Dracula: Threat Or Menace? The Charles E. Butler Interview

A column article by: Park Cooper

Charles E. Butler is the author (and illustrator) of the book The Romance of Dracula; a personal Journey of the Count on celluloid.


Since I'm interested in both vampires and the Kindle/ebook phenomenon, I started asking him questions, and he almost immediately started answering them. This, then, is the resulting interview with a guy about vampires:

Park Cooper: First of all, I am slightly confused: is "your" website really the one listed on your Facebook page?

Charles E. Butler: Was. It is shut down now. It's what we used for the Mythos comic book.

PC: Ahhh. Who put that out?

CEB: The writer. He liked to work under the banner Swancomics. But the marketing was pretty hopeless...

PC: Okay. Now then, over here, although the sun is still perfectly up, it's after 6 pm... How often are you online?

CEB: Every day. At the moment it is past midnight. I just came off stage two hours ago :)

PC: Off stage, you say... oh, right... a radio play, is that right? I read something about that...

CEB: Yes, I've been doing a play in my town of Leeds in the UK about the Bronte sisters brother called The Bronte Boy. We did the radio version before Christmas, now we're touring locally. We did a broadcast; now we are doing live performances. The script has altered a little from the radio play.

PC: Are all of the people I see as your friends people you know personally? I ask because there are some interesting writerly-types there...

CEB: Unfortunately no. A lot of my writing contacts are through a lovely lady called Bertena Varney who is currently running a Book Blog Tour for my book The Romance of Dracula. Since I made her acquaintance, I have been befriending writers all over the web. A lot of them are involved in the tour and they interview me and leave reviews on their own blogsites.

PC: >nod< Just wondered. How's the R of D going these days? You know, the actual promoting of it and so on. Going well?

CEB: Yes, the blogspots are really helping.

PC: And this Varney person set some/all of this stuff up? Is she, like, a publicist or what, if I may ask?

CEB: No, she approached me-- everyone seems to :) --through my Facebook Dracula page. I was advertising my book and she asked who had written it. I answered that I wrote it myself, and she asked if I would be interested in the tour. An article of mine has also been published in The Lure Of The Vampire by Bertena Varney, a pop-culture reference book on vampires. I also designed the cover, but I’m proud of the article as it proves that I am officially a published author in print as well.

PC: Ah, I see, she's a vampire writer... so this is actually kind of a vampire society thing.

CEB: I had met Bertena when I did interviews for last year’s Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans. I interviewed many people of the vampire persuasion, Ms. Varney was one who caught my eye because of her extended work on the subject and so I interviewed her, I think -- I may be wrong -- that she asked me for the tour because of this, but she insists that she owes me.

PC: Now, at some point I wish to talk to you about Kindle--your book is on Kindle, right?

CEB: Yes, has been since February.

PC: But I can tell this interview is gonna jump around until after I edit it... because Barb just asked me like 4 different questions about Dracula and vampires to ask you... First vampire question. Barb asks: "How do you feel about the Byronization of Dracula?"
I mean he was this freakin’ 15th century warlord... and then his image evolves into this suave charmer in popular cultural renditions. How do you feel about this? Blasphemy, or groovy? Or both? Or neither?

CEB: Very downcast. My version of Dracula is the classic Stoker satyr of the novel. hit upon only four times in the major adaptations by Jack Palance, Christopher Lee, Patrick Bergin and Max Schreck. Not really a blasphemy, but cute and also dangerous I feel for an intro to young audiences.

PC: We watched the end of the Palance just the other day...so by "downcast" I take it you are kinda somewhat against said Byronization.

CEB: The best characterization in my book. Palance and Bergin have been very under-rated in the role.

PC: Tell me more about the dangerousness for the young audiences. Why so, the danger?

CEB: I watched the first Twilight movie - curiosity only - and it seemed to give out the message that it is ok to go out with a vampire as long as he has you home before dawn. Vampires - in my limited experience of film and book, are nothing but corpses lusting for the blood of humans. I watched Daybreakers a few months back and the fear factor had been taken over by sophisticated psychobabble. Killing the impact of the movie. For me, the vampire tale is a horror story with a dastardly villain who you know is going to get his in the end, but it is fun and shouldn't really leave any after scars both loving or in nightmares - if that makes sense? The Count is the ultimate comic-book bad guy.

