Royce Prouty’s debut novel, Stoker’s Manuscript, is about vampires.But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just another paranormal romance that exists solely so teenage girls will have something to read.“I’ve never thought of vampires as being warm and fuzzy romantic creatures,” says Prouty, whose thriller comes out Thursday. “I always viewed vampires as sinister night creatures, encounters with which always end badly for humans.”Actually, Prouty never gave vamps much thought at all until a couple of years ago. The CPA from Southern California had written an action-adventure novel that kept getting rejected by prospective agents.Then one agent asked, “Do you have any vampire stories?”Knowing next to nothing about the genre, Prouty picked up the granddaddy of vampire books, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The next day, a story idea popped into his head. Stoker’s Manuscript introduces Joseph Barkley, a mild-mannered rare book seller who is asked to authenticate and then acquire Stoker’s original version of Dracula, the ending of which was changed before publication in 1897.When Joseph brings the materials to the mystery buyer in Romania, he finds that he is the prisoner of the son of Vlad Dracul — and up to his neck in trouble.We talked with Prouty last week about the book, for which he has already sold the film rights. What exactly was it about Stoker’s book that inspired the story in Stoker’s Manuscript ?After the agent asked about vampire stories, I picked up Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was Halloween and, as a tradition in this household, I will pick up some scary story and read it out loud to my wife. It was a wonderful book, but the ending seemed very abrupt and inglorious. Basically, the Count gets ambushed, knifed and he turns to dust and that’s it.My wife and I looked at each other and said, “There’s something wrong with this.” Then I learned that Stoker changed the ending. The original ended with a big battle, lightning coming down and striking the castle and it crumbling, and Dracula being carted off by shadowy characters to his final resting place.Before that version of the book was published in 1895, the publishing house burned to the ground and took all of the first editions with it. When the second edition of Dracula came out, the ending was changed. And the idea occurred to me the next morning: What if someone didn’t want anyone to know where the Dracul family members are buried? You came up with a supernatural explanation for Stoker changing his book. But do you have other theories? Could he have received bad advice from an editor? Could he have been guilty of tinkering in the two years that it took to republish his work?I have no idea why he would change the ending. But it seems to me that he made a big mistake. Because not only was the new ending anticlimactic, but he left himself no opportunity for a sequel. You didn’t make that mistake in your book, did you?I have a grand outline of all the things I envision happening with Joseph and the Dracul family, where one book ends and the next one begins, and I have enough material for five books.But I can’t see going past five and here’s why: In order to have a character that travels a literary arc, you send him through certain events and he changes and, at the end of the story, he is different than when he began. I open with a reclusive bookseller; by the end, he’s a reluctant hero.Book 2 cannot start at the same launch point. Book 2 has to open with him as a reluctant hero and changing into something else. So after five of these books, he will either become a blithering idiot in an institution or a hardened warrior. But anything more and he will become a cartoon character. Your protagonist loves books, which is to say he loves paper-and-ink books. Hard to imagine him being a fan of virtual books. How much of that trait comes from you? What do you think of the idea that a significant amount of your sales will be in the form of eBooks?For me, I’ll only read a paper book, either soft or hardcover. I like it as a product. I like it as decoration around the house. I like the smell of books; eReaders just aren’t for me.But from a business standpoint, they makes sense. I remember the old comment, “How can you sell a million books if you only print 40,000?” Well, you can print 40,000 for the audience that wants hardcover and then you can download the rest.In many ways, the eReader is the superior product. It’s just not for me.
by Royce Prouty