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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

November 18, 2013

Shane KP O'Neill: My Love for the Horror Genre

I have always loved the horror genre, I mean really loved it.  When I started reading books seriously in my early teens my friends and I would pass around or recommend one horror novel after another.  We all loved heavy rock music and we all loved horror novels.  Of course, in the mid-1980’s we were spoiled with both. Heavy rock was truly in its heyday and so was the horror genre.  To me they seemed to go hand in hand. There were so many great books to choose from back then, from masters like…

  • Stephen King
  • Dean Koontz
  • Robert McCammon
  • Shaun Hutson
  • James Herbert
  • John Saul

These were just my favourites, but there were many others.  And then we also had a huge catalogue of movies to keep us entertained.  Times were good.  Not only did we have movies that materialised from the books written by that select group above, but we had John Carpenter and Wes Craven among others feeding the monster.  On top of that, we had a host of classic horror movies from previous decades featuring the likes of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price and even this was just the tip of the iceberg.  I would safely say the amount of horror movies I saw in my teenage years alone must have numbered in the many hundreds.

For me, this was the only genre that mattered, in book form and on the big screen.  It followed naturally then that when I decided I wanted to write, it would only ever be as a horror writer.  I was always a writer, to one degree or another, learning my craft from a very tender age.  The very first stories I penned, I actually wrote by hand in those days, were all tales of the macabre that I would read to my best friends, doing my utmost to shock and abhor them.  The expressions my words brought from their faces were like a drug to me, and that irrepressible need to be appreciated as a writer was here to stay.

But horror was not the only love in my life.  I also had a deep relationship with history and all things to do with it, which grew stronger within me as time passed.  In time, this manifested itself into an amalgamation of the two.  And the focus of that became Dracula.

I have been aware of Dracula the vampire for as long as I can remember.  I saw my first Dracula movie when I was a young teenager and was forever hooked.  At the age of 16, I wrote a Dracula story of about 50,000 words which is likely to end up in Chronicle 8 or 9 of The Dracula Chronicles.  Dracula the man I did not discover until I had just turned 21.

I had just moved to England where I knew few people and had no social outlets.  Those were the days before us peasant folk had any concept of the Internet or the technological boom that was to come.  That left the likes of me with the local library.  And on my very first visit to the library in my new town, I discovered the works of Radu Florescu and Raymond T McNally, the two Harvard professors who achieved fame as biographers to the great Vlad Dracula.

I read their books a half a dozen times each and then hunted down any other books on my new favourite subject.  Over time I digested quite a few and formulated a picture of the man in my mind that I was so desperate to write about.  Of course, I wanted to write about Dracula the man and Dracula the vampire in the same book, or series of books, as my project evolved into over time.  In late 1992, after many years of reading and researching my subject, I wrote twenty chapters of my new concept.  Then for twelve years I didn’t look at it again.

During my 12-year hiatus from writing the horror genre changed noticeably, and in the years since.  The genre was carved up into dozens of sub-genres with a variety of names under monikers such as paranormal fantasy and romance, and urban fantasy.  This was okay I suppose, as there are so many directions one can move in within the horror genre.  But it didn’t sit so well with me, and especially with my favourite area of horror, the vampire.

I grew up as I have said earlier watching movies with Christopher Lee and reading books from Stephen King and Robert McCammon where vampires didn’t come out in the daytime.  They didn’t sparkle under the sun, they weren’t romantic creatures or broody.  They didn’t fall in love with mortals, they fed on them.  They burned or vanished into dust when touched by sunlight.  They were a far superior race that preyed on us weaker humans.

Now I accept that in the wake of Harry Potter, the powers-that-be in the film industry saw a huge market open for exploitation, i.e teenagers or young adults as they seem to be categorised these days.  They are there to make money naturally.  But did they have to fill the void left by Harry Potter with a series that virtually destroyed the vampire as us connoisseurs knew it?  This left an indelible mark on me.  I yearned like so many others for a return to the much darker, more traditional vampire.  And there are none as traditional as Dracula himself.

But I wanted to do something really serious with this subject and with my ideas.  I wanted to create something awesome and mind-blowing that people will remember always.  To try and explore the darkest recesses of the mind, the heart, and the soul both in the characters in my books and in those reading them.  It was my aim to shock, terrify, abhor, offend, mesmerise, arouse and captivate everyone who would pick up one of my books.  I wanted to write a scary-as-hell horror novel with real monstrous vampires, but that could only be a part of what I was looking to create.  My desire was to build a world to rival Tolkien and C.S. Lewis where my reader could escape to and become lost in.  I wanted to build something that Dracula was central to, but that was so much bigger than him.  And I hope now I have succeeded in doing that with The Dracula Chronicles.  

In 2004 I took it up once more and over the next eighteen months produced the novel, Reckoning Day. This book is based entirely in December 1986, the same month I left Ireland, and was centred on the resurrection of Dracula. It is a full-blown horror story full of vampires (of the darkest variety) and satanic ritual. It was epic in scale and was well over 350,000 words by the time I finished it.  

But I had no room in this story for all the 15th Century material I had written years before that centred on Dracula’s conversion from man to vampire and his early years as a vampire.  Hence I re-wrote those chapters in a new book, Bound By Blood, which I completed in six months and a first draft of 260k words.  From that moment on, The Dracula Chronicles series was born.  This book only covered the period from Dracula’s death in 1476 to 1612.  I still hadn’t written anything of Dracula the man.

