Character study: How Vlad the Impaler became a romantic lead
As Tudor geeks, we’re no strangers to historical fiction starring monarchs with dark sides.
But we still found ourselves taken aback while approving the promotion of The Impaler’s Wife, a novel about the woman who married — and fell in love with — Vlad Dracul.
Yep, the man known as Vlad the Impaler and the man whose name would later be borrowed for a famous vampire.
How in the heck did he end up as the romantic hero of a novel?
We reached out to author Autumn Bardot to learn more about the story behind her story.
SADYE: What inspired you to choose a “dark” character from history to be your romantic lead?
AUTUMN: Many years ago, I bought a fun book about little-known women in history.
Each page had a sketch and a sassy short blurb. One of those women was Ilona, Dracula’s Hungarian wife.
I’m pretty sure I made that scrunchy face — which means something just didn’t ring true — after reading her one-paragraph biography. I had to know more!
So into medieval times I plunged. There’s no shortage of ambitious and ruthless men in the world.
History is full of emperors, presidents, kings, dictators, mob bosses, and even singers and actors who fight their way to the top.
Which got me to thinking: These bad boys all have a woman (usually many women) who adore them and would do anything for them.
Why? What do the women get out of it? What need does it fill in them? Well, if we’re truthful, we can admit that powerful, ruthless men are intriguing and, more often than not, charming and seductive when they want to be.
Ilona falls for Vlad. And why not? He is well-educated, schooled in court etiquette, powerful, wealthy, respected, feared, charismatic, and mysterious. And a warrior prince.
SADYE: Have you found much skepticism from readers with having Vlad Dracul as a romantic lead?
AUTUMN: Not so far. Readers are savvy. And readers of historical fiction are eager for what radio personality Paul Harvey called “The Rest of the Story.”
Readers appreciate depth and integrity in historical novels. Historical fiction lovers are curious and not content with the same old clichéd characterizations.
People and their motives are so complicated. A novel lets the writer explore them all, tease out the humanity, dreams, struggles, motivations, and tragedies of complex characters.
Even bad boys are capable of love, kindness, and gentleness.
Oddly enough — or maybe it’s typical — it was small press editors who said it wasn’t this enough or that enough and didn’t fit the profile of their readership.
I don’t think readers like to be put in genre boxes like that. … Of course, we all have our favorites, but I think readers are open and eager to read novels that do not conform to a rigid genre, that surprise them, and that give them something to ponder.
SADYE: What advice would you give to an author either considering a sort of “rehabilitation” of a historical figure or to one who was already committed to doing so?
AUTUMN: About five years ago at a Romance Writers of America conference, I heard James Rollins speak about how to make characters, even bad ones, likable.
Give them an endearing trait. Have them be good to pets, an old person, or a child. Provide a reason why the antagonist is bad or how he went bad. Give them a flaw or fear that everyone can relate to.
In other words, make them human. That stuck with me.
Stereotypically bad characters, after all, are boring and predictable. We all tend to make sweeping generalizations about people, famous or not. This person is good. This person is bad.
But if you think about it, we’re all somebody’s good and bad. My ex thinks I’m bad. My hubby says there’s not a bad bone in my body.
My high school students think I’m too demanding, then email during college to thank me for having high standards.
It’s all perspective. With The Impaler’s Wife, you get two more perspectives: his and hers.
About the author
Autumn Bardot writes historical fiction about courageous women and daring romances. She has a BA in English literature and a MaEd in curriculum and instruction.
You can learn more about her on her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.