the soul. Consequently, a vampire can transform itself into a butterfly. When vampires are killed, it’s important not to let the vampire’s soul escape from its mouth in the form of a butterfly. Of course, the kiss part of the title refers to one of the best scenes in the whole novel when a female vampire attacks the main character.

The novel’s plot is well-paced. It’s just over halfway into the novel when vampires show up in the main storyline, but the lead up to their appearance is suspenseful. I never felt bored at all. The main story concerns Professor Marko Slatina, a Serbian professor teaching in California, and his graduate student, Steven Roberts. Slatina helps Steven get connections in Serbia so he can go there to study vampires for the dissertation he is writing. It’s not easy to go to Serbia at this time since it’s the early 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic is waging a war of genocide in the former country of Yugoslavia.

Once in Serbia, Steven begins his studies in earnest, meeting some professors and other students whom he shares his research with. He also meets some girls, one of whom doesn’t like his interest in vampires, but the two find themselves attracted to each other regardless. The novel educates the reader about Balkan vampires without being boring and builds up to Steven discovering an old book about vampires at a library that he wants to read. The librarian tells him the book was forbidden during the communist regime but he can now look at it. The next day he goes back to look at the book again, only to find that the librarian has been dismissed from her job and the book cannot be located. Obviously, someone does not want him to read it.

Lyon keeps the story moving by having short historical interludes at the end of each chapter that are set between the 1730s and 1980s. These interludes tell us about vampires still existing in Serbia and their history during this period. Most notably, there are twelve vampires in the novel, one of whom is the famous Vlad Dracula. In the 1730s, eleven of the vampires were imprisoned in an underground chamber by a man who had been in love with one of them, Natalija, before she became a vampire. Because of his love for her, he is unable to bring himself to kill her and end her vampirism, so instead, he imprisons her and her fellow vampires. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the vampires escaped.

As the plot thickens, Steven finds himself being hunted by these vampires, who are intent on killing him before he finds out more about them. Professor Slatina also travels to Serbia at this point and reveals the truth to Steven—that he sent him to the Balkans to find out information about the vampires. Slatina also reveals that he is a vampirovic, the child of a vampire who had sex with a human female. The children of such unions grow up to be vampire hunters and they are basically immortal. I loved this fact, which is part of Balkan folklore, because when I wrote my novel Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, which is largely a sequel to Dracula, I depicted Quincey Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, as having special powers and an extended life because Quincey’s mother drank Dracula’s blood. I didn’t know at the time that vampire children were part of the vampire tradition, but thought on my own such a child would be special, so I guess I was right.

Slatina also turns out to have been the husband of Natalija, the female vampire. At one point, he confronts her and she begs him to show his love for her by killing her rather than locking her up. At this point, he explains that he didn’t kill her because he has been working on trying to figure out how he can save her by redeeming her. Elsewhere in the novel, Lyon explains that some vampires can feel remorse, try to repent, and achieve redemption. This, of course, fascinated me since I have traced in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, how Gothic wanderer figures like the vampire go from being damned to redeemed throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the most notable being the title character of Varney the Vampire (1846), who continually tries to end his misery by killing himself and who eventually finds redemption.

One additional interesting use of the vampire theme in the novel comes when the vampires attack Steven and his friends. A male vampire attacks a female, which is perfectly acceptable, since it’s heterosexual, but Natalija attacks a female, which is a lesbian act. Much has been made by critics of homosexuality in vampire novels, although in the nineteenth century novels, authors were always careful never to have vampires attack humans of the same sex. Natalija must have been really thirsty, I suspect, rather than into girls since she is married and later seeks to seduce and have sex with Steven—she literally does want sex with him, not just to drink his blood, or so she says. I suspect Lyon gave no thought to the lesbian possibility of her drinking a female’s blood since the scene is not in any way erotic or really significant ultimately. Oh, and I should mention that the vampires can also become werewolves, another part of Serbian folklore Lyon uses.

