On June 16, 1816,
in the early hours of the morning
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin had a dream.
19 months later, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
‘FRANKENSTEIN.’ The world has never been the same. This June 16, 2018,
on the 202nd anniversary of the night Mary had her dream,
in the 200th year since ‘Frankenstein’ was released (on Jan. 1, 1818)
David Templeton’s one-actor (plus narrator) horror-drama-fantasy
‘MARY SHELLEY’S BODY’
is being made available, royalty free, for one night only
to any community or regional theater, school, or theatrical organization
presenting the two-act play as a free reading for community members, subscribers, students, and fans of ‘Frankenstein.’
LIST OF PARTICIPATING THEATERS
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center 1758 Industrial Way, suite 208, Napa, CA
The part of Mary Shelley will be read by Sydney Schwindt Saturday, June 16 2 p.m. [To reserve tickets call the box office at 707-266-6305]
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA
The part of Mary Shelley will be read by Sheri Lee Miller Saturday, June 16 7 p.m. [To reserve tickets call the box office at (707) 588-3400]
Want to join the fun with your own reading of ‘Mary Shelley’s Body?’
See below for details. [Click on ‘About the Play’ to read an excerpt of ‘Mary Shelley’s Body’]
ABOUT ‘MARY SHELLEY’S BODY’ THE PLAY
Mary Shelley is dead.
Or so she assumes.
When the once-scandalous author of ‘Frankenstein’ suddenly finds herself haunting her own grave in a strange, abandoned, apparently inescapable cemetery — in the middle of a lightning storm, no less — she reluctantly accepts the challenge of retelling her own tumultuous life story. With no one to speak to but her rocky tomb and the freshly buried body within it, Mary wanders among the crypts, vividly recounting the sometimes humorous, often heart-breaking details of her long life and many losses – including the mother who died in childbirth, her drowned poet husband Percy Shelley, and their tiny baby, born too early, lost too soon. Mary soon finds unexpected links between her own knotty life and that of The Creature from her novel. To these, she adds a few of her fanciful “Flesh Histories,” the unspoken back-stories Mary once conceived, but never wrote — one for each of the Creature’s various limbs and organs. Eventually, Mary comes to suspect that all of these tales are pieces of a puzzle that, if solved, might free her from from this graveyard purgatory. As the rising storm rages on overhead, Mary pursues a terrifying series of startling self-discoveries. Ultimately facing her one greatest fear, the terrible secret she carried through her life, and hoped to escape by taking it to her to the grave.
A lyrical blend of science fiction, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction, ‘Mary Shelley’s Body’ – a play for one actor – is an enthralling celebration of artistic passion, resilience, and the power of undying love.
NOTE [‘Mary Shelley’s Body’ is a play for one actor. For staged readings, we recommend to add one additional performer to read the stage directions. A special ‘staged reading’ script has been developed for ease of performance]
Want to join in on this theater-community-wide celebration of the legacy of Mary Shelley and ‘Frankenstein’? Have an open night in your theater on June 16, or know of a theater willing to collaborate?
It’s fiendishly simple:
Permission will be granted to theater companies, schools, and other non-profit theatrical organizations, to use the script of ‘Mary Shelley’s Body,’ royalty free, for one formal or informal reading on June 16, 2018. (If that night is not possible, Friday June 15, or Sunday June 17 could also be arranged). Performances must be free to the public, or used as a fundraiser for a non-profit, per details below.
This is a party. Have fun. (Donation boxes in the lobby are fine. In fact, you are encouraged to use such donation centers to raise money for local organizations, schools, art projects etc.)
Here’s what you do to participate.
1. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to contact the MARY SHELLEY’S BODY team, and let us know you are thinking of participating. We’ll get right back to you. You’ll want to peruse the script, of course. We’ll get you a copy right away.
2. In your email, tell us who you are, where you plan to present the reading, and confirm that you will be making this a free event for your community.
3. Once you’ve received the script, we’ll stay in touch. Assuming all systems are go, you’ll let us know, and we’ll add your performance to this website’s list of participating shows, and to all press releases and publicity we launch.
