Researching the Back Story
Written by Lara Parker
When I began writing Dark Shadows novels based on the classic TV show, I wanted them to have more substance than the usual TV Tie-ins. I felt that layered stories were needed with resonant themes of fate and hubris and complex characters whose baffling motivations were fully explored. Since time travel, reincarnation, and séances were already established motifs, and there were so many unexplained mysteries on a show that had played for five years, I hit upon a way to breathe life into the 40 year old series: prequels!
Going back in time demanded research, and, as every writer knows, research is the true blood of a novel. The information I found in my studies enlivened and enriched the Dark Shadows canon, but I never expected to unearth the particular details that could shape and twist the plot, or to come across historical facts that would fit so perfectly into the world of Dark Shadows.
The TV show was true Gothic Romance with a great gloomy house, a young governess, a reclusive family, and a moody resident vampire, Barnabas Collins. A witch had made him into a monster, but, I asked myself, how did she become a witch and what heartbreak motivated her desperate act of revenge? I had played the part of Angelique on the TV show, and so, naturally, hers was the first back-story I told.
From reading about slavery on a sugar plantation in Martinique where she grew up and the practice of voodoo in Haiti I was able to write, in Angelique’s Descent, the story of her troubled childhood and her initiation into the occult. I made her an apprentice to a Bokor, a voodoo priest, where she learned to cast spells, create zombies, and stake a vampire.
When I explored material for The Salem Branch, along with some memorable witch trial scenes, I also found my theme: the Collins family curse. In my research I discovered a quote from an innocent young woman, Sarah Good, who was hanged as a witch in 1692: “If you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink.” Perfect for Dark Shadows! She became the first incarnation of Angelique and her final benediction from the scaffold became the curse that was to plague the family for generations.
In Wolf Moon Rising — the third novel in the series, and due out August 20 — I turned back to an era brimming with possibilities: 1929.
In search of a missing portrait two teenagers travel back in time to the twenties during prohibition, where the young Elizabeth is smitten with the never-aging Quentin. He is suffering under a werewolf curse, but, true to his character, he is also a bootlegger, and the Collins family is consorting with the Mafia. When I read about the Ku Klux Klan, I knew I had found what might be the long-suppressed secret of the Collins family.
Researching the twenties gave me a new perspective for envisioning the Great House of Collinwood. A party that rivals Gatsby’s is taking place, a police raid terrifies the guests, and spilled Everclear sets the lawns on fire. When I discovered that contraband liquor was sometimes hidden in a hearse, my brain lit up: there could be a frightening scene where a casket is opened in the Collins mausoleum. Quentin is trying to hide bottles of whiskey beneath a corpse, but you can guess who he finds sleeping there: the vampire, Barnabas Collins, who had been chained inside his coffin for over a hundred years!
And so I asked myself what dark wing hovered over the Collins family in a house where heartbreak and malevolence festered? Was there an age-old curse that was visited upon all its members? When did Angelique become a witch? Could it have been in an earlier incarnation? What happened to Quentin to make him cynical and morose? Why did he seduce so many women mainly for sport?
From the Tor/Forge August 5th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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