I figured I would write ten chapters or so and put them in at the start of Bound By Blood. Another six months and 250k words later I had only covered the period in Dracula’s life from 1431 to 1456 and was forced to make that a book in its own right. The Gates Of Babylon became Chronicle 1, meaning I had to write a second book to bridge the gap up to 1476 and Bound By Blood.

I have since had to break The Gates Of Babylon into three books. When I began the final re-writes for it in March this year, the first part of the book took on a life of its own.  That has now become For Whom The Bell Tolls, which is to be Chronicle #1 and The Path To Decay, which is Chronicle #2.  These will see publication on November 11th and December 9th this year.  The Gates Of Babylon will now be Chronicle #3, hopefully, to surface by the middle of next year.  There may have to be two more books then to precede Bound By Blood.

I was so happy to do this.  To write these novels about the real life and the real world of the historical Vlad Dracula was a wonderful experience.  I am creating a small handful of historical epics in the process and have built the most incredible profile of one of history’s most amazing, yet most misunderstood men.  I have read many fictional novels written about the historical Vlad Dracula.  And whereas I have seen some noble attempts to capture the essence of this incredible man, I have not seen any that have satisfied me personally as a student of his life.  This was a real incentive for me in writing For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Path To Decay and The Gates Of Babylon.  I am confident I have created the most complete picture of who he really was.  To do this and build an accurate picture of the turbulent world in which he lived while integrating that within my own concept was the real challenge for me.  You can be the judge of how well I have fared in achieving this.

But these earlier Chronicles are not only sprawling historical adventures.  They are also stories of dark Gothic horror, violence, political intrigue, religious corruption, dark paranormal fantasy and deep romance. By crossing into various genres while trying to remain true to its horror foundation, I have endeavoured to add more meat to the bones of the story and give much more depth to my characters.  

It is here my concept has really taken shape and here I have built the premise of Lucifer wanting to ascend again to Heaven through the destruction of the institution of the Catholic Church.  

God’s creation of man led to a split in Heaven and a division of the angels as a result of Lucifer’s jealousy. The First Great War of the Angels followed, which resulted in Lucifer and his followers being cast out.  The war raged on and to end it, God agreed a truce with Lucifer. The main condition of this was that Lucifer could contest the soul of every living being, as long as he did not interfere with their free will. Should he control more souls than God at any time, then he can ascend again to Heaven and signal the end for mankind.

When the battle for souls runs close, the Crucifixion eradicates man’s sins and undoes all of Lucifer’s work. The Catholic Church stands as a reminder of that great victory over him. Lucifer then realises if he can destroy the institution of the Catholic Church and bring down the last great icon of God, he can then turn man against God once more. He searches for a millennium for the right candidate to see through this immense task and decides on the young Vlad Dracula as the instrument to achieve his ends.

The series follows the life of Vlad Dracula from birth and Lucifer’s manipulation of him.  It follows too the life of his brother, Andrei, who is God’s weapon to counter the work of Lucifer.  It is a journey through the ages set against the real world of Vlad Dracula that moves on through the lives of all the major players in history. I could sit here for hours to try and describe the true scope of this concept and project. This post is really just scratching the surface. If I had to describe my books in a sentence comparable to an idea people are familiar with I would say The Dracula Chronicles is a darker, more sensual and more expansive version of The Game Of Thrones.

Currently, I have two of the Chronicles available; #6 Bound By Blood – Volume 1; and #7 Bound By Blood – Volume 2.  If you’d like a sample of these first you can pick up a prequel, Birth Of The Monster.  I released these two titles first to give my reader the vampire first.  A second edition of both titles, with new covers, will be available from the New Year.  An audio version, narrated by me, of Birth Of The Monster, will be available soon also.

I have also released The Lamb Of God, a prequel to the entire series.  That too will have an audio version available, narrated by myself.  This week, I have released Chronicle #1 For Whom The Bell Tolls, which goes back to the very night both Vlad and Andrei are born.

I welcome you to join me on this fascinating journey through the ages.

Buy For Whom the Bell Tolls at Amazon

~About the Author~

Shane KP O’Neill is the writer of The Dracula Chronicles, a new and exciting series adding a new dimension to the Dracula myth. He has begun the series with a later Chronicle to give his readers the vampire first. The series then continues on with Chronicle #1, For Whom The Bell Tolls, to take you back to the beginning.
The author developed a fascination with Dracula from an early age. Like many others he was enthralled by Christopher Lee's portrayal of him on the big screen. It was in his late teens that he discovered Dracula the man and the love affair began from there. An avid lover of history, he studied the period in which the real historical Vlad Dracula lived, 15th Century Balkan, for many years. It followed from there then that with his love of writing he would always choose Dracula as his subject.  He built a concept and premise where he could accommodate both Dracula the vampire and Dracula the man.
Away from writing, the author has a wide range of interests. He reads a lot of books from a wide variety of authors though his main interest lies in the horror genre.  His love of books is matched only by his love of the countryside and of course, his family.  As an added note, he has lived and travelled all over the world. He has a love for all things historical, with a particular fascination for medieval Europe. Anywhere he travels, he likes to search out locations with an historical interest and will always hunt for the ruins of an old castle before heading to the beach.
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