Dracula Chronicles may be purchased at AMAZON
1. I know you are doing an interview with an Italian Journalist about being an escapee from behind the Iron Curtain. Would you tell us about that before we begin and how it influenced your writing?
The Italian investigative journalist and author of non-fiction literature Elisa Cozzarini, has been researching immigration to Italy from the Communist Block, or from behind the Iron Curtain. For your younger audience who may not be familiar with these terms, I can define the Communist Block as the collection of European countries that were under Soviet (Russian) domination from World War II until 1989. The Iron Curtain was the imaginary line that separated this block from the free world. Ms. Cozzarini was interested in a particular refugee camp located in the village of Padriciano, near the Italian city of Trieste. That camp was used from 1965 until 1980 as the holding place for all refugees coming to Italy from the Communist Block. I passed through the Padriciano camp in 1969, so in her research of the archives Ms. Cozzarini came across my name. She discovered that after passing through Italy I ended up in the USA (1970) without knowledge of the English language, without money, and without friends or relatives. Further, she learned that over the next four decades I rose in the business world to the position of CEO of a major international corporation; finally, she discovered that I left the corporate life behind to start a second career as an author of historical fiction. The documentary developed by Ms. Cozzarini will feature my evolution from the time spent behind the Iron Curtain to the present, when most of my time is consumed in researching and writing my story depicting the life of the real Dracula, Vlad the III of Basarab, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler.
My life behind the Iron Curtain has influenced my mental makeup in many ways. It has taught me, in indirect ways, to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs. It has also given me an unquenchable wanderlust, a love of foreign cultures and languages, a loathing of evil in all its forms. Readers of my novels will notice that these leanings come strongly across in my writing.
2. When do you first remember being interested in Vlad the Impaler and his story? How did you first learn of it?
I learned about Vlad the Impaler at the age of six when I was taken with other children on a field trip to his birthplace in Sighisoara, a well-preserved medieval city in Transylvania, less than a hundred miles from my house (photo included). There I learned how Vlad had saved his land from being conquered by Islam, in the form of the Ottoman Empire which was attempting to take over Europe in the 15th century. That, of course, made him a hero to me, as he was a hero to all Romanians. When I learned that he was a very harsh ruler who tolerated no evildoers in his realm, my appreciation of Vlad grew even greater.
3. Did Vlad have any known love interests or a wife? I know in the Francis Ford Copolla movie he supposedly had a bride that took her life. What is the real tale?
It is known that Vlad was attracted to women and they to him. He is reputed to have been a very handsome man, with jet-black hair, full, red lips, and piercing green eyes. As one would expect from a warrior of that time, he had well-developed muscles and cut a dashing figure on the horse (I’ve included an Italian artist’s rendition of Vlad on horseback. His name is Andrea Jula and I’d like you to give him credit if you post the picture). Moreover, he had gleaming white teeth which he polished daily with mother-of-pearl dust, in a habit he acquired while living among the Ottomans in his youth, as a hostage. We must remember that dental hygiene is a relatively new preoccupation in the Christian world; it was, however, a quite well-established daily habit among the Moslems in the 15th century. I personally don’t believe that the extant portraits do Vlad justice: the art of portraiture was still in development during his lifetime. Moreover, it is unlikely that a busy warrior like him would have sat for portraits like some latter-day celebrities.
Regarding Vlad’s marital status, there are indications that he was married twice. In the 15th century marriages—especially royal ones—were made for the purpose of establishing new alliances, not because of love or to satisfy one’s lust. That was certainly Vlad’s case. Oral tradition maintains that his first wife threw herself off the top of a mountain to avoid being taken prisoner by the invading Ottomans. To this day the small river flowing at the foot of that mountain is called Raul Doamnei, or Lady’s River. The venue where this event is supposed to have taken place is called Poienari and the ruins of Vlad’s fortress are still visible there. Having visited Poenari myself, I can attest that the place lends itself to a desperate plunge (I included an aerial photo of the Poienari fortress).
His second marriage was also one of convenience. The lady he married was a relative of Matthew Corvinus, the King of Hungary, who happened to be Vlad’s jailer in Buda at the time. She was Catholic and he might have converted to Catholicism for the occasion. I will cover that episode in Book Eight.
In addition to his uxorial connections, Vlad had many lovers who gave him children and who were devoted to him for the duration of their lives. One of them, a Venetian noble lady named Donatella Loredano, has already made her appearance in Book Two, “Empire of the Crescent Moon”. The others are yet to emerge and I will not say more at this time so as not to spoil the book for my readers.
