Aug 13, 2010

Karen Essex - Interview and Contest

Today is a special treat for PVN readers. Bestselling author Karen Essex is here to talk about her wonderful new book Dracula In Love (Doubleday, August 10, 2010), a story told by Mina Harker about the centuries old romance she has shared with a remarkable man, and the hard choices she has had to make over the years. Karen is also the author of the National Bestseller Leonardo's Swans.

Look for contest details at the end of the post.

Hi Karen and welcome!

What led you to the idea of writing a novel centered on Mina and Dracula?

Ideas for novels are mysterious things having many threads that coalesce.  I have always loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula, mythology, vampires, and interesting female characters, especially those who have been misrepresented in the historical record. I am also intrigued by iconic literary characters like Mina Harker, characters who I believe were “underrepresented” because they were written through the lens of the period in which they were created, and without the benefit of a female perspective.

I believe that characters like Mina are as real, if not more real, in the popular imagination as actual historical figures, and that they, too, merit reexamination.  Stoker’s portrayals of Mina and Lucy Westenra, the “shadow” side of female sexuality, so perfectly fit the paradigm of good girl versus bad girl imposed on women, a paradigm that drives me nuts.  I couldn’t resist getting in there and trying to turn it on its head. 

How long have you had the idea to write Dracula in Love?

This idea came to me in September of 2006.  One day I was sitting in my office staring into space and I thought, hmm, what if I wrote the Dracula tale from Mina’s perspective?  It happened just like that.  I have absolutely no explanation for where the idea came from, but from the second it entered my mind, I knew I would write the book.

Is this your first foray into paranormal fiction? What attracts you to this genre?

All my books are loaded with mythology, and I have long wanted to write a story with supernatural elements, especially something about vampires.  But when you are born and raised in New Orleans and adore Anne Rice’s books, and in fact, know Anne Rice and once adapted one of her books into a screenplay (The Mummy for James Cameron), it’s a tad intimidating to venture into her turf!  I had to wait for the right idea. 

I am also interested in metaphysics.  I think the most interesting dialogue of our time centers around the theories of quantum physics, which I believe will eventually close the gap between physics and metaphysics.  Remember the old Sting lyric, “We are spirits in a material world?”  That sums it up. I always wear crosses, not to protect myself from vampires, but to remind myself to live at the intersection between heaven and earth.  My spiritual life is very important to me.

What is your view on reincarnation?

I believe in the immortality of the soul; that consciousness is eternal.  I believe in some form of reincarnation, but it is probably not as simple as we imagine.  I often hear people say things like, “Oh, I was Julius Caesar in a previous lifetime, and this other person was my stable boy, and that’s why he’s intimidated by me.”  I find that kind of thinking very simplistic, but I also do not see why we cannot project or focus our infinite consciousness into many different physical beings throughout the flow of time (which we all know is just an illusion anyway).

What research did you do for the Victorian background of this book?

Well, I moved to London and got a flat in a neighborhood that was developed in 1890, the year the book takes place.  How’s that for commitment?  I wanted to breathe in the atmosphere as I wrote. I thought that this kind of sensual vivid book demanded it.  I made my usual substantive study of the era, reading as many documents as possible from the period and studying the art, culture, design, sexual and social mores, religious beliefs, customs, and laws concerning the rights, or lack thereof, of women.  Victorian culture is very complex; it’s lush and extravagant, and restrained and contained, all at once. 

I almost never, ever, if I can help it, write about a place I haven’t been to, which is why I am happy that I wrote the book here in London, where much of the late Victorian period can still be seen.  I also traveled to southern Austria, which was Bram Stoker’s original choice for Dracula’s home before he settled on Transylvania.  I also went to Whitby where so much of the original was set, and to the west coast of Ireland, the birthplace of Stoker’s mother.  Strangely, I had set Sligo as Mina’s birthplace before I learned that Stoker’s mother was born there, and that he grew up hearing tales of ghost stories and Irish folklore. 

But for my taste, the most harrowing locations in my book are the treatment rooms of Victorian insane asylums.  I did a lot of research in the archives of these places, and I can assure the reader that my portrayal of those institutions are quite accurate. As far as I’m concerned, that’s where the real horror in the book takes place.

