Friday, March 25, 2011

Charles E. Butler and The Romance of Dracula

Please welcome Charles E. Butler to Immortyl Revolution!  As a fan of horror films, I was very excited about interviewing Charles about his book.  I once worked as a tour guide at Universal Studios and learned a lot about the classic horror films produced by that studio.  I also grew up on the Hammer horror movies.  I think you'll be fascinated by the vast knowlege Charles brings to his discussion of the genre. 

DV: I come from a background in the entertainment industry, and I was intrigued by the fact that you have worked in film and television. Tell us a little about that.

CEB: It is only a little I have to tell, I’m afraid. I began acting with local theatre groups in 1993. I’ve tread the boards and played all kinds of parts in productions ranging from Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest. I have tackled most of Shakespeare and directed productions of Mary Chase’s Harvey – playing Elwood Dowd, and Tom Griffin’s The Boy’s Next Door – playing Arnold Wiggins. I’ve written plays and adapted productions like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I have appeared very sparsely on TV in local soaps in extras capacity. My ideals of being the next Laurence Olivier were short-lived very quickly, but the last twenty years have been pretty amazing. I would actually like to play Count Dracula. Now I make short films under my Su asti banner and submit to festivals. Currently, I’m working on a short movie concerning Dracula’s three vampire brides and based on Van Helsing’s Memorandum in Stoker’s book.

DV: You’re from the UK. I’m a big fan of the British series Being Human. Is the paranormal craze as big in the UK as it is in the US? As my husband likes to say, “You can’t swing a dead cat in Barnes and Noble without hitting a vampire book.”

CEB: I think that the belief and the love of the paranormal from a fascinartion point of view is worldwide. It is in our very beings. If we didn’t have the recources of book and film, we would still invent stories and characters pertaining to the fantastic. When an archeologist finds a cave, there are always pictures of some kind that have been drawn by our ancestors on the cave walls. We all have the creative bug and the horror genre in all media is the most utilised because it frees our imaginations. With the fantastic we can do and be whoever, or whatever, we like. And these particular days, your husband is right, only over here (UK), it is Waterstones. Vampire market saturation is rampant.

DV: What are some of your favorite books, films, and television shows in the vampire genre?

CEB: That’s easy. Dracula the novel. No one has told the story better than Stoker. I like I Am Legend, Salem’s lot, I enjoy Kim Newman’s apocryphal take on the genre with his Anno Dracula series and I like the three Peter Tremayne novels that fuses Stoker’s Count with Vlad Tepesh. I literally devour cinema in all it’s forms, but not as much these days. My real time in Cinema ended in the early 2000s. The last movie I’ve seen on the big screen was Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2004. I’m a lazy man now and wait for the DVD release. TV is not big on my agenda, but I did enjoy the Buffy series and the first series of Being Human. I have seen TrueBlood, but not The Vampire Diaries as yet, though I’m sure that I will catch up one day.

DV: Is there any particular area of vampire mythology that interests you?
CEB: My interests with vampires stops at the movies and in the novels. I found the creative process inspirational in all these forms. I’m fascinated by real-life vampire spottings that are reported in old ledgers with drawings of skeletal authors etched onto the spine. When it comes to real vampires and the idea of people actually indulging in that sort of thing, I used to become shocked and prudish and all kinds of emotions, until I interviewed Arlene Russo of BiteMe magazine for the New Orleans Vampire festival last year. She really opened my eyes about this underground sub-culture that exists and has written Vampire Nation which is an amazing look at these people and their way of life. It is a book, and magazine, that I urge anyone with problems or doubts in those areas to take a look at. It is a fascinating study and her book quotes many real life cases of people who live normal, everyday lives, but have a taste for blood. As I said, tense reading.

DV: What led you to write The Romance of Dracula?

