International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Aaarh, mateys! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and as a writer of space pirate fiction, I would be remiss if I didn’t mark the occasion. In fact, me hearties, I haven’t just written about space pirates, but airship pirates have appeared in my steampunk stories and the real life pirate, Grace O’Malley makes an appearance in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

According to Wikipedia, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started by John Baur and Mark Summers (no relation that I know of) who proclaimed September 19 each year as the day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate. Of course, when they say everyone should talk like a pirate, they mean everyone should talk like Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in Disney’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island.

I’m a big fan of Stevenson’s famous pirate novel and I love Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, so I’m happy to celebrate the day. As it turns out, Robert Louis Stevenson and I share a birthday. So, I’ve long thought it appropriate that I should include pirates in my fiction. What’s more, I can see how pirates stir the imagination. despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Aside from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I’m also a fan of Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock. In Matsumoto’s stories, Harlock is a pirate mostly in the sense that he turns his back on the corrupt and decadent “legitimate” government of Earth so he can fight to preserve the planet. He fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom.

When I write my pirates, I endeavor to present the same kinds of ideals. My pirates are people who feel disenfranchised and are trying to make the world a better place. It’s possible they’re misguided, but they are trying to make the world—or possibly the universe—a better place.

So, me hearties, when you talk like a pirate today, try to remember the best pirate ideals. If ye find yourself in possession of fine treasure, split it fairly with yer crewmates. If ye see the world as unjust, take a stand to make it a better place. When it’s all said and done, take a nip o’ rum and settle in with a good book. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto would be good choice. You could also seek out adventures I’ve written featuring Captain Ellison Firebrandt, the samurai Imagawa Masako, or Grace O’Malley. You can find them in the following books:

Rhythms and Transitions in Writing

As I mentioned during Saturday’s blog post, I spent the summer in a particular daily rhythm, but now that we’re transitioning into autumn, I’m making some changes to my routine both because of external factors like the weather and also because of the projects I’m working on. One of the projects I’m working on is a new piece of writing. Another is revising a novel I first wrote twenty years ago.

Rhythm is something we associate primarily with song or music. However, it’s easy to see how it relates to writing when we think of structured writing such as formal poetry. The formal poem will have a meter and a rhyme scheme. When you read it aloud, you’ll hear the rhythm at work. You might deliberately break the meter or the rhyme scheme if you’re trying to jar the reader or make a point.

A manuscript on the screen marked up by my editor

When writing a story or a novel, words still have rhythm. Your goal is to put words together that flow one into the other until you have completed your thought. You can check whether your word rhythms work by reading your story aloud. That helps you hear whether your sentences are clunky or too repetitive.

When I was in elementary school, and first learned about paragraphs, they gave us a rigid definition. I was told a paragraph is five sentences. For a long time afterward, anytime I wrote a paragraph it was exactly five sentences. The reason the teacher told me that is that they didn’t want us to give up on an idea after only one or two sentences. They wanted us to practice putting sentences together and make sure we followed one coherent sentence with another.

That’s not really the way it works in fiction. You write out the bones of a thought in a sentence. You put some flesh on those bones in the next sentence. You might explore how they all function as a unit and the direction they’re moving.

Until something happens. That something breaks the rhythm and becomes a new paragraph. The transition is how one paragraph ends and the next begins. In the previous paragraph, we explored how to build a complete paragraph and this one talked about moving on to a new one.

Of course, transitions aren’t just from one paragraph to another. They happen at the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next. They also happen at scene breaks. Those are the places in a book where you might see a blank line between paragraphs and the point of view or setting shifts.

As a writer, I like exploring multiple points of view. When you see a scene from one character’s perspective and then move into another character’s perspective, the reader can gain new insights. That said, some editors I’ve worked with have suggested I can be a little too in love with multiple points of view and they have suggested that I reign in the number of point-of-view characters and scene shifts. This is one of the things I’m looking at with the twenty-year-old novel I’m delving into. There are some chapters with many scenes. The goal is to make sure each scene contributes to the story as a whole, that I transition cleanly from one scene to another, and that the scene is long enough that reader forms a complete picture and has an idea about how the scene relates to the rest of the book’s actions.

