Dacre Stoker did not get the writing gene from his great-granduncle, Dracula author Bram Stoker. And he'll be the first to admit it. The Aiken resident has worked as a secondary school teacher and a CPR instructor. He's also a former pentathlete. And surprisingly, he prefers adventure novels to horror. Heck, he didn't even pick up Dracula until it was required reading in college.
But when screenwriter and Dracula scholar Ian Holt decided to pen a sequel to the classic vampire novel, he knew that he wanted a blood relative to lend a hand.
"Ian was searching for a Stoker who was versatile and willing to give something new a go," Stoker says. "That pretty much describes me. I was also willing to dig around and ask my family members for any information which would help us to know about Bram as a person."
The duo spent nearly six years working on Dracula the Un-Dead, with the help of a team of historians and editors. Released by Dutton, a division of Penguin Group in Oct. 2009, the book is being re-released as a paperback this month by Penguin company New American Library.
Parts of the book were inspired by Bram Stoker's original notes on Dracula, which his nephew found in the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.
"I found some characters that Bram had been thinking about that didn't get into Dracula," he says. "I thought, 'This is perfect. I'm going to continue some of his thought processes that he had planned to put into his book and put them into our sequel.'"
While the initial inspiration came from Bram, the writers of The Un-Dead made some bold decisions that haven't sat well with some Dracula purists. By moving the date of the original novel's setting, which is generally accepted to be in the 1890s, The Un-Dead is able to coincide with key events like the sinking of the Titanic and the Jack the Ripper murders in London. Some other historical details are inaccurate, and it veers from the original's famously epistolary format, instead using narratives from a number of characters.
"I think some purists expected us to — or were disappointed we didn't — mirror Bram Stoker's style, but that was never our intention," Dacre Stoker says.
Set in 1912, the book revisits the band of heroes that helped chase off Dracula, including Abraham Van Helsing, John Seward, and Jonathan and Mina Harker. The Harkers' son Quincey — who may or may not have a bit of vampire blood running through his veins — joins the group. He's all grown up now and starring in a production of Bram Stoker's Dracula (yes, Bram is in the sequel to his own novel).
"I think he would have been too humble to show any signs of enjoyment," Dacre says of including Bram, "but deep inside I hope he would be satisfied that the readers get to know a little more about him."
Working off of the idea that Dracula wasn't actually killed at the end of Bram's novel, the characters in The Un-Dead are threatened by his return.
"If [Bram] really wanted to kill Dracula, he would have done exactly what he had Van Helsing explain to the other band of heroes when they had to kill Lucy — they had to put a wooden stake through her heart and cut her head off," Stoker says. "So why at the end of the novel, when they have the chance to kill the alpha vampire of all time, they only put the knife in the heart, not a wooden stake? I think he wants Dracula to come back. And that's the opening Ian and I use to say we can justify Dracula coming back as an un-dead."
But Dracula isn't the only threat in The Un-Dead — the writers took another bloodthirsty historical figure and turned her into a major character. The Countess Elizabeth Bathory is said to have killed hundreds of virgins in the 16th century and bathed in their blood.
"She's kind of the main demon," Stoker says. "Dracula is her adversary in this story."
Within the first two chapters, Bathory has stripped and whipped a village girl, hung her upside down, slit her throat, and orgasmed in a shower of her blood. And that's just one example of some of the highly sexual scenes in the novel — yet another departure from the original.
Stoker and Holt took turns writing chapters, passing the novel back and forth and giving each other feedback. A team of editors tried to give it an overall cohesive feel.
"I wouldn't have done it without him," Stoker says. "I'm just not a strong enough writer. Once we got the subplots, the difficult thing was weaving them together."
Holt was certainly a worthy person to partner with. In the mid-'90s, he developed a screenplay for the non-fiction book In Search of Dracula (1972), written by Fulbright scholars Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu (Prince Dracula's descendant). The pair became Holt's mentors, and he joined the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, attended Dracula conferences, and even spent the night in his castle in Poenari. In 1997, he presented the lecture, "How Dracula Might Be Responsible for the Discovery of America," at a Dracula conference in L.A. Connections made there eventually led to his meeting with Dacre Stoker.
There have been rumors of film studios considering the book since its release, but Stoker says so far, there have been no bites. While the hope is to get their creation on the big screen, Stoker continues to explore a writing career. He's in the final stages of an illustrated tribute book with Dracula scholar Elizabeth Miller as well as a prequel, which once again stars Bram and other Stoker relatives. He hopes to make writing a full-time endeavor, but he will continue to collaborate with more established writers.
"I just don't feel confident enough to put out the quality of writing that would really be expected of a Stoker," he admits. "I'm not too proud to collaborate and then share the profits with someone else."
The book has seen some positive reviews, but there's no doubt that the only reason it's being billed as an official sequel is because of Stoker's name on the cover. Without that, it would likely fall into the over-saturated genre of vampire fiction.
"I am not ashamed to say that my name certainly helped get the manuscript read by a few publishers," Stoker says. "Had the story not been any good, then I don't think a reputable publisher like Dutton would have purchased it just because of my name."