PC: So does that mean you are against all stories in which the vampire is a good guy or antihero? Or just when Dracula is made into that? I mean, Palance's Dracula is out for vengeance because they kill his Lucy, whom he seemed to feel real love for. So I felt that made him somewhat sympathetic.

CEB: All the best versions of the tale are played out in B movie fashioon. Look at Fright Night and The Lost Boys and The Monster Squad. Great films - not classics - but in the horror genre no one wants classics in the sense of Gone With The Wind. We want to have fun and turning the Count into a melancholic wanderer - for me - kills that aspect.
So I understand what you mean, in the Palance version, theuy had to play down the bloodletting for TV. The brides cry tears when they are staked. I'm not a fan of Dracula's lost love motif. Dracula would never admit to having lost a lover!
And yes, it is a traditional Dracula thing. I don't mind stories, eg: Angel in the Buffy series is an Antichrist who finds his soul and gives relevance to all the maudlin that capitulates from that.

PC: So... you are okay as long as it is a new character and not Dracula nor a Dracula manque

CEB: Stoker's Dracula is a warrior, Devil worshipper, and ALL ROUND bad guy in his own lifetime and welcomes vampirism. He only leaves Transylvania because he has bled it dry and needs more.

PC: Ah ha. This leads to at least two of barb's other questions. Let's see, do I want to hit 2 or 4 next... #2.
QUESTION 2: What do you have to say about the DOMESTICATION of the vampire
Namely: we went from having supernatural powers up our sleeve by the dozens, to being a human who is kinda strong who doesn't age much who needs blood now and then. Share how you feel about this trend

CEB: Ok. George A Romero tackled this trend first in Martin. If you know the tale, he is 84 years old and looks 18. He needs blood and black and white flashback tells us that he has taken it on a regular basis. The real monsters in Martin are the drug addicts/pushers who Martin interrupts while on his rounds. Even his victims - one is an adulterer and the other is suicidal. Martin is very domesticated, but trapped in this preteen body

PC: I know the tale. So how do you feel about the trend?

CEB: If it comes from a strong, viable - believable - scenario, I have no problems with it. But I did say in an interview a few weeks ago, that if we keep 'breeding' vampires of this ilk, the horror movie is going to lose one of it's greatest assets.

PC: Understood. I think it's time to jump to question 4: The Scholomance.

CEB: The Devil’s school that Stoker's monster attended. That is how he became a vampire.

PC: The Scholomance is mentioned RIGHT THERE in Dracula. And yet we took it out right away in all later versions. Which I can understand... but I have never seen ANYONE put it back. And you'd think SOMEONE would have mentioned it by now. What does this say about the culture which loves so many other things about Dracula?
Me, I LOVE that Stoker used it. If I ever adapt Dracula for some reason, I'm gonna stick the thing back in there. Heck I would write DRACULA: THE COLLEGE YEARS.
I say this so you can tell I feel strongly about the Scholomance being a part of the origin.

CEB: Ok. I don't know if you have seen Patrick Bergin's take on the role? But I make the point in my book that he is believable as a warrior and the father of dynasties. He keeps only one book in his Castle - The Holy Bible - and quotes Genesis and Rebirth regularly. Max Schreck's Nosferatu is said to be spawned from the seed of Belial and Knock - Renfield - reads his letter that looks like it was signed by many Demons, like an old parchment. Dracula and Satanism in the mainstream has only been touched upon around four or five times in unconvincing stories.

PC: No, I have not seen it, I don't think. What year was that? And how do you feel about Patrick Bergin's Dracula?

CEB: It is very well thought-out version of the tale. 2002, under the title Dracula's Curse.

PC: I seeee. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_(2002_film)

CEB: He plays the Count like a comicbook character with secret identities and a homosexual twist. Jonathan Harker becomes his unwilling toyboy!

PC: Okay next question: do you think it's BITING that causes a person to turn into a vampire? Or do they have to drink a bit of blood from avampire? Or both? Or something even more complicated?

CEB: That is interesting - and again I challenge it in my book. Mina in the novel drinks the Count’s blood - very unwilling - so that he will have full charge over her through telepathy etc. The later novels - particularly Anne Rice, have worked the blood communion into the vampire initiation. Lucy is never given this treatment and still becomes a vampire. Other sources state that only evil people become vampires. Son of Dracula 1942 plays on this aspect as the heroine intends to kill Dracula and live as an immortal with her human lover.

PC: Hmm. So. Now that that's all of Barb's questions (for now, I'm sure she'll have more later), let's talk about the Kindle. You wrote this book. How did you decide to put it on Kindle?

CEB: Amazon approached me two years ago when the book was first drafted, but my technophobia couldn't grasp the ins and outs. After 48 straight rejections of the book - ALL insisting that it was very literate and engrossing and not to give up...I received an email from Amazon and their ebooks had changed names. I had just pitched to a company in the US who said that they could return my illustrations, but not the text(?) I found this very odd, so went with the kindle to put my stamp on the book. I still don't understand why they couldn't return the text. But Amazon had also changed its offer to first time publishers and it was the best offer I had had from self publishing up to press.

PC: Amazon approached you? How did that happen? How did they hear about it? How did you handle the 48 rejections, emotionally? Were they all UK publishers, or wider? If they liked it, why wouldn't they publish it? What IS Amazon's offer to first-time publishers like?

CEB: They were looking through their records and found that I had contacted them 2 years earlier and would I be willing to try again...notification. Rejection is something you learn to cope with. As a frustrated actor, writer and artist, it gets to be second nature. That is when belief in your work comes to the fore. Many publishers and agents from UK and USA turned me down because I was writing in a very distinctive field. But as I said, all of them enjoyed the work, but couldn't sell the author. I never intended to publish at all.

PC: A very distinctive field?

CEB: Movie reviews. Movie journalism.

PC: Yeah, what's their point?

CEB: The book could come across as being written by a fan - or fanzine? That is the pitfall that I sweated to avoid in the text. Though all the best books in the field are written by fans :)

PC: Ah. That explains "couldn't sell the author." What about "never intended to publish at all"?

CEB: Yes. I didn't work in journalism. I wrote the book to stave off unemployment blues and pique at reading a really bad review book on a major film studio. I wrote the book to satisfy myself, to exorcise Dracula for me. I decided to publish when I realised that I had written the book that I would like to read.

PC: So how did you get over your issues with technology and put it on Kindle? And what is Kindle's offer for new authors like? And what equals a new author? Or is it for first-time self-publishers? Or neither?

CEB: The kindle doesn't have the illustrations because I couldn't put the HTML folder together with PDFs and the like. I just sent the raw text through email attachment and it uploaded in 48 hours. I would urge anyone to do it. Amazon is like a large bin of books that you used to find in Supermarkets just down from the best sellers. Your book is thrown into that bin on kindle and it depends on your marketing techniques really. It is down to the individual and it can be fun.

PC: So it's easy to translate the tech if one doesn't choose to worry about pics? I'm looking at the Amazon page right now. How did you decide on 8.99 as the price? (It is 8.99 dollars here in American dollars, anyway)

CEB: If you just follow their instructions you should be fine. My rejection from the American publisher sent warning bells when they didn't return my text. I went with Amazon through a paranoid necessity.

PC: How are you doing it with pictures? Is someone doing that part for you, or did you figure it out? Will the new upload replace the old one or what?

CEB: I've drawn all the Counts in pencil so as to give it the 'personal' nature suggested by the title. Plus it helps to stave off the copyright problems you get when using photographs.

PC: Oh right I see... Okay so how long has the Kindle version been available?

CEB: Since February. Well, January 28th. The marketing is all down to me. If I stop, the book goes into oblivion. Someone asked me for advice on being published as a first time author and I said do the work and write the book and then DO the work! That is what I've discovered. I would like a real vampire movie authority to take a look. Then again, I wouldn't. It is hard to explain. I always get the 'I want the whole world to see' syndrome if I know the work is above competent. It really is one of those accomplishments that I'm actually proud of the end result.

PC: Anything else?

CEB: I will get you the imdb link for Dark Passions - one sec: http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi496539673/

Dark Passions is like my answer to your first question about the demon and the melancholic vampires...




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