I am delighted Doug has guest blogged here today. Not only has he provided an excerpt from his novel, Dracula's Demeter, he has explained how he came to write it. I am reading the novel now and I have to say I love it!
The Old Vampire and the Sea
By Doug Lamoreux
It started as a lark.
I'm a romantic, which would be bad enough in and of itself, but I'm also a fanatical lover of all things horror, making me one of those indescribable creatures 'the romantic horror fan'. Ewww. I'd read all of the classic horror novels, numerous times, and just a few years ago decided to once again read Bram Stoker's Dracula.
That's where the lark came in. Folks (among which I'm sure are many who have never read it) are always pissing and moaning that Dracula is dull because it's a century and a half old, and because of the style in which it's written, and... blah, blah, blah. Since the intent was to reread for my own entertainment, I made up my mind to use the novel's style romantically.
Written as it is in the form of letters, newspaper articles, and journal entries, I chose to read it as if I were living it, experiencing each piece of Stoker's fearful dark puzzle - on the day indicated. Simply: Dracula begins with an entry in Jonathan Harker's journal dated 3 May. That's the day I started reading, the 3rd of May, and I read only that day's entry.
My whole experience was Harker's 3 May and, folks, I was on that coach with him. I didn't cheat, read ahead, look ahead. I experienced the story as if I were a part of it. I followed that course throughout. Sometimes I got to read an entry in the morning, then return for another that night, sometimes I was forced to wait days; every bit of it was up to Stoker - and his characters.
Thanks to modern technology, the Internet, and to wonderful people posting pictures of, in, and about England, I was able to not only read my snippets but also to visit the very places about which the characters spoke - on the day they were speaking. It was a marvelous way to enjoy the classic vampire tale in a whole new way.
Mind you there are faster ways to read a novel, but that was hardly the point. The final entry is dated 6 November and that was the day I finished. (No, I did not wait seven years to read Harker's final note. Even romantics have brains.) Reading Dracula this way was amazing and I highly recommend the experience.
I told you that story to tell you this one...
I'm not only an awful romantic horror fan, I'm also a writer of horror fiction. Double ewww. Always writing. Always reading. Always asking “What if...?” You not only fall in love with ancient stories, like Stoker's classic, you begin to wonder what happened in the moments before, between, and after those he told us all about.
Our very own Carole Gill, discussing Dracula on another site, posed the question “Wouldn't you really want to know more about his 'living life' and who the hell those brides were? I would!” Yes! I would. I did. More so after reading Dracula in the manner I just described. And then there was that voyage...
The voyage of the Russian schooner Demeter, the doomed ship that brought Dracula to England. Stoker just teased us, didn't he? Two scant pages of journal entries from an unnamed sea captain. A vanishing crew! A wrecked ship! That same captain, the only man left aboard, dead and lashed to the wheel!
Reading the book in the manner I was, there were days when I got only a sentence and I was left to hang and to wonder. “On 13 July passed Cape Matapan. Crew dissatisfied about something. Seemed scared, but would not speak out.” That's it? That's it? Come on, Mr. Stoker, what could be scaring these big tough seamen? I was looking at photographs of ancient sailing ships, satellite imagery of Whitby harbor and her ruined Abbey. I was there! And, of course, I was asking “What if...?”
And so I wrote Dracula's Demeter, a novel about that fateful voyage, answering for myself all the questions I'd asked along the way. What temerity! Perhaps. Who in the hell did I think I was? I have no idea, just a writer I guess and a fan. My goal, beyond sating my own curiosity, was two-fold. One, to write a good, atmospheric horror tale.
Did I succeed? Fangoria Magazine called it “...a fiendishly clever and welcome addition to the Dracula mythology.” Peter D. Schwotzer at Famous Monsters of Filmland said “... the mounting dread and terror felt by those on the ship is arresting... the sense of claustrophobia is very real and unnerving. As the crew slowly disappears one by one, the sense of hopelessness, despair and terror is tangible and at times very frightening.”
Then he included it in his list of favorite reads of 2012.
Would it be an overstatement to say I was pleased? These were the reactions of the horror crowd, but what about academia? Stoker wrote classic literature that has survived the ages, never been out of print. That was never my goal and certainly was not my dream or expectation. My second goal was, to fill in the blanks in that one part of the vampire king's story. Not to copy Stoker's style or voice, but to tell my version of the events in a voice that was compatible with the original.
Did I succeed? I'm gratified to report some think so. Prof. Elizabeth Miller, one of the world's foremost authorities on Stoker's work, the President of the Canadian branch of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, in that organization's newsletter, The Borgo Post, said, “Lamoreux takes this scanty text and expands on it... He manages to do this without once violating the spirit of Stoker's original rendering.” Like I said, gratifying. More fun yet were her opening and closing comments, “I just loved reading this book,” and “Highly recommended!”
Had enough of me? Me too! If you're a reader who never 'got into Dracula,' try it a new way. The next reading begins on 3 May. If you are a writer, ask “What if...?” often and don't wait for someone else to answer. If you are Bram Stoker, I sincerely apologize for any offense given. And if, like me, you are a hopeless romantic, or worse, a romantic horror fan, you have all my sympathy. Cheers.
An Excerpt from Dracula's Demeter
The old man was crying. The wind tossed his wispy, white hair and fanned the tears running down his tortured face. He twisted his hat in trembling, arthritic fingers and begged the young woman to forgive him.
The where was the village of Whitby, on the Yorkshire coastline of the North Sea. It was quite like any other English village. One horse-cart streets separating red-roofed houses, jammed together and atop one another like hurriedly stacked boxes, protected by cliffs rising so steeply to the east and west one could stand upon either and look across without seeing the town. The river Esk wound a sharp S approaching the southern viaduct, straightened north through the village, then broadened to the harbor and sea. Oddly, because of Whitby's position in this valley, though the sea lay to the east, the villagers could only see her by looking north.
Concentrate upon the eastern side of the river, atop the great steps (rising in a slow curve from the pier drawbridge), overlooking the harbor and out to sea. There stood the ruins of Whitby's ancient Abbey. On the same field, nearer the harbor, stood the parish church. Surrounding the church and stretching across the field to the cliff's edge above the harbor, was the massive village cemetery. Of all the places visited in the telling of this tale, it is most appropriate the story begin there, in the company of the ancient dead.
The when was simpler; a gray Friday evening on the 6th of August, 1897.
The who was the old man (locals agreed, he was nearly a hundred) tearfully making his case. He was a Scotsman by birth, a whaler by trade, retired from the sea. With him was the young woman to whom he poured out his rapidly beating heart, the charming Mina Murray.
Mina was in her usual place, the church cemetery, when the old man came upon her. Nothing strange there, the hilltop graveyard was virtually the village park. Serene walking paths ran all through the grave rows with stone benches interspersed. Everyone in Whitby, residents and tourists, eventually wound up among the tombstones, invigorated by the breeze, to investigate the histories of the dead, to sneak off to the dilapidated Abbey (said to be haunted, as ruined churches must be, by a mysterious lady in white), or to while away the day from that beautiful vantage point, commanding a view of the village, the harbor and out past the Kettleness headland to the sea.
Since her arrival in Whitby two weeks prior, it was routine for Mina and Lucy Westenra, the friend with whom she was staying, to escape their rooms at the Crescent and stroll these quiet paths. And, when Mina walked alone, to rest upon a bench she'd chosen as her favorite near the cliff's edge. There, to quietly consider her troubles.
Lucy, always of an excitable temperament had, since Mina's arrival returned to a frightening old habit of walking in her sleep, but with a determination Mina had never witnessed before. The last few days Lucy's night walking had all but reached a fever pitch. Mina was desperately worried. Add to that, her overwhelming fears for her fiancé... Jonathan Harker was far away in Transylvania completing an important business transaction. His work allowed only infrequent letters and his last, two weeks since, had been so disappointing, a single line from Castle Dracula saying he was starting for home. Nothing more, and no news since. It was unlike Jonathan. Mina missed him terribly and longed for his return. So the walks, and the contemplation.
