It was just a few days before Halloween in 1968. I was in the 7th grade (you do the math) in Spokane, Washington. I was nurturing a new-born passion that had sprung into my psyche fully formed, seemingly from nowhere, about a year earlier. I was absolutely fanatic about all things vampire.
Where this obsession came from is a complete mystery. I had been a hyper-sensitive child who couldn’t sleep without a light on in the hall and my bedroom door open, and still had insomnia because I saw scary things in the shadows. I loved fantasy but couldn’t bear even the mildest horror. The theme music for the Perry Mason TV show scared the willies out of me. The bat hallucination scene in The Lost Weekend kept me awake at night for weeks.
One night, I said to my mom, “Turn off the light and shut my bedroom door, I can’t sleep with so much light.” To her immense credit, my mom never made a single comment about this, she just did it. From that time on, I was a fervent horror fan—much more than I am now. I was always a voracious reader as a kid; now my TBR stacks dripped with blood. Somehow, vampires had a lot to do with this 180-degree personality change.
I still remember the first vampire movie that held me mesmerized for 90 minutes: the Hammer film Brides of Dracula, with blond David Peel as urbane, supercilious and manipulative Baron Meinster. I read Dracula in one day, and Montague Summers’ The Vampire in Europe a bit more slowly. I dressed as a fanged, bloody-mouthed revenant with trailing shreds of rotted shroud for 6th grade Halloween.
In the 7th grade, we got a little free magazine every month in English class. That October, just before Halloween, the magazine profiled the hottest daytime TV show on the air, with a cover photo of its star baring fangs: Dark Shadows. Despite the raging popularity it had enjoyed for nearly a year, I had never heard of it before. “There’s a TV show with vampires?” I thought. “A serious show, not The Munsters, not just a joke? Do we get it here?” At dismissal time, I did what I was going to be doing every day for the next three years: I ran home from school to turn on the TV. We did indeed get Dark Shadows, even in a three-channel backwater like Spokane. There was a vampire plotline going on at that moment. I was hooked.
And so were most of my friends. Dark Shadows made me many friends, including some of my longest and deepest friendships. I got the first personal long distance call I’d ever had the day the show aired its final episode in 1971. I ran into Dark Shadows fans at Star Trek conventions. In the 1980s I attended some of the Dark Shadows Festivals and made a whole new circle of friends. Our fandom for this show made us all kin.
But more than that—it was Dark Shadows that made me a writer. I wasn’t a writer by preference; I preferred to draw, and I worked very hard to break into acting. But Dark Shadows, with its long, intertwining plots, sparked my love for spinning “the endless story.” My frustrations with the show’s shortcomings—I was a devoted but critical fan—led me to create stories that improved on the vampire clichés of Dark Shadows and took the storylines in different directions. I didn’t write fanfic, though. I started creating my own characters. The only permanent marks Dark Shadows left on my fiction are its locations on the coast of Maine.
You’d be surprised how many well-known authors of vampire fiction were inspired by Dark Shadows. Stephen King…Anne Rice…Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Everyone with any interest in fantasy or horror watched, or at least knew, the show. In most cases, it “influenced” them the way it influenced my late friend Anne Fraser, who said she read a Dark Shadows comic book and threw it down spluttering, “I can write a better vampire story than this!” Some 30 years later, I published her novel Gideon Redoak (http://bylightunseenmedia.com/redoak.htm), which has vampires, mages, werewolves and a mansion on the coast of Maine.
Dark Shadows became the first daytime television serial ever to be syndicated and re-run. You can (re)watch every episode on Amazon Prime now (and I do). A few years ago, I wrote a long article (http://bylightunseen.net/blublood/?p=52) that covers Dark Shadows’ history and its influence on the genre.
My Vampires of New England Series (http://inannaarthen.com/vones.htm) is something like what I wish Dark Shadows could have been—realistic, character-driven, thoughtful and true to its folklore roots. But these books are my stories, part of me, and Dark Shadows is just one of the many seasonings that flavor my writing slow cooker.
You can judge for yourself!
CONTEST: I’m giving away all three volumes so far of the series—Mortal Touch (http://bylightunseenmedia.com/mt.htm), The Longer the Fall http://bylightunseenmedia.com/tltf.htm) and All the Shadows of the Rainbow (http://bylightunseenmedia.com/atsotr.htm)—in print or ebook editions (winner’s choice). It is, after all, the 50th anniversary of the day turning a TV dial forever changed my life. One lucky winner will win. Be sure to comment in the comment box! The contest starts now and end on Oct. 31 at Midnight Eastern time. Good luck and the contest is void where prohibited by law.
Inanna Arthen (Vyrdolak) is an artist, actor, writer, freelance book designer and author of The Vampires of New England Series (vampiresofnewengland.com). Inanna runs the independent press By Light Unseen Media (bylightunseenmedia.com), and is a member of New England Horror Writers, New England Speculative Writers, Broad Universe, IPNE and IBPA. Find out more at inannaarthen.com.
Thank you, Inanna, for visiting Nights of Passion blog! The contest has started!