Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dracula? Holmes? Poe? Frankenstein? Fred loved them all. A guest blog post with Joan Saberhagen.

Joan Saberhagen with her husband, Fred Saberhagen

Joining us today for a guest blog post on "The Gaslight Gallery" is Joan Saberhagen, widow of Fred Saberhagen, and trustee of his literary estate. We have asked Joan to share some memories of Fred, and his love of Dracula, Holmes, Poe and Frankenstein.

Fred was a great fan of mysteries. The classics of course like Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Anne Perry and many others were read and reread. So, not surprisingly, he was very well read in the canon of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle.  


Fred’s interest in Dracula was perked around 1973 or so, when, just for fun, he reread the Bram Stoker novel. He commented that there was nothing in the book from Dracula’s point of view. I think that’s when he decided to start work on THE DRACULA TAPES.  The Count stayed around for another nine books. The Dracula character was one of Fred’s favorites. The writing of these books seemed to come easily to him. In addition to the books, Fred wrote an interesting short story that investigates Stoker’s fascination with vampires “A Drop Of Something Special In The Blood” for Andrew Greeley’s anthology EMERALD MAGIC. An excursion into a story about vampires, other than the Count, was on Fred’s agenda, but not completed.  A comment on one of the fan lists for Fred’s Dracula noted that the series didn’t seem to come to a logical end with the last book (A COLDNESS IN THE BLOOD). I think that’s right. Fred wrote all his books to be stand alone stories, although the same characters and sometimes the settings are carried from book to book. I believe, Fred would have written more Dracula stories, if he’d had the chance.

Wish I could find the exact references but I clearly remember Fred saying that the physical description of Dracula by Stoker and the physical description of Holmes by Doyle were so close that the characters could be physically related, at the very least cousins. Fred expounded on this in THE HOLMES-DRACULA FILE.  In several other works, Fred has Holmes and the Count cooperating on solving a mystery.

A very talented costumer fan presented Fred with a beautiful long black cape in the Bella Lugosi style. The cape was borrowed by a local theater group for a production of Dracula. It’s one of my prized possession.

On hearing that Fred wrote Dracula novels, our dentist offered to make Fred a pair of fangs. They were great, the color matched Fred’s teeth perfectly and the fangs clipped onto the natural teeth quite securely.  On Halloween nights, Fred delighted in answering the trick-or-treaters with a fang-smile. The teeth were so realistic that the kids expressions were a cross between disbelief and gentle fear.

Fred made a point of not reading other interpretations of Dracula or of vampires, so as not to subconsciously affect his work. Something of a shame as I think he would have enjoyed a number of the interpretations.


For at least as long as I’d known Fred, Doyle was among his favorite authors.

Fred admired Doyle for his genius as a writer and creator of puzzles. Fred loved puzzles, especially cryptograms and chess problems. Fred was also a simple fan of Doyle. A deerstalker hat and a watch with the Holmes face were worn at conventions and wherever else.  Fred mentioned that he would have liked to write a book with both Doyle and Houdini as characters. The fact that Doyle was fascinated by spiritualism and the supernatural while his magician friend Houdini was a skeptic fascinated Fred.

The play of Holmes and Watson against each other was copied in one of Fred’s Lost Swords books. (THE THIRD BOOK OF LOST SWORDS)


Fred was also a huge fan of Poe. For many years, we hosted a Poe Party on Poe’s birthday. The celebration always included a theme cake – a house of Usher, a tell tale heart, a wall of cake-bricks which when eaten uncovered the chained Fortunato under plexiglass. One guest gifted us with a mounted and encased Poe’s mustache. Of course, Winnie the Poe was present. A great time was had.

In 2003 as a side trip from a World Con, we were able to visit the Poe museum in Baltimore. The place seemed haunted. If you’re a fan of Poe this place is well worth a visit.

Late in the ’80s, maybe ’88 or ’89, Roger Zelazny was over visiting with his family. We’d come back from taking the kids to the zoo and the fellas started talking about their common admiration for Poe. They went up to Fred’s office, leaving Judy, Roger’s wife, and me with the kids. A while later they rejoined us, pleased to announce a plan for co-authoring a book centered on Poe (THE BLACK THRONE). It’s quite a remarkable book. I think every one of Poe’s works is gracefully referenced in the text along with facts from Poe’s life with the kind of twists to motivation for the events to be expected from the likes of Roger and Fred. The fellas enjoyed this collaboration immensely. The book has the mark of Roger’s elegant writing style. They did one other book together, COILS. It’s much more in the science fiction line.


Fred authored one other book that fits somewhat into the horror genre, that’s THE FRANKENSTEIN PAPERS. As in THE DRACULA TAPES, Fred went back to the original story and devised alternate explanations for the events. It’s quite a fun read with something of a surprise ending. I’m considering either developing an anthology with Fred’s Frankenstein story and related Frankenstein stories or maybe just reissuing the book as an eBook. Recently I came across and was fascinated by a novella by Walter Jon Williams, “Wall, Stone Craft”. The story centers on the life of Mary Shelley rather than the monster, but would, I think, be a great complementary piece to Fred’s story. “Wall, Stone, Craft” won a Hugo and was nominated for a Nebula in 1993.

Hope you enjoy Fred’s work.

Joan Saberhagen
December 24, 2011

FRED SABERHAGEN - author of many popular sci­ence fiction and fantasy books including the Berserker series, Swords trilogy and Lost Swords series. A special tip of the deer­stalker for the classic novels The Holmes-Dracula File and Séance for a Vampire. Fred is one of the featured authors in Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes.