Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview: Robert Lory Author of The Dracula Horror Series

In the mid-1970s, the book rack at the local Eckerd's provided me a great deal of reading material.

Along with Doc Savage, Lew Archer and thrillers of the day sat a series of titles which brought Dracula, the prince of darkness, into the modern era.

A great deal of attention was focused on Dracula at that time. Magazines featured articles about the newly discovered tie between Vlad the Impaler and the Bram Stoker creation. Both the Christopher Lee Dracula films and Universal Films were also spotlighted frequently in Monster Times and Famous Monsters of Filmland, and the Aurora monster model kits were still on sale.

The Dracula Horror Series fit perfectly into that period, a blend of horror, science fiction and action adventure. In the tales, Damien Harmon, a paralyzed criminologist with telekinetic ability implanted a device with a tiny sliver of a stake near Dracula's heart. Controlled by the professor's thoughts, the device allowed him to harness Dracula's power for the forces of goodness. If Drac failed to comply with Dr. Harmon's wishes, the stake could be activated, sending him back into oblivion. With Harmon's bald, martial-arts-expert assistant Cameron Sanchez and Dracula's shape shifting friend Ktara, they were off to face super villains, lost worlds and much more.

Those titles were penned by Robert Lory, and I was thrilled to connect with him online a few years ago.

I've decided to do occasional interviews here on the blog, and he was the first person to whom I wanted to pose a few questions since those tales stimulated my imagination when I read them in junior high.  It was a lot of fun to learn details about not just the Dracula series but more of Mr. Lory's work at a very exciting time in science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing.

When I was first reading the Dracula novels, I discovered a copy of If with one of your stories among my cousin’s books. Tell us a little about your earliest writing, what first drew you to science fiction and writing for the digest magazines?

I started writing for dollars when in college in the late 1950s. Since my major was history/social sciences, I was heavily into research. I was drawn to science fiction because logically--at least to my mind--the future can't be researched. Similar case with fantasy: just make the stuff up.

You wrote some science fiction novels and horror novels as well. What was it like writing for Ace in the sixties and seventies? Did you work with one editor or more? Any interesting experiences?

Don Wolheim was my first editor at Ace, and he was terrific. Case in point: Because I came to novel writing from the short story scene, I’d learned to write "tight and terse." The result was a first novel (The Eyes of Bolsk) that turned out to be 10,000 words too short. Since I didn't have the stomach for adding a bunch of non-essential scenic views or conversations that went nowhere, I added a secondary plot line. Don liked it, but gave me some serious advice which boiled down to: Look, I like the multiple plot lines but, if you keep writing like this, you'll burn out after four, maybe five, novels. Relax and loosen up.  One of the best writing suggestions I ever got. Too bad I couldn't follow it.

My history with Fred Pohl began in the mid-60s when he was editing Galaxy and If magazines. He editorialized that he would never--repeat, never--buy a story that had astrology as a base. I took it as a challenge and wrote and sent him "The Star Party" with his editorial attached. The check he sent me had a transmittal note that said something like I shouldn't try pulling his chain a second time. I didn't rub it in when Ace Books republished the story in its Worlds Best SF anthology for 1965.

When Fred was at Ace in 1974, I sent him the first 40 pages of The Thirteen Bracelets, saying I had no idea where the story was going, but would he like to see it when done.  He said yes, but would I include two things: an underground battle scene and an insane computer. I had no problem with either, and am convinced they made the book stronger.

After you started having novels published, where did you first see one of your books on sale?

I honestly can't remember, but here's a related incident I remember well. In the late '70s I was on a flight to Hong Kong, which had to refuel on Guam. The airport passenger facilities at that time consisted of two Quonset huts, one of which was a jam-packed general store. I had three free-standing swivel racks of paperbacks. When I got back to the States, I couldn't wait to tell a writer friend of mine the "good news": he had two books on those racks. Then I told him the "better news": I had four.   

Do you have a favorite among the science fiction and stand-alone novels you wrote?

In science fiction it would have to be The Thirteen Bracelets, because in it I attacked every sacred cow I deemed worth attacking. A close second would be Master of the Etrax, a sort of sword and sorcery romp that ridiculed, among other things, bureaucratic decision-making. I laughed out loud writing both books, which makes me think that, in those days, I might not have been the most empathetic knife in the drawer.

