Oct. 4 2006 12:00 AM
Dracula’s leading lady: Author Elizabeth Kostova says you won’t find any blood and gore in “The Historian” but can’t make any promises about the upcoming movie. (Courtesy of Hachette Book Group)
In 2005, Kostova, who will appear at Schuler Books on Friday, shook up the literary world when out of nowhere her debut novel was auctioned off for nearly $2 million. Kostova, much like J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame, had been working on her novel in relative anonymity for more than eight years when a chance meeting with an agent helped catapult her book to the top of The New York Times Best Sellers List.{mosimage}

She said her “aha” moment to write the book came when she and her husband were out hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

“It sounds like a cliché, but we came over this rise and I had this vivid memory of a time as a child traveling with my family in Eastern Europe she recalls.

“My parents would read aloud to us, and I remembered my father telling wonderful stories about Dracula. They were in the mold of Bram Stoker's “Dracula,” but my dad's stories were a bit more pleasant and less scary — he was a great storyteller.

“We would be sitting in front of a half-ruined, 14th-century castle in Yugoslavia and Dracula would become very real to me. Dracula is part of my history, “ she said. “During the hike I immediately went to my knapsack, pulled out my notebook and made seven pages of notes.”

Those notes would lead to a 642-page tome that may go down in vampire literary history.

“The Historian” tells the tale of a teenage girl who lives with her widowed historian father in Europe. She discovers a long lost manuscript and begins to delve into its origin and meaning. It is aptly titled “Drakulya.”

Letters tucked away inside the book reveal parts of the previous owner's obsession to track down Vlad the Impaler who was the prototype for the original Dracula.

Her father helps fill in some of the back-story and away she goes on her own quest to see if Dracula lives. The tale is told in narration style with the youthful investigator searching for lost letters and obscure historical information in archives across the world.

If it sounds slightly similar to “The DaVinci Code,” it is, but only by coincidence. Kosteva's work had been under development for nearly a decade prior to the success of “The DaVinci Code.”

This coincidence of the story lines fueled the bidding war as publishers looked for a DaVinci successor. The book sold in 48 hours, which seldom happens in the book industry.

“The Historian” is definitely not formulaic but rather an imaginative update of the Bram Stoker's 1897 “Dracula” which began the modern world's fascination with vampires. The book is set in the 1930s, '50s and '70s and is packed with historical information and descriptive scenes of European cities.

Kostova said vampires have always fascinated the world's civilizations with some of the earliest depictions appearing in tomb paintings in ancient Egypt.

“In a very primitive way vampires were used to explain the unexplainable, especially in herding cultures. It was an easy way to explain why livestock were killed or disappeared,” she said. “Much better for the herder than to say 'I fell asleep.' There is also a strong symbolism between life and blood.”

The author draws heavily on Stoker's legacy in her novel, to her credit she was chosen to write a new introduction for the recent reprinting of his classic.{mosimage}

Kostova said that Stoker created a figure that had no precedence in literature.

“Stoker created Dracula as a brilliant figure; a creature that is part monster and part genius,” she said. “Dracula represents the best and worst of us. He is a vampire with a pedigree.”

In writing her novel, the Yale graduate, and Hopwood Award winner, extensively used the resources of the Hatcher Library at the University of Michigan and reread Stoker's “Dracula” four or five times while writing the book.

She said the cash prize that comes with the Hopwood enabled her to dedicate a summer to writing.

In turn, she sees herself as a dedicated writer but also lucky and in the right place at the right time.

Some detractors and vampire aficionados have said the book isn't scary or bloody enough.

“I'm not all that interested in blood and gore. History is awful enough,” she said. Although she is a consultant on a movie adaptation of her book, it may have a little more of the blood that will attract movie-goers.

Much like her obsessive character in “The Historian,” Kostova said once there was interest in the book she rewrote it twice in four months before sending it off to an editor.

Although she is well along on her second novel of historical fiction, Kostova said she is still writing for herself.

“I wrote for my own pleasure before and I'd still be writing if it hadn't sold. I did not set out to be a commercial writer. I do it for the joy of writing itself.”

One thing that has changed since her success is the extensive promotional travel that takes her to various cities for book signings and speaking engagements.

“I have learned to write on airplanes,” she joked.

You can get in the mood for Kostova's visit by watching the 1930's version of “Dracula” which was recently released on DVD for the 75th anniversary of the movie. Bela Lugosi is still a scary Dracula, even in black and white.