How I would improve Dracula
I’m not even going to pretend that Sons of Devils wasn’t directly inspired by Dracula. Why would I? Have you read Dracula? Even though it’s now a little outdated, it’s a genuinely enjoyable book, and at least half of it is brilliant.
Bram Stoker is a master of gothic atmosphere, and the part of the book set in Transylvania is to my mind breathlessly gripping and fascinating. When I first read the book, the predator/prey dynamic between Dracula and Jonathan Harker was erotic, and the Romanian setting was unfamiliar and interesting and capital R romantic. I wanted more.
But then the action shifts to England, thus – for me – losing the unfamiliarity and Romance. And with Jonathan Harker presumably dead any kind of erotic charge now fades for anyone who doesn’t like heterosexual pairings… And pretty much my interest in the novel falls off and is gone. No. I wanted to find out what happened to Jonathan. I wanted him to escape and travel through more of that fascinating setting, having interesting encounters and close scrapes until he either defeated Dracula or joined him.
It took me many years of chasing after other vampire novels and wondering why they didn’t deliver the same thrill to realize that it wasn’t the vampire part of Dracula that I was enjoying at all. Half of it was the intense relationship between two men, and half of it was the scenery. Without the setting, none of these other stories were as good. So it didn’t come as any surprise to me that when I began research into Wallachia I absolutely fell in love with the country. What a place! What a beautiful place.
But it did surprise me that it was a very different place than the Transylvania of Stoker’s story. I expected a bleakness in which not much had happened but trees growing and wolves howling, and in fact I discovered a country with roots that were splendid even before the Romans got there. A diverse country full of Dacians and Saxons and Romani, with ancient links to the Ottoman Empire. With lyrical and oddly affectionate folk stories – much softer and more humane than the Brothers’ Grimm stories – and nobles with iron hearts. Such a place! How come more people hadn’t used it as a setting already? I had to put that right.
As far as the intense relationship between two men went, I realized as I got older that a lot of the erotic charge of the vampire came from the Victorian sense that sexuality was something bad and wrong, whose lure was therefore evil – it was a sin whose wages were death. When I realized that, the charm wore off. I don’t want to be suggesting that two guys falling in love with each other was bad or wrong in any way. I don’t want to be perpetuating that whole bodice ripper thing whereby the innocent protagonist has to be forced to have the sex they secretly really want but can’t allow themselves to consent to. Rape culture. Blergh!
That’s not for me. My characters like to take responsibility for their own sexuality, thanks. So my gentlemen’s love for one another is a force of strength for them both, and my vampires are, as they originally were, monsters.
Basically, Sons of Devils is my version of what Dracula should have been, if only it had been written to suit me. I hope it will suit you too!