Interview: Stephen Mark Rainey
Dark Shadows Novelist

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Stephen Mark Rainey co-wrote the bestselling 1999 novel Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark for HarperCollins. In a classic Dark Shadows Journal interview from 1999, he discusses the novel's conception.

Did you always want to be a horror writer?
I started writing short stories when I was in middle school, and one of them was a Dark Shadows story, which I turned in for English and got an A. I guess that inspired me to write more things, all of them scary, since I've always had a fondness for horror.

The horror market was booming in the early- to mid-1980s. I began writing and submitting my stories to everything from the biggest magazines to the weeniest of trash-mags. I finally began to get my stuff accepted, at first mostly in the little rags. Because I worked at a company that manufactured typographic systems, and I had access to them, I started up my own magazine, in the hopes of producing something better than most of the crap floating around in the marketplace. And thus Deathrealm was born, which ended up lasting for over 10 years and featured everyone from aspiring first timers to the most established professionals in the business.

In the last decade I've had over 80 published works of short fiction. Some of the markets include Cemetery Dance magazine, the online anthology Dark Whispers, Robert Bloch's Psychos, The New Lovecraft Circle and numerous Chaosium Cthulu Mythos anthologies.

How did Dreams of the Dark come about?
One day I'd been looking for something to read from amongst my oldest books, and I happened upon the Marilyn Ross Dark Shadows novels; I have a dozen or so that I've jealously kept since their first printing. I ended up reading them all, lamenting the fact that there would probably never be any more Dark Shadows novels something that I had always wished I could write.

Then I received a call from Elizabeth Massie, a good friend and writer I've known since the time I started Deathrealm. She said HarperCollins was launching a new series of Dark Shadows novels, and since I knew more about the show than anyone she knew, would I be interested in collaborating on a novel with her? You can guess how the rest of that conversation went. Anyway, by the end of that evening, I'd come up with a rough plot, characters, a bit of dialogue you name it. HarperCollins liked the idea enough to request a more detailed proposal. After a number of revisions, it was approved, and Dreams of the Dark was given the go ahead. Interestingly, the original title Dreams of the Damned, which Beth coined, was deemed too 'heavy' by the powers that be.

How did you and Elizabeth split the writing?
Since Beth and I had two main points of view Thomas Rathburn, my original creation, and Victoria Winters we alternated points of view from chapter to chapter. Beth wrote the Victoria chapters and I wrote the Rathburn chapters, at least for the most part. Beth had several pressing deadlines, so I also wrote a few of Victoria's chapters to take up the slack. Then we'd pass the chapters back and forth so each could go in and do any necessary tweaking. In the end, I probably ended up doing about 65 to 70 percent of the actual writing, which suited me fine I could have kept writing Dark Shadows for longer than anyone would want to read it.

What does the novel's story concern?
I was always disappointed that the 1991 Dark Shadows was cut off in midstream; it was just hitting its stride when it was cancelled. My original idea was to write something that would continue its storyline; however, due to copyright and proprietary concerns, the new series was off-limits. But since the climax of the 1991 show closely paralleled the original series, we decided to work up a story that took place not long after Victoria returned from the 18th Century, which could be inserted into the original Dark Shadows storyline at the appropriate point. The book bridges some of the disparate elements of the television show and even the filmswith less conflict in continuity than could be found even within the television series itself.

The plot concerns a vampire named Thomas Rathburn, who was 'changed' during the Civil War and in recent days has begun experiencing visions of people and places unfamiliar to him but which involve events that relate his own past. He follows clues from these visions, ends up in Collinsport, and begins meeting people he recognises, including Victoria Winters and Barnabas Collins. Needless to say, he is agreeably taken with Victoriaa fact that does not sit well with Barnabas. An intense rivalry ensues and Barnabas makes a number of attempts to rid Collinwood of this strange new arrival. However, Rathburn is not quite the 'ordinary' vampire, and things don't work out the way Barnabas has envisioned them.

In the meantime, strange occurrences begin to plague members of the household, Victoria in particular. As these incidents become more threatening, Rathburn realises that the only way he will be able to learn the truth about the visions - and to save Victoria is to form an alliance with Barnabas. Easier said than done, however. And for more than that, you'll have to read the book!

Were there any concepts that were vetoed?
In the beginning, we were going to tell the entire story through the eyes of our vampire, Thomas Rathburn. But the editors and Dan Curtis productions wanted to have an insider's view as well, to give the show's fans a familiar character to identify with. We chose Victoria and, in the end, I'm very glad we went down this route.

