Monday, August 31, 2009

Guest: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

VampChix is proud to feature an interview with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro today! She is best known for her Saint-Germain Cycle books, which follow a vampire hero through the centuries in a rich world that combines exquisite history, horror and romance with her honorable vampires. Yarbro is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild and has been awarded the Knightly Order of the Brasov Citadel by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. For her complete biography, please visit her website.

Her current release is A Dangerous Climate, which is the 21st book in the Saint-Germain Cycle, and is set in 18th century Russia.

Let's begin the interview!

Q: The Saint-Germain stories span many centuries of history, and are not published chronologically. Was this purposeful on your part? Did you start with one century, and decide later you’d like to explore earlier centuries? Or have you had stories planned out to follow a certain chronology?

CQY: When I was working on Hotel Transylvania, back in the early 70s, I came up with a plan to do five books. I set Hotel Transylvania in the time the real Saint-Germain was at the French court, and went back from it , and then forward. The zig-zag was deliberate, and, as things turned out, it was all that Signet --- the original contractor for the series --- wanted. The original editor, Joan Hitzig, left Signet while I was in the middle of Tempting Fate, and the new editor didn't warm to the series. A couple of years later, Simon&Schuster did The Saint-Germain Chronicles, the short stories, and I went on to other things. Then about seven years later, an
editor at Tor asked if I could do any more Saint-Germains. At the time I said I doubted it, but I could do some Olivias, which led to the three Olivia books, at the end of which, Saint-Germain was active again, and I went to work on the next phase of the series and I'm still at it, having recently completed the twenty-fourth book in the Saint-Germain series, An Embarrassment of Riches, set in Bohemia 1269-1270, and I'm researching the next one. The books take quite a lot of reaseach, which luckily I like doing.

Q: Some stories focus on Le Comte de Saint-Germain, your noble vampire hero, others focus on the Roman vampiress Atta Olivia Clemens (A Candle For D’Artagnan is this interviewer's favorite). Have the two ever joined forces in your books or do you prefer to keep their adventures separate? What’s their history?

CQY: Actually they rarely hang out together for long. There is a part of Night Blooming when Saint-Germain is in Rome when he stays with Olivia for about four chapters, but in general they keep their distance. Of course they do have a long and lively corrrespondence, mostly Olivia telling Saint-Germain he's out of his mind. She's the only character who ever bawls him out. Of course, their romantic relationship ended when she became a vampire, in something like 71 AD. Her story is the main focus of Blood Games, the third book in the series.

Q: What first compelled you to write about vampires?

CQY: I like vampires, and I like history, and the two make such a nice combination.

Q: Do you have a favorite time period or setting? Do your two main characters have a favorite time period or setting? Are their any time periods and settings you’ve yet to write about that you really want to explore? Have you visited some or most of your settings?

CQY: I'm fond of the the Italian Renaissance, dark side and all. I like the old Romans. But writing about times I like doesn't always make for the best stories. Darker Jewels takes place at the court of Ivan Grozny (the Terrible), not the kind of place I want to be at all. A Feast in Exile takes place in India during the rise of Timur-I (Tamberlane), another spot I'm just as glad not to be in. There are always interesting times to explore. I've been to Florence, but some years after I wrote The Palace. Ditto on Rome and Blood Games/Roman Dusk/Communion Blood. In terms of places I've been, writing the second half of Midnight Harvest, much of which takes places in California during the Great Depression, was the hardest to manage because I had to forget almost everything I see every day, seventy years futher on from that time.

Q: Every month it seems readers have at least half a dozen new vampire romances to select from. What do you think about the current frenzy in vampire stories, romances especially?

CQY: I think some are very effective and some are okay and some are horrid, just as I suspect most readers do.

Q: The young adult series Twilight and the mystery series (made into a TV series) True Blood are luring readers in droves to the bookshelves in search of vampires. Do you think the market for vampires has become oversaturated?

CQY: When I turned in Hotel Transylvania, my editor told me very seriously that the vampire market was dead, and she repeated this with some regularity. Almost every editor the series has had has said that as well. My answer is that since when is being dead a problem for a vampire? But yes, I do fear that the market is likely to get soggy, All that's needed in this precarious economic time is for one big-advance book not to sell to expectations and all the seccondary midlist markets will shrink dramatically. it's happened before a couple of times, and it is likely to happen again.

Q: Saint-Germain is a compassionate vampire, yet your stories can be labeled not only Historical Fiction and Romance, but also Horror. Do you base your vampires on myth and legend, or have you fashioned them to suit your idea of the vampire? How much does horror play into the mythology of your vampires? Romance? Humanity?

CQY: First off, I subtitle all the novels an historical horror novel because to me, history, not vampires, is horrifying. When I began working on Hotel Transylvania, I had read extensively on folklore and folk archetypes. I made a chart of worldwide vampire beliefs; anything that was thought to be true of vampires in eighty percent of them, I kept as true for Saint-Germain; anything that wasn't, unless I really liked it, I ignored. One of the things that struck me about the vampire's position in any society was that he or she would have to be an outsider. And he or she would have to be an adult, not a grown child. My original intention with Hotel Transylvania
was to push the Dracular model of a vampire as far to the positive as possible and still maintain recognizable vampirism, and I'm still doing it. Probably the psychological glue for the series is that from the first I determined that for Saint-Germain and his two literary offspring, blood was a metaphor for intimacy and all that goes with taking another person into your own psyche. Depending upon the person with whom Saint-Germain, Olivia, or Madelaine is involved, that relationship is more or less fulfilling depending on the expectations of the living partner.

Q: Your biography states you play seven different instruments. Do you find music helps the creative writing muse? Have you incorporated music into your stories?

CQY: I often put music in my stories. And when I want to say something that cannot be said with words, I compose something. I write stories pretty rapidly, but I write music quite slowly.

Q: Your biography also states you work occasionally as a tarot card reader. What tarot card best represents you?

CQY: Probably the Chariot on my good days.

We at the VampChix blog have 5 quickie questions we ask every vamp author. They are:

Dark or Light? yes.
Historical or Contemporary? yes
Favorite Movie and/or TV vampire? don't really have one
Bagged or From The Neck? since I never say what it is my vamps bite, only that it feels very good, it's up to you to determine.
Dead or Undead? vampires, to be proper folkloric vampires, must be improperly dead, so I guess undead.

Thank you to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro for chatting with us today at VampChix!

[Michele's note: I love the Saint-Germain stories, but also wanted to mention one of Yarbro's non-vamp stories. A Mortal Glamour is set in 14th century France in a convent, and is dark and insane and will have you turning the pages quickly. It was recently reissued by Juno Books with a gorgeous cover. For more info click here.]

Please check Chelsea website for a complete list of her books and an excellent bibliography that puts the Saint-Germain cycle in various orders.


lunaticcafe said...

I have said it before but I adore the Saint Germain books. Hotel Transylvania was my first vampire novel and I loved it- the history is amazing! I've often been inspired to research a time period that I read about in her book. Since then I think I've read every Chelsea Quinn Yarbro novel, and I enjoyed every one- the character of Saint Germain remains a constant and the history swirls around him, ever changing. His reactions to these differences may change but his nature is the same. He treats the people that he cares about kindly and protects those around him. I like that. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of all her books is the letters. A fascinating way to tell a story and also to keep characters connected.

Mary Marvella said...

I love the way you keep entertaining and blending history and fiction. Keep those stories coming.

Judy said...

I just wanted to say that Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has always been my favorite author. Many many years ago I picked up and read Hotel Transylvania, from that moment I was hooked. I love her Saint-Germain and Atta Olivia Clemens the best, but I do pick up some the others when I can. I own every Saint-Germain book!! I do not have A Mortal Glamour, I am going to have to get it to read!!

Judy (

Kimberly B. said...

I'm a really big fan of the Saint-Germain series, which I find to be marvelously well researched. I also have fond memories of the time Ms. Yarbro came to do a signing at the bookstore I worked at. Such a thrill!

lunaticcafe said...

Kimberly B-
I am so jealous! I still hope that someday she will have a signing near my neighborhood and that I can get my copy of Hotel Transylvania signed.

Francesca Hawley said...

I love the Saint-Germain series. I love the complex character of the man and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is masterful in creating wonderful deep characters - not only Saint-Germain but also the secondary characters and villains.

Thanks for the wonderful stories and I look forward to reading more as long as you write them, Ms. Yarbro.

Derek Tatum said...

I am seeing Ms. Yarbro this weekend. She is a lovely person and a wonderful writer.

SciFiGuy said...

I love the series and started with Hotel Transylvania when it first came out (I know I'm dating myself) and even have a signed copy. Terrific interview. I second the recommendation for A Mortal Glamour which I picked up when it was reissued. One of the all-time great vampire series. Thanks Michele for having Ms Yarbro visit.

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