Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Guest Blogger - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

What an honor to welcome guest blogger Chelsea Quinn Yarbro! Here's a portion of her biography, from her website. "Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. She was presented the award at the World Fantasy Convention in Austin, Texas, in November 2006. Yarbro is one of only two women ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention (2003). She is the recipient of the Fine Foundation Award for Literary Achievement (1993) and (along with Fred Saberhagen) was awarded the Knightly Order of the Brasov Citadel by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula in 1997. In 1995 Yarbro was the only novelist guest of the Romanian government for the First World Dracula Congress, sponsored by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the Romanian Bureau of Tourism and the Romanian Ministry of Culture. She has been nominated for the Edgar, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards and was the first female president of the Horror Writers Association."

Burning Shadows, the twenty-third book in the Saint-Germain Chronicles, has just been released. Yarbro has been writing about vampires long before they became a cultural hit. Here's her blog about writng a long-running series.

Writing a Long-Running Series

In 1978, Hotel Transylvania was published, and Saint-Germain began his very long life in print. I had begun work on the book in the winter of 1970/71 and worked at it off and on until 1976, when I wrote half the book and sent it off to my agent. I had originally intended to do five novels and then quit, which turned out to be a good plan since the editor who had acquired them left NAL before I turned in Tempting Fate and the editor who took over the series — and was unfamiliar with it — decided that there would be no more: vampires were dead. Well, yes. But since when is that a problem? (A parenthetical explanation is due here: NAL bought Hotel Transylvania, and in a move unusual for that time, sold reverse rights to St. Martin’s Press, which delayed the book’s appearance for more than a year. St. Martin’s sold book club rights to Doubleday, which meant the Mystery Book Club, the Science Fiction Book Club and the Literary Guild all carried them. That arrangement continued through the first five books).

I didn’t start out to write the longest-running vampire series by a single writer in English, but it’s turned out that way, though I didn’t realize it when I turned Tempting Fate in, supposing that that was my last venture with Saint-Germain.

It wasn’t easy to move away from the series, but I had other work to do, and the five books continued to sell through the book clubs so the series didn’t fade away entirely. During the time I was working on the novels, and for a year or two afterward, I did some Saint-Germain short works, too, as a kind of counterpoint to the books. They were collected in paperback as The Saint-Germain Chronicles and Doubleday Bookclubs did an edition of them as well.

Some eight years later, Beth Meacham, a Tor editor, asked me if I might want to do some more Saint-Germain. Since he had largely left my head, I told her I doubted it, but I thought I could do some Olivia books. We went with that, and by the time I was finished, Saint-Germain had risen again, and was back in my head. So I resumed the series, obliquely at first, with Out of the House of Life, which I consider to be the first Madelaine book. Working on that book was a great bridge from Olivia to Saint-Germain, and allowed me to touch on his early years, when he wasn’t the cultured, humane, compassionate fellow he is in most of the books. He had admitted it in earlier books, but now there was a chance to see what he was talking about. Out of the House of Life dealt with a lot of that transformation, and reestablished his close bond with Madelaine. But it was tricky to write, having two story lines, one taking almost 800 years to complete. When I turned it in, I told my editor that if I ever proposed taking on several centuries of a vanished culture, would she please shoot me before I plunged into it?

My editor and I had several conversations about when and where these books might take place, and ways to keep them with the same flavor as the earlier ones, but not same-old same-old. It was a challenge. Luckily, I like challenges. I had a look through a couple of world history books and at the list I had made of people and places the real man claimed to have known and visited, and using that as a ground-plan, set out on the hunt for Interesting Times in the Chinese sense, seeking out cultures and places where a stranger would have access to women.

Saint-Germain’s full return was in Darker Jewels, and the turmoil of the court of Ivan Grosny of Russia. It was — and is — the only book in which he has a wife, since access to women was severely limited to those not members of their own families. Xenya, the abused and troubled woman the Czar orders Saint-Germain to marry, provides him the chance to have a relationship with a living woman that is domestic before it turns erotic, another first. The series was welcomed back, but the book clubs didn’t take it. Better in the Dark was next, at the heart of the Dark Ages, which made it hard to research. Saint-Germain washing up on a shore above Lubeck was a problematic beginning, but essential to the body of the story. His bond with Ranegonda, established when he drinks her blood not erotically at first, but as a means to restore him after nearly drowning in a shipwreck. For much of the book, he is more closely bound to her than she is to him, and trust is a constant issue between them. The third “dark” book as I call these three — the editor wanted titles with dark in them to help brand them — was Mansions of Darkness, which takes place at the same time as the Olivia book, A Candle for d’Artagnan, with the text of a few letters showing up in both books. It is also the first book to be set in the Americas, and to deal with the impact of the European presence in Latin America. There was a lot of material to explore and what turned out to be — from readers’ reactions — a very disturbing attempt to do away with Saint-Germain.

There was a change of editors and went on to the “blood” books. Writ in Blood, like Tempting Fate, was set in the twentieth century, but before World War I, and concerned with attempts to avert the slaughter. Rowena Saxon, a young artist with an American mother (she has the money) and an English father (he has the title) is the crucial woman in the story; an early Suffragette, she was an interesting match for Saint-Germain, and returned in Midnight Harvest, a mature woman living in San Francisco. This one wasn’t hard to research except that it had so much information that winnowing it for use in the story was a major task. Blood Roses followed, dealing with the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the middle of the fourteenth century, a very disturbing time that resulted in the deaths of between 35 and 40 percent of the population of Europe. Saint-Germain has two identities in the story that operates at a higher emotional pitch than some of the books. Communion Blood dealt with the aftermath of Olivia’s death, and the politics of Rome at the time. I enjoyed the musical side of the story more than the machinations of the Cardinal and his family, but I think that the juxtaposition of the two works better now than I thought when I had finished with it.

Another change in editors and I was left to choose the titles I wanted. So Come Twilight, covering six hundred years of Spanish history and one of the few of Saint-Germain’s partners who goes for the negative side of vampirism in a big way. Csimenae is at once victim and villain in the story, and a very complicated character. On my editor’s suggestion, Saint-Germain returned to Asia in A Feast in Exile, beginning in Delhi and its conquest by Timur-I Lenkh, called Tamberlane in the West. Research wasn’t easy on the book, but I got some chewy information about some of the central Indian principalities that allowed for a strong finish to the story.

The next two books came out from Warner, as well as reprints of Hotel Transylvania, The Palace, and Blood Games. (Incidentally, the copy editor decided to change Sanct’ Germain in Blood Games to Saint-Germain to make it easier to the reader. Not only does that talk down to the reader, but it blows the historicity all to hell and gone. I protested but nothing worked. If you have a copy of their edition, please change it back to the way it should be). Night Blooming concerns the later reign of Karl-lo-Magne, or Charlemagne, as he has become. Gynethe Mehaut, the albino stigmatic, proposed an interesting problem, given the levels of religious hysteria that were easily roused in those difficult times. As soon as we agreed on Midnight Harvest the editor who had acquired the series moved to another publisher, and I knew the series was toast at Warner. Midnight Harvest, set in the 1930s, in many way was the hardest to write since much of the book takes place in northern California where I live, and in writing it, I had to forget what I see every day, and rely upon old newspaper photos to show the place and the time of the story.

Saint-Germain returned to Tor with Dark of the Sun, about the aftermath of a catastrophic eruption of Krakatau in 535. The editor requested a fifteen percent cutting of the text for length concerns, which some bookstore chains were insisting on in the name of shelf-space. For those who wonder why the later Saint-Germains are shorter than some of the earlier ones, that’s the reason. After Dark of the Sun came States of Grace, dealing with the Reformation in Europe, and those two great publishing centers, Venice and Amsterdam. The women in this book are both misfits in their own ways, but I like to think they’re both admirable. Roman Dusk, which takes place during the Roman decadence, was fascinating to research and probably more openly erotic than the previous two books. Borne in Blood, another story that takes place after the life of the actual man, would have been richer, I think, if I hadn’t been so restricted as to length. Another two chapters in the body of the work could have allowed for exploring more of Hero’s trouble with her father-in-law and expand on the obsession the Baron has with blood.

Another collection of short stories — Saint-Germain: Memoirs — followed Borne in Blood. The longest of them is "Tales out of School" and was the result of a visit to Padua. My publisher remarked on the Civic Day of Horror, that one day I might set a Saint-Germain story in Padua, and the next day the paper trumpeted “Vampire Story to Be Set in Padova!” So, of course, I had to write it. Then back to Russia, and another intriguing Czar, Peter the Great and the founding of St. Petersburg. Reading about the first four years of the place, it sounded pretty ghastly to me. And by adding a double deception to Saint-Germain’s involvement in the story made for what I felt was a particularly Russian flavor to the book.

The current volume, Burning Shadows, number 23 in the cycle, by my count, was harder to research. The Hunnic invasions of the mid-fifth century left behind more rumor and dread than specific accounts. This one is Nicoris’ story, and reveals why she chose not to continue to live as a vampire. Next year’s installment, An Embarrassment of Riches, set mainly in Prague during the reign of Otakar II, the Great. High medieval Court life in the then-richest country in Europe.

And I am currently researching #25.


Thank you for taking time for this guest blog, Chelsea. It was an honor to have you write this essay for readers.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's website is

Burning Shadows by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Tor Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780765319821 (hardcover), 352p.


Dean James said...

News of a new Yarbro novel is always welcome. I've been following the series since I discovered the first two books in the library nearly thirty years ago. I'm delighted to see the series continue.

le0pard13 said...

As someone who read the first few of this grand series (as a book club member back in the 70's), it's great to hear that it's continued. Your historical tracing of the series from the beginning, and the turns along the way, made for a wonderful post. Thank you Chelsea Quinn Yabro for guesting and contributing.

And thank you, Lesa, for having this great author.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I had the privilege of meeting Chelsea Quiin Yabro years ago at a small mystery convention and that was my introduction to her most wonderful vampire series--better than any other in my opinion. I got to see her again at a Romance Writers conference in Fresno and I loved reading this post and see I have a lot of catching up to do on the series.


Lesa said...

Thanks for stopping by, Dean. I wish I'd been available earlier to answer, but I was off to a Sue Grafton event tonight, after a day filled with meetings. I'm glad you were able to read about the new book.

Lesa said...

Definitely my pleasure to host her, le0pard13!

Lesa said...


I'm glad you had the chance to read the history of the series. Isn't it great to have most of a series ahead of you?

Penina said...

I've read all the Saint Germain novels and have Burning Shadows on order. He is the best. If only the publishers would let Ms. Yarbro make all the book decisions. Thank you for bringing us her blog.

Janet Rudolph said...

How wonderful! Loved reading Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's guest blog. Looking forward to the new book!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Penina! I'm sure Ms. Yarbro will be happy to hear you've read them all, and ordered the new one.

My pleasure to bring you her blog.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Janet!

I'm always pleased when you tell me you enjoyed something on the blog.

Anonymous said...

I was Quinn's secretary back in those days. She was a very determined writer and worked very hard at it. It was wonderful to watch her break new ground over and over again. I'm so glad she has had such well earned success.

Terry A. Garey

Lesa said...

Thank you, Terry! It's always nice to hear from someone who works closely with an author, and to find out how hard they worked to achieve their dreams, and success. Thanks!