But the biggest thing, I suppose, was that in the beginning, Beth came up with a background for Rathburn that tied into [Lara Parker's preceding novel] Angelique's Descent. However, we were told not to use Lara's book as a resource or attempt continuity with it; our book needed to be a stand-alone. I think this is because Angelique's Descent had not been completed at the time, so any changes made to Lara's book would end up affecting ours if we tried to tie them together. As it is, I'm more satisfied with the end result than if we'd made that connection.

The only really difficult hurdle was that at the beginning of the project we were given precious little information about what we could and couldn't do. We'd do the work, then find out that certain changes needed to be made. We would do that, and then have to change a few more things, and so on. An awful lot of the changes should have been suggested when we turned in the first draft of the outline, rather than the third and fourth. All in all, though, it was a positive experience, and I think the book is stronger for all the work we did to it prior to the actual writing.

As I said, my original idea was to continue the story of the 1991 series, since it was left open-ended. However, we would have run into copyright problems, so we had to make the novel consistent with the original television series. Still, I felt it would be neat to fit Dreams of the Dark into the original storyline that paralleled the end of the 1991 show. As it is, I preferred working with the original universe, with few exceptions. Our Victoria is modeled after [1991 actress] Joanna Going rather than Alexandra Moltke. Barnabas' character is more akin to his darker version seen in House of Dark Shadows.

The Dark Shadows movies do seem to have been an influence…
Without giving too much away, the description of the grounds of Collinwood is based entirely on [film location] Lyndhurst, since I went there during the writing of the book, and a few aspects of Angelique's character are directly from Night of Dark Shadows; but I made a point to do this without conflicting with the television series' origin of Barnabas. The mansion itself is based on the sets and exteriors from the television show, except in the case of interiors that we never saw in the television series – for those, I described some actual Lyndhurst interiors.

As the novels are an alternative medium for the show, how necessary do you think it is to reinvent it for a modern audience?
Not everyone who reads a Dark Shadows novel is going to be a devoted fan of the original series, so you want the characters and situations to be relevant to someone exploring Collinwood for the first time. Perhaps the most important point is that Dark Shadows is largely an established world in and of itself. The key is to draw the reader into that world, regardless of the time period.

In Dreams of the Dark we've written the piece with only suggestions of a specific timeframe; there's nothing like in Lara's book, where it flatly states that the year is 1971. Dreams of the Dark is written as if it is happening now whenever that 'now' happens to be. The insinuation is that the events are taking place in 1999, or what have you, yet they fit into the storyline of 1968. Our view is that Dark Shadows is timeless. The attitudes and personalities are as close to the original as we can make them, and they react to the world they live in as those people, irrespective of any set year. To a large extent, Dark Shadows has a zeitgeist independent of the world around it.

Do you think there's a danger of tie-in books becoming pastiches?
I don't think so, at least not in the right hands. In Dreams of the Dark, we've taken the world of the show into places the series never ventured, while remaining true to its spirit. Angelique's Descent was certainly no pastiche, and given Lara's creative prowess, I suspect that if she contributes more to the series, she would continue to delve successfully into uncharted waters.

Most of the material in the original series was derived from other sources. In the novels, one can make a reverent nod to those sources, without necessarily falling back on clichéd formulas. With new talent and imagination, combined with the 'old' foundation, there are endless roads that can be traveled in Collinsport.

What do you think Dreams of the Dark adds to the Dark Shadows world?
Life! With only reruns, the movies, and a newer series to keep the flame alive, there's a finite limit to the Dark Shadows entity. Experiencing the show was a very personal thing to its fans. It has inspired countless journeys into the imagination. The Collins family became a living, breathing group of people to the show's devotees. Look at the proliferation of fan fiction Dark Shadows inspired perhaps more than any other media property besides Star Trek. That's because fans want the Collins family to continue to thrive in their own imaginations.

Our book will hopefully provide a new 'official' episode in a saga that was relegated to fan fiction for years, until Angelique's Descent. It introduces a strong character from outside the Dark Shadows world one who at first provides an outsider's view of the microcosm, then becomes a living part of it. I think that's how we, as viewers and readers, interact with the world of Dark Shadows. We're outside looking in, until that crucial moment when we are drawn in, becoming part of a wonderful world. Most importantly, hopefully, Dreams of the Dark will be an exciting and satisfying enough journey to Collinwood to make readers want to come back for more.

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