PW: History and obsession are big topics in The Historian. What sparked your own obsession with Dracula?

Elizabeth Kostova: My father is a professor, and when I was a girl he took us to Eastern Europe. We traveled around and saw beautiful places, and at one point he began to tell me a wonderfully creepy Dracula story. These tales were loosely based on the Stoker book—which is a great read—and he was also influenced by the classic Hollywood films about Dracula. Then about 10 years ago, I was on a hike with my husband and my dog, and I had a vision of a father telling his daughter these tales, and I thought: what if the daughter realizes that Dracula is somehow listening? I think every novel has its moment of genesis, and that was it for me.

PW: Like the characters in the book, you seem to have gone on your own historical quest in the research and writing. How did it progress over 10 years' time?

EK: Fortunately, you don't know that something will take 10 years when you start. If I had, I probably would have been intimidated! But the search is addictive, the most fascinating kind of detective work. And research for fiction is especially fascinating because the landscape is more wide open; things you discover can steer your plot, and that's exciting. My journey ended up having a wonderful symmetry with that of my characters.

PW: Was it a challenge to weave so many stories within stories together while also crafting suspense?

EK: Very challenging. I made a huge chart for my office wall showing the various parts of the novel, so that I could look up the form and compare it to what had to happen in relation to that.

PW: Why did you choose the time periods you did for much of the action: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s?

EK: I was interested in giving a sense of the sweep of the 20th century, and fitting these eras around major events without having to directly address WWII. If you think about it, the 20th century is a pretty awful accomplishment in a lot of ways. And I wanted to draw an implicit parallel between medieval history and the 20th century. Some things that have happened make you wonder just how much progress we've really made over the past 500 years.

PW: Did you know at the outset what the characters would discover about Dracula, or was that a surprise to you as well?

EK: I knew that I wanted the story to revolve around the mystery of his grave. That's a genuine and factual mystery about him, and it's also in keeping with the Stoker myth. It's also the classic ghost story "problem": you have a grave, but not a corpse.

PW: Some readers might even end up having some sympathy for him. Was that your intent?

EK: I did want to suggest a bit of Dracula the human being, because he was a real person. Stoker's Dracula obviously was not, but for many Romanians he's a heroic figure who held back the Ottoman Empire. Yet there's no denying that he's also a sadist of the first order. So I wanted to show some of that complexity, without making him an ordinary figure.

PW: For a debut novelist with a literary background, you're having to deal with a lot of hype, including the fact that you landed a $2 million advance. How are you managing this?

EK: To be honest, it took me completely by surprise. Every writer wants readers, but I wrote this novel in a rather private and obsessive kind of way. When all of this happened, it took me a while to realize that it wasn't a practical joke! Since then, the main change is that this is now a full-time job for me. I'm trying hard to get on with my next book.