Not that there was always solitude.
It was there at her bench visitors paused, sometimes to pass a pleasant moment, sometimes to pass the day, the coastal guard (and his technicians) installing their new search light, the locals, the touring visitors and, of course, the seamen.
There were in fact three seamen; the old whaler mentioned, and his crusty sea cronies. (These two were absent just then, while the Scotsman was crying, but they were usually at his elbows.) The seat she'd chosen as her favorite was, Mina discovered, their liars' bench. Rather than chase her away, the old men took her in, added her to their group. And ever since had daily regaled her with tales of the sea, delighted for fresh ears upon which their stories were again new.
Mina called the old whaler 'Sir Oracle' because the other two fawned over him, laughed at his jokes, agreed with his obvious lies, and egged-on his endless tales. Often they did nothing but sit in the cemetery all day and talk. Many days she did nothing but sit and listen.
But, as much as the old man gabbed, rarely did he talk of personal matters. Until this day. With his compatriots absent, perhaps because they were absent, Sir Oracle went on, like water through a burst dam, with his heartrending story.
In his hundred years, he'd seen a wife and three sons to their graves. One son remained, a sailor too, in his late sixties and still at sea. Sir Oracle knew neither the port nor the part of the world his 'babe' presently occupied, but clearly he wanted him home again. In the meantime, he made his home in Whitby with his widowed granddaughter (daughter of the son at sea). She was an only child, her mother having died in childbirth, and he and his son traded the role of 'father' whenever the other went to sea. Both returned to sailing when she took a husband. Both resumed the role of 'father' when her husband met his end. They'd cared for each other all their lives. His story, one of great love, was sadly punctuated with great loss and the ravages of death.
Now the old man was crying, regretting cynical comments made over the past few days. He'd ranted about the tombstones, a startling speech as Mina remembered. He'd called them 'lies carved in stone' and the families 'liars'. He'd offered examples, graves marked, 'Here lies so and so – lost at sea in such and such'. Then leveled his charge, “If they were lost at sea, how d' they lie here?” His tirade became a melancholy soliloquy on the sadness of life, on death and on dying.
Now the poor thing was apologizing with all his heart. But the more he struggled for her forgiveness, unnecessary in the first place, the more dire became his talk of looming eternity. He interrupted himself, trying to explain these portents of doom, until the tears cascaded down his pale cheeks. Mina was so desperately sad for the confused old man she felt she too would cry.
Then he fell silent, took a breath to the toes of his old leather boots, and collected himself. He smiled, with clouded eyes, and said, “But I'm content.” He wiped his tears with his hat. “My life is here. Solid ground 'neath me tired old feet an' a roof o'er me head. I've my granddaughter to care for me, an' I for her. An' her dad comin' ageeanwards home. Dear Gog, I hope he's comin' home soon.” Then Sir Oracle, staring out to sea, whispered, “I'd like to see him ageean - 'efore I die.”
“I'm content,” he said. But there was resignation in his voice. “For it's comin' to me, m' deary, an' comin' quick. It may be comin' while we be lookin' an' wonderin'. Maybe it's in that wind out o'er the sea that's bringin' with it loss an' wreck, an' sore distress, an' sad hearts.”
“Look!” he cried. “Look!” He gestured at the roiling sky. “There's somethin' in that wind an' in the hoast beyont that sounds, an' looks, an' tastes, an' smells like death. It's in the air. I feel it comin'.” His hair danced in the wind. He raised his hands. “Lord, make me answer cheerful, when my call comes!” He mouthed a prayer and Mina could only feel for him. He gently shook her hand with his gnarled claw, blessed her, and said, “G'bye.” Then he turned and, as he started across the cemetery, angling for the long stairs, whispered, “So many steps... so many steps... 'efore I'm home.”