It’s all about finding a good rhythm.

Children of the Old Stars Revisited

This has been a busy year releasing new editions of my novels. Just as I was wrapping up work on the rewrite of The Pirates of Sufiro, which I started in late 2018, the contracts for three other novels came to term and the publishing rights to those novels reverted to me. As summer 2020 approaches its end, I’m pleased that new editions of all four novels are now available and it’s now time to look ahead and see what new projects I will tackle. I’ve been giving particular thought to what I would share with my Patreon subscribers for the next few months. Now, as I’ve been wrapping up these most recent projects, a couple of new opportunities have arisen and I am working on two new projects. Unfortunately I’m not at liberty to speak about them in detail or share them with my Patreon subscribers until they’re closer to completion.

Children of the Old Stars 2001 edition.

As I say in my Patreon introduction video, a primary focus of the site is to fund new editions of my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. Because of that objective and because a chunk of my time will be going into new projects I can’t speak about yet, I’ve decided to continue the deep dive through the series and start working on book three, Children of the Old Stars. In The Pirates of Sufiro, we met the Cluster. The Cluster is a vast alien machine that destroys starships indiscriminately in its quest for something or someone. As Children of the Old Stars commences, Commander John Mark Ellis is booted out of the service when he fails to save a merchant ship. He believes the key to stopping the Cluster is communication. His mother, Suki Firebrandt Ellis, is a historian who believes the very leaders of the galaxy are withholding information about the Cluster. One of Ellis’s antagonists from The Pirates of Sufiro, Clyde McClintlock, believes the Cluster is God incarnate, seeking retribution. G’Liat is an alien warrior whose own starship was destroyed by the Cluster. All together, they set out to solve the mystery of the Cluster before it finds the object of its quest.

As with The Pirates of Sufiro, I’ll post a chapter of Children of the Old Stars one week along with my thoughts about it. My goal will be to post the revised chapter a week later. How well I meet that goal will depend on the other projects I’m working on as well as my evolving work situation at Kitt Peak National Observatory. That noted, I will make every effort to complete at least one chapter per month. If you want to be along for the ride, be sure to sign up as a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you do, you’ll not only get to see updated chapters of Children of the Old Stars as they’re posted, you’ll be among the first to get a peek at the secret projects when I can share.

As a reminder, supporting me at Patreon also helps to support this blog so I can continue to give you an ad-free experience.

Now, you may wonder what other projects I’ve been considering, especially since they may be back in the running after I finish my secret projects. One is a sequel to The Astronomer’s Crypt. I have a synopsis written and have given the project quite a bit of thought. There are also a handful of vocal supporters for this project. I’ve also been considering a third book in the Scarlet Order Vampire series. Now there are many vocal people who will tell me that vampires are yesterday’s genre. However, I can’t ignore that in the three weeks since I released Vampires of the Scarlet Order, it has significantly outsold every other book I’ve released this year. It’s not a statistic I can ignore, especially if it turns into an ongoing trend.

Updating the Hadrosaur Bookstore

While Kitt Peak National Observatory is shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my jobs has been to review, edit, and update documentation on the observatory’s websites. I can’t really show off much of what I’ve been working on there since those are internal sites behind firewalls, and, unless you’re versed in astronomical observation, these documents probably wouldn’t hold much general interest. Part of the reason I edit these documents is that the observatory values my skills as a writer and an editor, which I really appreciate. Also, I’ve been coding HTML since the “Wild West” days of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.

