Not long ago I posted about my affinity for the new novel iDRAKULA, Bekka Black‘s take on both the cell phone novel and the classic Stoker novel. Of course, iDRAKULA left me with lots of burning questions — questions which Bekka was gracious enough to answer, thank goodness! If you weren’t already horribly intrigued by the very concept of iDRAKULA, I know you’ll be running out to find a copy after hearing from the author herself:
E. Kristin Anderson: Okay. I’ve got to get this out of the way: What is a cell phone novel? And how did this trend come about?
Bekka Black: A cell phone novel is a kind of novel that is delivered to a cell phone. In Japan tons of kids are reading them on their cell phone screens even as we speak (or type). I wanted to take it a step further and write a book that was restricted to only things that I could download to a smartphone (like an iPhone or a droid). I picked DRACULA, because it’s a great read and the original was written to showcase the high tech communication methods of its time: the typewriter, the wax Victrola recording disk, newspaper articles, and ship’s manifestos. So, I wrote iDRAKULA in the language of today: using only text messages, texted photos, URLs, a couple of voicemails, and short emails. It’s DRACULA through the screen of my phone.
EKA: What made you want to tackle a cell phone novel?
BB: Because I thought it would be cool. When I was in Los Angeles on a book tour, I saw tables of silent teenagers texting each other instead of talking to each other. I immediately thought: what if I wrote a book for them, one they could read on their phones? Something that uses their language and format? Kids today read more than ever before, but they’re reading screens instead of pages. What does that mean for books? I think it means that we need new books for them.
EKA: DRACULA is such a classic, so sacred to the horror and fantasy traditions. Why did you want to rewrite this story? Was it completely nerve-wracking to work with such a well-loved cannon?
BB: I love the original DRACULA, so I was nervous, but I realized early on that if I had to let myself relax and have fun with it. If I was constantly freaking out and second guessing myself, I couldn’t write a new story. I tried to stay true to the feel of the original, but not slavishly so. People have very different values today than they did in Victorian England, so they have different reactions. It’s not an abridged version of DRACULA, it’s iDRAKULA.
I have gotten criticism (and outrage!) for changing things, but I stand by it. I didn’t take a time machine back and change Bram Stoker’s words. Readers can, and should, go back to the classic and see what made it so fascinating that all these years later we are still making books and movies about it. And, I’m proud to say, I’ve heard that iDRAKULA is sending more kids back to the original.
EKA: iDRAKULA was a really fun, fast read, unlike anything I’ve picked up before. What was the most fun character in iDRAKULA to write?
BB: Mina. She’s tough and interesting and has the biggest changes in store for her. I always felt that she got short shrift in the original. She’s tough, she’s smart, and she’ll face down the undead to save herself and her friends. Teenage girls are tougher today. She couldn’t remain an innocent vessel who only had thoughts for her husband and none for herself. She needed to get a life. So, she did.
Van Hesling was really fun to modernize too as I tried to make him a rational scientist with a practical core, but still a handy guy with a stake.
EKA: You could have set this modernized version of DRACULA almost anywhere, since it’s a retelling. But you chose New York as the primary setting. Why?
BB: Pragmatically, it’s the closest shipping port to Romania, so a logical choice for the Count’s container. But, really, I adore New York. I’d been in New York on tour a few weeks before I started the story. New York has that big city energy, the kind that’s open all night, just like Dracula needs. It has skyscrapers that any bat would adore, old stone buildings where the Count could feel at home, so many people that it would be hard to track him down, and a modern sensibility that he’ll need to understand if he’s going to interact in the 21st century.
EKA: One really cool thing about iDRAKULA was the way the doctors in the story were looking at vampirism. Did you do much medical research while you were writing?
BB: I’d done the research on hemolytic anemia (yes, it exists) for another project. I think the first thing modern people would do when confronted with someone with symptoms like Jonathan and Lucy is try to find a medical reason for these supernatural changes, so I had to research what vampirism might look like to a worried and conscientious doctor. That led to the anemia and also the spleen.
EKA: Vampires are, obviously, a major trend in YA recently. Were you apprehensive to put another vampire book out there? How have folks reacted to your throwing your hat in the ring, so to speak?
BB: Remember how I said above that I tried not to think about it? Denial can be a writer’s best friend. Worry less has been my mantra lately. I tried to write the best, most interesting story I could and leave the market up to the market. In the final analysis, I think that’s all a writer can do. Trust in the story.
Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, which definitely helped.
EKA: Are you working on any further cell phone novels? Is it a format that you enjoy?
BB: I just finished up iFRANKENSTEIN, about a homeschooled kid who creates a monster called Virtual Victor who quickly starts destroying his life (they grow up so fast!).
I love the format. It forces me to think in a completely different way. I wrote another series as Rebecca Cantrell that’s historical literary mysteries set in 1930s Berlin. Those books are long, descriptive, and extensively researched. For the iMONSTER books, I use a different part of my brain. They’re supposed to be fun and funny. I want to put a new spin on old classics that draws in new readers and challenge myself to use new storytelling media. I try to balance true horrors with imagined ones.
EKA: What have you read lately that you loved?
BB: I just read ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. I can’t believe I didn’t read it years ago. It’s a riveting story about a young boy being trained to protect the Earth from invading aliens, but at a great personal cost. It makes you think about freedom of will, self defense, the rights of the one versus the rights of the many, acceptable use of force, and the life of one small boy. Great stuff.
EKA: What are you working on now? Or is it top secret?
BB: I just finished the screenplay for iDRAKULA. Next on my list is the fourth book in the Hannah Vogel mystery series: A CITY OF BROKEN GLASS about Kristallnacht in Berlin.
Big thanks to Bekka Black! I’m pretty psyched to hear that we’ll be seeing iFRANKENSTEIN in the near future! And if you still haven’t read iDRAKULA, get to it!