I won’t give away all the rest of the plot—needless to say, you can imagine how it ends. I will say I thought the pacing very good; the novel never became insincere or fell into being comical like too many vampire films become. Even when one of the vampires loses its head and remains talking, it did not become comical but rather fit into the vampire lore, as explained in the novel. The scene where a female vampire tries to seduce Steven was especially a page-turner.

I’ve read many vampire novels that were written in the last two hundred years. Of the more modern ones, I would say Kiss of the Butterfly is the best one since Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. It is far better than cheesy and boring Twilight novels or Elizabeth Kostova’s slow and anticlimactic The Historian. I would even read a sequel if Lyon writes one.

Anyone interested in real vampire lore that predates the success of Dracula should definitely read Kiss of the Butterfly.

(I wish to thank Robert Burke, a regular reader of my blog, who introduced me to this novel and James Lyon’s translation of After Ninety Years.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Anne Rice’s New Novel More Science-Fiction Than Gothic

With Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Anne Rice has made her vampire novel comeback a firm success. While this novel, like most of the novels that preceded it, is not as engrossing and magical as the first three vampire novels, Rice continues to explore her vampire world and discover new sources of meaning and new secrets in it that make it worth continuing to read.

princelestatandtherealmsofatlantisIn the last novel, Prince Lestat, Rice allowed Amel, who seems to be the source of the vampires’ existence and powers, to take up new residence in Lestat. Lestat was then hailed as the prince of the vampires and a court was designed for all the vampires, a court that meant organization and laws and civilization for the vampires. This novel shows how that court is now being maintained, and more importantly, it delves into Amel’s origin story.

The rest of this blog will give away key points of the plot so be forewarned if you have not yet read the novel. I’ll also add here that Rice’s series has become so complex over the course of her fourteen vampire novels that readers who have not read them all (and even readers like myself who have been following her for years but tend to forget things when a few years separate the publication of each book) may be a bit lost and confused. To help readers, there is a summary of all the novels in the back of the book as well as a glossary of all the characters to remind people who is who in the vampire world.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis begins with a sort of wandering about and wordiness typical of Rice’s more recent vampire books and the reader may ask, “What is the point?” for a while, only the magic of “Atlantis” in the title keeps the reader reading, and while I wish the vampires did not talk so much or at least for such long paragraphs, part of their charm is their eloquence. There is a strong story in this book once you get a hundred or so pages into it, and the middle is the very heart of the novel with the promised tale of Atlantis.

I consider this novel more science fiction than horror because it plays on the recent popularity of ancient alien theories—the idea that aliens created or at least intervened in the development of the earth and the human race. What is most striking about the fact that Rice uses this idea is that it brushes aside any Judeo-Christian concept of God as creator as being the historical truth for mankind.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but ultimately, the vampires discover that there are four creatures on the earth known as Replimoids, and that Amel, now a spirit, was also once one of them. The heart of the novel lies in the tale of Kapetria, the only female Replimoid, who tells Lestat their story and that of Atlantis, which she says was actually called Atalantaya. Her story runs just over eighty pages, nearly 20 percent of the novel. Kapetria reveals how she and the Replimoids were created on the planet Bravenna by the Parents, powerful winged beings who apparently created the earth. However, the earth was damaged (she uses different terms but it sounds like it was hit by a meteor) which killed much of the reptilean life (dinosaurs) and allowed the mammals to become dominant on the planet, which was never intended. The Parents abducted Amel from the earth and genetically manipulated him to make him an enhanced human. He was then sent to earth to try to stem the human overpopulation, but instead he created the city of Atalantaya and a dome over it that meant the Parents, who have hidden some sort of cameras all over the planet, could not see what he was doing. To remedy this situation, the Parents then created Kapetria and three other Replimoids. They spent years educating the Replimoids about humans by showing them videos that largely focused on human suffering. The Replimoids were then sent to earth to destroy Amel and Atalantaya and, ultimately, the human race because of its evils that cause all the suffering. When the Replimoids arrive, however, they find that humans are also very capable of loving and caring for one another and when they enter Atalantaya, they are stunned by the beauty and ingenuity of humans, so ultimately, they decide not to destroy the city but rather disobey the parents. Then in a fluke, the planet Bravenna blows up and parts of it fall to earth and destroy Atalantaya. The Replimoids drown in the disaster that follows, although they are not human so they cannot die; they become frozen in the earth and then eventually reawaken thousands of years later. They do not know what became of Amel, but eventually they realize he is now residing inside Lestat. They wish to free him so he can have his own body again, but the vampires fear that to do so will kill Lestat and likely all of them since Amel has always resided in a vampire since the vampires were given power. The vampires now feel the Replimoids are their enemies, but eventually a compromise is reached and Amel is removed from Lestat without any issues. The result is that the vampires are now not dependent upon anything and Amel has his own body.

