Dacre Stoker - Interview With a Vampire Author
Interesting Facts About Our Interview
- 1 Bram Stoker left 125 pages of notes for his writing of Dracula. They are currently housed at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia PA.
- 2 The published edition of Dracula begins on page 102 of the Dracula Typescript, meaning that 101 pages are missing. Part of the missing pages were published by Bram’s widow in 1914 in Dracula’s Guest.
- 3 The novel Dracula originally ended with a volcanic eruption as the count was stabbed. This ending was struck through in the Typescript and not published. Bram made notes of map coordinates that aligned with an extinct volcano at Mt. Izvorul in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, enforcing that this was, in fact, the site of Bram’s fictional Castle Dracula.
- 4 Bram Stoker had never visited Transylvania. However, his research was impeccable. Writing the entire book from England, his research brought the area to life to Dracula’s readers.
- 5 Dacre Stoker, together with his wife Jenne, oversee the North American and South American rights and trademarks to the official Bram Stoker Estate.
Being the host of a show about mysteries, legends and the macabre, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I love scary stories that would keep most people awake at night. Of all the stories and legends out there, vampires have always been my favorite. My library is full of books, poems and movies about these immortal creatures of the night. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula in middle school and then devoured the movies – from Bela Lugosi’s 1931 portrayal of Count Dracula to the interpretations of Frank Langella and Christopher Lee and even more recently, the 1992 release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gary Oldman as the infamous Count.
At a booth at an author’s event in 2016, imagine my delight when I met the great grand nephew of Bram Stoker, Dacre Stoker. Dacre has written books, given presentations in North America and in Europe and has appeared on a variety of television programs talking about his famous ancestor and the immortal story he penned. Today, he joins me on a very special episode of Stories, Secrets and Sagas.
Jamie: Dacre, thank you so much for joining us on this episode. I’m so excited to have you here.
Dacre: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me here.
Jamie: Oh yay! Well, looking back over everything with your history, your connection with Bram Stoker has certainly opened up a world of adventure to you.
Dacre: It has. Coming from a coach, who has traveled the world at an Olympic level, and a teacher, this is completely different. This is sort of my dark side, the real adventurous side, places I’d never been before. It’s really exciting.
Jamie: So, what began your foray into the world of Dracula?
Dacre: Well, as a kid growing up in Montreal, Canada, Halloween was the season when it was brought to my attention – the Stoker thing. Kids would joke, and it got a little bit boring after a while – what’s going to happen when we come to your house; is there going to be candy or blood? So that was the sort of the 70s when the world, when the eyes were opening up to who Bram was. Everybody knew Dracula for many years, but a book that came out by McNally and Florescu, In Search of Dracula, really started pointing the eyes of scholars to my great-granduncle and that helped him become more known to myself and the rest of the family. We really didn’t know that much about Uncle Bram until my dad pulled out this edition of Dracula and said that it’s now time to tell you what’s going on. Of course, it wasn’t just Dracula; Bram wrote many other stories.
But, the interesting thing was really, Jamie, again, there was no autobiography. There had been a few biographies, a few family stories, but not enough to really sink your teeth into until I got a call from a guy, Ian Holt, to want to get involved to write a sequel. That was about 2003, and it finally got published in 2009 with a lot of research in between. That’s when I started delving into the family, his great-grandsons living in England, who actually invited me over. It was actually in one of those places, the Isle of Wight, where I found that one of them had a journal of Bram’s. This was sort of the holy grail because people up to that point had known that there was the The Dracula Notes, 125 pages in the Rosenbach Museum, but nothing really source-like that Bram had written telling us his thoughts on things. And so, I published that along with Elizabeth Miller, and that sort of put me on the stage, so to speak, as a person who knows what he’s doing.
