iDrakula by Bekka Black

i-drakula.jpgBy Jeannie Holmes

From the delightful mysteries of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series to the brooding love affair of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, vampires have taken over the literary world in recent years, especially the young adult market. Why do these creatures fascinate us? Is the fangs? The immortality? The youth?  And where did it all begin?

As a writer of vampire novels, I’ve often pondered these questions and know they’re probably best left to the realm of scholars. However, I do enjoy discussing the topic with fellow writers and I recently had an opportunity to do just that, as well as ferret out some details on her new novel, iDrakula, with my good friend Bekka Black, aka Rebecca Cantrell.

Hey, Bekka. I’m glad you could take time from your busy schedule to answer a few questions. I’m really excited about your new book. iDrakula is a re-imagining of the classic Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, and is written using e-mails, text messages, web browsers, and search screens. How did the idea for retelling Stoker’s tale through these modern forms of communication begin?

I was in a LA on my book tour for my novel, A Trace of Smoke, when I noticed tables of teenagers sitting silently next to each other. Intrigued, I asked one teen what they were doing. He rolled his eyes, but did look up at me long enough to say, “I’m texting her.” He jerked his head to the side. I looked at him in shock and said, “But she’s right next to you.” He gave me that pitying look I used to give adults and went back to his work.

Oh, yeah, I remember giving that look to adults. So what did you do then?

I crept to my table. I realized that kids today spend more time reading and typing than we do, just in a different way. I wondered what would happen if a book were written using their language and communication methods and delivered to their reading medium of choice: the phone. And Dracula was reborn!

A keen observation. I know my teenaged niece is practically glued to her cell phone, and she’s unbelievably quick with her typing. However, she uses a sort of shorthand code with her friends. Stoker used lengthy letters and journal entries to create the world of Dracula. I’m sure using modern formats for these were challenging, especially given that I heard you limited each text message to 120 characters. How difficult was it to transfer the events in Stoker’s classic to these modern communications?

I love editing (my writing group calls me “The Slasher”) so I enjoyed it! I went through and read the novel again, trying to decide which beats I wanted to bring out, and which plot threads I would have to let go. Then I needed to figure out how to communicate the plot: text messages for dialogue, photos for setting (only a few), emails for longer descriptions, etc. It was terrific fun to sort it all out.

“The Slasher” – I like that! The nickname is sort of Victorian, reminiscent of Jack the Ripper in a way, and Dracula was a very evocative figure for the late Victorian Era when Stoker published it in 1897. However, it was intended for what we consider to be a mature audience today. In addition to updating the epistolary structure of the classic Dracula, you’ve written the tale for a young adult audience and given the characters a makeover. For example, Jonathan Harker is now a teenager with a rare blood disorder. What made you decide to write iDrakula for a YA audience?

I always knew I wanted it to be YA. That kid with the phone in the restaurant was a YA reader. YA readers are the ones who live on their phones.

So, the characters needed to change a bit. They’re younger now, with Mina and Lucy seniors in high school. Jonathan Harker is an intern and freshman in college and Abe Van Helsing’s studying pre-med. The girls are no longer the simple innocents they were in the original. They get out there and figure out what needs doing and fight right beside the boys.

The characters and format aren’t the only things you’ve changed. You’ve also updated the way the book is presented to the reader. iDrakula is a cell phone novel and will be available as an application on the iPhone in addition to being printed in traditional media. How did the idea for a “cell phone novel” come about? Was it something you wanted to create? Did your publisher, Sourcebooks, approach you with the idea?

I came up with the idea to do it as a cell phone novel on my own and we approached Sourcebooks. They have a great application development team in place and have already published nonfiction books on the iPhone, so it was a perfect fit. I wanted to stretch the boundaries of what we call a “book” and how we experience story.

I’ve seen the nonfiction books on the iPhone but not many novels. Is this approach becoming more common for novels?

becky-cantrell1.jpgCell phone novels are common in Japan, with half of their paper bestsellers starting life on the cell phone. Those novels tend to be longer works broken into sections for sending, though. I designediDrakula from the ground up to be a phone experience. There’s nothing there that you wouldn’t find on a phone, and the experience is like stealing the main characters’ phones and then reading them to piece together the events of the story.

That’s very interesting. You must have done a lot of research in preparation for iDrakula, both in terms of presenting the format to Sourcebooks and the story itself. How many times did you read the classic Dracula before or during the period in which you were working on iDrakula?

I’d read Dracula several times before I had the idea, then read it once for fun again, once for story, and then dipped back into it a bajillion times (a nice, scientific term there) while I was working on it.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, vampires are incredibly popular in fiction and film and their nature varies widely – from the daywalking-vampire-slaying Blade to the synthetic blood-drinking sex symbols of True Blood to the teen angst of Edward Cullen. Did you research vampires and vampire folklore before writingiDrakula or did you choose to closely stick to the mythos created by Stoker?

I stuck to Bram Stoker’s vision of vampires for the novel, although I’ve certainly done a bit of vampire research, including reading your novel, Blood Law, which also adds a few twists to the vampire mythology.

You read my book as research? Wow. I’m flattered. Thanks, Bekka. Blood Law was a lot of fun, but the twists I added were cherry-picked for the world I wanted to create. With all the options available for creating vampires, why did you choose to re-event a classic tale instead of adding your own spin to the vampire world?

I liked the idea of starting with a classic with a well known plot. I thought it might make the differences in storytelling more pronounced, but also make the plot easier to understand, at least at first. As for adding my own spin to vampires, I’ve also written a screenplay called A Taste for Blood that has a vegetarian doctor with a rare blood disease that is identified as vampirism, which only manifests itself after the patient’s thirtieth birthday. That one is set in Kona, Hawaii, so I got to stay home for my research.

Vampires in Hawaii. There’s an interesting twist. You have a little twist of your own, though. In addition to writing as Bekka Black, you also write the Hannah Vogel series under the name Rebecca Cantrell. Do you find it difficult to keep your two personas separate?

I am dreadful at keeping the two personas separate, so I’ve decided it’s not going to be able to be much of a secret. I’m always twittering answers to questions as the wrong person or emailing from the wrong account. Clearly this is why I am a writer instead of an international spy.

But the Hannah Vogel series has won awards and much acclaim. Of course, Bekka Black seems to be following in Rebecca’s footsteps. James Rollins called iDrakula a “bold, innovative, and warped. . .an insanely imaginative tour de force.” Even with praise like that, why did you decide to market iDrakula under a different name instead of building off the success you’ve already gained?

I decided to adopt a new name because the iMonster series is so different from the Hannah Vogel series. The Hannah Vogel books are literary historical mysteries set in Berlin in the 1930s. They are traditional books and deal with themes that might not be considered YA. In contrast, the iMonster series are designed to only use storytelling mediums available on a cell phone and to appeal to preteens and teens. I thought that by having two names, readers would know exactly what to expect when they picked up (or downloaded) a book.

That makes sense, keeping the two separate to avoid reader confusion. Since you refer to the iMonster series, does that mean will we see more re-imagined classics in the future? Perhaps an updated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

I’m almost finished with iFrankenstein, the story of a cyber-monster created by a homeschooled teenager named Victor Frankenstein. After that I’m writing an updated version of War of the Worlds. That will finish out the iMonster series, for now. After that, I start up the iRomance books.

Sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. I can’t wait to read iDrakula. Thanks again, Bekka, for taking time from your schedule, and I wish you much success!

Thanks and likewise, Jeannie!

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