[GUEST POST] Lara Parker on The Blessing And the Curse of TV Tie-ins
Lara Parker, whose real name is Lamar Rickey Hawkins, played the role of Angelique on Dark Shadows. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, attended Vassar College, majored in Drama at the University of Iowa, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University at Los Angeles. She lives in Topanga Canyon, California, with her husband and daughter. For more information, please visit www.laraparker.com.
by Lara Parker
Now that my third Dark Shadows novel, Wolf Moon Rising, will be in bookstores August 20 and I have an actual trilogy, I have been mulling over the rewards and frustrations of writing books based on a beloved TV series. The plus is publication–a rare gift for a new writer-along with a loyal fan base eager to devour another chapter of the saga. The dilemma is that it is hard to be taken seriously as a novelist when the settings and the characters are not considered original.
Complicating the situation are the expectations of the fans. Any journey outside of the TV show’s canon is likely to annoy, if not antagonize them. The devotes’ fidelity to Dark Shadows so governs their responses that even the amazing talent, vision and, of course, financial resources of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp failed to impress them when they discovered the tone of the Warner Brothers film was bent into comic satire.
Dark Shadows, the TV show, which played for five years, was true Gothic Romance with a great gloomy house, a young governess, a reclusive family, and a moody resident vampire, Barnabas Collins. What the fans craved was the same somber atmosphere and the same eccentric individuals they grew to know so well when watching the show. Depp’s characterization, while zany and stylish, was not the Barnabas they remembered.
When I received the assignment to write my first novel, Angelique’s Descent, rehashing the same old stories did not seem challenging. For an actress turned novelist like myself, the expectations of the fans felt confining, and I was determined to break the barriers, at the same time hoping I wouldn’t alienate any die-hard followers. One of the ways I chose to do this was to write prequels explaining, through research, the historical background of the stories already in place since séances, reincarnation, and time travel were established conceits.
I had played the character of Angelique on the TV show for five years, and I knew her well. I had imagined her harsh childhood and analyzed her motivations for her witchy ways. Naturally, I had fantasized her love affair with Barnabas Collins, her seduction and his cruel abandonment, because that is what actors do. But in writing her story I also traveled to the Caribbean and the island of Martinique where she grew up, and I researched slavery on the sugar plantations and voodoo on the island of Haiti there-by opening up her world as a serious writer would.
At first, I expected a wide readership far outside of the show’s faithful followers. But because the book was tied to a TV show, it was not reviewed, except on Amazon where there were dozens of “reviews,” all written by fans. I was dismayed to discover that some bookstores passed on a book signing because of the moniker “TV Tie-in”. Angelique’s Descent fell into the painful category of something written by a ghostwriter, which, in a vampire novel, would have been understandable but was definitely not the case. I had written every word.
By the time I began my second book, The Salem Branch, I was enrolled in graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing and turning in pages of my genre novel to bemused college professors who were immersed in literary fiction. Inspired to become a literary writer as well, I read and analyzed the great examples of horror, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Turn of the Screw. Tracing the Collins family further back in time, I traveled to Salem and researched the witch trials of 1692, finding real sermons I could use in my text. I discovered my theme, the Collins family curse, and laid it at the feet of Amadeus Collins, a vile and sanctimonious preacher who hanged a girl as a witch in order to steal her land, She was Miranda, Angelique’s earliest incarnation, a part I had also played on the show, and it was her curse from the scaffold that sent the Collins family’s bleak heritage down through the ages
Moving beyond the Dark Shadows bible, I was also developing what I felt were themes of social context. Doesn’t the hypocrisy and paranoia which caused such injustice during the Salem witch trials still exist in today’s political arena? While most fans embraced my original ideas, others were annoyed by some of my choices, for example, a now-human Barnabas working at an ordinary job and mistakenly munching on pot brownies. (It was the seventies!) It seemed that my readership was still made up entirely of those who had watched the show. But they were interested and faithful, and I could not help but appreciate their support. In my own way I was keeping the show alive for them, and I began to realize that what was important was not whether the world of Dark Shadows was my own invention but the depth of my exploration.
The narrative begins where the second book left off, and familiar characters have intriguing new stories. David, who was 12 when the show went off the air, is now a brash and adventurous sixteen-year-old in love with a mysterious young girl with supernatural powers-a witch-who is the reincarnation of Angelique.
In search of a missing portrait the teenagers travel back in time to the twenties during prohibition where the young Elizabeth is smitten with the never-aging Quentin. There the Collins family curse is fully explained as a result of their immoral pursuits. Quentin is suffering under a werewolf curse, but he is also a bootlegger, and the Collins family is associated with both the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan.
In the present, Barnabas is a vampire once again but his relationship with Angelique is complicated by her doubled identity. Most threatening of all, Nathanial Blair, Nicholas’s brother, and an expert in the paranormal, has come to Collinwood to destroy the vampire he believes in lurking there.
Researching the twenties gave me a new perspective for envisioning the great house of Collinwood. A party that rivals Gatsby’s is taking place, a police raid terrifies the guests, and spilled Everclear sets the lawns on fire. When I discovered that contraband liquor was sometimes hidden in caskets, I imagined a frightening scene where a coffin is opened in the Collins mausoleum. Quentin is trying to hide illegal bourbon beneath a corpse, but naturally you can guess who is sleeping there!
I hope this book will tempt readers outside the Dark Shadows world, and I also hope it will inspire those unfamiliar with the series to watch the DVDS for the first time. Even though I am still seeking to become a serious writer, I realize how fortunate I am to be embraced by a loyal fellowship, and I hope to always remain true to the Dark Shadows universe.
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