A Conversation with Dacre Stoker and JD Barker about DRACUL

To be published on October 2nd, DRACUL is a supernatural-thriller prequel to Dracula written by J.D. Barker and Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker. Ahead of the release date, Barker and Stoker talked about their collaboration.

Why did you decide to write this novel together and what was the process of writing as a team? How was writing DRACUL different from your previous work?

DS: I had an idea for a story in my mind about Bram’s life leading up to him writing Dracula, but knew I would need a co-author to best tell the story. I met JD at the Horror Writers Association annual conference (I had read his book Forsaken, loved the writing style, and in particular one of his characters), and, after spending a few hours with him at a signing table, we hit it off with sharing ideas. I knew that we were compatible to work together.

I provided a lot of historical information and a timeline about the Stoker family, and we blended those with JD’s ideas of suspense and horror. We spent a long weekend together in North Carolina laying out the plot for our story… I would send blocks of text to JD and he would use some and not use others. It was a wonderful collaboration.

JDB: I first read Dracula as a child and it’s been a fixture on my bookshelf throughout the years. It’s one of the few novels I’ve revisited often enough I’ve lost count. When Dacre asked me to take part in such an iconic project, I was flattered. He offered a peek behind the curtain and I simply could not resist. We quickly settled into a rhythm with the sense Bram Stoker was near to check our work. In order to match Bram’s voice, I immersed myself in his published material, notes, and journals. I also listened to the Dracula audiobook on a loop for the duration. I’ve worked with coauthors before, but this is the first time the loudest of those voices belonged to a man long since passed.

DRACUL - The Haunted Pen

What kind of research did you do for the book? While researching, did you travel to all the locations the story takes place in?

DS: We needed to include real events in Bram’s life while weaving them together in a fictional manner to create a narrative that would hold suspense. We created a timeline of actual events and merged in fictional events in a way that the reader would have a difficult time telling the difference. We dissected Bram’s Notes for Dracula, the Dracula Typescript, the short story Dracula’s Guest, and Makt Myrkranna (an early version of Dracula). I spent time in Dublin and Whitby visiting all the significant locations that we used in Dracul, of course some of them no longer exist. We felt that to be true to Bram’s style of writing in Dracula and to properly portray a sense of realism we needed to be historically and geographically accurate.

JDB: My wife and I have a ten-month-old baby girl at home, so my travel is currently limited to late-night diaper runs. Having visited, Dacre was instrumental when it came to describing many of the places in the novel. Others required substantial research. While the locations may exist today, they are far different than they were in 1868. A location central to the story was destroyed by the German navy in WWI—we had to piece together its condition in Bram’s day.

Do you believe Bram Stoker really thought of Dracula as a true account?

DS: I believe that Bram was a master at making his readers feel that he believed the story was real. Remember Dracula was written in 1897 a time when the occult was in vogue, mesmerism was an emerging science, and the supernatural was…. well felt to be quite possible. There are two lines in the novel Dracula that I believe sum up how Bram felt:

“I want you to believe, to believe in things which you know to be untrue,” and “There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part”.

In addition, I am reminded of a line in the 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” JV Hart included in his screenplay a similar thought: “The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him.”

JDB: For any author, fiction works best when those lines blur. If permitted, a character can graduate from a simple sketch on the page to a living, breathing being. Someone with the singular desire to tell you their story. In other cases, fictional characters aren’t so fictional. When reading Dracul and Dracula, it’s impossible to not draw correlations be-tween the people in Bram’s story and those in his real life—his family, friends, and acquaintances. During his earliest years, Bram Stoker experienced some horrific events at a time when his imagination was most susceptible. You can’t help but wonder how that shapes a person’s thoughts as they grow older. Did he believe in monsters? We may never know. But I can comfortably say he hedged his bets just in case.

What is the significance of the instructions Bram Stoker left for his body upon his death?

DS: Bram left verbal instructions with his wife, and he was clear that he wanted to be cremated. He did not give a reason, but I believe that he wanted to ensure that he was able to rest in peace.

JDB: Ha. This is where Dacre and I differ. My mind loves to take a leap. When someone selects cremation at a time/place in history when it isn’t commonplace, the only logical answer is that he’s hiding his immortal soul from the vampire staking claim, right?

Bram Stoker wrote the actual location of Dracula’s castle in a coded diary entry and guarded that secret until he died. Did you visit the secret location?

DS: Bram wrote a note with coordinates, two lines of longitude and latitude but in a way they were “coded” or altered to hide the actual location of where the two points con-verged. He switched the two numbers, so when switched back from longitude to latitude the coordinates intersect right at Mt Izvorul, an extinct volcano in Northern Transylvania in the Calimani National Park. This was the location for his Castle Dracula. This past summer I hired a guide and together with my son Parker, and a few other friends, we hiked up Mt Izvorul and had quite an adventure. We made it to the top and left a sealed capsule commemorating or visit to the peak. After meeting with the park officials, they have decided to create a special trail and erect a plaque memorializing the location of Bram’s Castle Dracula.

JDB: Not only were the first 101 pages of Dracula removed from the manuscript prior to publication, but the ending was altered as well. In the original, the mountain on which Dracula’s castle stood erupts in a fire-filled blast.

From the original – “From where we stood it seemed as though the one fierce volcano burst had satisfied the need of nature and that the castle and the structure of the hill had sunk again into the void.”

It can’t be coincidence that Bram would write the longitude and latitude of a volcanic peak in Transylvania in his notes, one matching the description in his novel so accurately. The fact that he never revealed this as the location of Dracula’s castle publicly has left the door open for others to stake claim as the Count’s home. I’m not sure how Bram would feel about that.

DRACUL - The Haunted Pen

Bram Stoker

In his early preface Bram says that there are several well-known people who appear as characters in Dracula whose names he has changed to protect their identity. Who are these people and why is there inclusion significant?

DS: Bram states quite clearly in his early preface to Dracula that Jonathan Harker, his wife and Dr Seward are friends. He also suggests a familiarity with the scientist, thus changing his name (van Helsing).

“All the people who have willingly – or unwillingly – played a part in this remarkable story are known generally and well respected. Both Jonathan Harker and his wife (who is a woman of character) and Dr. Seward are my friends and have been so for many years, and I have never doubted that they were telling the truth; and the highly respected scientist, who appears here under a pseudonym, will also be too famous all over the educated world for his real name, which I have not desired to specify, to be hidden from people …”

By using these real people in his novel, Bram makes a compelling case that his story was real.

JDB: In my mind, it’s clear Arminius Vambery was the inspiration for van Helsing. I personally see many similarities between Thornley Stoker and Dr. Seward, Matilda Stoker and Mina Harker, even Bram himself and Jonathan Harker.

What is the significance of the Makt Myrkranna and why is it referenced in DRACUL?

DS: Makt Myrkranna, which translates as Powers of Darkness, is an early draft of Bram’s Dracula before it was edited and published by Archibald Constable, London in 1897. We believe it was edited because the story was far too realistic, and on the heels of the Jack the Ripper murders, it would have been too scary for the London readers.

JDB: In many ways, Makt Myrkranna represents the story Bram wished to tell. It varies greatly from the Dracula tale familiar to us all and begs the question—Who made the changes and why? In today’s publishing world, when we write a novel, we send a single copy to our editor. Our publisher then sends it off to the various other publishers around the world. In other words, they all work from the same draft. In Bram’s time, that wasn’t the case. He personally mailed his manuscript to each publisher and in doing so, left breadcrumbs behind—hints at his original story removed from the English version. Makt Myrkranna was discovered when an Icelandic first edition of Dracula was translated to English. It’s impossible not to wonder what other secrets may still be hiding out there. What will be found when other first editions are translated? Perhaps Bram’s greatest secret has yet to be revealed. For now, it only sleeps and waits.

Reproduced courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

The Authors

JD Barker and Dacre Stoker (right) – Photo (c) Dayna Barker

Dacre Stoker is the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker and the international best-selling co-author of Dracula the Un-Dead, the official Stoker family endorsed sequel to Dracula. Dacre is also the co-editor of The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker: The Dublin Years. A native of Montreal, Canada, Dacre taught Physical Education and Sciences for twenty-two years. He has participated in the sport of Modern Pentathlon as an athlete and a coach at the international and Olympic levels for 12 years. He is also an avid player and coach of the unique game of Court Tennis. He currently lives in Aiken, SC, together with his wife Jenne they manage the Bram Stoker Estate.

J.D. Barker is the internationally best-selling author of Forsaken and The Fourth Monkey, a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, and winner of the New Apple Medalist Award. His work has been compared to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris. His latest novel, The Fifth to Die, will be released in July 2018. His works have been translated into numerous languages and optioned for both film and television. Barker currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife, Dayna, and daughter, Ember.

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