Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: The Unknown Master -- Part Two


Grand Master Award-winning author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (note: be sure to read part 1 of this interview) has just released the 25th book in her historically-driven highly researched and praised series of books about the vampire Count Saint Germaine - Commedia della Morte. She has written books in and out of the series since 1978 and been published by a variety of various publishers. A few of her books have been optioned, but to date not one film or television series has been created from her works. Quinn (as her friends call her) is not rich and she has to stay on top of who has the rights to what novels because publishers are not want to give you your rights back even though they are contracted to do so once the book goes out-of-print in their catalog.

"No, no, no they're very touchy about that," she grinned. "And they shouldn't be that way. Because if they said We still have rights because you haven't asked for them back. No way. Because it's a term in the contract. Just because you're like a dragon on their horde of gold that doesn't mean that it's necessarily theirs. You know, you've dealt with publishers.

"I still remember when I was president of the Horror Writer's Association my second term I received this really angry letter from a brand new member. Who'd sold three books, and good for him. Nothing derogatory about selling three books. He'd just sold his fourth and they hadn't given him $100,000 for it. I wrote him back and said I just sold my thirty-fifth and they didn't give me $100,000 either."

Anne Rice once stated that the way she knew she was finished writing her novel was when her husband would put a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator. For Quinn it is when the characters quit speaking to her.

"Like I say the silence ensues. You know that you are through with the story or book when all the characters shut up and go away. You sit there and go, I must be done, everybody left."

So they've spoken and told you the story and now that you've got it down on paper they're happy?

"Yes, the story is done. We're through. We'll talk to you later. Bye."

Do you spend much time on the social media sites discussing your work with your fan base?

"No. Not a lot. I don't do very much when I'm on one. There's a chat group on Yahoo. I know that if I got on there and said anything it would intimidate them. You get out of it what you get out of it. Whether I like it or not is immaterial. I want them to feel that they can say to the other readers what they got out of it without feeling that they are going to get a grade from me.

"For one thing, I've got better things to do with my time. For another what I think I did and what I got out of it I got out of it in the writing."

So for you the joy is in the storytelling while you are writing and listening to the characters speak and not in the analyzing afterwards?

"Oh it has to be. The end is when they all say all they are going to say. Like it or not, if they stop talking, that's it. I remember reading a Dick Francis novel that ends in the middle of a horse race. It works. You have to know really what you are doing and you have to trust your characters. If you question your characters you are toast, as I'm sure you are aware. If you say Now wait a minute would you really...?"

Do you believe that your readership or fan base is different from the normal horror or historical readership?

"It's hard to tell. But God knows I have some very perplexing fans, and people who like the series tend to like it for very different reasons that I haven't heard for a bunch of other series. Reasons that appall me sometimes. You know what it is like. People, and I've said this many times but it is true, they read your work and for some reason they have an intense emotional reaction to it which means they think they have an intense emotional relationship with you."

Because they think your work is you?

"Yes. I mean it takes up most of my time, I will agree, but it ain't me."

You've many things outside of the Count Saint Germaine novels - other historical novels, non-fiction, and movie tie-in books. At least you don't have the kinds of problems with movie tie-in books as you do with original novels of your characters speaking to you and such.

"Then you just have to make the logical ties that you have to have in a book that on the screen doesn't matter, because you see it. That makes it real and the connections don't have to be explicated in any way. So you sit there and say - So everybody is here and in the next scene everybody is there. I'm going to have to tell them something about how they got from here to there.  Somebody has to say, Maybe it's a good idea if we all go over to Marty's. It's got to be there."

You seem like just the person who could pull off a wonderful novel in the realm of Magical Realism and not use it as an excuse to not have to tell a coherent story.

"There are people who can do it. If you're going to do something like that you have to have tremendous discipline so that you can let yourself go. But if you don't have the discipline you just sort of fly all over the place like a pinball gone mad then all it is going to be is a bunch of pinballs gone mad. At that point the integrity of the work is very tricky. If you have various areas where magic applies it can apply only in those areas when you are doing magic realism. It applies here and here and here but it can't break these laws of physics. If it does then you just shot yourself in the foot again.

"Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth was very disciplined. Over here, this is the reality, everybody knows it. Then against that you've got this juxtaposition with the little girl and all the things they've brought into it. But it's brought into it in her perceptions which are based on reality, her reality. That's a very tricky thing to maintain. Although I think it is a little easier to maintain visually. When you are writing it's like trying to do a Salvatore Dali painting on the page and have the same effect. To write a droopy clock doesn't begin to convey what the "Persistence of Memory" does when you see it."

- - -

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.