Rice’s novels, and indeed all of Gothic literature, have always been very tied to the Judeo-Christian religion/myth of good and evil, God the creator, sin and redemption, but this novel boldly reveals that none of this is the truth, at least in Rice’s vampire world. In her story, Kapetria reveals that the Parents were the ones obsessed with suffering and who made it such an important part of human life. It was repulsive to the Replimoids when they reawoke after centuries to find that an oppressive religion (Rice does not say Christianity, but I have no doubt it is what she means if not all of the Abrahamic religions) full of ideas of sin and sacrifice should have such power over so much of the human race. This novel shows that whole concept of the world and how it operates to be false.

One can’t help speculating how the philosophy or theology of this novel stems from Rice’s own experiences. Surely, her conversion back to Catholicism that was so highly celebrated, and then her rejection of it a few years later, was pivotal to her coming to a new understanding of how she viewed the world so she could write this novel. She seems to have freed herself now from the Christian belief in sin, suffering, and redemption, and so she has freed her characters from it as well.

The novel concludes with Lestat meeting with Amel, now in his new body, and their desire to remain friends despite their physical separation. Some of the final paragraphs of the novel are worth quoting. Here Lestat is speaking, beginning with his thoughts on Amel:

“He walks the earth with the power to destroy it. But then so does the human race. And so do we.

“But what endures is what has always mattered: love—that we love one another as surely as we are alive. And if there is any hope for us to ever really be good—that hope will be realized through love….

“To love any one person or thing truly is the beginning of the wisdom to love all things. This has to be so. It has to be. I believe it and I don’t really believe anything else.”

These final paragraphs show that even in the novel’s rejection of the Christian belief system, the greatest tenet of Christianity—love—remains the most powerful, and when you strip away all the trappings of Christianity and get to its essence, the truth it holds is about love, and that’s the same truth Rice ends on.

For me, this novel makes me feel as if the vampire series is complete, and if this is the last novel Rice writes about them, I will be content with it, but then again, Rice is full of surprises, so she may well have more vampire tricks yet up her sleeve.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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The Wandering Jew in The Children of Arthur Series

My newest novel, Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is the most Gothic-influenced of my novels. While the series builds on the Arthurian legends, it also draws on many other legends, including those of Charlemagne, the Fairy Melusine, Prester John, Dracula, and the Wandering Jew. Here is the prologue to Lilith’s Love, which introduces the Wandering Jew, who is frequently known to appear at key historical moments, as if he is in some way manipulating them, and such is the case in this scene:

Prologue

Constantinople, May 29, 1453, Just after Midnight

“The city will be both founded and lost by an emperor Constantine whose mother was called Helen.”

— Ancient Byzantine Prophecy

For fifty-three days, the siege had held. He had never thought he would be able to hold off the Turks for as long as he had. Had Pope Nicholas V and the rest of Europe come to his aid, it might have been different; even so, his people had been remarkable in their determination not to surrender to the enemy. But any day now, even any hour, it was bound to end.

Lilith's Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

And he would be the last, he, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Romans. For fifteen centuries, there had been an empire, and for more than eleven centuries, the capital had been here in Constantinople, but now all that would come to an end. He had done everything he could, trying to negotiate peace with the Turks, striving to get the Orthodox Church to concede to the Pope’s demands that they become Catholic, imploring the rulers of France, England, Hungary, Venice, whoever would listen, to come to his aid, but it had all been to no avail. The Turks far outnumbered those in the city.

