Dracula, The Wild West, & Me

I’ve been flirting with Dracula for a very long time. I was 11-12 years old when I read it the first time. It’s been in public domain since before I was born, but I am only now taking full advantage of that. I’ve read it no fewer than 9 times and yet when I opened it again for research purposes in November of 2023, I discovered something I never grasped in all those times before! I took the realization as a sign that I was starting down the right path. I will give but one hint in regard to the sign, “Hillingham”, for it is there in Gravesend, England, at the home of Lord Arthur Holmwood Godalming that my personal writing journey into the land of undead begins.

No, Dracula will NOT be making an appearance, nor will Lucy, Mina, Johnathan, or Renfield be in the tale I am contriving. There will be other names, some familiar, most new, but all inspired by the one, the only, King of Vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I don’t remember a time when I was not interested in the Victorian period, mostly as experienced in England. In fact, the notion that that same time-period existed in the United States seemed (maybe still seems) a bit strange, except we call it The Wild West. Victorian England covers the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901, while the Old West period in America ranges from around 1803, the time of the Louisiana Purchase, until 1910 or so. A longer period of time than the Victorian but enough substantial overlap to consider them almost one in the same.

But, oh how very different are the images conjured up in our minds when we think of the Victorian Era England verses the American Wild West! The Wild West conjures up images of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Coral. What even would we define as “Wild West” literature? Dime novels that portrayed life in the frontier pitting ‘savage’ Natives and bandit gunfighters against ranchers, lawmen, and infamous ‘Hanging Judges’ from which the modern Western novel sprang? What about Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Louisa May Alcott?  And indeed, I love them all – some more than others, but still, you get the idea.

Speaking of “Wild West” literature, how does the year 1871 grab you? I mentioned in my last blog post something my grandmother gave me decades ago, the typed version of her grandmother’s travel journal titled My Journey West. I have no idea where my grandmother got it from, nor who typed it, but I’ve always thought it was a very cool piece of family history and I’ve always wanted to make it something more than it was. I have no crazy notion that it’s going to be a big seller. It’s pretty niche family genealogy stuff, but hey, who knows? So, if you have an interest in Tioga County NY or Plainfield Iowa history, check out Eudora Boughton Legg’s 1871 travel journal, My Journey West through Amazon in early February.

I love diaries and\or journals and have kept one of my own since 1977. My great-great-grandmother, daughter of the above-mentioned Eudora Legg, was also a great one to keep a diary. Many of them have found a home in our local county historical society. They end a mere ten days before her death and I think it’s damn cool she and I share a December 29th birthday, give or take 109 years.  Maybe my love of diaries also adds to the love I have for Dracula. It’s one heck of an epistolary and ‘Dear Diary’ genre novel. And it’s because of that attraction that my novel too, will be written in the same style, a combination of letters, diary entries, and news clippings. Or, at least, that’s the plan. So far, so good – the flirtation continues.

What I’ve been reading:

Dracula (again) by Bram Stoker

Kill Me, Elmo, The Holiday Depression Fun Book by Jim Mullen

Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

I Blame Holly Hobby

Writer's Life / Writing

It began with a little blue and white checkered book with a picture of Holly Hobby on the front. It was January 1977 and I had just turned eleven years old the previous December. I have no idea who bought me that diary, I suspect my Nana Jean, but, regardless, whoever it was, they started me down the long road to journaling, and maybe even lit the spark of my dreams of being a writer.

Holly Hobby saw me through a lot that year. Oh, sure, a lot of the pages are blank, but that little 4 X 5 inch book brought me a lot of joy and helped me share with my future by holding on to the past in my sometimes less than legible handwriting. My grandfather died that year. With a newly sharpened pencil in hand, I cried on those pages that night as I would later cry at Papa Milo’s funeral. His very sudden death was the first beloved human one that I knew. I remember hating every minute of that day, sitting at the back of the room with my cousins and brother, looking at the open casket and thinking how the man inside it had only weeks ago been mowing hayfields, smoking from his cherry tobacco-filled pipe, or trying to teach me how to count in Italian. I remember my parents trying to get me to go to the front of that dreaded, horrible room and say ‘Good bye’ and the way I threw a fit, refusing to do so. My long, hot, summer days on Nana and Papa’s farm were over, gone, done, forever.

