My mom was a soap opera fan. When I would come home from school, I’d usually find her parked in front of the television to watch her “stories.” I would occasionally watch with her for a time while waiting to claim the TV from her so I could watch afternoon cartoons on a local independent station before starting any homework I might have. While romance is a natural part of life and it’s likely to find its way into many stories regardless of genre, I suspect her love of soap operas and being exposed to them made me a little more open to including romance in my early writing, especially when I was most focused on hard science fiction.
One soap opera that has always intrigued me is Dark Shadows, which ran from 1967 to 1971. I don’t believe my mom watched Dark Shadows during its original run, but I’m not entirely sure, since I would have been rather young during its run. Still, my interest in vampires and supernatural stories has led me to seek out a few episodes and the 1970 movie House of Dark Shadows. The show was centered around the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine, where a number of supernatural occurrences took place. One of the most memorable characters on the show was the vampire Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid. After the show ended, Frid turned down several offers to reprise the role. The one exception was when Big Finish Productions asked him to play the part for a story called “The Night Whispers” in 2010, just two years before he passed away.
As stories based on a soap opera go, this is a fairly simple one. On a stormy night, some time after Barnabas has been freed of his vampire curse, he is sitting with his grounds keeper and servant, Willie Loomis, portrayed by John Karlen, who played the role in the series. A spirit from the past, played by horror legend Barbara Steele, insists on being heard. Steele plays the spirit of Celeste, a servant girl from the Caribbean Island of Martinique. Steele’s role is fairly short, since her spirit possesses Willie and begins to speak through him. As the story progresses we learn that in Barnabas’s mortal days, his visited Martinique with other wealthy, young men. One of those men forced themselves on the young servant woman and she died, but not before cursing the party. To avoid the curse, Barnabas takes terrible action.
Now, some two centuries after young Barnabas visited Martinique, Celeste is back to tell her story and make Barnabas pay for his role in what had been done to her. Through the telling, we get much of what I like about vampire stories. Barnabas reflects on the morality of past actions from the lens of a long and terrible history. The tale also looks at the way the rich have treated those who work for them. Is Willie just one in a long line of people who have given their loves to serve the Collins family, or have Barnabas’s attitudes to those he employs evolved over time?
I enjoyed Frid and Karlen performing a dramatic dialog. The story had a nice Gothic flavor and, as a casual fan of Dark Shadows, it took me back to that world for an enjoyable hour. If you’d like to give it a listen, this is a nice, affordable download from Big Finish at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/dark-shadows-the-night-whispers-147
Another area where my mom’s love of soap operas has served me well is juggling the large cast of characters in Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, which I’m working on now. As in a soap opera, I’m following several different sets of characters in several different sets of locations. I’ve always enjoyed this kind of storytelling because I feel like no story happens in isolation. The actions of friends and enemies across town or across the country can have an impact on a story and I enjoy weaving the tapestry of complex stories through most of my worlds. You can explore my fiction at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/