4. What do you we know of Vlad’s citizens? Were they really that happy with his rule? I know he was feared and loved.
As one might expect, some people found his rule too harsh and hated him. Others, especially simple folk, the underdog, adored him for standing up for their rights. In the end, many of those who questioned the harshness of his “law & order” measures, had to admit that he acted properly, as he did it to save his country from Islam, not to benefit himself. His cruel deeds have certainly been exaggerated by his enemies and it falls to me to bring a more objective perspective on the matter. At the present (through Book Four of Dracula Chronicles) Vlad is still a mild-mannered prince whom some might even see as naive. He is always more concerned with the safety of his friends than of his own and would risk his life for those he loves. A time will come when personal tragedies will harden him and set him off on the path of becoming the iron-fisted ruler who gave birth to the legend of Dracula. But even in those days, the people who loved him did so with complete readiness to die for him. (I included the cover photo of a book on Vlad by the late Romanian historian Neagu Djuvara. Picture below..
5. How many more books can we expect in this series? Will it ever end? =) I hope not.
When completed, about 8-10 years from now, Dracula Chronicles will have nine volumes. For those who have already read Book One, “Son of the Dragon”, the significance of number 9 will be evident. I anticipate the series will amount to more than one million words.
6. What would you like to share with us about your newest book Dracula Chronicles Death of Kings?
“Death of Kings” expands the series’ theater of operations from Edirne to Wiener Neustadt and Buda, as Christendom and Islam are poised for a major clash. Vlad plays a major role in the attempt to prevent war and in doing so he places his life in danger on several occasions. So many twists and turns take place in Book Four that I found it difficult to bring it to an end within my customary limit of around 100,000 words. Instead, this volume has reached nearly 150,000 words, thus becoming the largest so far. Despite the voluminous size of “Death of Kings”, the action moves forward relentlessly; many readers have reported that they could not put the book down until they finished it.
7. Was Vlad really as violent as he’s been made out to be? Or was that propaganda on some level? What do we know about the violence he brought forth to stop his enemies?
When studying history one learns that most things are being exaggerated: the number of people clashing in a battle; the number of prisoners taken; the number of dead left in the field; etc. etc. etc. This must be the case with regard to the number of people Vlad is supposed to have executed (mostly through impalement). However, he must have exceeded by a good margin the norms of cruelty accepted at the time in order to acquire the reputation that still lists him among the baddest asses of all time, five hundred years after he departed. One thing I’d say in his favor: he is not known to have killed a single innocent person. My views are that if he had to visit justice upon rapists, child molesters, wife beaters, highway robbers, murderers, and traitors of the fatherland, no measure he used could have been too cruel.
8. What do you think about the vampire connection Stoker brought to Vlad the Impaler? I am just curious to your thoughts of the two being intermingled with vampirism.
Vlad received numerous attempts on his life. As they all failed, some people began to believe that he was not an ordinary mortal but rather a creature endowed with supernatural powers. Couple this with the fact that his body was never found, although he was rumored to have been assassinated after a battle with the Ottomans, and you can see how some folks concluded he was “otherworldly”. His notorious (albeit exaggerated) cruelty caused him to be labeled bloodthirsty. From there to being declared a vampire is but a short step.
When Bram Stoker decided to write a vampire novel (such novels being the rage in the Victorian era) he found dark and primitive Transylvania an appealing locale for his story. And when he read about the 15th-century blood-thirsty ruler called Dracula, he must’ve have told himself, “Look no further, Bram, old sport; you’ve got your place and you’ve got your vampire.” Stoker decided that for a vampire the title of “count” had to be good enough, even though he must have known the real Dracula was a king (voievode, in Romanian).
9. What do you think it would be like if Vlad was in modern America? I am writing a horror fiction story about this but mine has more vampire elements. Non-fiction historic wise how would that turn out?
If Vlad were around and if he were permitted to dispense with the niceties of democracy, he would truly drain the swamp. He would ask all men and women who went into politics to serve the people, not themselves, to step aside. He would shower the ten, twenty such worthy individuals with honors and riches. The remainder, the self-serving, corrupt, hypocritical, do-anything-to-get-reelected members of the body politic he would impale without hesitation.
10. You were on The Church of Mabus radio show before for our Halloween show many years ago. What did you enjoy about it and what would you like to say about our upcoming radio interview this Summer?
I enjoyed very much being on your show. You and your cohost were able to switch with ease between historical and non-historical perspectives on Dracula; between the man and the vampire; the fact and the myth. I had the distinct impression that your audience was sophisticated and curious, ready to absorb new information about Vlad as well as to have fun with the vampire legend.
Dracula art by Graham Ganson