Kate Reed is such a terrific character. Please describe her to PVN readers, and tell why you decided to use her in this novel.

Ah, another bizarre coincidence!  I decided to create a character I named Julia Reed to be Mina’s old school chum, when I read in Stoker’s notes that he had toyed with including a character named Kate Reed who would be Mina’s friend.  I could not resist using the name, though we have no idea what Stoker might have done with “his” Kate.

My Kate is a lady journalist who is a foil to Mina.  Kate is an outspoken feminist, reflecting the dramatic changes that women were pushing for at that time.  She pokes and prods Mina to think beyond the social norms.  Readers are responding very strongly to Kate.  I think that she is a woman of her time but also someone modern readers can relate to.  Without women like Kate Reed, we would not be nearly as advanced in our present day thinking.  All that we take for granted now was earned with a heavy price by those types of women.

What is your writing day like? Where do you work? How do you write?

I ascribe to the “obsessive compulsive” style of delivering a book, which means that when I get into it, I almost don’t let it go until it’s done.  I know people who write a daily quota and then stop.  I cannot do that.  I wring it all out, and when there is no more, I quit.  Sometimes.  I don’t recommend this system, but it works for me.

Whether in Los Angeles or London, I write at home.  I like to get out of my environment and even find it stimulating, but unfortunately, in cafes and public places, people do talk to you, no matter how focused and busy you look.  So I get rather reclusive when I need to work.  It’s can be a lonely business if one is not careful.  On the other hand, some of the best and deepest conversations I have are with myself.  What that says about me, I’m not sure, but it’s the truth.

Karen, I believe this entire interview tells all of us what a very special person you are. Thank you for taking time to be here


One lucky reader will win a copy of Dracula In Love.

*To enter the contest simply ask Karen one question OR leave one pertinent comment - one chance

You may also:

"Like" Dracula in Love on Facebook  

*Link to this contest on any of the social network sites, including Twitter, or your own web page. Let me know the url:  One chance for each link.

*If you are a Google follower (see sidebar on right): One chance

*If you are a member of the PVN Facebook page: One chance

*If you are an email subscriber: One chance

Contest is open WORLWIDE! Contest ends August 20, 2010.


buddyt said...

I am amazed and very glad to read about the amount of research that Karen did. I think it is really great that she is so dedicated to researching in such depth and I am sure I has made her novel a much better read.

Because of the above I would love to read the book and winning would mean not having to wait for ages before I can eventually buy it.


Carol T

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I subscribe.

Giada M said...

Great interview! I love to read about reincarnations so I wanted to ask...if you were the reincarnation of someone in history, who would you be? :D
Thank you for making this awesome contest international! This book sounds very intriguing!

Thank you for this chance!

Giada M.

fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

Giada M said...

Forgot to mention:

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debbie said...

It was interesting that the author moved to england to be able to find out what it was like to live there. To travel to all those places to research them was incredible. There are no words for the horrors of the assulyms at that time. The barberic things that happened then in the name of treatment were dreadful.
I would really like to read this book,it sounds amazing.
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Karen Essex said...

To answer Giada M's question, I hope that I was once the outrageous Lady Jane Digby, over whom men fought duels. Either her or Julius Caesar because he was so cool.

SandyG265 said...

I am surprised that Karen did that much research for the book. When Bram Stoker wrote the original Dracula he had never been to many of the places he wrote about.

Thanks for the giveaway.

GFC follower

Jessica said...

Hmm, sounds interesting. I've been seeing a lot of books that are retelling the story of Dracula lately and making it into a love story. They sound very interesting. It kind of goes with the sequel to Dracula that Bram's relative wrote. Sounds very interesting.

Karen, where did you get the idea or what motivated you to write this story of Dracula as a love story?

Elizabeth Kolodziej said...

Your book sounds really interesting. I like how much research you do and how you dive into the environment. I think doing that really helps the writer to become inspired and make the book more real.

Roberta said...

Great interview! Question for Karen: Do you have a plan or outline when you start writing or do you just write and organize it later? I'm not a writer of novels/books but I tend to be a gatherer...if that is a word...and collect all my information and sometimes place it on a back-burner and then write. It's my crazy way of organizing before I write. Thanks for your time, fondly, Roberta

Roberta said...

Posted the link to my facebook wall:!/profile.php?id=1222723325

Roberta @

Roberta said...

Yes I'm a google follower as well:

Roberta said...

Finally, I am an email subscriber:)

Roberta said...

Wow...and now I am a Facebook Fan! Thanks for all these lovely chances, fondly, Roberta

Tore said...

I am a follower and email subscriber. I really want to read this book. Please enter me in contest. What suggestions do you have for me about trying to write a book. I love reading and have been thinking alot lately about trying to write a book.

Karen Essex said...

Jessica: The idea literally descended on me as I was sitting at my computer staring into space. I wish I could explain it better! I wrote it as a love story because I am from New Orleans and very much influenced by gothic romanticism, especially the concept of the immortal lover. I have my own unusual ideas about vampirism, which you will read in the book.

Karen Essex said...

Elizabeth: I love researching so much that if I didn't have a publisher reminding me of deadlines, I'd just keep going!

Roberta: I always start with an extensive outline, but in the case of Dracula in Love, it did me no good. The characters did what they wanted to do. I wrote a blog post about the experience:

Karen Essex said...

Tore: Just start writing. Try not to have too much invested in the outcome and above all, do not be harsh with yourself. And don't ask people to read it too soon in the process! Just write to please yourself. If it feels good, keep doing it. If your story starts to take off, then start looking at books on the craft of writing or get yourself into a workshop or class.

rachel445 said...

Love the cover of the book. And moving to London is serious dedication! And so is the amount of research. The book sounds really great.
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Robin K said...

I too like working in quiet surroundings. It is hard reading when there is background noise, I could not imagine writing. I really do need to hear myself think.

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katsrus said...

I love your book cover. Very pretty. Your book sounds really good. How did you get to know Anne Rice and was it hard to adapt one her books into a screenplay? Sounds exciting to me. Really enjoyed your interview.
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Vickie said...

That is commitment indeed, instead of just reading about the area and era, you went!

I cannot wait to read this book. I've seen plenty of rave reviews, but this is the first interview with you I've had the chance to read.

Went to facebook to 'like' the book.
Already a follower and subscribe to your newsletter and you are on my blog roll.

Meredith said...

I can't imagine you'd get much work done at a cafe or anywhere else outside your home. Do you ever let people know that you're writing a book?

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Aik said...

Hi Karen, I've read some entries in the newspaper saying some people have memories of the past. Is it because they reincarnated?

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Karen Essex said...

Sue B: I first met Anne Rice at her New Orleans home. She was giving a huge party, and I don't remember the occasion. I was later hired by James Cameron & Fox to adapt the book and had conversations with Anne during that time. She is astonishingly down to earth! Yes, it was hard to adapt the book. It's a project that was shelved by the producers and the studio for various reasons, but I hope to return to it someday.

Karen Essex said...

Meredith: I try not to tell people I'm writing a book. I don't like to talk about what I'm writing while I'm writing it. It can feel stressful to try to explain a works-in-progress when you have not quite explained it to yourself yet! I have a few trusted colleagues I talk to about my writing, but that's about it.

Karen Essex said...

Aik: I wish I knew the answers to the mysteries of the universe! Strange cases have been documented of people having accurate memories of past eras and some attribute that to reincarnation. I have no idea! I have no past life memories, but I often live with the strange sense that all time is happening at once. When I write about the past, I do not feel that it's "past," but that it is unfolding before me.

Mary (BookHounds) said...

No need to enter me (I already have both of Karen's books.)
I just posted this at win a book for you!

EVA SB said...

Interesting interview. It has definitely piqued my interst in the book.
Is there another location you love to moved to in order to research a book? And is there a location you would never consider?

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mariska said...

I'm intrigued by this book, since it's first review.

- What's your favorite scene(s) on this book ? and did you find it difficult to write ?

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Mystica said...

My knowledge of Dracula is a bit limited and I'd like to know more. Also the title intrigues me! Dracula is willing to allow himself to fall in love???


