>Between Sarah’s discussion of empathy, Rowena’s talk of bent characters, and Dave’s lament on the futility of forcing them to do what you want once they’ve come to life, I’m left without much choice for my first appearance as a new Mad Genius. The character in question is giving me the smirk that says “Next time trust me. I know better than you.”
So without further ado, I shall ramble for a while on the process that finished with Prince Vlad Draculea taking up residence inside my head as a very real person.
For many years before I started writing Impaler, I was fascinated by the historical Prince Draculea (BTW: the spelling is the closest Anglicization of the way he spelled his name. Just another example of character stubborn. He won’t let me spell it any other way). What I had was pretty much what any writer has in the early stages of story generation long before there’s any conscious move to write the thing: a mix of ‘this is a neat idea’ and someone who does or did interesting stuff. Add to that the question, “What if he had survived the assassination attempt?” and I had my story.
What I didn’t have was my character. Instead, I had a huge problem. How does one depict a man whose name is associated with the most appalling atrocities (and let’s face it, they didn’t call him ‘the Impaler’ because he was a nice guy) or the Stoker vampire? He was the central character of the story, but whitewashing his deeds was out of the question. I didn’t consciously wonder how I could show him in a more sympathetic light, but the question gnawed at me for about a year between when I first jotted down the rough plot outline and when I started to write. In the meantime, I wrote a completely different novel, ConVent, which is under consideration at Baen.
And I read everything I could lay hands on about Draculea and his times. Translations of period accounts of the Siege of Constantinople (eye-opening, to say the least), reading and re-reading the various Draculea legends, and gradually building from the bare facts and the legends an idea of what kind of man Draculea might actually have been.
Probably the most useful thing I did was wonder, “Why?”. Asking myself why Draculea would have acted the way he did helped me to understand the era, as well as the man, and led me to some truly mind-boggling bits of 15th century trivia along the way.
I originally intended to write Impaler as mostly Draculea’s point of view, with a few key scenes from other POVs. Instead, somewhere as I reread one of the Florescu and McNally biographies, I got him. Somehow, the constant “well, why would he do that?” had fleshed out the man enough that he was there in my head, dictating the book to me.
From there it was a case of balance: showing Draculea’s human side through his narrative without flinching from the worst of his nature. The end result was good enough to make the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award quarter finals, and is currently on an agent’s desk in its entirety.
I’ll finish with a few paragraphs from the opening so you can judge for yourself how well I fleshed out the man and brought him to life, and whether you can identify with him.
Always before battle begins I am possessed by the need for solitude and prayer. It is a curious thing, for I have never fought as merely another knight. I first ruled men at the tender age of eighteen, when the old Ottoman Sultan Murad and his son Mehmed still thought I could be a Turk puppet.
Those who slander me say I care nothing for the fate of other men. They forget that those who rule by the Lord’s grace are entrusted with the Earthly welfare of their subjects, and to some extent their souls. To take one’s subjects into battle, however righteous the cause, ensures that they will sin. The burden of their souls falls upon me, their Prince.
I do not allow others to see my weakness. Few great lords care for the fate of those in their domains. That I of all men should do so would seem the most grotesque of jests. I, whose name echoes through Europe as a byword for atrocity. And yet, I am driven to pray for those whose lives will end on the battlefield this day, men whose only crime is to obey the commands of their lords.