CEB: I was becoming a little disillusioned about things. I was unemployed and bored. I was reading a review book on a famous horror film studio and became depressed when I noticed many errors in this authorized work. I glanced at my video shelves and simply thought, “I could do that!” That’s how it began. But I am proud of the fact, that I’ve written a book that I want to read and dip in and out of at my leisure. I hope I don’t sound sycophantic when I say that I can’t put the book down and I wrote it!

I enjoy my language of the book. Eg the review for Nosferatu states that;

“When the imposing dread wipes the smile off the young estate agent’s face, we feel our own nerves begin to jangle. We are drawn in, like Hutter, to the nightmares of the dark.”

Or the description concerning Orlock’s influence;

“The religious aspects of Stoker's tale are dropped altogether, the only crucifixes on show being the ones drawn in white chalk on the doors of the dead. There are no wooden stakes or the mention of prayers. These omissions leave no place for the theories of the learned Professor Bulwer, no matter how much his suspicions are realised. One also suspects that it will take more than a length of wood through one man’s heart to halt the threat that Orlock represents, no matter how God-fearing the hunter is. Only a woman who is without sin can halt the invasion, even at the cost of her own life.”

I enjoy the seduction of Lucy and like the prose I used to describe that in the Louis Jourdan version:

“Lucy shows a feigned concern for Mina's Jonathon, as she chatters on enthusiastically about her offer of two marriage proposals, leaving Mina crying alone in the dark. When a third suitor, Dracula, appears on the scene, she abandons her sister altogether to indulge in night-time excesses draped across a stone sarcophagus, or laid prone in bed when Mina is out of the room, welcoming her lovers hot embrace: "Don't tell mother," she gasps, "the shock would kill her".

Back home, she revels in the carnage described in the tabloids over cornflakes and orange juice, while her mother and sister look on in horror. When cornered by the vampire hunters at her tomb, she angrily growls and hisses at them for letting such a thing happen, all the while probably forgetting that she let the change continue without informing them that something was definitely wrong, watching her fangs grow daily in the same way that we might keep an eye on the advancement of a brand new pimple. From her coffin, as she succumbs to Quincey's jealous staking, her eyes, streaming with tears, seem to imply that,

"It wasn't my fault!". ”

And I like to think that I did justice to a movie that really got bad press – and continues to do so – “Dracula’s Curse (2002)” starring Patrick Bergin. As a die-hard fan, I thought Mr Bergin gave one of the most accurate portrayals of Stoker’s monster. Likewise, my opening description of him, I hope, gets this point across:

“Roger Young's script gives Dracula the ability to frighten people again, soliciting the love of his victims, that they join him in the last battle for Armageddon. Cajoling them with golden idols and poo poo-ing the need for morality in a world where "do unto others" has always been the way of life and would never change.

Back in more conventional attire as the Count, Patrick Bergin never misses a step. He physically resembles Stoker's character more closely than anyone else, before or since. He adds new resonance to the clichéd speeches of the novel and is believable as both a warrior and a father of dynasties.”

And that is the way that I wanted it to look or sound. I wanted it to entertain, otherwise, what is the point? I find that it does entertain me and that is the credo that I swear by:

“If I enjoy it, then someone else will”

I’m not generally a fan of quoting from famous works, I try to be as honest and original as possible in my writing. With The Romance of Dracula, I think that I succeeded in this. I didn’t want to write a laboured biography concerning the times and various world events that were taking place when the films were made. To me that would have been boring. I wanted to get that frantic flow of the pulp novel into a review book. The page-turning aspect that grips all of us when we know that we should blow out the candle and go to sleep, but we have to see what happens. If I succeed, even in a small measure in that respect, then I am a happy man.

DV: Tell us a bit about your writing process.

CEB: Is there a process? For me it starts as a raw idea. For example, an idea can hit you anywhere. I have two novels, one review book, two screenplays and two comic books all on the back-burner. I have the ideas, but not the discipline to structure them. Romance just simply flowed. I had a lot of free time and knew by careful notation what I was going to write about each movie, so it came fairly easy. My friend David, a journalist and author in his own right, proofread Romance, and takes my scripts off my hands and gives me incredible feedback and then explains the intricacies of structuring my ideas into a workable format. I listen intently to his very sound advice and then forget it! Terrible of me, I know. My process revolves around the discipline and the fun I’m having. Like every creative process, if it’s working, that’s great, but if the machine grinds to a halt, the work joins the rest of my unfinished works in the bottom drawer until inspiration kicks in again. Yes, I love writing! I’m sure that every artist on the planet has a full bottom drawer.

DV: How much time did you devote to research?

CEB: It’s been a lifelong study really. I’ve always been a fan, but I didn’t want the book to be a fanzine, if you like. So I re-watched all the relevant movies and took down notes as they unfolded. Then I wrote a review checking details everywhere I could get them that I’d first recalled to memory. I’m not a big lover of research. I only persisted because it was Dracula, an interest of mine. That is the best way, I believe, to acquire knowledge. By first becoming interested. From watching the movies to the completion of the first draft, it took about six weeks in the Autumn of 2007. But I have added to the text later events that came to the fore while I was waiting for publication. The biggest happening at this time being Christopher Lee’s Knighthood in 2010. There were also a few tragic deaths, Leslie Nielsen, Ingrid Pitt and Roy Ward Baker, but I felt that it would overbalance the structure of the timeframe to add these unfortunate events. But they will be mentioned in my follow up book, Vampires Everywhere.

DV: Dracula is such an iconic figure. Are there any works inspired by Stoker’s Count that you would recommend?

CEB: My favourites of the genre are mentioned above. There are also other media, like comic books that sell the Count's image very well in many four-colour adaptations. I would try to sell comic books anywhere because for me, it is the storytelling medium. It is what I grew up with and what I eventually hope to aspire to, once I acquire the discipline. Still the best Dracula version in comics is the original Tomb of Dracula Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Gene Colan.

DV: I find the real life Vlad Tepesh to be a fascinating study in cruelty. Have you encountered any interesting facts about him in your research?

CEB: I wanted to stay away from the Impaler as Stoker’s Dracula image in the book. This is because I believe that Bram simply used the name because it sounded great and he lived in an unheard of land of mystery in a tremendous castle. He was a warrior, sadist, philanderer and Stoker incorporates all these traits into his monster, but never makes a point of being definitive. I have read Raymond T. Mcnally’s and Radu Florescu’s In Search of Dracula and find their deductions fascinating. Possibly in much the same way that Stoker himself did when Arminius Vambery first mentioned the name: Dracula. Truth is stranger than fiction and no more so than in this particular tale. Vlad the Impaler – Count Dracula’s first name is never mentioned in the novel – is a man to be respected and feared in equal measure and, for me, he should have thought about seeking help for anger management. But his own times were turbulent, with his foes just as bloodthirsty as himself. I did learn that his torturous method of impalement was something he actually learned from his enemies the Turks when he was held prisoner for a time in a Turkish dungeon. In Stoker’s novel, he bowdlerises the facts of the real Vlad to give Count Dracula a fitting bloodthirsty history. And nothing follows a man better, or worse, than his reputation.

DV: Please share any upcoming appearances or book signings with my readers. What are your websites and social sites?

h This is the link to the Kindle Direct Publishing where my book can be purchased. This is my Facebook Link. this is the link to The Eerie Digest free Online Magazine that I write in every month.

DV: I like to thank Charles for joining me here today!  Please leave a comment for him and keep the conversation going.


Bertena Varney said...

Great interview.. Your look on Dracula has really opened my eyes to different interpretations. I just saw him as the lonely victim so many times..

Denise Verrico said...

Charles, I can't wait to read your book. Thanks for being my guest!

Nora Weston said...

Wonderful interview! The Romance of Dracula sounds like a good read. I've never seen Dracula's Curse, so I may have to check that out. "And nothing follows a man better, or worse, than his reputation." So true!