Today, I have something special for you, since February is WiHM (for those of you who have no idea what this means, it stands for Women in Horror Month-nothing to worry about, I learned about it quite recently myself). An interview with P. N. Elrod, best known to us role players as the author of the personal journal one of the most well-written villains in the history of DnD, the captivating and tragic figure of Count Strahd von Zarovich.
Born in 1954, Patricia Nead Elrod started her professional career as an author writing modules for the legendary TSR. In 1990 her first novel in the long series of Vampire Files gets published, an urban/paranormal mystery noir that takes place in 1930s Chicago. Three years later she visits the misty world of Ravenloft with the moody I,Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire, linking her name forever with this gothic campaign setting. In 1998 she came back to the hostile Domains of Dread with the sequel I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin. Through its page we learn a lot about the antagonism between these two iconic dread lords. Today she lives along with her two dogs and a life-size replica of Dr. Who TARDIS that she built with her own hands.
1) Which book made you cry out “I wanna be a writer too?”
Will James’ Smoky: the Cowhorse. I set up my dad’s giant typewriter and sat down to do my own biography of a horse. One sentence in and I realized I didn’t know anything about horses, so I shelved writing for a decade or so and went back to reading.
Other books that inspired me to write were the ones I threw across the room, declaring, “I can do better than that!”
2) You have said it yourself that you love going to conventions. What is that you find most attractive to them?
Socializing with my friends. It’s usually the only time I can see everyone. I like sharing what I have learned about my craft.
3) Your novel Quincey Morris, Vampire is a sequel to the all-time classic Dracula. Wasn’t that a daunting, even frightening, experience for a writer?
Not at all. Quincey had a story to tell, and I told it. It was tremendous fun.
4) Your work is all about vampires. What would you describe as the most fascinating aspect of vampirism?
That they can be good guys and kick ass.
5) Of all the novels that have vampire protagonists, which ones make your Top 3 list?
I do not read vampire novels anymore. I read Dracula, saw the movies, and took it from there. The vampires in novels I read back in the day as research for my first book annoyed me. “You’re not doing it right!” I’d say, then I took my own direction. Fred Saberhagen’s series about Dracula was the only one to get it right for me. It was such an honor and thrill to meet him in the 90s. He was a sweet, lovely man.
6) How did you first get involved in Dungeons & Dragons? What was your favorite class as a player?
I was married to a gamer and picked it up by osmosis. I usually played an illusionist, liking to put things over on people and make them fall for an alternate reality. It is what I do as a writer.
7) Have you ever DMed the original I6 Ravenloft module? If so, please describe Count Strahd’s voice.
I have never played any Ravenloft games, sorry. But he sounds like actor Roddy McDowell, who read the audiobook for it back in the 90s. I have not heard the new audiobook. No other actor could come up to the level that Roddy set.
8) You have worked both as an author and as an editor. Which role do you prefer?
I like both for different reasons. The editor in me sees to it that when I turn in a manuscript that is clean and says what it is supposed to say.
9) What are your current plans?
Anything that will pay for rent, food, and bills.
10) Your most recent novel The Hanged Man is set in the Victorian era. Did you involve yourself in an in-depth research in order to create a lifelike plot and historically accurate atmosphere?
Not really. I have made a study of the era since reading my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was 12. I changed some things, like having Queen Victoria marrying someone who was not Albert, and both of them being active social progressives. This alternate history was great fun to write.
11) You have written more than 20 novels featuring vampires. And yet, in 2003 you kinda ‘took a U-turn’ with The Adventures of Myhr. What was the cause of this goofier/funnier approach?
The book’s hero is based on a real life friend, artist Jamie Murray. In the 90s, Jamie’s alter-ego, “Myhr” was in great demand as a master of ceremonies at conventions. They’re both sweet and funny. When I landed a contract to write a fantasy novel for Baen Books, Myhr was the natural star for it. Jamie loved the book and did the cover art for it and some other novels I did for Baen.
12) You are well known for your first person narrative. Is this something that comes naturally to you? Do you want the reader to feel more close to, to sympathize with your characters?
It was the best way to tell the story for me. Most of the books I read were in first person. When I tried third person it just didn’t work, so I shifted, and my first book got easier to write. Only after I’d sold did I learn from writer friends that it is supposed to be the hardest viewpoint to write. I never thought so. After I got better in my craft I began doing 3rd person stories.
13) Horror literature is still considered by some as ‘light-reading’ or even ‘thrash’. What do you think the horror genre has to offer to the readers? What makes it so appealing to its fans?
I can’t answer that because I do not write horror and I do not read it. I prefer a good classic mystery or non-fictions on science, history, and sometimes a biography.
Something I learned from Fred Saberhagen (and others) is to read enough on the genre you want to write in to be acquainted with the tropes, then take your own path. If all you read is one genre, then your voice will sound just like all the other voices in it. That is called “literary incest.” Nothing new or fresh happens, it’s just recycling the same old stuff.
While writing my first vampire novel I read Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler hard boiled mysteries. When working on the steampunk I read the delightful Lucia novels by E.F. Benson.
Non-fictions are my best source of ideas. It was while reading Connections and The Count of Monte Cristo that I got the idea for the first gaming module I ever wrote, Assault on Eddistone Point. I wrote regular D&D modules, they were my first professional sales back then. Later I got too busy writing novels to write any others. The main point is always be reading, you never know when something will spark an idea.
I can trace the beginnings of The Hanged Man to a trip to a bookstore. I saw a cover that looked like Queen Victoria about to board and fly a biplane. I was wrong about it. Science and engineering had not progressed to the point where biplanes could be made in the 1850s. However, there was nothing preventing one of her granddaughters from becoming a pilot in an alternate reality.
There are no planes in my series, but I do have airships, forensic psychics, English women have the vote, and many other fun things are in this alternative era. All that from my getting things wrong about a half-glimpsed book cover!
I love my job.