I discovered the books of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro just a few months ago, and have become a great fan of her work. I became acquainted with her through a friend of mine, and I was eager to get an interview with her. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a kind, fascinating, and very talented writer. She’s been writing for 44 years, and has penned everything from science fiction, to horror, to westerns, to non-fiction. She is presently the author of 87 published novels, and I am honored to have her. I’ve been reading her Saint-Germaine vampire series, and I strongly recommend it to anyone. However, I’ve found one negative side effect to reading the books of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: she serves as a great reminder to me of how far I have to go to get as good as she is.

Visit Chelsea Quinn Yarbro at: http://www.chelseaquinnyarbro.net/

Q: You have written so many historical novels. How and why do you choose to write about the eras you do?

A:  In the case of the Saint-Germain novels, I originally set the stories — with the exception of Tempting Fate, which takes place after the historical man was dead — in places the real man had claimed to have been, and expanded from there.  Over the years I’ve developed a chronology for Saint-Germain, Roger, Olivia, Niklos, and Madelaine as well as some notes on what happens to others from his colorful past:  Rowena Saxon in Writ in Blood shows up again in Midnight Harvest, for example. In the case of other historical novels, which includes my two westerns, I chose times that interested me for their ripple effect on their time, or events that so appalled me that I  wanted to explore how they happened.

Q: Which are your favorite historical time eras and why?

A:  This one, because it’s where I live.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying, “History is horror.” Can you elaborate on that?

A:  Not all history is horrifying, but a lot of it is. I call the Saint-Germain Cycle historical horror novels (and have from the first, meaning from Hotel Transylvania on; the sentimentalized “novel of forbidden love” was the publisher’s idea, which is why I cross it out in every copy I sign) because what people do to people tends to be more barbaric than anything a vampire could do.  Go ahead: compare, say, Stalin with one vampire, or a dozen of them.  Who is the more inhumane?

Q: Of the novels you’ve written, which ones were the most difficult to write, and how did you get through them?

A: Since I’m a character-driven writer, once the characters “come alive” the only way to shut them up is to finish the story; otherwise they linger.  I have two large portions-and-outlines that haven’t sold yet sitting in my head, and I would like to find them a home so they can retire from my thoughts.  It’s my general experience that stories drive themselves once the characters become “real”.  Any book worth its salt is difficult to write — that’s part of the deal.  Some are harder than others, but if they’re easy, the writer is cheating not only the reader, but him/herself as a story-teller.  For me, westerns are fun, but not easy.

Q: How important  do you think historical accuracy is when writing a novel set in a different time era?

A: It depends on the book.  In general I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, but I have done alternate history, like Ariosto, which I find challenging and engaging.

Q: How do you feel about narrative non-fiction?

A: It depends on how well it’s done, and unfortunately much of it is filled with sloppy writing.  When it’s done well, it’s quite intriguing.

Q: How many Saint-Germaine novels are there, and which are your favorites?

A:  There are 24 novels, including the one I just turned in, and 2 collections of shorter fiction.  My favorite book at any time is always my next one.  Collaborations are a bit different, but even they have charm for me.

Q: What do you hope readers come away with from reading your Saint-Germaine novels?

A: The satisfaction of money well-spent.  Anything beyond that is extra.

Q: What is the one thing you think most readers would be surprised to know about the Saint-Germaine novels?

A:  Probably that most of them were written in less than six months, some in less than four months.

Q: What do you think is the most fascinating or peculiar thing about life as a writer?

A:  Making sense of royalty reports.

Q: I’ve read that you have written over eighty novels, and that you release three to four books per year. How do you remain so prolific? And how many hours of writing do you do in the course of an average week?

A:  At present 87 books — novels, collections, non-fiction — and over 80 shorter works are listed on my bibliography; in my 44 years of professional writing, I’ve had five books completed canceled before publication, six completed novels that never sold — or haven’t sold yet — a couple of for-hire ventures that fell apart after my work had been done, and two books that vanished in a puff of smoke when the acquisitions editor left the acquiring publisher.  However my end of publication happens, it happens, I’m glad it does.  My average day goes like this:  up between 7 and 7:30, feed the cats, answer email and such, take a hot bath to get my arthritic joints moving (I’ve had arthritic knees since my 20s), then do writing until 12 or 1, when I stop for lunch, the main meal of my day.  Then I take an hour or so for chores such as shipping, shopping, watering the garden, and get back to work between 3 and 4, break at 5 for the news, come back to the machine either around 7 or 9, depending what’s on tv.  Toward the end of a book, I may go back to work at 10 or 11 and work until 1 or so, and then I get up an hour later than usual.  Sunday I visit friends in the South Bay, and I allow myself one half-day a week.  A couple times a year I have house-guests, and play tourist with my visitors.  I have lunch out a couple of times a month.  There are days when Crumpet, Butterscotch, and Ekaterina the Great, Empress of all the Russias demand more of my time than they usually do, but that’s pretty much it.

Q: Who are your own favorite writers and what are some of your favorite books?

A:  Shakespeare, all else is changeable.

Q: What are some things in a novel that bother you and will cause you to put it down?

A:  Poor grammar and syntax in narration will do it every time.  Dialogue can be a linguistic mess and that doesn’t bother me, but if I have to stop to parse a sentence or deal with a misused word, I am no longer “in” the story, and I quickly lose interest in it.  Obvious story lines and motivation based on stupidity can also turn me off.

Q: What are some things that make it impossible for you to put a book down?

A:  A friend wrote it, it’s not a genre I’m working in at the time and it’s well done, the characters are compelling, it has an unusual perspective or a narrative point-of-view that opens a lot of doors.  Style can also catch my attention. if the storytelling is solid.

Q: Do you outline your novels, or does the plot come to you as you write it?

A:  Yes, I outline, though I often wind up getting rerouted through the story line by the characters on my way to the end.  If the characters and the book isn’t mostly set in my mind, I can’t write it, but once the basic form is there, and the characters are established, I’m ready to go.

Q: Did you have any false illusions when you began life as a novelist, and if so, how have these evolving understandings changed your approach to your craft and the business of writing?

A: All illusions are false by definition.  When I began, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into.  Of course my understanding has been evolving, as has every writer’s:  publishing has been evolving, and at the moment more rapidly than in past decades, which certainly changed the business end of writing.  For one thing, advances are down sharply and print-runs are smaller.  Then there’s the whole matter of e-publishing, and who knows how that’s going to shake out.  At least for now, it is reviving the back-list so that mid-list writers like me are not compelled to live in garages or in spare rooms.  For now there is cause for encouragement, which is a nice change.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: Mark Twain’s essay on “The Awful German Language” is sure to make me laugh.  My three cats.  The rest is timing and my state of mind.

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Comments
  1. Linda L. Bennett says:

    Great interview, I enjoyed this one. 🙂

  2. Linda L. Bennett says:

    Great interview, I enjoyed this one.

  3. This is a wonderful interview, Jared. You’ve done right by Quinn!

  4. catazure says:

    Great interview, Jared! She sounds fascinating.

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