Mina watched him go tears running down her cheeks too. She was the essence of vibrant youth, with a front row seat to the debilitating effects of time. As Sir Oracle reached the stairs, she couldn't help but wonder what it must feel like to be so old – so near to death.
Not far from Mina's bench, the eastern cliff curved away. Wind, weather, and time had undercut that portion of the rise. The underside had fallen away and with it several graves had fallen to the harbor below. Outside the harbor, on this side, a great reef ran for half a mile straight out from behind the lighthouse. A lone buoy bobbed there and, in heavy seas, the sound of her bell drifted like the cry of mourners on the wind. The old man had spoken of a local legend that when a ship was lost at sea that mournful bell was heard.
A pall settled over Mina, the effects of Sir Oracle's tearful pleas, the sadness of the bell and, as she shook off her reverie, the appearance of what looked a frightening storm approaching over the sea. The clouds, gray all day, were darkening over Kettleness and the sea was growing black.
Mina saw the crippled old whaler, hobbling down the long stairs (she'd counted them once, 199 steps in all). He was passed by the young coastal guard racing, in the opposite direction, three steps at a time from the harbor below. She hurried to dry her cheeks (her handkerchief a gift from Jonathan) before the guard arrived. He usually paused to greet her before going about his business. It was her duty to save the gentleman any embarrassment.
The coast guard reached the top of the stairs and waved as he caught his breath. But, instead of approaching, he turned to the sea. He was carrying a spyglass which he lifted to study the horizon.
“I can't make her out.”
He hurried to Mina's side, nodded a greeting and returned to the glass. Mina followed his gaze to the sea beyond the harbor. The approaching storm and an odd mist that had suddenly arisen made visibility difficult but, straining, she saw it now too. A long way off, a sailing ship bobbing on the sea.
“I can't make her out,” the guard repeated. He turned the lens following the ship, scanning her billowing sails, tracing her masts, patiently waiting for one of her flags to unfurl in the winds gusting at sea. “She's a Russian!” he finally called out. “She's a Russian by the look of her.”
He saw it now, the solid white, blue and red bars of the Russian flag whipping atop her main mast, and a yellow banner, their Imperial flag, flying on the mizzen. A small house flag, denoting the owners, flew beneath but its details were beyond the reach of his glass. Still there was no doubt, the ship was Russian. But what in God's name was she doing?
“But she's knocking about in the queerest way,” the guard said. He'd never seen the like, and reported her movements to calm his own nerves. “She doesn't know her mind a bit. She seems to see the storm coming, but can't decide whether to run up north in the open, or to put in here. Look there again! She is steered mighty strangely.” He shook his head, inviting Mina to share his alarm. “She doesn't mind the hand on the wheel and changes about with every puff of wind.” He lowered the spyglass and solemnly declared, “We'll hear more of her before this time tomorrow.”
(end of excerpt)
Doug Lamoreux is the father of three sons, a grandfather, a writer, actor, and horror film historian. He authored the novels Dracula's Demeter and The Devil's Bed, and co-authored Apparition Lake (with Daniel D. Lamoreux). He contributed essays to Horror 101: The A-List of Horror Films and Monster Movies (2007 Rondo Award-nominee Book of the Year) and the up-coming Hidden Horror 101. He received a 2010 Rondo Award nomination for a Midnight Marquee article on The Deadly Mantis. Lamoreux starred in the Peter O'Keefe film, Infidel, and appeared in the Mark Anthony Vadik horror films Lilith (aka The Thirsting) with Mickey Rooney and Tina Krause and Hag with Ari (First Jason) Lehman. His new novel, The Melting Dead, is shambling through the woods looking for a publisher.
Doug's Author Page at Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/author/douglamoreux
My new novel, Dracula's Demeter, now in paperback and Kindle edition...
Dracula's Demeter is available as an e-book or in paperback, in the UK:
Many thanks, Doug for a great post!