4. Have fun. Take pictures. Let us know how it goes.
Questions? Call or text the playwright, David Templeton, directly at 707-338-6013]
October 9, 2016 – Today, oddly enough the anniversary of the death of Mary Shelley’s half-sister Fanny Imlay, the anthology ‘Eternal Frankenstein’ is officially released in bookstores, on line, and on kindle and other e-reader platforms. ‘Mary Shelley’s Body,’ my novella, is the final of 16 stories in the collection.
It’s all very exciting.
But before fully celebrating the release of the book, it feels appropriate to write a bit about Mary’s tragic older sister, who her mother (the writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) had out-of-wedlock with American adventurer Gilbert Imlay. Not long after marrying the English author William Godwin, who quickly adopted his wife’s illegitimate daughter, Fanny’s mother tragically died, a few days after giving birth to Mary Godwin. Later, Mr. Godwin would marry again, a woman with her own illegitimate daughter, Claire Clairemont.
The three mismatched sisters were, by all accounts, relatively happy until their teen years, when Mary ran away (at the age of 16) with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, throwing the family into turmoil, and setting up a series of events in which Fanny became the intermediary between Mary and Claire (who often accompanied Percy and Mary on their adventures) and their angry, unforgiving parents.
Fanny, according to her writings, keenly felt the isolation of living in a family in which she was not technically related to anyone, at least not by blood. She always felt lesser than, though no one did more to take care of Mr. and Mrs. Godwin’s needs than she. Desperately hoping Mary and Percy would somehow save her from the Godwins, she eventually ran away, and – two hundred years ago today – took her own life.
Here’s how I write about it in my novella, beginning with a reference to Harriet, Percy’s wife, who in December would drown herself, finally freeing up Percy to marry Mary.
“If there were ever such a thing as ghosts . . . vengeful spirits seeking justice . . . Harriet surely had reason to come back as one long ago . . . to haunt me, to punish me for loving her husband more than he loved her. And I dare say she would not have been the only spirit eager to settle old business with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Fanny, my half-sister, my mother’s first-born, you took laudanum in Swansea, alone in a tiny room at the Mackworth Arms, an anguished, half-finished note lying at your side. I know I broke your heart, leaving as I did with Shelley and Claire, abandoning you to the Godwins.”
Fanny, who had mailed letters to Mary and to William Godwin just before fleeing to a room at the Mackworth Arms, in Swansea, indicated that she was seriously considering doing herself harm. By the time her hiding place was discovered, she was dead, having left a poignantly unfinished suicide note by the side of her bed.
“I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed as …”
Mary was bereft, and ever after blamed herself, in part, for having not done more to save her sweet but frail and clearly badly-treated sister. At the time, Mary was 19, and hard at work on ‘Frankenstein,’ while also taking care of the child she shared with Percy.
Percy Shelley was equally saddened at Fanny’s death.
He composed a short poem for her.
On Fanny Godwin
Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken
From which it came, and I departed
Heeding not the words then spoken.
This world is all too wide for thee.
Though I believe that it is only coincidental that Word Horde chose to release ‘Eternal Frankenstein’ today, of all days, it is fitting enough a date, I think, for the publication of my story, in which, like her sad and tragic life, she gets a mention—but is once again denied a starring role.
It’s not on the stands yet (maybe soon), but this month’s double-issue of ‘Rue Morgue’ Magazine will be focused on the legacy of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ and will carry a review of ‘Eternal Frankenstein,’ which makes total sense.
Check out the magnificent cover, and check back here for updates. Once the review runs, we’ll post it.
Till then, here’s the review from Publishers’ Weekly, from late September. It’s a good one!
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart. Word Horde, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-939905-23-9
This impressive compendium contains a rich array of short stories inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Settings range from the French Revolution to the present-day U.S., and some include historical characters: Karl Marx’s daughter (specifically, her brain), the Marquis de Sade, Nikolai Tesla, Joseph Stalin. The longest tale, and one of the best, “Mary Shelley’s Body” by David Templeton, describes Shelley’s life from the point of view of her ghost—with several intriguing twists at the end. All of the writing is high quality, all the stories are suspenseful, and though most involve reanimation of the dead, the perspectives all differ, as do the historical time periods. Some tales, such as Scott R. Jones’s “Living,” echo Frankenstein’s theme of otherness and isolation, or Shelley’s condemnation of playing God; others, such as Michael Griffin’s “The Human Alchemy,” treat transformation as ambiguous or even positive. The anthology would make an excellent college classroom companion to Frankenstein because of its relatable narratives interwoven with history and biography, as well as some vivid present-day tales (particularly Tiffany Scandal’s “They Call Me Monster” and Damien Angelica Walters’s “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”) that address bullying, loneliness, and body image. Readers should know that two stories involve infanticide, but in non-gratuitous ways that invite discussion. (Oct. 9)
Copperfield’s Books, in Petaluma, has just launched a sidewalk-view window display devoted to ‘Eternal Frankenstein,’ which will be having a book-launch event there on Friday, October 28, at 7 p.m. If you happen to live in the area, stop by the store between now and then, and take a look! (And yes, that’s the head of Ross Lockhart, the book’s editor and publisher (and host of the October 28 event), floating in that jar!
Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde have a reputation for putting out some wonderful anthologies, among those are The Book of Cthulhu and Giallo Fantastique. Eternal Frankenstein shines alongside them with an intensely dark and beautifully macabre mix of tales. This anthology is dedicated to Mary, and her monster. The writing within is a true testament to the love shared for the classic penned by Shelley, even after so many years have passed her inspiration endures. Each story is its own take on the making of monsters, the defiance of god and the realization that death can be more than an ending.
“An intensely dark and beautifully macabre mix of tales.”
‘Torso, Heart, Head’ by Amber Rose Reed gives you glimpses into the deaths of those that may be providing body parts to sew together your very own monster. A grand opening for this anthology, setting the mood for those embarking on this journey into the realms of that misty area between dead and undead. ‘Thermidor’ by Siobhan Carroll leaves the reader wondering who the real monsters are? Is it the reanimated, pieced-together dead, or is it the men who brought them back? In ‘Sewn into Her Fingers’ by Autumn Christian, A girl is brought back to life, and while working with the dead a scientist begins to see that beyond the search to end death completely there are other important lessons to learn. ‘Orchids by the Sea’ by Rio de la Luz tells about a man who stitches together the bodies of suicide victims to create a divine being and what happens when she awakens. ‘Frankenstein Triptych’ by Edward Morris gives us glimpses through the eyes of man-made monsters of alternate realities. ‘The Human Alchemy’ by Michael Griffin a medical school drop-out gets an invitation from an alluring couple. Their secrets are revealed to her once they begin to shed their clothing…a way to live on forever.
‘Postpartum’ by Betty Rocksteady tells the tale of a heartbroken young mother, left alone after the death of her son’s father. After bringing home a strange skull she finds half-buried in the dirt she pieces it together with other random animal bones she has a collection from her time with her lost love, but she finds it’s missing something vital. ‘Living’ by Scott R Jones is about a wealthy group of men that engineer the perfect weapon, something constructed from beings once dead, but how can something truly be alive when all its programmed to do is kill, is that really living?
‘Mary Shelley’s Body’ by David Templeton finishes the anthology. It takes the readers into the mind of Mary Shelley herself. It talks about her life and the creation of her monster, as well as other ghosts that haunt her. The perfect ending to a stellar collection of stories.
A young girl describes her life as the outcast in every school she’s ever attended in ‘They Call Me Monster’ by Tiffany Scandal. Her body is scarred and stitched back together after her parents refuse to let her die in a few tragic accidents, she struggles with bullies and finding out if there really is a monster beneath all of her scars. ‘Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice’ by Damien Angelica Waters is told from the point of view of a teenaged girl who, along with a few of her friends, are determined to find out the ugly truth behind why their classmate looks and smells so weird.
‘Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet’ by Orrin Grey is an imaginative telling of a child watching their favorite television show but they notice that the host, Baron von Werewolf is acting a little odd after broadcasting a film that is rumored to bear heavy consequences for showing it. An amateur scientist finds himself stuck between Nikola Tesla and a secretive employer in ‘Wither on the vine; or, Strickfaden’s Monster’ by Nathan Carson. Nathaniel Baldwin commissions the infamous creator of the death ray to construct just the opposite for him and his congregation, but its results are not what he hoped for. ‘The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists’ by Anya Martin tells the story of an elaborate plan to breathe life into a different kind of monster, one that would lead the Soviet Union. ‘The New Soviet Man’ by G.D. Falksen explores what happens in a Russian laboratory and its reeducation program. When two skeptical security officers are sent to check in on the doctors progress they find his work to be much more horrific. They find themselves to be subjects in the old doctor’s pursuit of building the New Soviet Man.