And the city was not even worth taking; Constantine knew that. Its wealth had diminished to almost nothing in the last two centuries, ever since the Latins had used a crusade to the Holy Land as an excuse to sack the city and then rule as its emperors for most of the thirteenth century. Although the Romans had regained the city and the throne in time, the empire had continued to shrink and weaken; continually, Constantine and his imperial predecessors had sought to keep the Turks at bay, the emperors wedding their daughters to the Ottoman sultans and doing anything necessary to ensure the empire’s survival.

And as the last emperor, Constantine knew the blame would lie upon his head, without regard to how little chance he had to stop his enemy or how all of Christendom had abandoned him and his people to their fate. What would they call him? His first namesake was Constantine the Great. Would he be called Constantine the Defeated, Constantine the Failure, Constantine the Unworthy? Perhaps the best he could hope for was to be killed in battle so he would be remembered as Constantine the Martyr.

He stood alone now on the battlements, his soldiers knowing he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out at the vast hordes of Turks encamped around the city. Even now they were battering at the walls, hoping to topple any one of them, not even seeking sleep as the night moved toward dawn.

How had it come to this? To some extent, Constantine could understand the reluctance and ignorance of his fellow rulers to come to his aid. Even the Pope, the supposed leader of the Christian world, he could forgive for his stubbornness when he considered that they were all men, full of weaknesses, but how could God Himself turn His back on them? How could the Holy Virgin to whom the city had been dedicated, desert them?

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

And there was no doubt they had been forsaken. The Holy Virgin had shown she would no longer protect them. The city had been dedicated to the Virgin since its ancient days. In desperation, the people had cried out to her ever since the siege had begun, and just three days ago, her most holy relic, the Hodegetria—an icon of her, believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself, which had saved the city on numerous occasions—was brought forth from Saint Sophia and carried in a procession through the streets. It had been mounted on a wooden pallet and lifted onto the shoulders of several strong men from the icon’s confraternity. The people followed as the Hodegetria traveled through the city, while the priests offered up incense, and the men, women, and children walked barefoot to show their penance. Hymns were sung, prayers said, and the people repeatedly cried out to the Virgin, beseeching her protection: “Do thou save thy city, as thou knowest and willest. We put thee forward as our arms, our rampart, our shield, our general: do thou fight for thy people.”

Then, before anyone realized it was happening, the Hodegetria slipped from the hands of its bearers. They struggled to grasp it, but it was too late. The people ran forward to pick it up, but it was as if it were weighted with lead, refusing to be raised. Eventually, when it was raised again, the procession had barely restarted before thunder burst through the clouds and lightning split the sky. Then the heavens poured down rain, soaking the procession and all the penitents. The downpour became torrential so that the procession had to halt; water, inches deep, filled the streets, making them slippery, and the flood soon threatened to wash away the children in the procession. Struggling, the icon’s bearers eventually managed to return the Hodegetria to Saint Sophia as gloom settled over the city, less from the weather than the omens that clearly stated the Virgin had refused their prayers and penance.

Worse, the next day, God’s grace had left the city. Since its construction by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, Saint Sophia had held within it the Holy Light as its protector. But that night, a great glow was seen in the sky. First, the sentries on the walls and then people in the streets had cried out in fear that the city had caught on fire. All the sky lit up, but the flame was located only on the roof of Saint Sophia. The flame shot forth from the window and circled the entire dome several times before gathering itself into one great and indescribable flash of blinding light that shot up into the heavens. Clearly, the Holy Light had returned from whence it had come, no longer offering God’s protection to the city. The sight had been so overwhelming to Constantine that now, two days later, it still made him sick to think of it. Had he himself lost favor with God? At that fatal moment, such a thought had caused him to go numb throughout his body and collapse to the ground in a faint, remaining unconscious for hours.

When Constantine finally woke, the people had begged him to flee the city before it was too late, but he had insisted he would not do so. To leave his people solely to save his own life would be to heap immortal ridicule upon his name. And even if he did leave, what life would remain for him, without a throne, marked as a coward for not standing by his supporters in their hour of greatest need? Better he stay to fight, and if need be, die with his people.

He had seen both these catastrophes with his own eyes, but the most shocking event he alone had experienced. Early the next morning, when he had gone out walking in the palace gardens, he had come face-to-face with an old man with a flowing white beard in a tattered black robe. Constantine had never seen the man before, and he could not understand how the man had entered his private gardens. But before he could accost the man, the stranger looked him square in the eyes, his own eyes piercingly gray, and without showing fear or deference for Constantine’s station, he said, “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Constantine had frozen, feeling himself unable to speak or move. His mind went blank for what seemed the longest time as the question “Who are you?” struggled to rise to his lips. His first fear was that the man might be an assassin, sent by the Turks—who but an assassin would dare to enter his private garden at dawn? But then, slowly, the answer came to his lips in a whisper.

“The Wandering Jew.”

Before the words fully escaped Constantine’s mouth, the man turned and disappeared behind a clump of trees. Constantine ran after him, so stunned that he pursued him into the bushes, scratching himself on their branches but unable to see anyone. After a couple of minutes, he calmed himself and returned to the walkway, fearing his people had seen his frantic behavior. Had he dreamt it, or had he truly seen the man? But he could remember those words clearly; they yet rung in his ears: “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Gustave Dore's depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ's Second Coming.

Gustave Dore’s depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ’s Second Coming.

He knew such a meeting forebode great ill. The Wandering Jew—he whom Christ had cursed to wander the earth until His return—had long been rumored to appear at pivotal moments in history. Stories claimed he had been seen in the city once before, back in 1204 when the Latin Crusaders had sacked Constantinople. He had also been seen at the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, amid the mob during the Peasants Revolt in England in 1381, and most recently in the crowd when the Maid of Orleans had been burned at the stake in Rouen, France in 1431. Constantine had heard rumors in recent days that the Wandering Jew had been sighted in Constantinople’s streets, but he had dismissed such rumors as folk tales. Now, he could not imagine who else this man could be who dared to address him as “last of the Romans”—an ominous reference, indeed.

The next day, Constantine knew his death was certain when twelve Venetian ships arrived to aid the city, bringing with them the news that no larger fleet nor other enforcements would come. Twelve ships would be of little help against the incredible Ottoman navy and the hordes of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final assault they all knew was coming. No one could accurately tell the numbers, but a city of just over fifty thousand souls—a city that in its glorious past had been home to a million residents—was being protected by an army of less than twenty thousand against some one hundred thousand Turks, plus their allies. Surely, the situation was hopeless.

Constantine had little doubt that tonight was the last time the sun would set on the city before it was taken, and pillaged, and perhaps even destroyed. The walls could well be broken through before dawn. The Turkish cannons had already damaged them beyond repair. The conquest would happen as soon as Sultan Mehmet II led the next charge.

Nothing was left to do but offer prayers, though prayers now seemed of little help. Nevertheless, Constantine had spent the last day at service in Saint Sophia, on his knees before his people and God, begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Afterwards, he had spent time here on the ramparts with his longtime friend and advisor Sphrantzes. And then he had sought some time alone, time to prepare himself for what he did not doubt was his imminent death. He would do so nobly, as Emperor of the Romans, and in a manner to make his ancestors proud, but he would be dead nonetheless, and he had his doubts that God would have mercy upon his soul after the signs he had already seen.

“Your majesty.” He turned to hear himself addressed and found the captain of the guard speaking. “The Turks are about to break through the wall. You must return to the palace. You must look to your own safety.”

“You know better,” Constantine replied, already in his armor. “Come; we will fight together, and may God have mercy on our souls.”

The Turks were firing their cannons. It was almost half-past one in the morning. Just as the emperor joined his army before the St. Romanus Gate, a cannonball came ripping through the wall, sending stone and men flying, and by the time Constantine and his men recovered from the shock, three hundred Turks had poured through, their voices roaring as they entered the city. In panic, some of the Romans fled into the streets, desperate to see to their own and their families’ safety, but most stood fighting beside their emperor and the officers.

The Romans fought violently, but they were far outnumbered, and while the battle raged at the great crumbling opening in the wall for several minutes, eventually, the Romans were cut down as the Turks began to spread and pillage throughout Constantinople.

Constantine found himself covered in blood as his sword continued to slice at the Turks before him, but within a few minutes, he was surrounded by his enemies. He had taken care not to wear anything to make the enemy suspect he was the emperor, for he knew if they discovered his identity, his life would be spared, but only because the sultan would want to hold him as a prisoner. No, he would much rather die here with his people than be forced to go down on bended knee before Mehmet II, or worse, be paraded through the streets by his captors.

Suddenly, Constantine felt a great pain in his back. He immediately became dizzy; for a moment, he felt his knees buckle and he thought he would collapse, but then he experienced a great lifting feeling, as if he were floating into the air. He could only think that his soul was leaving his body. Had he been slain? Was he now dead? Was he being taken to Heaven—could death be this quick?

Looking up, bending his head all the way back, he saw he was in the arms of a great winged man, a beautiful gorgeous man, a man a good couple of feet taller than him—no, not a man but an angel.

And then all went black.

*

When he opened his eyes, Constantine found himself lying on a cot inside a barren room all built of stone. He could see the sky, but nothing else from the window, making him assume he was quite high up. All he heard were birds chirping and a breeze rustling through the trees. No screams of his people. No cannons booming. And most surprisingly, he felt no fear.

Was he dead? But, surely, Heaven did not look like the barren room of a castle.

For a moment, he relished the quiet, but his curiosity overcame him. He sat up and continued to look out the window. From his sitting position, he could see what appeared to be a marsh, and beyond that a river, and then just a green row of trees and a lush countryside. He appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, he was far from Constantinople.

“Where am I?” he muttered, about to put his feet on the floor when the door opened. In walked a man whom Constantine had only seen once before.

“You!” Constantine gasped.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Arranged Marriage Perfect Juxtapose in Gothic Twister: An Interview with bestselling author Michelle M. Pillow

Today I’m pleased to host Michelle M. Pillow, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Forget Me Not, previously reviewed on this blog, and numerous other Gothic, romance, and shapeshifter novels.

How long have you been writing professionally?

My first paranormal romance was published in 2004 under the title The Mists of Midnight. It has since been revised and was just re-released under the title Forget Me Not.

michellepillowHow many novels have you published?

Over 100.

Wow. What’s your secret for producing so much? Do you write on a specific schedule?

I wish there was a magic formula I could share, but it comes down to hard work. I treat writing like a career—one that I love, but one that demands a lot of work and dedication due to the competitive nature of the business. It’s a full-time-plus job that I’m always doing.

At any given time I’ll have several projects in various stages. Some are in the planning and research stage. Others are being written. Then others will be with editors. Then there are aspects of being a professional author that people often forget about—namely marketing and promotions. It’s not all book signings and appearances, either. I’ve had to learn how to build websites and run online ad campaigns, and build graphics. It’s a balancing act, and there are times where I’m up until 3 a.m. just to make a deadline.

All that said, I absolutely love my job. To be a writer, I think that’s important. You have to love it, feel it inside of you as something you have to do, or this industry and the sacrifices it demands will wear you down fast.

Are all your books in the same genre?

As a writer, I love to tell a story and not be limited by one time period or genre, so you’ll see a variety of books under my name. When I create characters and the worlds they live in, I like to set them down and throw things at them, and then just let them react the way their personalities and histories would dictate. I often never know how a story is going to end when I start it.

Which authors inspire you?

In high school, I loved the section of the library where I’d find books that hadn’t been checked out for decades. This ended up being a lot of the literary classics—Austen, Bronte, Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper, and Tolstoy. Pride and Prejudice is still a favorite. The romantic in me loves the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth, including his not-so-well-done first marriage proposal. These books were like little buried treasures I’d read on my lunch breaks. I have always loved history and, ultimately, went to college to study it, and these books afforded a peek into historical lives and struggles.

