Friday, July 15, 2011

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Why Can’t a Book be Smart, Historical, and Sexy?
By Karen Essex

During an auction for the audio rights to my novel Dracula in Love my editor forwarded me an email from one of the bidders. “This book is so hot that I can’t wait to get home to my wife!” he proclaimed, and then outbid everyone else and presumably went home and made his wife happy.

We were delighted to hear that feedback because during the writing process, we had tortuous debates over just how much sex would be too much. My most trusted readers are my agent, my editor, and my manager, and each had very different responses. Without giving away proclivities, two on the team kept begging for more, though what one thought erotic, the other sometimes found terrifying. The third loved every sensual drop but kept reminding us of the puritanical level of the basic American reader. She pointed out that the book had the elements that discriminating readers look for in smart fiction: a strong, authoritative voice, painstakingly composed prose, and serious themes. “This book is too rich to have its seriousness dismissed because of the sex scenes,” our cautionary voice reminded us. “You know how readers are! They see some sex on the page and assume it’s a bodice-ripper.”

Let me say that I set out to write something that was both smart and erotic, something that did not hint at searing sex as the chapter closes but truly explored women’s sexual pleasure. One of my biggest motivations for re-imagining Bram Stoker’s brilliant novel Dracula from the female perspective was the hyper-misogyny of the original. Today, the book is often read as a cautionary tale against the unbridling of female sexuality at the end of the 19th century.

In Dracula in Love, I wanted to turn the original story inside out, exposing its underbelly or its “subconscious mind.” A great part of what could not be expressed in any quarter in the 1890s—or in the whole of literary history, for that matter—was women’s sexual pleasure. In fact, in my research into the late Victorian era, I discovered case after case in asylum archives of women being committed for having what we today would consider normal sex drives. Stoker’s prose is rife with fomenting sexuality; the fun in retelling the tale was to express the formerly forbidden aspects.

Yet I have received huffy complaints from some readers that I did disservice to the book—that I literally cheapened both the book and its female protagonist—by including sex scenes. (By the way, I use no profanity and no crude terms.) A few readers have expressed “shock,” and others have been upset by “the author’s need to shock.” Honestly, the only shocking thing to this author is this sort of response.

Let’s dissect this. The point of my books is to give voice to otherwise voiceless females from history and myth; to unlock what has been secreted away in women’s hearts and minds for millennia. Historically, women have either been reduced to nothing but their sexuality, or stripped of it entirely; the Madonna or the whore. Are we still obeying the ancient good girl/bad girl paradigm that has bifurcated and inhibited women for millennia? Is there a knee jerk dichotomy in the minds of serious readers: No sex, please, we’re too smart?

Far from wanting to shock, I wanted to delight, to thrill, and to illuminate in ways that were impossible in the 1890s. I wanted to envelop the reader in the lush velvet of the Victorian era with its contained and corseted sensuality, cloaked with layers of delicate lace, and in some cases, restrained with leather straps and strait jackets. Thankfully, many readers have expressed praise and appreciation for its dark sensuality. Several readers have compared the experience of reading it to eating expensive dark chocolate. Some have admitted to drooling on the pages, while others even hinted at wanting to eat the pages!

A recent reviewer declared that the sex in Dracula in Love, while erotic, was tasteful, because the writing was more “artistic” than “literary.” Precisely what that means, I do not know, but if “literary” implies either the absence of sex, or linking pleasure and self-loathing, I’ll take “artistic” any day.

If readers enjoy a writer’s descriptions of place, of food, of all manner of things appealing to the senses, why shy away from visceral, transporting descriptions of sex? If sex debases women and literature, please tie me up and spank me, then wrap my books in brown paper and sell them from below the counter.

Intrigued? Enter to win your own copy of Dracula in Love!
I've got five copies up for grabs! That's right--FIVE copies!!

Dracula in LoveTo enter, simply leave a comment with your email address.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on July 21. Open to US residents only.
Winners will be chosen at random. Thanks, and good luck!

Want more now?
Check out the Book Trailer!
Visit Karen's Website!
View the entire Blog Tour Schedule!

From the Back Cover:

London, 1890. Mina Murray Harker, the rosy-cheeked, quintessentially pure Victorian heroine, becomes Count Dracula’s object of desire. To preserve her chastity, five male “defenders” rush in to rescue her from the vampire’s evil clutches. This is the story we have been told. But now, from Mina’s own pen, we discover a tale more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have ever imagined. From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Mina vividly recounts the intimate details of what really transpired between her and the Count—the joys and terrors of a passionate affair, as well as her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

This giveaway is closed and the winners have been selected!
But keep your eye out for more great giveaways coming soon!


  1. Wow! Don't think I knew exactly what this book was about but boy am I moving it up on my wishlist.


    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  2. I'm glad I read this guest post. I'm one of the ones who normally hates sex in books and it would be a turn-off if I read this, but not so much if I know it's not for just shock value or something.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  3. I find that sex in books can be an enlightening way to learn more about characters, or the time they live in. I can't wait to read Dracula in Love.

  4. Sounds good. Thanks for sharing!

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  5. No need to enter me. Great post - and so true. I thought that it was so tasteful and great fun.

  6. Wow, sounds like a book I want to read! Hot! I love the steamy romances that are more artistic. I hope I win a copy! quilty jen at gmail dot com

  7. I am not against sex scenes in books that aren't bodice rippers or erotica; I don't like heavy scenes that take away from the plotline however, and definitely not crude terms and graphic descriptions. I've read some books where there may be one or two kind of heavy scenes that didn't take away from the overall story, however, and that was appreciated. I'd be interested to see how this is handled in Dracula in Love, and I appreciate the insight into the thought process that went into their writing and inclusion.


  8. Awesome giveaway. This one is on my wishlist!

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  9. Really hoping to read this book now..:D Thanks for the great giveaway!

    Kelsey O.
    kopsahl48 AT gmail DOT com

  10. Thanks for the chance to win!

  11. Thanks for the giveaway! After reading your teaser, I definitely need to read this one.


  12. Great Post! I really like the premise. Sounds really good and not the same old, same old.

  13. I enjoyed reading this post, and would lvoe a chance to read the book.

    word_trix @

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. - sorry forgot my email address

    I enjoyed reading the above essay especially about the different responses she has received since she wrote the book and I would really like to enter the giveaway. Thank you.

    d.septer at


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