A benefit the company added in response to the pandemic was to make LinkedIn Learning available to employees. I first became interested in LinkedIn Learning, when Australian writer and artist Greg Long reviewed some of the courses he’s taken, so I knew there were courses there that could help me improve my skills. Because of how early I came to coding websites, there were no classes. I learned by trial and error and browsing through the w3 standards. If I remember right, when I started, all of the standards could be printed out on three or four sheets of paper! The web has evolved a lot since those days. HTML has been improved and things like cascading style sheets and Javascript were introduced. So, I knew I could do with some formal training. So I decided to enroll in a “learning path” for becoming a web developer. In LinkedIn Learning, learning paths are a bundle of courses that cover a broad topic. I’ve completed two of the courses and am about three-quarters of the way through a third.

This training doesn’t just benefit Kitt Peak National Observatory. It is helping me build a better writer’s website and a better website for my company Hadrosaur Productions. This is work I can show you and talk about.

Take One of the Hadrosaur Bookstore

A couple of years ago, my older daughter helped to redesign the Hadrosaur Productions website. She made it through several pages and they look really nice, but then she was hired away to a full-time software engineering job. One of the pages she left for me was the main bookstore page. My objective for this page was to show off our books so people could discover what we had. They could then click the covers to get more details. In the screenshot above, you can see the page as I originally coded it. It’s a rigid table structure, which looks nice on a modest home computer screen. The problem is that the grid becomes small on phones. If you are using a bigger screen, there would be a lot of wasted white space.

This particular layout does not need to be organized as a table. All it needs is to display the covers, and better yet the covers with some additional information, in a neat and orderly fashion. Fortunately, there are some tools to do that in CSS. These tools also give me “under the hood” functionality that make it much easier to add new titles as they’re released, or remove titles as they’re sold out. What’s more, the new layout will adapt so that if you display it on a phone, you’ll just see a column of book covers and titles. If you display it on a wide screen, the rows will expand to fill the browser’s viewport.

You can take a look at the updated design here: http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.php

I’d love to hear what you think of the updated design. As I say, it’s a work in progress. In the long run, I hope to make this more searchable and sortable. While you’re visiting the page, if a book grabs your eye, feel free to click on it to learn more. The “Add to Cart” and “View cart” buttons are all hosted at PayPal, so all purchases are secure. We don’t get any of your information other than your shipping address.

Updating Book Trailers

Over the last few months, I’ve been releasing new editions of several of my novels. Some of these had video trailers associated with them. Last month, I discussed updating the trailer for The Astronomer’s Crypt. That was a really premium cinematic trailer and the only things that went out of date were the cover and information about where the book was available. I did need expert help to fix those elements because they were so well done, but most of the trailer is just the same as it was back when it was first released.

The very first book trailer I ever made was one for my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. I was fortunate enough to have a batch of beautiful interior illustrations by Steven Gilberts to work with. One of my neighbors came over and played music on guitar and I mixed that with audio of myself reading the book description. Since the illustrations were black and white, I used filters in my video editing software to give the images some film stutter and scratches, so the whole thing looked like an old film. It was pretty cool. The only thing I didn’t like was that the audio was a little muddy because I didn’t have a great microphone and it was recorded on tape rather than digitally. Two years ago, I dusted off the old trailer and gave it a new ending because the information about the book’s availability had become outdated, but I knew the whole trailer could use a thorough overhaul.

Screenshot from the new Vampires of the Scarlet Order trailer.

This year, when Chaz Kemp did a whole new cover for Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I saw that as a great opportunity to redo the trailer. As part of his work, he sent me individual illustrations of the characters. I was able to apply filters in Adobe Photoshop to photographs I have of real locations from the novel to make them look like paintings. I then placed the characters over them. Once that was done, I read the updated book description and found some cool music that matched the mood from Keven MacLeod at http://incompetech.com. Although all the images are stills, I think the trailer has a neat animated-movie like vibe.

