With a book cover featuring a devilish character and with talk of “a vampire cult determined to open the gates of Hell,” a book by a St. Louis Park couple has a frightening appearance.
But its amiable authors, Steven Hopstaken and Melissa Prusi, advise potential readers not to judge their novel, “Stoker’s Wilde,” by its cover.
“A lot of librarians are like, ‘Oh! A scary cover!’” Hopstaken said of their book. “It’s not that scary.”
The authors wrote the book as a series of letters as they imagine “Dracula” author Bram Stoker and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” author Oscar Wilde taking on the mysterious Black Bishop and his ilk who are determined to unleash monsters on London.
“We have some creepy scenes in there but I feel like it’s more about the characters,” Prusi said. “It’s more about Bram and Oscar and how they get along. There’s a lot of adventure to it and romance and swashbuckling kind of stuff. I think it’s a fun read.”
Hopstaken described the book as “a mix of humor and horror,” comparing the concept to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
The authors developed the idea after they found out Stoker and Wilde knew each other, with both hailing from Dublin, Ireland, before moving to London. They also found inspiration in learning that Stoker married Wilde’s former girlfriend, Florence Balcombe.
“I found out Bram Stoker stole Oscar Wilde’s girlfriend from him,” Hopstaken said. “It’s like, OK, there’s a story.”
They used Stoker’s method of telling a story through letters for their book, allowing them to use Wilde’s style of writing as well as Stoker’s style.
While they divided up chapters, each wrote parts for Stoker and Wilde along with letters said to be by other characters in the novel.
They have written screenplays together in the past, but this is their first novel.
“In the screenwriting world, it’s more common to have people write together,” Hopstaken said. “So, a lot of people think it’s odd that we’re married and writing together. It’s like, ‘Do you fight?’ and it’s like, no, not really.”
Prusi joked with a chuckle, “Not about the writing.”
The project took place over several years for a writing group Hopstaken and Prusi have attended at The Loft in Minneapolis. Writing the book became a way to bring new material to the group each week, Hopstaken said.
They then brought the work to the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers group for feedback.
In writing the book Hopstaken said the authors were “trying to get into the heads of Victorian people.”
He added, “It’s kind of fascinating to see how Victorians thought.”
He noted that the British Empire had spread across the globe at the time when Stoker and Wilde lived, with cultures mixing.
“We have a character in our book saying that as we go off into the wilds of the world, some of the wilds seeps back into our culture,” Hopstaken said.
The authors also read the works of Stoker and Wilde, including Wilde’s prolific letters, to seek to capture their voices. They read penny dreadfuls, the pulp fiction of the era, and police blotters from the period.
“Victorians are more morbid than we give them credit for,” Hopstaken observed.
The couple also sought to infuse humor in the book, sometimes satirizing Victorian views and habits.
While clearly a work of fiction, the authors sought to keep a sense of history in their book.
“In real life, they did, you know, end up being friends despite their kind of romantic triangle,” Prusi said of Stoker and Wilde. “At the beginning, I don’t know how tight they were, but they were friendly throughout the rest of their lives.”
The time line for the book focuses on a period before Stoker and Wilde became famous.
“We bend history, but we don’t break it,” Hopstaken said.
Prusi noted she researched what Victorian childbirth was like for the book.
“It was not good,” she concluded.
The authors also looked up words to determine if they were in use at the time the book is set in and how blood transfusions – a last resort at the time – worked then.
After writing the book, the authors found a publisher at StokerCon, a convention put on by the Horror Writers Association.
After receiving three offers, they selected Flame Tree Press, a publisher based in London and New York that releases anthologies, reprints of “Dracula” and other works focusing on horror and crime.
Flame Tree Press made the cover resemble those of other books released by the publisher, Hopstaken noted.
“We had no say on the cover, we have no say in the price, we have no say in what categories they put us in on Amazon,” Hopstaken said. “It’s all done by the publisher, so it was a learning experience.”
Flame Tree Press brought them to BookExpo, which bills itself as the publishing industry’s leading trade event, in New York City. They found themselves next to Joe Hill, an author whose father is acclaimed horror novelist Stephen King.
Although Hopstaken and Prusi did not attract quite as large a crowd as Hill, Hopstaken reported, “We ran out of books to sign. We had a line, so that was really exciting.”
The book is available in paperback, hardcover and as an audiobook.
The publisher has already agreed to a sequel, which will focus on Stoker and Wilde in America.
The two historical figures remain enduring figures, with Wilde known for his quotable wit, as well as his association with the gay rights movement, Prusi said. As for Stoker, she said, “You can never really get rid of vampires for too long. They’re just too popular, and he’s the granddaddy of them all.”
The book is available on Amazon at amzn.to/2LfC3Sy.