Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: The Unknown Master - Part Three: Final Thoughts


Living Legend and Grand Horror Master Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (see Part 1 of our interview here and part 2 here) has been a professional writer since 1968. She has just published the 25th book in her popular and famous Count Saint-Germain series Commedia della Morte. Yet despite all of her sales and critical praise she has never had a film made from any of the books in the series. This is disconcerting since the film world is made up of remakes and sequels and here they have a series of twenty-six books (Quinn is currently penning that 26th one) that have received popular acclaim and are filled with historical detail.

Could this all be a case of typecasting an author? Sure she is popular and her next book will undoubtedly be as good as or better than the last one. But Hollywood might be thinking of her as a one-trick pony because of her longevity with her signature character.

"Of course. Do I feel typecast? Yes, I do," she says shaking her head. "On the other hand it is not as if I haven't done other things and had them go well. I've got half of a nifty novel that I would love to turn into a series, with a supernatural element, which is set in the Twenties in Philadelphia. I would love to do those books. Those characters sometimes they have coffee klatches in my head and tell me, ‘and in the next book we're all going to do this!'  Would you guys just shut up and go away for a while. I have to deal with Africa right now. There's a science fiction novel that is about half done. It's about a sea captain about 2,500 years from now and dealing with a very different world."

So the question is should she make a concerted effort to sell the St. Germain series to film or concentrate on these other book ideas? Is a Count St. Germain film something she would like to happen?

"I would love it. I love the idea from the get-go. For several years there was an independent producer who had the rights to the first five. But I realize that when something isn't working it isn't working. He's a hell of a nice guy and I'm glad he liked these stories the way he did. If he suddenly found another partner and the money, I'd be happy to say yes. It's a big series. It isn't five books anymore we're talking twenty-five books.

I had felt for a long time, like fifteen years, if someone really wanted to do the series, do them as a mini-series. Because they are all different lengths. Some are around 100,000 to 150,000 words. Tempting Fate is around 220,000 words and probably won't fold down to two hours or three."

The premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz have found big money and growing legions of viewers in their programs based on some book series like True Blood and Game of Thrones. This is a set up that might work for Quinn's books. Isn't that what they do for Charlaine Harris with each season being another book in the True Blood series?

"I know they do because Charlaine and I have spoken about that. Even with my knees I'd do the Fandango if that were to come to pass for me."

Even with the historical time periods that Quinn places each of her novels in, the cable giants have not shied away from spending their money on art direction and costumes. The one thing that may be a drawback for a movie does not seem to be a prohibiting factor in a cable series.

"They aren't wearing jeans and t-shirts in Game of Thrones. There are horses and wranglers and settings that they didn't find in the suburbs, at least not modern suburbs. I know that with computer generated graphics you can do very minimalist... you can do all kinds of things that lend verisimilitude to it so that you actually feel that that is a real building. If you ran that direction you could climb those stairs and get up to that platform up there. Plus you could use a fill-in crowd. You could get a hundred people to show up and with a little monkeying around you've got two thousand people."

Would it bother Quinn if they did not film the books in order?

"No. I didn't write them in order. I'm not going to write them in order now. That doesn't bother me. It's like when someone asks, ‘Where do I begin?'  I'm the worst person to ask that question. I'm really the worst in the world. People seem to insist. They seem to think I know something magical. I say choose a period you like or a period you are interested in and work your way out from there. That's the only thing I can point to.

"Hotel Transylvania is the one that sets the whole thing up and that is the time the real man lived and some of the places he really was. I didn't make any of that up. He did wear black and white. I added the stickpin. I tried to be as faithful to the real person as I could because after all I'm asking people to believe that there's this humane vampire walking around with real people in history. I have to make everything that's real as solidly creditable as possible. Because once I blow that I blow him.

"That's why I find myself looking for quotes from historical people that I can borrow or at least sources that give me material that tell me what people were saying and thinking. It is also one of the reasons that all the books have letters in them. Because that way I can sneak a huge amount of exposition in and tell everybody what the attitudes were – which is hard to convey any other way. It is absolutely crucial as to how people are going to respond to a stranger in their midst."

It is also absolutely crucial that some producer with foresight and understanding gets hold of this series. Until that happens the rest of us will just have to sit back and yearn for what could be the next big cable sensation.

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You can catch up with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro at her website

Del Howison is a journalist, writer, and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at If you have any ideas for an upcoming column he would love to hear from you.