Once I made this trailer, I realized I also wanted to update my trailer for The Solar Sea. The original version of that trailer featured illustrations Laura Givens had made for a website promoting the novel. Also, I used her illustration of the novel’s solar sail to create an old-fashioned animation of the solar sail entering orbit around Jupiter. The only thing I didn’t like about the original trailer was that the music was a little short for the video length and I didn’t narrate it. I used intertitle cards like one might find in a silent movie. This time I recorded narration and I found a really dramatic piece of music that highlighted the narration.

I find trailers like this fun to make, but they do take time to get right. The tech required is pretty simple. I used Windows Live Movie Maker for the first video. I used the OpenShot Video Editor for the second one. This was necessary when I found Windows Live Movie Maker wouldn’t import the Movie Maker files with my animation from a decade ago. OpenShot is available at http://openshot.org

As for creating images for this kind of trailer, the best advice I can give is to get on good terms with your cover artist or an artist who can create art to match the flavor and style of your book. Make sure you’ve paid your artist fairly for their work. Recording narration is like any skill. It takes practice. Write your script. Practice reading it at the microphone and record a few takes. It’s easy to flub a word or miss the sound of something like a motorcycle passing the house or a lawnmower next door.

Finally, have fun! I had a blast creating these videos and I hope they’re fun to watch. Of course, I hope they also tempt you to learn a little more about the novels. If you would like to, drop by http://www.davidleesummers.com

Vampires in Space!

Vampires of the Scarlet Order was, in effect, a fix-up novel. The first half was composed of short stories that had been previously published and the second half was new material written specifically for the novel. However, the first time I put the stories together and composed the second half, I came up with something very different than the novel that was published in 2005 and it was all because of one story.

In 2001, my wife, daughter, and I made a trip to Carlsbad Caverns followed by a short jaunt to Roswell, to check out the UFO museum there. We had a lot of fun, and I came away with a story idea. It really started at the UFO museum and thinking about accounts of alien abduction and how similar they were to the way vampire attacks are often described. The aliens come into your bedroom and there’s a good chance they’ll violate you in some way. Of course, at Carlsbad, we also had the opportunity to watch the bats leave the caverns at night and I had thoughts about a vampire who decided to hide among the caverns during the day and fly out to hunt her prey at night. What if a vampire was abducted by a UFO? This whole line of thought led me to a story called “Bat Flight South of Roswell” which was published as a standalone chapbook by Anxiety Publications in 2002.

When I assembled Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I realized I had three story arcs that all pointed to some big mystery happening. I also realized the biggest mystery of all happened in the story “Bat Flight South of Roswell.” What were the aliens doing? Were they about to do something bigger? So when I first wrote the ending of the book, I set out to resolve that issue. The vampires find they have some latent ability to move between universes and can use that as a way to travel great distances. The vampires gather and travel to the aliens’ home world and stopped the threat.

I read it and I mostly liked it and I even mostly believed what I wrote could have happened in the context of the story. The problem was “mostly.” I didn’t quite believe it all the way. I wasn’t quite pulled fully into the story. A little voice in the back of my mind kept saying “this is silly.” One of the challenges as authors is knowing when to listen to that voice and when to tell it to shut up. This time I listened.

For the novel, I rewrote the alien abduction chapter. Instead of aliens abducting the vampire, it’s the military for a secret operation. It made a much stronger novel and much of that is because the settings involved were places I’d been and worked at. Much of the action is actually the same as it would have been, but it’s set at Los Alamos National Laboratory where my graduate advisor worked. There’s still some alien tech so advanced it’s almost magic, but instead of being wielded by aliens, it’s being wielded by humans who don’t fully understand it. Not only was I able to willingly suspend my disbelief, I found a way to give the book a stronger theme, and I could write about places I knew.

I also left in a hint that perhaps vampires might one day travel to the stars. After all, if vampires with all their strength and abilities would make good mercenaries, wouldn’t they make awesome astronauts? Just gotta make sure they’re well stocked with blood for the journey!

As it turns out, I ultimately wrote a story about a member of the Scarlet Order investigating a mystery in deep space in the distant future. It was called “Dark Matter” and it was published in Hungur Magazine in 2012. Unfortunately, the story is no longer in print, but I do plan to share the story with my Patreon subscribers later this week. What’s more, subscribers can go to an earlier post and get a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. If that isn’t incentive enough, I’ll mention that subscribing to my Patreon helps support this blog. So what are you waiting for? Click the button below to visit the site and learn more.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order Revisited

I’m excited to announce the release of the second edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. This edition features new cover art by Chaz Kemp:

Vampires of the Scarlet Order Cover by Chaz Kemp

The second edition has also been reedited. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s blog post, I went through the novel and corrected as many spelling, grammar, and continuity errors as I could catch. However, my edit also went a little deeper. This year, I’ve had some good conversations with some talented people about audience expectation and I realized that although the novel was generally well received, certain elements violated something that I think most audiences have come to expect.

The first edition opens in Spain during the year 1491. We meet a man named Rudolfo who seeks revenge for the death of his father. He is invited to join the Scarlet Order Vampires. We follow the Scarlet Order’s exploits for another chapter and then Rudolfo disappears. Another member of the Scarlet Order turns up in Louisiana and turns a schoolteacher named Marcella into a vampire. Then we meet a vampire named Mercy. Eventually Rudolfo reappears, but is gone some two chapters later until the end of the book. His story is important to the novel, but it’s not the driving force.

I came to realize this is the story of three young vampires who start finding clues to a terrible government conspiracy. Each of them has a tie to the historical Scarlet Order and, in order to understand the mystery they’ve uncovered, they must seek out the Scarlet Order’s former leader. The book violated audience expectation in that none of the characters met in the first two or three chapters end up being the story’s protagonists, unless you consider the Scarlet Order itself a protagonist. As presented, the book was “about” the fall and rise of the Scarlet Order, but it took a few chapters to meet the novel’s true protagonists. This could be fine if there were a compelling reason to do it this way, but I couldn’t convince myself I was telling the story in the best way possible.

In the new edition, I start by introducing the physicist Jane Heckman who is peripherally involved in the research that drives the plot and who meets Rudolfo and becomes a vampire. He then tells her the story of his involvement with the Scarlet Order. Rudolfo disappears, which gives her a problem to solve. Once she seeks out Desmond Drake in Northern New Mexico, the story is handed over to Marcella, the Louisiana schoolteacher and so on. The new edition tells the same story, it just reveals the information in a different order. My goal is that the readers get to know our protagonists early and care about their story because they’re the ones who have to resolve the book’s primary conundrum. As told on the book’s back cover:

A new generation of vampires embarks on a quest to save humanity.

Opening a forgotten crypt during a military exercise, Dr. Jane Heckman is made a vampire and begins a journey to unlock the secret origins of her new kindred.

Elsewhere, solitary vampire Marcella DuBois emerges from the shadows and uncovers a government plot to create vampire-like super soldiers.

Daniel McKee, a vampire working as an astronomer, moves to a new town where he’s adopted by a family, only to have government agents strip those he loves away from him.

All three vampires discover the government is dabbling in technologies so advanced they’ll tap into realms and dimensions they don’t understand. To save humans and vampires alike, Jane, Marcella, and Daniel must seek out the legendary master vampire Desmond, Lord Draco and encourage him to resurrect his band of mercenaries, the Scarlet Order.

I invite you to join Jane, Marcella, and Daniel on their quest.

The ebook of Vampires of the Scarlet Order is available at:

The print edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order is available at:

If you’d like to get the first edition before it’s gone, there are signed copies at:

Vampires of the Scarlet Order’s Fifteenth Anniversary

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Over the past year, I’ve been so focused on the silver anniversary of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, that I almost forgot that another novel of mine also celebrates a milestone this year. With fifteen years in print, Vampires of the Scarlet Order celebrates its crystal anniversary, which seems appropriate given a scene in the novel where the vampire Rudolfo is transported to a parallel universe and encounters a world of crystal palaces.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order got its start in my Las Cruces, New Mexico home in the spring of 2000. I was talking to my friend Janni Lee Simner about writing. As the conversation progressed, the subject of vampires came up and Janni said, “I wonder what vampires would make of Las Cruces, being the city of crosses and all.” We knocked a few possibilities around and finally she said that if a story idea came to mind, I was welcome to it. She had no plans to write a vampire story. A few days later, I drove to work at Apache Point Observatory and had the idea of a vampire telescope operator who moves to Las Cruces to work at a small observatory. I wrote up the story and called it “Vampire in the City of Crosses.” In 2001, I sold it to Margaret L. Carter, editor of The Vampire’s Crypt.

Over the next two years, I wrote six more stories set in the same vampire world. “Vampires in the World of Dreams” and “The Weeping Woman” both appeared The Vampire’s Crypt. “Pat, Marcella, and the Kid” and “The Scarlet Order” both ran in Night to Dawn magazine. “The Last Conquistador” ran in Parchment Symbols magazine and “Bat Flight South of Roswell” was published as a stand-alone chapbook from Anxiety Publications. These stories became the core of Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Issues of The Vampire's Crypt featuring stories from Vampires of the Scarlet Order
The Vampire’s Crypt

Over the next year, I updated the stories, figured out how they tied together and then assembled them into the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The novel as assembled in 2005 tells the story of how a band of vampire mercenaries working for the Spanish Inquisition went their separate ways only to be reunited in the early twentieth century when the government figures out a way to build vampire-like super-soldiers who threaten world security and peace.

Earlier this year, my contract for Vampires of the Scarlet Order reached the end of its term with Lachesis Publishing and they returned the publishing rights to me. So, I set out to reedit and revise the novel. Even though I didn’t stop to think about this being an anniversary year, the novel is getting a special anniversary release with a brand new cover. Unlike The Pirates of Sufiro, I did not heavily revise the actual prose of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. However, given that my first vampire novel was very much a fix-up novel composed of short stories from three narrative arcs, I felt I could present the stories in a more effective order. I’ll discuss that on Saturday and show off the new cover by Chaz Kemp. If you would like a sneak peek at the new edition, and even learn how you can get your hands on an early copy, drop by http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Building the Queen Emeraldas

When I finish a major writing project, I like to take a break and find something fun to do, like working on a hobby project. For the last year and a half, I’ve been engaged in a major rewrite of my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. The goal of the rewrite was to strengthen the novel as a whole and better position it as “book two” in my “Space Pirates’ Legacy Series.” Book one, Firebrandt’s Legacy, introduces readers to space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and develops his relationship with Suki Mori. Book two, tells what happens when they are marooned on a distant, alien world. Because this has been an intensive “from the ground up” rewrite, I decided a fun model-building project was in order and I thought it was appropriate to build the space ship of one of my other favorite fictional space pirates, Emeraldas from the manga of Leiji Matsumoto.

Emeraldas is a space pirate who fights for humanity. To her, the skull and crossbones symbolize her willingness to fight for humanity’s freedom until she herself becomes bones. She has been a character in many of the Captain Harlock manga and anime as well as the Galaxy Express 999 series about a train that traverses the stars. In most versions of Leiji Matsumoto’s universe, Emeraldas is romantically involved with Harlock’s best friend, Tochiro. In some versions they’re even married and have a child named Mayu. Her ship is known as the Queen Emeraldas.

I find the Queen Emeraldas an interesting design. It is a spaceship, but it resembles an airship with an old-fashioned sailing vessel as the gondola. The truly fascinating part of this is that such airships have become very common in steampunk art circles. I will note that in steampunk art, the ship is often so large, that I find it hard to believe the small gas bags above could lift the craft. If the Queen Emeraldas were an airship, it seems the ratio of sizes between the gas envelope and the ship would be much closer to correct.

One thing that was fun about this model was that it was lighted. I very much appreciated that my daughters have both taken enough Japanese to help me read the instructions that came with the kit. This allowed me to buy the recommended lights. Making a plastic model look good is a nice challenge and I enjoy painting them and making them look like they do in the show, but after several weeks of working at home, it was nice to actually wire up a small electronic project and have it work. Admittedly this is a simple project compared to those I work on at Kitt Peak, but it was still a chance to stay in practice.

If you’d like to read my novel The Pirates of Sufiro in its new version, you can learn all about it, read the first chapter, and find places to buy the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html. As it turns out, the novel features both space vessels and airships!

Powers of Darkness

When I read Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker last month, I noticed that the part sections featured epigrams from a Bram Stoker book I’d never heard of before called Makt Myrkranna. It turns out this was the version of Dracula serialized in the Icelandic magazine Falkjonan from 1900 to 1901. The thing is, this isn’t just a translation of Dracula as most of us who discovered it in English know, it’s a completely different version. The title translates as Powers of Darkness and in 2016, Valdimar Asmundsson released an English-language translation of the Icelandic text.

Powers of Darkness

To me, Powers of Darkness reads like an earlier draft of Dracula and that seems to be the conclusion of the translator as well. Some characters have different names. We meet Thomas Harker instead of Jonathan. His fiancee is Wilma instead of Wilhelmina. We meet some new characters such as an old, deaf woman who keeps house for Dracula. There are police investigators in the background, looking into Dracula’s crimes. Instead of Dracula having three brides who tempt Harker, there is a single woman who is presented as Dracula’s niece, who attempts to seduce Harker and feed upon him. Although Harker’s journey to the castle is told in the familiar epistolary format, the events after Dracula leaves his castle in Transylvania become a third-person narrative.

As a writer, I found this version fascinating. It reminded me of the work I did on my novel The Pirates of Sufiro, and I imagine someone who compared the 1994 edition to my recently released 2020 edition would find the new one richer in much the way I would consider Dracula richer than Makt Myrkranna, especially the parts after Dracula goes to England. That part of Makt Myrkranna is very brief compared to Dracula and reads like it was the first time Stoker assembled his notes on various ideas, like a very rough draft. There is also speculation that the original Icelandic publisher thought the novel was running long and the second part ended up being something of a summation, but there are still details in that part missing from Dracula, so one gets a sense that Stoker’s hand was there.

I also found Powers of Darkness interesting because I’m revising my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order for a new edition. In that case, I’m doing less rewriting than I did for The Pirates of Sufiro, but I am recutting the novel and reordering the chapters a bit to tell the story more effectively. I thought about this a lot while reading Dracul, where J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker build suspense by starting the novel in a scene where Bram Stoker is facing an unknown enemy behind a door, then going back and telling how he reached that point. In Vampires, I started with a very linear narrative, but now I start in the present and let the past unfold when characters have reason to tell it. I think the new version strengthens the narrative.

One interesting element of Powers of Darkness was that the translator took time to attempt to map out a floor plan of Dracula’s castle based on the description. The result is an interesting look inside the count’s Transylvanian abode. Another thing I thought was interesting in this version was that Dracula holds some kind of dark ritual for his followers, which seems to anticipate scenes that would appear in the Christopher Lee Hammer films of the 1970s.

I would recommend Powers of Darkness to writers wanting to glimpse Bram Stoker’s process, or Dracula fans who want to get more insight into the history of the character. If you’re a casual reader looking to read Stoker for the first time, I’d start with the English language Dracula, or perhaps the collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories by Stoker. If you want to learn more about Powers of Darkness and even look at maps of Dracula’s castle, visit: http://powersofdarkness.com/. You can learn more about my novels at http://davidleesummers.com.