“These stories and characters are sewn together to create one hell of an exquisite monster.”
‘The Beautiful Thing We Will Become’ by Kritsi DeMeester is about best friends, each sharing their terrible secrets with each other. One wants to waste away while the other is being taken apart piece by piece, can they become something beautiful when they come together. ‘Mary Shelley’s Body’ by David Templeton finishes the anthology. It takes the readers into the mind of Mary Shelley herself. It talks about her life and the creation of her monster, as well as other ghosts that haunt her. The perfect ending to a stellar collection of stories.
For fans of not only the original monster but those also seeking tales what lies beyond death, from the far away corners of Russia to Hollywood to alternate futures and even your ordinary neighborhood, these stories and characters are sewn together to create one hell of an exquisite monster.
There have been countless movies made with the Mary Shelley’s iconic Creature, or Victor Frankenstein (or some other Frankenstein) as a character. But every once in a while, Mary Shelley herself shows up on screen. One of the things I plan to do on this blog is to occasionally offer a brief review of one of those portrayals.
Starting at the beginning, there’s Elsa Lanchester in 1935’s ‘The Bride of Frankenstein,’ directed by James Whale. In the film’s unexpected framing device, Lanchester — becoming the first actress to ever play Mary Shelley — is charming and coy, but probably not at all like the real Mary. Still, there’s something delightfully bod about the scene, in which the sequel to 1931’s ‘Frankenstein’ is succinctly set up in a scene where Mary’s paramour Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and the grandiose Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) congratulate Mary on her terrifying story.
She then tells them that there’s more to the story than she included on the page. And the movie jumps to the final scene of the previous film, and then on, as Dr. Frankenstein whips up a female (Lanchester again, with the craziest onscreen hairdo until Princess Leia would come along) as a companion for the original Creature (Boris Karloff). The movie has some crazy stuff in it, particularly the goofy miniature people created by another mad scientist, and it’s the film in which the Creature has the classic meet-cute moment with the blind man (“Fire is good!”).
The whole film is classic camp, and the Mary scenes are as campy as the rest. And yes, technically, Lanchester, at age 33, was about fifteen years too old to play 18-uyear-old Mary. But as a cinematic introduction of one of the most influential writers in English literature, ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ at least got one thing right: Byron and Shelly repeatedly tell her how brilliant she is.
Please make a date to join myself, authors Amber-Rose Reed (“Torso-Heart-Head”) and Anya Martin (“The Unbride, or No Gods and Marxists”), along with publisher-host Ross Lockhart, for the official book-release party for ‘Eternal Frankenstein.’
The event, with conversation and readings, takes place at Copperfields Petaluma on Friday, October 28, at 7 p.m.
All of us will be signing books, and talking about how this “hideous progeny” came to be.
The event is free of charge (but please, so buy a book!) and will be a monstrous amount of Halloween fun!
During the research portion of my writing period, when ‘Mary Shelley’s Body’ was gradually showing itself to me, I read the novel ‘Frankenstein’ numerous times, read several books of scholarly exegesis about Mary, read all of her journal entries, and—most important of all—practically memorized the introduction she wrote for the 1831 reprint of her novel. From those words, in which Mary describes the events that led to her writing ‘Frankenstein,” my own story was born. So … here they are. What follows is the preface, as published in that 1831 edition, written by Mary Shelley herself.
The Publishers of the Standard Novels, in selecting “Frankenstein” for one of their series, expressed a wish that I should furnish them with some account of the origin of the story. I am the more willing to comply, because I shall thus give a general answer to the question, so very frequently asked me — “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion.
It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air — the indulging in waking dreams — the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator — rather doing as others had done, then putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye — my childhood’s companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed — my dearest pleasure when free.
I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then — but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations.
After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce any thing worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading, or improving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all of literary employment that engaged my attention.
In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him.
But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise. His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete armour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon’s fitful beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard, the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like flowers snapt upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday.
“We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole — to see what I forget — something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets also, annoyed the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task.
I busied myself to think of a story, — a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered — vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.
Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of the void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.
Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin, (I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth.
Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I place my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw — with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, — I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.
I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, — my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!
Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me.
“I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectra which had haunted my midnight pillow.”
On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.
At first I thought but of a few pages — of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develope the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world. From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect, it was entirely written by him.
And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations.
I will add but one word as to the alterations I have made. They are principally those of style. I have changed no portion of the story, nor introduced any new ideas or circumstances. I have mended the language where it was so bald as to interfere with the interest of the narrative; and these changes occur almost exclusively in the beginning of the first volume. Throughout they are entirely confined to such parts as are mere adjuncts to the story, leaving the core and substance of it untouched.
A colleague at the Sonoma Index-Tribune, the newspaper I write for (well, one of the paper’s I write for) asked me that question a few months ago, gesturing to the framed poster of James Whale’s 1933 movie version of ‘Frankenstein,’ which used to hang on the wall of my office. (We’ve since moved to cubicles; no wall space; no ‘Frankenstein’ poster). Of course, my colleague’s question extended beyond just the poster, encompassing all of the other various Frankenstein kitsch that (still) occupies corners of my desk: collectible Frankenstein figures, wind-up Frankenstein toys, things like that.
“It’s not ‘Frankenstein’ that I’m interested in, exactly,” I replied. “It’s actually ‘Frankenstein’s’ author … Mary Shelley. Her life was pretty astonishing. And really, really strange.”
That, of course, is absolutely true. As I’ve gleefully argued many times. The story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) is every bit as interesting, and as controversial, as the famous novel she published in 1818. Probably more so.
I was 16 the first time I read ‘Frankenstein.’
It was a high school English assignment. I’d seen the Boris Karloff film, of course, late night on L.A.’s ‘Seymore’s Monster Party” T.V. show. So when I opened the book, what I was expecting was something like that movie: scary, weird and a little bit dumb. What I did not expect was a dense, convoluted, highly philosophical story that was, frankly, a little over my head at times. It was not an easy read, even for me, a kid whose appetite for reading was so pervasive that by the end of the 6th Grade, the local library granted me special permission to begin choosing books not in the Juvenile Section, since I’d already read all of them, and was interested in expanding to more “adult material” like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “2002: A Space Odyssey,” and “The Egg and I” (the first book I checked out from the grown-up section). Despite my expanded vocabulary and reading comprehension, ‘Frankenstein’ was a challenge.
What kept me pushing ahead with it, returning to my original thread, was a single sentence my teacher uttered when assigning the book to the class (I can’t recall the teacher’s name after all these years—only his face, which ironically enough resembled Herman Munster).
“‘Frankenstein,’ published in London in 1818, is arguably the most influential horror novel ever written,” he said, adding (and here’s the part that got me), “which is rather remarkable considering that it was written by a teenage girl.”
What? A teenager wrote ‘Frankenstein’? Awesome. So I read it. And then I didn’t think much about it for the next 15 years or so. It was while watching a late night television airing of ‘The Bride‘ (the 1985 flop in which musician Sting played Dr. Frankenstein and character actor Clancy Brown played the Creature), that an idea occurred to me that would never leave. As I watched the movie, I began to ponder the stitches that held the various body parts of the Creature together. He was built, of course, from the severed pieces of who-knows-how-many corpses. So I started wondering . . . who were those people? What were THEIR stories? In my mind, I began to form the idea of a movie, or a book, or a play, or a puppet show (I was, and still am, very enthused about the potential of puppetry), in which the back-stories of the Frankenstein creature were finally told. I knew it was a really GOOD idea.
But I forgot it immediately.
Another fifteen years went by, and one afternoon, by which time I’d been a newspaper journalist for over two decades, I found myself sitting down with a publisher of horror books at Graffiti Restaurant in Petaluma. The Publisher, Ross Lockhart, is a pretty remarkable writer himself, and I’d interviewed him a few times before that. At the time of the interview in question, he’d recently started a boutique publishing house called Word Horde Books. The label is devoted to horror, fantasy and science fiction works.
At that point in my own career, in addition to writing articles for papers and magazines, I’d written a number of plays, and the last two had been directed by North Bay actor-director Sheri Lee Miller. One of the pieces we’d worked on together was my own one-man-show ‘Wretch Like Me.’ During that process, I started wondering what kind of one-person-shows Sheri—a pretty sensational actor in addition to being a stellar theater director—might be good for. I decided I wanted to write her a show. After a while, I remembered ‘Frankenstein,’ recalled that it was written by a young woman, and thought maybe there’d be some merit in writing a solo show in which a female actor told the story of ‘Frankenstein,’ playing all the parts herself.