Later, I discovered Steinbeck, including his travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. His insights into the wide variety of people he met, and into the universal feeling people had in longing to be somewhere else, anywhere but where they were, spoke to me, as I began to consider my own characters and their motivations.

Many of my books have historical and/or paranormal influences, even if they are not strictly historically set. Some of the stories that inspire me have inspired many, including Shelley and Stoker, along with various other Gothic writers and ideas. I find the Victorian notions of vampires entertaining and very in line with societal beliefs at the time—including not being able to enter a home without an invitation, which reflected the social art of how to properly call on a person’s home and receive guests as a way to safeguard decent people from evil. Edgar Allan Poe was another author I enjoyed, especially the mental breakdown in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

In your latest novel Forget Me Not, arranged marriage is the pretense for the story, which offers up all kinds of stringent gender roles. Was it a conscious decision to do that?

Arranged marriages in the 1800s are simply a continuation of a phenomena that had been around since ancient times. Marriage was seen as a logical choice, from the desire to make advantageous matches for a family that were both financially sound and socially acceptable. It was with the Victorians that the idea of romantic love really started to take real hold. Consider for a moment Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; theirs is recognized as a love match. Forget Me Not is set during the Regency period, in a world that really marks a time of change between the thought processes of the Middle Ages to modern day society as we recognize it. Now, we would hardly think it acceptable (and rightly so) that a woman belonged first to her father, and then to her husband, including her belongings.

To be honest, though, arranged marriages create the perfect backdrop for romance and conflict to happen.

Does your main character Isabel Drake rebel against protocol?

Absolutely! Unlike her meeker younger sister, Jane, Isabel cares less about being a good and dutiful daughter, and wants more out of life than to marry for money and comfort. The book takes place in 1812 when marriages weren’t necessarily always arranged, but they were treated as more of a business decision than simply off the basis of love and desire. The general opinion was that women needed a breadwinner, and men wanted a woman who could take care of the home and children. Marriages became more of a partnership agreement, often instigated or encouraged by families.

As an interesting fact, in regards to a woman being the property of her husband, in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act became law to allow a woman to own presents given to her. True story.

Dougal Weston is Isabel’s tutor in the novel. Would you say he is the archetypal aloof romantic hero in the tradition of Mr. Darcy, or is he more of an antihero?Dougal is a classic leading man with his own personal goal to achieve in the story, nothing to do with Isabel at first, even though he appears as her tutor. But when their stories collide, this whole new realm of possibilities opens up. It adds several layers to the story, which peel back at the right time. Like everyone, these characters are complicated with many motivations and needs.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Speaking of layers, there’s no shortage of twists—well thought of twists—in Forget Me Not. Did they come naturally, or were they devices as milestones that you built the story around?

Great question. I was very lucky with this story. It was one of the first books I wrote, and it was actually the first one that was published back in 2004. And it flowed from start to finish. My muse was kind to me back then.

Talking of muses, how do see your muse?

She’s a crazy lady with an endless supply of cups of coffee, and a very demanding personality. I think she’d be happiest if I typed two books at once. Dr. Who fans will know what I’m talking about when I liken her to the angel statue in “Blink.”

How or where does Forget Me Not fit in the stack of Michelle M. Pillow’s works?

Well, it’s romance, which is what I do. But then the Regency and the Gothic (which I classify as Paranormal) aspect of it puts Forget Me Not slightly off center from my futuristic and shifter works. When I started writing, Historicals were what I really wanted to do. But as it turned out, I found traction with other subgenres of romance.

Is there a follow up to Forget Me Not?

No. Forget Me Not is a standalone title. I do think it gives the reader’s mind plenty to daydream about and imagine in the world created, away from the words actually written.

I do have other historical novels, including the National RT Award winner Maiden and the Monster. It is a medieval set historical romance. I also have other stories with the same feel and tone as Forget Me Not. One would be the shorter work, Everlastingly.

Thank you, Michelle, for joining me today. Where can we learn more about your novels?

Visit me at www.MichellePillow.com. Information and buy links for all of my novels are there. They can be found at most major bookstores. Thank you for having me.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels