On April 1, in the back of Mahony and Sons pub in Vancouver, Anton Von Stefan was prepping his book launch.
The setting was appropriate for the release of the North Delta writer’s first collection of gothic stories — English gothic mind you, not American gothic.
On top of the mahogany table sat stacks of copies of The Curse of the Red Crystal and Other Gothic Tales. Von Stefan, wearing a high-necked black shirt, sat in a red-covered chair in front of the fireplace.
Of course, not everything was gothic. A cash box filled with change was sitting on the corner of the desk, and a calculator and computer were set up beside him. AndVon Stefan isn’t all gothic himself.
Born in Vienna, Austria, Von Stefan moved to Vancouver during his childhood. He worked as a longshoreman for 42 years, and enjoys skiing.
His first foray into writing gothic horror was in 1982, on a trip through the Kootenays.
There, his story The Passing of Mr. Needles was born.
It’s a harrowing tale of a physician obsessed with the supernatural. He seals his patient’s soul in with the decaying body, and is ultimately driven mad by the spectre that haunts him.
“I have no idea what prompted me [to write the story],” Von Stefan said. “I woke up after the lightening storm… about three in the morning, and I started writing the story.”
The next morning, Von Stefan went down to the ferry terminal at Arrow Lake. On the ferry, he decided to take a photo of the appropriately misty lake.
“As I came back with my camera, there was this life ring on the boat and it says M.V. Needles,” he said. “I had never been on Arrow Lake and I look at this thing and I go, ‘How the heck did I know that up in the mountains that this boat is going to be called Needles?’”
When he got over to the other side of the lake, he put his chair in the water, set up a table and never stopped writing. Every night he would travel some more, and by the time he got to Kimberley two or three days later, he had finished the story.
Since then, Von Stefan has written more than 36 stories.
He’s read them to audiences across Canada, and once a month he does a murder mystery reading at Spring Water Lodge on Mayne Island.
“He’s just a natural in terms of performance,” Jo Blackmore, publisher at Granville Island Publishing, said. “I say to authors, ‘Don’t have me publish your work unless you’re willing to promote it.’ And he’s just natural at that.”
The Curse of the Red Crystal is a self-published book through Granville Island Publishing. The publishing house provided editing, layout and printing services, but Von Stefan was responsible for backing the costs.
Only 11 of his 36 stories made it into The Curse of the Red Crystal. The rest of his stories will be published eventually — Von Stefan is currently working on his second book, and plans to publish more as time goes on.
“I don’t know what a writer’s block is — other than this might be a block,” he said, smiling as he laid his hand on the pile of books beside him.