Karen Essex said...

Eva: Well, now I'm in love with London as a place to live, so I'm not sure I want to relocate again. On the other hand, I used to live in Paris, and I would absolutely love to live in France again for a while. I love the language and it upsets me that my French is no longer good! There are many places I where I would not consider living, but there is NO place I wouldn't consider visiting and exploring for the sake of research.

Karen Essex said...

Mariska: My absolute favorite scene in the book is the masked ball, which is toward the end. That scene was not hard to write at all because I was so deeply into it. The book wasn't hard to write after I quit wrestling with the characters and let them be who they wanted to be. Once I "gave up" and submitted to their wills, the words flowed.

Karen Essex said...

Mystika: None of us have a choice about falling in love, do we? It just happens, and then we have to deal with it however we can. "My" Dracula's origins precede his beginnings in other Dracula versions. His development as an immortal also follows a different track, which I hope you will find interesting. I wanted to demonstrate a more authentically mythological version of the vampire tale, so I kind of reinvented the rules. Dracula purists may object, but most readers are finding it interesting and refreshing.

BUSY BEE said...

I found it interesting that Karen adapted A. Rice's book into a screenplay. Really cool!

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BUSY BEE said...

I am a gfc follower.

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A Musing Mother said...

Would you write any other books based on classics from a different perspective?

ntaylor288 at yahoo dot com

Violet said...

Hi, love the interview, the answers as well as the questions. If you do not think my question is too stupid I would really like to know if it was extra pressure because you were writing a classic from a different point of view?

oh and please enter me. I follow you through google connect now if it counts

violetc dot books at gmail dot com

Karen Essex said...

Musing Mother: Yes, I have several ideas brewing now that also re-envision classics. I am also keen to write more stories of Mina and the Count.

Violet: YES! It was very intimidating to take on Bram Stoker's Dracula. I would not have done it if I didn't think I could bring new information and a fresh perspective to the story. Retelling for its own sake is just worthless, and I think readers would see right through it.

Pam S (pams00) said...

Great Interview!

I noticed that you listed in the responses that you had some classics in the works, do any of those revolve around horror's such as Frankenstein, etc.?

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donnas said...

Hi Karen. Thanks for sharing. I love the Dracula legend, myth and story. And am really looking forward to reading your take. Thanks for sharing!

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DeSeRt RoSe said...

I hope you would accept this award from me :)

allisonsbj3 said...

How many hours a day do you write?


allisonsbj3 said...

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allisonsbj3 said...

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Sue said...

I'm so used to the bloody Dracula, so it'll be amazing to read about him falling in love or something. So here's the question: You think you are breaking the rules by making Dracula fall in love like a mere human being and therefore "destroying" our fear for vampires the same way Stephenie Meyer did after she wrote about a sparkling vampire (I swear to God I had nightmares about them before I read Twilight lol)?

PS: I'm not a native English speaker so sorry if I wrote something wrong.

PS2: Loved the cover.

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Karen Essex said...

Desert Rose: There is something very sweet about offering a Sunshine Award on a vampire site!! Accepted.

Allison: I don't write a set number of hours a day. I write until it's all wrung out of me. That could be 25 minutes or 13 hours straight.

As far as breaking the rules, when I realized that Bram Stoker basically invented the rules, and that there was a very rich mythology of vampirism and blood drinking in many cultures and in many forms, I felt compelled to break the rules. I was sick of garlic and cross fearing monsters! Being an historian and mythology freak, I wanted to go back to the actual roots of it all and tell that story.

AutumH said...

Besides Bram Stoker were there any other authors or books that influenced your work or foray into writing this book?


AutumH said...

tweeted this giveaway-


AutumH said...

Follow you through GFC via twitter-AutumH


Karen Essex said...

Autumn: Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins are my two favorite writers in the gothic tradition. If you have not read The Woman in White or Rebecca, you must!

Anonymous said...

Check this vampire test with twins and mirror:

k_sunshine1977 said...

this sounds great - i can't wait to read this! i hope they start up that movie again - i would so want to see that! :)

karen, what's your favorite movie version of the dracula tale?

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