The Dracula Horror Series was written with the book producer Lyle Kenyon Engle, right? How did you come to work on the Dracula series?

Lyle had read one of my Sham Odell SF novels and called me to work on a series which became John Eagle: the Expeditor. (The publisher wanted the books faster than the first writer could supply them.) I wrote the third and fourth in the series and then alternated books up to when the series ended at the eleventh entry.

When Dracula came up, he asked me if I'd do it. I was delighted to say yes.

Did you have an interest in Dracula before the series? Did you do special research for the series?

I'd read Stoker, of course, but had no really special interest in vampires per se.  My research was fairly skimpy--a few vampire stories as well as the classic In Search of Dracula by McNally and Florescu. I never did get into the Anne Rice thing.

Some of the promotional blurbs for the Dracula novels have different character names. I’ve always assumed those were from the original outlines and that the books morphed in the creative process. Am I right?

There really were no original outlines, just a few very rough ideas. One was for the Professor to tell the stories in the first person, and that was killed from the moment I signed on. There was no way that he could know all the details of Dracula’s history.

British edition of No. 4
 in the Dracula series.
What was that process like with Engle and how much freedom did you have in developing the stories? 

I had pretty much total freedom.  Lyle and I had a long dinner in New York where we covered several scenarios and some specific problems--like how do you control the beast now that you’ve got him? Back home in Houston, it took me about a week to develop Harmon and Sanchez (the prof would need a younger man to do the heavy lifting) and the cat-morphing Ktara--as well as a very sketchy back-story that began some time in the Age of Myth.

I outlined the first book, and it was a go. I also did outlines for the next two in the series, but when Lyle and the publisher saw that I never bothered to follow them, they told me not to bother producing them.

I always thought both Professor Harmon and Cameron Sanchez were great characters. How did they take shape?

I wanted brains (Harmon) and brawn (Sanchez), both of whom were fire-eaters on a mission and were hard-pressed to pull it off the way they originally intended (as badged public servants). Sprinkled in their psyches are some of my own traits. Harmon detests telephones; I only bought a cell when my wife had hip surgery (it now sits in my car, uncharged).  Cam hates airplanes; I avoid them whenever possible.

Did you have a favorite of the Dracula series?

Actually, I best-liked whatever one I was working on. As a writer/reader, I too was learning more about these characters as the type showed up on the page.

Would there have been any more in the series?

Probably--if the sales had held up. The Atlantis/Old Gods back-story could have been mined for at least another two or three books, but it was not to be. However, a series of nine isn’t all that shabby.

You did the second Boris Karloff Tales of the Frightened anthology. Any challenges in working in that somewhat brief form?

It was a great deal of fun. It not only took me back to the short story medium, which I realized I missed, but I also got to do a pretty good imitation of Karloff’s voice as I read my stuff aloud during the editing process.

Tell us a little about the Horrorscope series. Was that an interesting project also?

Initially, I didn’t think of it as a book series. What I proposed was a collection of short stories, each based on a Zodiac sign, so I started the book-length project with more than a little reluctance. As the products appeared in print, some of my friends allowed as how I “didn’t seem to be having much fun” with them. They were right, and I think the writing proved the point. In any case, when Pinnacle dropped that project (and others of its ilk), I felt very relieved.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re up to now?

Nine years ago, I retired early from my corporate (PR and advertising) job--and immediately started a consulting company, which I retired from about four years ago. These days I enjoy day-trading the financial markets. I’m also working on improving my tennis game. To date, Rafa Nadal has expressed no concern.

The Dracula books now sell at collectible prices. Any thoughts about having any of your work brought out on for Kindle in this burgeoning digital era?

I could hardly believe it when I first discovered my stuff was still being read and reviewed on several Web sites. I’ve gotten “thank-you” emails from people that were toddlers when my books were written. So, from an ego-feel-good perspective, the “digital era” has made my day many times over. Anything more is gravy.

Additional reading


Frederick said...

Thanks soooo much for this post! I loved and bought many of the series back when they first came out, and still treasure them today. I featured them in a post on my "Monster Memories" blog: I'll have to update it with a link to this!

Sidney said...

Thanks, Frederick. I still have my originals as well. I will look for your post cross reference to your blog also.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool. I have several Robert Lory books on my shelves.

Ellen said...

I completely agree with everything you have printed here.

David said...

Great interview ... I'm looking to contact Robert myself - might you be able to help at all?

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