As I sat there talking with Ross, we began riffing about the greatest horror stories of all time, and I suddenly remembered that solo-show idea, along with my long forgotten creature-in-pieces concept. I casually mentioned it to Ross, whose mental wheels apparently started turning. After returning from Scotland, where I performed my ‘Wretch’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival—and reread ‘Frankenstein’ for the first time since high school—Ross reached out with a suggestion that I turn the theater idea, including with the creature-pieces idea, into a short novel. By then, he’d concocted the idea of publishing an anthology of stories inspired by ‘Frankenstein,’ and planned to reach out to some of the best up-and-coming horror writers currently publishing, to contribute their own original pieces. Ross invited me—who’d written thousands of articles and three plays, but no novels—to take a crack at authoring my ‘Frankenstein’ story … with hopes it would turn out well enough to include in the anthology.
SO … with this adrenaline-surging charge corresponding with a spate of between-jobs unemployment, I spent the next year crafting my novella. It sprung to life in ways that surprised me every bit as much as young Victor Frankenstein was surprised by his own gruesome handiwork. Early on in the process, I did a little research on Mary Shelley—and quickly realized that she was at least as interesting, if not more so, than the story of Frankenstein and his monster.
Her tragic relationship with poet Percy Shelley; the death of numerous children; her fraught relationship with her philosopher father; the mother she never knew; the early death of her husband, and the juicy fact that—after his body was cremated—she kept his heart for the rest of her life. It was all too good to be true. That’s when I realized that my book would have to be narrated, not just by a female voice, but by Mary Shelley herself.
Another other basic details fell quickly into place.
I decided that, in my story, Mary would have just died (as in real life, at the age of 53). She would awaken at her grave. She would begin to recall the story of her life, mysteriously compelled to tell it to the tombstones she is surrounded by. And eventually, that story would overlap with that of the Creature, and his desperate quest to be loved—or kill those who stand in his way.
And I also knew that, somehow . . . I would find a way to tell the backstory story of the Creature’s brain, blood, hands, and heart.
Eventually, shortly before beginning my new job at the Index-Tribune, I finished the book, which I had dubbed “Mary Shelley’s Body.”
Skipping to the end, Ross ultimately accepted ‘Mary Shelley’s Body,’ which he read on a plane on the way to a book convention, emailing me soon after to say that it was “a powerful emotional ride.” I assume he meant the book, not the plane flight. He may have even said he was in tears by the ending. He definitely let me know that my story would appear as part of the upcoming anthology he’d since decided to name ‘Eternal Frankenstein.’
Skipping to the present, the book will be released on October 9 of this year—just 14-months shy of the actual date ‘Frankenstein’ was originally published. I will be counting the days, not just because I’m excited to see my story delivered, trembling and tentative, into the hands of the world. But because, at the time of acceptance, I knew that the next 19 months would mark the 200 anniversaries of the night Mary had the dream that inspired the book (June 16, 1816), the day she completed the manuscript (March 7, 1817), and the day it was published (New Years Day, 1818).
I created this website as a way to have a little fun with the next several months, as I find ways to celebrate — in prose, poetry, song and film — the process that led to the creation of what my unmade English teacher called “the most influential horror novel ever written,” with the occasional note about the progress of ‘Eternal Frankenstein,” available this fall in fine bookstores near you.
Oh, and as for the original idea—writing a one-woman-show? I’m working on it. Plans are for it to be staged in the fall of 2017. It will also called “Mary Shelley’s Body.” Details to be announced soon.
So, back to the beginning of this post, when my colleague asked me, “What is it with you and ‘Frankenstein’?” there was a very complicated answer waiting for him.
In that moment, I kept it short.
“It’s not ‘Frankenstein’ that I’m interested in,” I replied, “so much as it’s ‘Frankenstein’s’ author . . . Mary Shelley.”
I hope you will locate the “follow” button, and continue to read upcoming posts as I move through the next several months and years of tracing Mary’s life, her bicentennial anniversaries, and bring my own twisted dreams and stories into trembling, tentative life.