Poet, novelist and Newman University professor Bryan D. Dietrich, Ph.D., has recently been named a Bram Stoker finalist alongside his co-author, Marge Simon, for their narrative poetry collection titled “The Demeter Diaries.”
According to its Amazon synopsis, the collection “is a record of love and longing and the inevitable horror that arises between the minds of Mina Harker and Vlad Dracula as they court one another in waking dreams. The dialogue … imagines a psychic connection that develops between the two even before Dracula arrives in England. … the two would-be lovers transmit their thoughts across the waves and lands that separate them, alternately wooing and terrifying one another with the idea of love eternal and all the dark delicacies necessary to ensure it.”
As stated on the Bram Stoker Awards website, “Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, ‘Dracula.’ The Bram Stoker Awards were instituted immediately after the organization’s incorporation in 1987.”
Dietrich and Simon found out several months ago that they made the preliminary ballot and were notified last month that they are finalists for the poetry category.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was 16 or 17,” said Dietrich. “I was a huge fan of Harlan Ellison’s work, and when I heard he had won several, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was probably the greatest short story writer, other than Flannery O’Connor, to walk the earth. Even being nominated for the same award as (him) sends me over the mountains of the moon. Plus, the Bram Stoker Award is the Pulitzer of the horror world.”
Due to the book’s dual-perspectives — Vlad speaking through poetry, and Mina speaking through prose — the communication and collaboration between Simon and Dietrich was crucial for such a unique manner of storytelling.
“I have known Marge Simon for over a decade, ever since we first met at the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts conference, which we both attend. Three years ago, I was struggling with my muse, my self-confidence and my health, and approached Marge with an idea to collaborate. I thought that maybe writing with someone else would jump-start my writing gremlin.”
He was ecstatic that it worked, and said though collaborative pieces can sometimes be difficult to balance, Dietrich and Simon combined their creative visions with ease.
“We simply started with me sending one of Vlad’s missives to Marge and Marge writing back as Mina. We didn’t really imagine their communication as physical, not real letters, but more like mental messages sent supernaturally from Transylvania to England and back. Then, of course, Vlad begins his long journey to find her and the distance grows shorter, the danger of dark love more immediate.”
His inspiration came from a place of solitude, and his motivation from difficulties imposed on him by external circumstances when he became extremely ill.
In 2017, Dietrich was diagnosed with a genetic degenerative spinal disc disease and in 2018, collapsed because of a bone spur that was threatening to sever his spinal cord.
“I was unable to walk and, the doctors later told me, I was about a week away from paralysis or death.”
He underwent emergency spinal surgery and went through a long and miraculous recovery.
“I began my half of ‘The Demeter Diaries’ for my wife, Gina, when I first began to get sick. I finished it in the hospital when I wasn’t sure if I would ever walk again. Or even live. Would I be able to hold my lover the way I once did? Would we walk together, dream together, dance? I truly felt like Dracula.
“Apart, alone, on the edge of another world, wanting to let Gina/Mina know all I felt. This book is the testimony of a half-dead man loving life, loving wife, loving all the light the darkness seems to have stolen from him. I am so grateful to be able to have shared it.”
He and his colleague worked swiftly and effortlessly together, making the literary journey enjoyable for both of them.
“We started in April 2017. We finished the first draft in April 2018. The final draft didn’t get done until April 2019. Shortly after we finished, we got an endorsement from Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker himself.”
Both writers are truly honored to be finalists for such a prestigious award.
“Nominations come from members of the Horror Writers Association. We are not privy to who nominates and one cannot nominate one’s self. There have to be enough nominations to make it to the final ballot, and that means many. So we are very lucky indeed.”
In addition to “The Demeter Diaries,” Dietrich has written “Krypton Nights,” “Love Craft” and “Prime Directive” along with many others, and has received countless honors and nominations for his work — such as the Rhysling Award in Poetry, Paris Review Prize in Poetry, multiple Pulitzer Prize for Poetry nominations and more.
Even in the face of hardship, Dietrich took comfort in his colleagues, his friends, his wife and writing. He recently completed his newest piece, titled “Single Bound,” and continues to compose poetry and prose and teach Newman students about the wonders of literature.
“It is good to be walking the earth again. It is good to have risen from near death. It is an honor to be living the life I’ve been allowed. I couldn’t be happier if I were a centuries-old vampire married to another old soul. I should probably say our version of Dracula ends very differently than Stoker’s. The blood is the life.”