Then, other things started rolling: these lectures, the presentations around the world. At the same time, I’d keep digging. My wife and I put out a Bram Stoker Estate webpage, represented our cousins in merchandising and licensing Bram, and, again, one thing would lead to another, and it would get me more invitation to go to really cool places. People would contact me and say, “I’m doing research about this. I heard Bram was in Scotland at this theatre, and we just found something. What do you think?” Then, I would be able to put the pieces together. That was really fun. I may not be the source of all information, but I began to be the clearinghouse, which meant that I was right in the middle of neat things, being asked to write introductions and forwards to books gave me more insight into stuff like that.
Jamie: Cool! You mentioned a lot of the presentations you give. Your Stoker on Stoker presentation has become wildly popular not just in North America, but in Europe, too. Doing this, what are some of the more memorable places you’ve been able to travel?
Dacre: Most recently, Romania has been a cool find. I bring people on trips there to show the places where the novel, Bram’s novel, took place and also where the real Vlad Dracula was. And I think the neatest thing – sort of carrying on a legacy that Bram started – he never went to Transylvania, but his research was immaculate. He got everything just right, from the way things looked, costumes. But the key thing is that this summer, my son and I and a guide and a few friends climbed Mount Izvorul in the Calimanului National Park. The significance of that, Jamie, is that this is the place in Bram’s notes, that he left in kind of a cryptic way, lines of longitude and latitude showing exactly where the intersect point was for the top of Mount Izvorul, which was an extinct volcano. And the reason that’s also important – it’s like a big puzzle – is that at the end of Dracula, before it was edited, there was a volcanic eruption at the time the knife was thrust into Dracula’s heart and he crumbled into dust. But, his editor, or Bram, for whatever reason, we don’t know, had a massive volcanic eruption. And nobody other than Bram Stoker would have been so precise about this to make sure that that castle where that happened would have been on an extinct volcano if he was going to have a volcanic eruption.
Jamie: So, speaking of these really neat adventures you’ve had in researching, you’ve had some pretty amazing adventures writing, or co-authoring and researching your latest novel, Dracul, that you wrote with J.D. Barker.
Dacre: Right. This is a prequel. I sort of did things backwards. I did a sequel first because that seemed easier, and I sort of had an idea in my mind to continue the story. The prequel, though, Jamie, is all about Bram’s life, and I learned a lot, as I’ve been mentioning, about himself growing up, this childhood illness in Dublin. How did he make this miraculous recovery? How did he become a champion athlete? And as I learned more of that to put into my Stoker-on-Stoker, I began to realize that this needs to be brought to the greater public. The best way, as you very well know yourself as an author, is to fictionalize it and to kind of give it some juice, give it some spice. So, not to say Bram’s life was that boring as it was, but, you know, nowadays you need to have some really good action.
So, first of all, finding a really good thriller/horror writer, J.D. Barker, to help me do it was critical. Once we got that, it was, “Alright, what documents speak to us?” And it was things like the Icelandic preface of Dracula, which was recently discovered, which talks about the book being very real. So, we decided to make the premise of Dracul, the prequel, that Bram Stoker had some reason – and I’m not going to give any spoilers – some reason for making the story of Dracula real and a real warning to people. Vampires are a force to be reckoned with, not just in storybooks. And that took itself to a number of places. One in particular was to Seattle, Washington, where Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, luckily, he’s purchased and preserved and makes available to authors the Dracula Typescript.
Now the Typescript has a cool providence of its own. It’s a manuscript. It’s the last piece of work that Bram put his hands on. Luckily, it’s typed, so therefore we can read his writing, but it’s also, that’s why it’s called a typescript. Somehow, Bram gave this copy to a guy called Donaldson. Mr. Donaldson was a lawyer and friend of Walt Whitman. Bram and Whitman were good friends, and they exchanged correspondence. Bram decided, and I believe it’s because Donaldson delivered to Bram Walt Whitman’s notes on Abraham Lincoln. Whitman gave lectures on Lincoln, and Bram thought Lincoln was really quite special. So, he wanted to give lectures himself in England. So, the notes went back and forth. In return, Bram gave the Dracula Typescript. Unfortunately, Whitman had died, and so, they ended up just with Donaldson. They ended up in a barn on his property. Decades later when his family finally sold the place, it was then discovered in a trunk when they were clearing everything out. Of course, it went to people – booksellers – and Paul Allen purchased it.
They key thing about that is when it was brought to the public’s attention, what’s this typescript all about, it starts on page 102. So, there’s 101 pages that were missing. Then two years after Bram had died, his wide published a short story called Dracula’s Guest, and in the preface to that, she says, “This was excised from my husband’s most famous book, Dracula. I hope you will like it.” Now, it’s only 17 pages, so that only accounts for some of the 101. Any authors worth their salt who are writing a prequel, we’d better get ourselves out there and analyze this book – what is there and see if that gives us any hint to what was taken out. So, what we were looking for when J.D and I went out there was anything that was crossed out because our understanding was, and we were proved right, that this was the last piece of material that Bram put his hands on. There wasn’t another press the button and make another copy on your laptop. So, there were at least three things that we found that were crossed out of the typescript that were referred to in Dracula’s Guest. So, that confirms that Dracula’s Guest was once a part of it. And it also confirms, as I mentioned earlier, that the very ending of Dracula that was crossed out on the pages, there was a big volcanic eruption. And, of course, there was lots of other cool things – notes in the margin.
Bram’s oldest brother, who is featured in Dracul, Dr. William Stoker, a famous doctor, he helped Bram with all of the medical information, like how to do the blood transfusion, what sort of goes on in the operation that they had to do – Seward and Van Helsing – had to do on Renfield, the brain surgery. So, it was another good reason – well if Thornley is involved, William Thornley is involved in Dracula, well, he better be involved in Dracul as well, so he becomes a major character. So, that trip to Seattle was huge because it confirmed things that we thought about, we heard about rumors, and now we know it. And, we have some ideas what was in the rest of the early part of the story because it only begins, that we know, with Bram in the train from Vienna onwards. This story happens in Munich before that. So, without giving away spoilers, our story ends in Munich in the little, unholy town where the action in Dracula’s Guest begins.
Jamie: Wow! That’s so exciting. Now, I certainly love vampires, and I love Count Dracula – the whole legend. The tales seems to me to be quite an immortal tale. In your travels and you encounters with fans and all your presentations and everything you’ve done, why do you think there’s such an appeal for Count Dracula?
Dacre: Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head with the word “immortal.” Everyone around the world at some time, I would put good money on it, has thought about, “What happens when I die?” and “What would happen if I didn’t die?” “Maybe I’m the one guy that gets to live forever,” or some version of that. So, it’s in people’s consciousness. There’s a lot of proof to that. When people started doing a lot of writing in the medieval days, there were certain treaties and certain documents that were found that were worrisome things that were happening. We now realize what they were: contagious diseases like the plague, cholera and different fevers going through Europe. The problem was people were interpreting that without a scientific background. The easiest way to explain the unexplained was some sort of superstition. And Bram found, as we all know nowadays, that almost every culture in the world has some version of a creature not at rest – the soul not at rest – that comes out from the dead and takes the life out of the living. And so, they have many different names. Vampire is one of the most common but many different versions of that.
So, to me, a story that we fantasize with – a supernatural story – that touches on something that is very real resonates even stronger. As opposed to, I mean, Mary Shelley came up with an incredibly great idea years before Bram did of making Frankenstein with different body parts. She was really advanced thinking about that stuff. So that wasn’t in consciousness. Nowadays we think of cloning, and we go back to Mary Shelley and go, “Boy, she was onto something!” But, when Bram wrote vampire stories, that was something that people were very concerned about, and he wrote the book in real time. He wrote real places and real people with real concerns in people’s, sort of in their minds and in their concerns.
Jamie: Thank you so much for talking with us. This is fantastic.
Dracula is a timeless tale and has been reimagined over and over in each generation. I hope this episode of Stories, Secrets and Sagas has inspired you to rediscover Count Dracula or encounter him for the first time, whether it’s reading Bram’s novel, watching the iconic movies or picking up one of Dacre’s books to discover a new layer to the tale. As for me, I know what I’ll be reading!