Leif Pettersen

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BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA

Tracking the Life of Vlad “the Impaler” Dracula
and the Vampire Monster He Inspired

Buy the book now on Amazon!

Watch the trailer!

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News/Press

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***Early buzz for BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA***

"Leif Pettersen has sucked the life *into* the Dracula phenomenon. He mines his topic expertly, leaving no coffin unturned, weaving the hard-to-put-down narrative between his own travels in Romania and centuries past."

– David Farley, author of AN IRREVERENT CURIOSITY

"Most people try to stay far away from bloodthirsty tyrants, but luckily for us, Leif Pettersen has plunged straight ahead and lived to tell this rollicking, history-rich tale. BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA offers an up-close view of the man and myth of Vlad Dracula, along with Romania past and present, all told with Pettersen's trademark wit and insight."

- Doug Mack, author of EUROPE ON 5 WRONG TURNS A DAY and the upcoming THE FORGOTTEN STATES OF AMERICA

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The undisputed A-lister among Transylvania’s cabaret of supernatural blood-drainers and face-eaters, Count Dracula is both a publicist’s dream and nightmare. Like Donald Trump, despite unremitting horrifying behavior, the public can’t get enough of him even after more than a century of being name-dropped in literature, TV and film.

Little known to most people is that our vampire friend is the namesake of someone with similar PR challenges, Vlad “Tepes” Dracula, the extravagantly mustachioed 15th century Prince of Wallachia. Depending on which medieval gossip magazine you read, Tepes was characterized as a brutal tyrant, a hero, a traumatized child who became a psychopath, a passionate leader whose reign brought order to a kingdom in chaos, scourge of the overwhelming forces of the Ottoman Empire and/or a textbook sadist who prolifically impaled tens of thousands of enemies.

Backpacking with Dracula is my quest to explore fact, legend and fiction (and the copious, delectable gray areas), sifting through the divergent, sometimes fantastic stories about the mercurial prince and modern confusion with the vampire.

My quest involves touring through Wallachia and Transylvania, the respective homelands of the prince and the count, located in modern day Romania. This tour will focus on visiting surviving sites associated with Vlad including Transylvania’s Bran Castle, where Vlad briefly stayed (or was possibly imprisoned - it’s complicated); the ruins of his stronghold, Poenari Citadel, in Wallachia; Vlad’s boyhood home (now a restaurant) in Sighisoara; and the ruins of Wallachia’s Princely Court in Târgoviste.

Finally, I’ll delve into the various theories of Vlad’s final resting place - minus his head, which, in lieu of a Snapchat photo, we know was bagged and shipped directly to a relieved Sultan Mehmed II in Constantinople as confirmation of his death.

Though Dracula author Bram Stoker never laid eyes on the Borgo Pass, home of the vampire, I will dutifully cover this bucolic region on Transylvania’s border with Moldavia, including the campy Hotel Castel (sic) Dracula, which a shrewd entrepreneur built on the site where Stoker set Dracula’s fictional castle. I’ll also stop in at the Count Dracula Club restaurant in Bucharest, complete with coffins and walls dripping with blood.

As I peel away these layers, I’ll share my accumulated knowledge of modern day Romania, where I lived and traveled for a cumulative two years while researching multiple editions of Lonely Planet guidebooks.

With the chaotic, fragile state of rulers, regimes, alliances and betrayals of the time, Vlad’s fortunes changed constantly throughout his life as hostage, prince, warrior, prisoner and ground-breaking practitioner of stake-diplomacy. His well-documented passion for ruining the very short remainders of his enemies’ lives is how Vlad earned the post-mortem moniker “Tepes” (The Impaler): a dull, greased wooden stake was judiciously driven through the victim’s anus, emerging from the body just below the shoulder blades without piercing any vital organs, causing up to 48 hours of unimaginable suffering before death.

Vlad was like the Jack Bauer of Wallachia: patriotic almost to a fault, steadfast in defending the region from external enemies and internal provocateurs, misunderstood by co-workers and quick to punch anyone in the face that got in his way. In the surprisingly brief seven non-consecutive years of his rule (1448; 1456–1462; 1476), he staked ass and took names, using pure terror to virtually wipe out crime and corruption in his principality and, on multiple occasions, repulsed and scared the bejesus out of Ottoman invaders.

Four centuries removed from the facts, such as they were, Bram Stoker’s fictional, bloodsucking Count Dracula recast Tepes as an undead corpse reliant on the blood of the living to sustain his immortality. Though he never set foot in Romania, had Stoker made the journey he would have enjoyed a wealth of additional vampire material, being that vampires formed an integral part of the region’s extensive folklore.

Vlad Tepes died in 1476, and Stoker in 1912, yet Count Dracula lives on in an extraordinary subculture of literature, TV and film. The original Dracula novel has never been out of print.

In Backpacking with Dracula, I will share and build on my substantial knowledge of both Vlad’s Romania, Romania today, and any pertinent paranormal digressions, all of which happen to be agreeably bedecked with severe mountains, gothic castles, peasant villages, spooky moonlight and creatures capable of eating me for lunch.

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News/Press

November 8, 2016 - My *mom* somehow convinced MyTalk 107.1 to interview me about the book. Here's the direct link to the MP3. My segment starts at 20:20.

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October 22, 2016 - I was on the Rick Steves radio show! We talked Dracula, Romania and vampires.

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October 4, 2016 - BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA, and three other incredible travel books, were touted as "travel books that defy your expectations" in the San Francisco Chronicle!

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September 1, 2016 - Arbiter on all things Romania, Bucharest Life reviewed (and loved) BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA.

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August 17, 2016 - Minnesota Monthly featured me in their "7 Questions With..." series, where I talk travel and Dracula.

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August 19, 2016 - BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA is now being sold at Moon Palace Books in South Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood. Give this great place a visit (and buy all the copies :)).

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August 16, 2016 - I have finally finished the book trailer. Check it out!

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July 8, 2016 - Hooray! I have reached the (allegedly) critical 30 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.8 stars! Word on the street is that the site raises your book's visibility after it reaches 30 reviews. Stay tuned!

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July 6, 2016 - BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA appeared in USA Today's 10 Best "Our Favorite Summer Beach Reads!"

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June 15, 2016 - The second bookstore in the world to sell BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA is Common Good Books in St Paul, owned by Garisson Keillor!

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June 1, 2016 - So this happened. :)

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May 25, 2016 - The first bookstore in the world to sell BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA is the legendary indie store Skylight Books in Los Angeles, part owned by Jeffrey Tambor!

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May 16, 2016 - I was the featured guest on the travel podcast This Week in Travel, with Gary Arndt, Chris Christensen and Jen Leo!

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May 15, 2016 - Lonely Planet founder and travel legend Tony Wheeler gave BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA some love on his blog.

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May 11, 2016- BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA was Johnny Jet's Book of the Week!

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May 7, 2016 - I was on Rudy Maxa's World travel radio talk show, the most listened to travel talk show in the U.S., to promote BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA!

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May 6, 2016 - Early excitement, the @lonelyplanet Twitter account retweeted the link to BACKPACKING WITH DRACULA to its 3.43 *million* followers.