Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the author of over 70 books, including 23 books about the vampire Count-Saint Germain.
Saint Germain is always a gentleman, and in an interview with mania.com Yarbro described her vampire: “He became a vampire though a religious rite in about 2100 BC in the Carpathians. He is proto-Etruscan royalty, and was born at the Winter Solstice, which marked him for priestly service since birth. As a vampire, he is burned by sunlight, cannot cross running water…unless he has his native earth in the soles of his shoes. He does not eat, he can’t because he was killed by disemboweling and does not have a reflection or a clear photographic image. He can be killed by destroying his nervous system: breaking his spine, burning, or beheading. In addition to being a vampire, he is an alchemist and a practitioner of the healing arts.”
Her 23rd Saint Germain book, Burning Shadows, comes out Tuesday, December 8th.
OBS: You’ve won a number of prestigious awards and been honored greatly (Living Legend by the International Horror Guild, Grand Master of the World Horror Convention, Fine Foundation Award for Literary Achievement, Knightly Order of the Brasov Citadel by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula) How does it feel to have your work noticed in this way?
CQY: My ego enjoys it tremendously, and I like to think this benefits the visibility of my work. Just to finish the list, HWA awarded me for Life Achievement last summer.
OBS: You do a lot of research for each book. About how long does that part of the process take for each book?
CQY: It depends on the book, and what kind of materials are available for research. The longest I’ve ever taken to research a Saint-Germain was eight months (mind you, I wrote two other novels during that time), for the ancient Egyptian sections of Out of the House of Life.
OBS: It is difficult writing for multiple genres? How do you keep it all straight in your head?
CQY: It’s actually easier for me to work in multiple genres than in single ones. I find that switching my focus keeps me fresh and alert. It’s no harder to keep projects straight than it is for most of you to keep your various groups of friends straight in your head. I do have a fondness for the dark stuff, but that’s me.
OBS: Being new to your work, which book would you suggest a fan read first?
CQY: I’m the worst possible person to ask about this. I always like what I’m about to work on better than anything. Find someone, like a bookseller or a reviewer whom you trust and ask them, I guarantee they’ll give you better advice than ever I could.
OBS: Who are your literary influences?
CQY: Shakespeare. And everybody else I’ve ever read, good or bad (in my opinion) contemporary or historical.
OBS: What are you reading right now?
CQY: You mean recreationally, right? I just finished a rather predictable mystery and I’m about to reread a Judge Dee adventure. After that, I have a manuscript to blurb.
OBS: What is your favorite book of all time? Why?
CQY: I don’t have one. I’ve said in the past that it’s Horton Hatches the Egg, because that was the book I learned to read on, but I don’t think that’s what you meant in asking.
OBS: With the current popularity of books such as Twilight and Vampire Diaries, how do you feel your books stand out?
CQY: They’ve been around a lot longer and they are solidly planted in real times and real events.
OBS: How do you develop your character’s individual personalities? Are they inspired by anyone you know or do they have a little bit of you in them?
CQY: I wish I knew. It feels like they do it themselves. I do have some exercises to help a character define him/her/itself, but I like it better when they emerge on their own. They may well be inspired by people I know, but I’m not consciously aware of it. And I have to suppose there is something in me that responds to something in them on some level. But since I’m writing fiction, not autobiography, it’s safe to assume I’m after characters who belong to the story, not sideways autoanalysis.
OBS: What future projects are you working on? Can you tell us anything about them?
CQY: I’m waiting for Tor to issue a contract for Saint-Germain #24, which I finished last May, called An Embarrassment of Riches so I can get to work on #25. I’m also working on a science fiction high adventure novel, a Restoration tale of a young aristocrat and a succubus, and a couple other things. In this market — which is the worst I’ve seen it after 41 years in the business — it take a very long time for midlist writers like me to sell projects, track record or no track record.
OBS: What would you like to tell us about your upcoming book, Burning Shadows?
CQY: For those who know the series, this is Nicoris’ story. It takes place in the Carpathian Mountains during the early career of Attila the Hun; it deals with the effects of terrorism on exposed populations, among other things.
OBS: What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you and your books?
CQY: That’s hard to answer, because it would depend on the fan in question as to what my answer would be. I’m always pleased when readers like my work, of course, but having heard some of the assumptions that have been made about me based upon the readers’ response to my work, I think no one answer could suffice. But thanks for the opportunity to describe the situation.
OBS: Who is your favorite literary character and why?
CQY: There are so many. I have a soft spot for Pierre Buzuhkov in War and Peace. I also like Othello best of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I like the bravura writing in DuMaurier’s Rebecca. I tend to reread Theodore Sturgeon’s work from time to time. Same with Georgette Heyer, but for vastly different reasons. Same thing with Saki. I admire Italo Calvino’s stories, and occasionally I get annoyed at him for dying so young — and the older I get, the younger he seems. Of course, a lot of my friends are writers, and I’m always pleased to see their work, whether or not it is specifically my cup of tea.
OBS: I’ve read that you have musical training. What are have you trained in, and has that influenced your books at all?
CQY: I’ve studied music since I was six. The main thing I do with it is compose. A fair number of my social friends are musicians. From time to time I hang out with an opera singer who’s a friend. The late Randall Baer liked my music, bless his buttons, though my manner of notation occasionally vexed him. Of course it seeps into my writing, in things like pacing, internal rhytmn, and musical references. One long-time friend claims that he can always tell when I’m getting to the heart of a story when someone breaks a musical instrument. I don’t think that’s true, but he may be right.
OBS: Your Saint-Germain books cover a wide variety of time periods; how do you pick which one you want to focus on?
CQY: I begin with what the historical man claimed to have done in history and go from there. Where he has centuries unaccounted for, I look for trouble-spots to develop into a likely setting.
OBS: What has been your favorite historical period to write about so far?
CQY: I like Imperial Rome for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the society seems astonishingly modern in the ancient world. And the Romans kept records of things, which makes the research much more solid than say, 8th centurry England or 14th century Russia.
OBS: What time period would you like to do next?
CQY: We’re talking Saint-Germain still, I’m assuming. The French Revolution would be a good setting, I think. I’ve got the outline ready any time Tor would like to have a look at it.
OBS: Saint-Germain seems very aware (and supportive) of equal rights, even when it stands in contrast to the time period; was that a conscience decision on your part? How important is that to the story?
CQY: I’m a feminist, and I tend to think of these books as being about the lives of women in history as much as they’re about my fictional vampire. I also think that someone whose survival depends on achieving intimacy with his or her sexual partner will soon become senstized to the lives of those partners, and will see their experiences from their point of view. I think that thematically this is crucial to the series.
OBS: What do you think about the changes in Vampires in fiction? Were you expecting this, since you created one of the first “nice” vampire?
CQY: Fiction genres are constantly mutating, so that it happens to vampire stories isn’t surprising. Incidentally, I wasn’t one of the first,Ii was the first in creating a workable positive vampire. That isn’t my opinion — and it wasn’t my intention to create a trend — but academics who specialize in horror literature have assurred me this is the case.
OBS: Do you have a favorite genre to write in? Or do you just write and then see what genre it becomes?
CQY: Since I do this for a living, I have learned to have a market in mind before I start putting together a project. As a largely first draft writer, the work has to be substantially finished in my head before I can start putting words on the page. Most often I outline my work, not rigorously, but enough to provide a framework that won’t let the work sprawl out of control. I like to write long — my comfort zone for Saint-Germain is about 150,000 words — but bookstores are now demanding shorter work — 110,000 maximum, and that means a tighter narrative line and less “background” developments. Sigh. And some of my work doesn’t belong to any genre: Magnificat and Alas, Poor Yorick — both published as ebooks by Hidden Knowledge books — are examples of that. For sheer fun, I liked writing my two westerns.
OBS: What else would you like to tell us?
CQY: Let’s see: EReads will be bringing out the three Olivia books and To The High Redoubt next spring; Ramble House has reprinted the four Charles Spotted Moon mysteries. I’ll be signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank in December, and I’ll be at World Horror in Brighton next March. If you have any questions, check my website: www.ChelseaQuinnYarbro.net.
Thanks so much to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro for agreeing to do the interview, and remember to check out her book this Tuesday!
Please check out Chelsea’s website here: