RKR Interviews Kerri Maniscalco, Author of Hunting Prince Dracula
1) After the success of Stalking Jack the Ripper, writing Hunting Prince Dracula must have been no small feat. How did your writing process change from your first to second novel? What drew you specifically to Dracula?
I was mostly worried about the “second book curse” and how I’d “up the stakes” after SJTR’s incredible reception. Normally I’m a creature of habit, so I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I was when my writing process changed drastically after Stalking Jack. Getting out of my own head was the hardest thing, and instead of writing in a linear fashion like I usually do, I found myself sitting down and writing scenes out of order. Which threw me into a mental tizzy for quite a while because I was breaking the form that had worked so well while writing Stalking Jack. The stress was oh so real.
I didn’t have any time for writer’s block, though, so to ensure I was reaching daily word-count goals, I wrote scenes that felt the most natural when I could. Once I got out of my own way and had fun with writing a story I wanted to read, the words flowed naturally. I think readers can always tell when something is forced, so letting loose and writing scenes that I was drawn to made for more engaged prose.
As for why I chose Dracula, he is one of those villains from literature who is dark and troubled, and yet still likable and sympathetic. I enjoyed going the route of discussing the historical figure Vlad the Impaler, and sort of marrying the two, fictional and real, into one copycat killer for our crime-solving duo to stop.
2) Both Stalking Jack the Ripper and Hunting Prince Dracula do such a great job exploring historical villains and the mysteries behind them. Are there similarities between these two villains even though one is a real-life unsolved mystery and the other is based in myth?
Definitely. They’re both infamous and have maintained a huge audience for over a hundred years, in Jack the Ripper’s case, and nearly six hundred years, for Vlad. Both committed crimes that were wildly vicious and terrifying in their era—and would be considered so today. And they both certainly transformed their stories into legends—bloody ones.
That said, Vlad the Impaler, the historical inspiration behind the fictional Count Dracula, is considered a folk hero in Romania, and I really wanted to explore that and break it down in the text. He used impalement and other medieval methods of killing to instill fear in his enemies—the people who were invading his beloved country and trying to destroy their culture and beliefs. That was one of the most interesting things I learned during the research process, and it is one of the major differences between these two historical figures. We have a clear understanding of why Vlad killed—there is still speculation and no solid truth as to why Jack the Ripper committed his crimes.
3) You described the gothic setting of Romania and the autopsies in such detail that it almost feels as if you attended the forensics academy yourself. What was your research process like the second time around?
Thank you! The research process followed the same general path as the first, though this time I could really delve into the process from a teacher’s perspective. Thanks to my dad and grandpa, I grew up in a household where having anatomical texts and medical journals around was normal, which has always been the foundation for my love of medicine and science. To really get into the mind-set of writing the professors from the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science, I studied texts and syllabuses from teachers to create authentic courses for our burgeoning forensics students. I’m hoping to get to the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee for the next adventure, which has always been one of my dreams as a forensics enthusiast.
I have Eastern European roots, so the research that I did for Romania and its myths and customs was very important to me—I wanted to get right. Romania is a beautiful country, and I wanted to bring an authentic feel to the setting but also be respectful of the people who live there. When I did take historical liberties, I made sure to outline how and why in my author’s note. I surrounded myself with information on Bran Castle and Brasov and Bucharest, trying to find out exactly how those locations looked during that time period so I could describe it through Audrey Rose’s eyes.
My favorite thing about writing historical fiction is that there’s all of this wonderful history to investigate and delve into while still asking the all-important “what if” to make it relevant today. What if there was a Victorian girl scientist, one who was expected to be cosseted, but was inspired by other women’s movements to do her own thing? What if she chose a different path, an uncertain future, judged by many, but one which felt right in her bones? History cannot be rewritten, but we can certainly use it—and its mistakes—to craft better tomorrows.
4) Without giving too much away, Audrey Rose is still grappling with the true identity of Jack the Ripper and is immersed with grief. She struggles with her emotions and how people perceive her, particularly because she is a woman. What are you hoping the audience learns about grief and its perception?
One of the things Audrey Rose has to worry about is how she’ll be viewed by her male peers when they already have this preconceived notion that she’s going to be more fragile because of her sex. It’s something I’ve experienced in my life, and, unfortunately, I know a lot of other women who have, too. You almost have to be stronger in certain situations in order to command the same level of respect that’s just awarded to others. I imagine in the nineteenth century it would have been something that Audrey Rose thought about a lot.
Through experience I’ve learned that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It’s one of those tricky emotions that varies from person to person, and takes many different forms and even morphs over time. Sometimes it’s all-consuming, and other times it’s brushed off and stuffed someplace deep inside until it bursts through the cracks and you can’t help but face it head-on. I hope my readers—and anyone who’s currently having feelings of grief or has experienced it—knows that however they grieve or feel is okay. There is no right or wrong way—just whatever works for you. Take however long or short you need—giving yourself permission to feel authentically is also gifting yourself power.
5) You left the ending open for another adventure for Wadsworth and Cresswell and hinted that they would be heading to America. Can you give us any teasers of what’s to come for our favorite pair?
Oh…let’s see what I can reveal without giving too much away. The next adventure begins two days after Hunting Prince Dracula ends, and the duo is definitely headed to America. I’ve laid hints about some subject matter in both SJTR and HPD, so there are clues for readers if they can’t wait until the official title/blurb reveal around January, or sometime early in 2018. I will say this—there is an actual murderer from history who will be terrorizing the pair…
It’s dark, eerie, and filled with mischief and mayhem. Oh, and there’s a bit of magic. Whether or not it’s real is another question. Hopefully Wadsworth and Cresswell will both survive—the darkness is calling to them, and one might be compelled to answer that tug. One teaser from the text is: “To truly end a murderer I’d need to become one.”I’m really looking forward to sharing this next gothic adventure with readers in the fall of 2018.