The return of Sir Francis Colby

Haunted: Eleven Tales of Ghostly Horror

Haunted: Eleven Tales of Ghostly Horror

For Halloween, I thought I’d tell you the story behind my latest foray in the horror genre.

When I decided to write my first vampire novel, Blood Groove, I had a problem. Its name was Count Dracula. As the gold standard of vampires, his cape cast a very long shadow. Every literary vampire, from Lestat to Edward Cullen, is measured against the king of them all, and I knew mine would be as well. I needed a vampire that could stand side by side with the legendary count, so that I could both pay homage and tweak this convention.

Fortunately, I’d already created a vampire like that in my short story, “On the Count of Z.” Unfortunately, that story was written mainly as a parody, part of an ongoing attempt at Victorian pastiche. The hero, Sir Francis Colby, was equal parts Van Helsing, Conan Doyle and Churchill, and in other (unpublished) stories he battled gargoyles and even Frankenstein’s monster. His encounter with the vampire Baron Zginski was goofy in the extreme, hinging on the great Spiritualist’s observation that Zgisnki didn’t actually breathe. But when I rewrote the story’s framing sequences so that they took place in the novel’s 1975 Memphis setting, it worked like a charm, and I had chapter one of my novel. That also became the world’s introduction to Sir Francis.

Many of my favorite “writers of the fantastic” were from the Victorian era, or wrote as if they were: Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe. In the short promotional film for Blood Groove (see it on my “Media” page), director Lisa Stock used a very famous Victorian vampire author as a stand-in for Sir Francis. The described a world torn between the enlightenment of technology and the pull of superstition, in which we ignored those things in the dark at our own peril. And they wrote and spoke in a vivid, vaguely purple language that still delights me. I mean, shouting men were described as having verbally “ejaculated,” at which the ten-year-old in me still giggles.

When I was asked to contribute a story to Haunted: Eleven Tales of Ghostly Horror, I recalled a Sir Francis story that I’d never quite finished. It involved a radio for speaking to the dead, and as all the Sir Francis tales had punny titles, I called it, “What’s the Frequency, Francis?” after the R.E.M. song, which in turn was inspired by a bizarre event in the life of newsman Dan Rather. I unearthed and revised it, adding a little dig at the current crop of “Ghost Hunter” reality shows. It came together, I felt, quite nicely. Fortunately so did the editors.

With the current steampunk boom in full swing, I’ve considered writing a whole Sir Francis novel. But as a reader I have a low threshold for pastiches, and I just don’t know if I could sustain the tone for that sort of length. Still, there are plenty of finished and half-done short stories featuring this character, so he might show up again. For now, you can find him hunting vampires or saving the world from malevolent ghosts. And ejaculating.

 

 

3 Comments on “The return of Sir Francis Colby”

  1. This is all very interesting and I’m sure fun for you. However, Sir Francis Colby was a real person and my ancestor. There was a very real story in 2003 about the brass that marked his grave that was stolen. Did you get the name from that? In any case, not keen on your stealing it for your vampires etc. He was a real person and not fodder for your fantasies.

  2. Sarah, I’m very sorry you’re offended. My character is entirely fictional; I first wrote a story with him some twenty five years ago, and as I recall, I chose the surname Colby because the stories were intended to be, and I mean no offense, rather cheesy and tongue-in-cheek. The first name was entirely random. The character’s personality and appearance are based on Arthur Conan Doyle and a myriad of other Victorian-era heroes, not least Van Helsing from “Dracula.” At any rate, the figure is established now in two novels and multiple short stories, so alas, I cannot rename him.

    If it’s any consolation, author Eileen Rendahl named a vampire character Alex Bledsoe without knowing I existed or that I also wrote vampire novels; such things often happen without malice. Certainly I intended none.

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