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My Interview with Karen Essex
Karen Essex, author of Dracula in Love, agreed to answer some questions for me. With her permission, I share the answers with you. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did.
LB: When did you first realize that you were meant to be a writer?
KE: I tried to write my first novel at the age of seven. I don’t think it was very good.
Like almost every writer throughout history, I was a child who loved to read. My parents used to call me for dinner 100 times before I actually heard their voices because I was so engrossed in a book. "She's come back from the planet Venus," they'd say when I finally showed up at the table. Also, my early years were spent in my grandmother's kitchen, where she, her sister, and their mother, my amazing great-grandmother, told stories all day long while they cooked for the family and for the men who worked in my grandfather's barbershop. They did not censor for the ears of a child, so it was a very rich experience, and I believe, the reason I am a writer today.
I always meant to be a writer, but as a teen I fell in love with theater and film. I was a theater major at Tulane University and then moved to Los Angeles to work in film. My first career was as a film executive, and I was actually very successful. But on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I was producing a movie in Philadelphia when I woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Oh God, I forgot to be a writer.” I started writing and never looked back.
LB: Including Dracula in Love, how many books have you written?
KE: My first published book was a biography of the pinup icon Bettie Page. I have subsequently published five historical novels, the latest being Dracula in Love. I wrote two biographical novels, Kleopatra and Pharaoh, about the great queen; Leonardo’s Swans, about the rivalry among Leonardo da Vinci’s muses; and Stealing Athena, which chronicles the journey of the controversial Elgin Marbles from the perspectives of two of history’s most fascinating women, Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, and Aspasia, mistress to Perikles. Aspasia watched the Parthenon being built, and two thousand years later, Mary Nisbet watched her husband dismantle it and take the treasures back to England. The poor Greeks are still trying to recover them today.
LB: What made you decide to write Dracula in Love from Mina's point of view and allow her to tell the story herself?
KE: I'd read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was fifteen years old, and even at that time, I was sure that the character Mina Harker was dissatisfied with her role as the passive, cooperative Victorian virgin. Though I loved the book, Stoker’s portrayal of Mina left me wanting to know so much more. Then, several decades later, strangely—inexplicably—I was sitting at my computer one night staring into space and the thought popped into my brain: What if I retell the original Dracula myth from Mina Harker's perspective? The idea just descended on me.
Now that said, I had my "vampire epiphany" long ago. I used to race home from grade school on my bike to catch "Dark Shadows" on TV. I grew up in a family of spooky women in New Orleans, which is a haunted city. I adored Anne Rice's books, and then later, as a screenwriter, adapted Rice's The Mummy or Ramses the Damned for James Cameron and 20th Century Fox (sadly, the film remains unmade!). So while the idea seemingly just "occurred" to me, I have loved vampire lore for a very long time, and moreover, my novels retell the stories of women in history in an empowering way. So empowering the vampire's "victim" was a natural for me.
I “allowed” Mina to tell the story in her own words because in the Victorian era, women’s voices were systematically silenced. The idea that Mina could not have told the truth in her day and wants to set the record straight fits with the historical setting. The point of all my books is to give voice to otherwise voiceless females from history and myth; to unlock what has been secreted away in women’s hearts and minds for millennia; to express what has been unutterable.
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
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