How Sturgis was Written

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, has never been out of print since it was published in 1897. The Bela Lugosi movie is, by comparison, quite dorky, though it had a great influence on the film industry. I’ve seen it several times, and the Spanish version, which was made with nearly the same script, on the same sets, and  at the same time but at night instead of by day. There have been many vampire movies, many Dracula movies, many of them starring Christopher Lee (who one time, when he thought his dialogue was execrable, insisted on remaining silent during the filming).

Somehow, starting with Lugosi, the nature of the vampire changed. He, or she sometimes (the movie based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla for example), couldn’t tolerate daylight, was repelled by the sign of the cross (Oy, haff you got the wrong wampire), and so on. In fact, Dracula did his own banking in London — by day, when else? The sign of the cross did nothing to him (though a blessed crucifix did, Dracula being Christian instead of Jewish or Muslim or Chinese or Greek), else window mullions would have repelled him, which they did not. And Dracula was a shape-shifter. In the book could take the shape of a bat, of a mist, of a cloud of sparkly motes, and of a wolf. He was almost a werewolf, of sorts.

I have long wanted to write a vampire story, drawing on Stoker, not on any movies or other books, especially Twilight. It was one of those ideas which took a long time, years actually, before I got a handle on it. Which was something like this:

—— He discovers that the murders were committed by a vampire, but —

—— In order to learn how to destroy a vampire he has to die, but —

—— In order to destroy the vampire he has to have a body.

That was the whole of my plot outline.

I wanted my protagonist (in the course of the story he proves himself to be a hero) to have enough spare time to be able to investigate the murders and then act against his enemy. Most amateur detectives seem to have little else to do, but Mathew Dacorian needed to have a job. So I made him an English instructor in a community college, classes six mornings a week, grading homework, usually in the afternoons.

I had three turning points — discovery of vampire, learning how to destroy it, getting a body to do it — but I needed a starting point, a beginning. I had a mental image of him coming home from work, and finding too many police cars in front of his apartment building.

And it just went from there. It took less than a year to write (being only 80,000 words), but it was six years from start to publication. A lot of that time was spent working of drafts of Slaves of War; on notes, research, and first drafts (plural) of A Thing Forgotten; on first chapters of The Empty House; and the final [sic] polish of The Black Ring.

I wrote Sturgis in a state of almost constant if low key inspiration. That is, I saw/heard/felt it in my head, images not thoughts, and wrote what I saw. I learned about Mathew’s past when he finally had to tell it to Police Lieutenant Carpenter. I discovered how to work with “real” zombies as I created them, from folklore and history. I discovered the cat Ruby when I met her, and learned what she could do much later. I found my ending when I came to it — I knew what the ending was about, but I didn’t know until I got there how it came about.

Darcy, of course, did the cover for me. The semi-abstract fractal image IS the vampire — if you could see him the way he truly was.