Good things happened in 1977, too. I’d made a new best friend the previous fall when I started the fourth grade at Nathan T. Hall School in Newark Valley, NY. In fact, I made a couple new friends that year, friends that would not only see me through 1977, but would remain friends through middle school and senior high, all the way to graduation and to this day! And, in the fall of 1977, when we all started Fifth Grade, I was able to get back together with the boyfriend I’d had in Third Grade. All this, and more, as sketchy and poorly written as it may be, is all documented and kept safe by little Holly Hobby to this day.

Holly has a lot of Diary Friends in that big cardboard box, mind you. I’ve saved them all. I’ve kept them intact, neatly together, waiting for someday when my kids will pull the boxes from their hiding place and find out more about their mother than they will probably ever want to really know.

1978, 1979, 1980… one by one documented in long hand. Each year my journal-keeping habit grew more, well, habitual, more detailed, more part of my identity. My parents caught on pretty quick that I was taking this diary thing pretty seriously. For years they would order a journal for me, matching dark brown covers with the year stamped in gold on the spine and front, all in a row. My life was becoming a library all its own. Every night, almost without fail, I’d take up my pen and write down the thoughts and events of the day.

Through those high school years, through my first trip abroad, the first time I made love at a bed and breakfast in Southampton, England in 1985, through falling in love with the man who I would marry in September 1989, the diaries would continue. They would see me through. They would see my laughter and my tears. The details of the births of my son and daughter and the day we all moved to the big house in Spencer in 1995. My handwriting would record it all, the good, the bad, the ugly. The heart soaring and the heart breaking. As I struggled to make my marriage work through any means necessary, to accepting that fateful moment when the divorce papers were signed, sealed and delivered on July 26th 2011.

It’s all there, unedited and directly from the heart, tear stains and all. Not a single lie or imagining, just the truth, my dreams, my disappointments, my fears, my pain, my joy, my love, and my hopes even now for the future. Nothing is hidden for even as much as I can be myself, I think everyone has parts they want to be kept quiet, not so much secret but personal, there are still parts, thoughts, feelings, I like to keep special, almost to a sacred degree.

At some point I realized I was no longer able to write on a nightly basis. I could check, of course, but I’m going to have to guess it was when I entered my early 20s. Life got busy. Working full time, getting married, having kids, and keeping house left me too tired to write every night. I began writing weekly, Sunday nights, to be exact. It was my hour or so of quiet time. This is the time I still write in my journal. I do forget now and then and end up writing a few days later or at most, the following week, but I always do it. I always get my readers caught up on this grand autobiography eventually.

And now, I blog, well, I try to anyway. I don’t think I’m very successful at it. Honestly, I don’t think my day-to-day shenanigans are all that interesting to much of anyone but me or the very few people I may be having said shenanigans with. I read the blogs of others and always wonder, how are they making this seem so interesting and fun, and sometimes downright funny? I consider it a good day when I can manage to be clever on my Facebook update, let alone a Blogsworth of writing. I like that word. Blogsworth. A quick Google reveals I did not just invent it. Oh well.

So, don’t look here for any great revelations about my personal life. It isn’t going to happen. I’ll continue to not only post randomly, but on random topics that likely will have nothing to do with each other beyond the fact I wrote them. Little me, who will always feel that our inner thoughts and feelings, our little chats with the Divine within us, should not be seen or read by the public eye, but instead should be kept like that little Holly Hobby book, quietly, secretly tucked under the mattress of an eleven-year-old girl such as I was, who, even then, dreamed of being a writer.

At least now my handwriting is more legible, most of the time.