Interview with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: The Unknown Master - Part One


They are running out of accolades and awards to bestow upon Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. She is the recipient of the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement presented by the Horror Writers Association, the Fine Foundation Award for Literary Achievement, and the Knightly Order of the Brasov Citadel by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. She is one of two women authors ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention and she is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild.

She invented the heroic, humane vampire in the guise of Count Saint-Germain whom she based upon a real historic figure. The first book in the series was titled Hotel Transylvania (which was recently nominated by the HWA as one of the top five vampire books of the century) and she has just released the twenty-fifth book in the series Commedia Della Morte. Yet her name eludes even some of the most staunch vampire horror readers unlike Anne Rice or Charlaine Harris. The reason may be that she has never had a film or television series made from her extensively researched historical horror series. But still there is no real end in sight for her writing.

"I have an end in sight when they quit buying books," she said at an exclusive interview where she spoke with me for "I'm almost halfway through number twenty-six. I originally only planned to do the first five - Hotel Transylvania through Tempting Fate. I planned to do all five. When I first sold Hotel Transylvania I said ,"And there will be four more." The publisher said "Well, if the first one sells…" and I said, "No. there are going to be four more." I had a feeling about them even though it had been woefully mishandled because they had no idea what they had. They hadn't a clue. But much to their surprise it found an audience. So by the time my editor there left, and she was wonderful, they gave me to the romance editor."

This last point is reflected in the original cover design of the book which prominently features a woman's face surrounded by men and castles and contains the subtitle A Novel of Forbidden Love.

"So when I saw that this was going to be a lot more difficult because she wanted a romantic ending. I kept going, No, this is not a romantic series it's a historical series. Sometimes history is nice but most of the time it's a bitch. So that's why there was a long hiatus. I mean yes there was a collection of the stories but I think it was like eight or nine years before I did another one."

Even then it was not easy for her and she bounced around between various publishers.

"What originally happened was that NAL bought Hotel Transylvania and they sold back rights to St. Martins. So NAL and St. Martins were the first five books. Then the short story collection was at Simon & Schuster. That was a long and very peculiar adventure too as so much of publishing is. Then Tor came to me and they reprinted Ariosto (an alternate world fantasy novel) which has as much in common with the Saint Germaine series as donkeys and fish.  But they are both in history. Apparently they started looking around at how durable these things were because Hotel Transylvania was in print from the book club for over ten years. There are some 1st edition hardback copies but they are hard to find. They are pricey.

"At that time there was just me and Les Daniels who got really mad at me for doing more research than he did. I felt that if that bothers you, do your own research. There's a cure for this and it's not my fault. The idea is that you could live in history and find your horror there, not in the object of horror but in what human beings do to one another. That was what I was doing from the get-go. Compare Genghis Kahn to a group of really bloodthirsty vampires, who caused more trouble? No contest."

If you read the Count Saint-Germain series in the order they were published you will notice that Ms. Yarbro jumps all over different eras in history, placing her vampire here and there with each tome. But there does seem to be a method to the madness. It is just personal to the author is all.

"The real man, because it is based on a real man who made a lot of claims most of which I think he was lying through his teeth about, he was an alchemist. But he made a lot of claims about being in particular places during important points in history. So I made a list of what those were, the actual claims. You know he said he was at such and such a place. So I'll take him at his word. But I think he was fibbing. 

"I used that as my basis for where I placed him to and then I've been filling in. If I find something that really interests me – if I find a place I think he can function, because there are places he can't. There is no place in history for a very mysterious outsider with a lot of money who doesn't seem to be allied to anybody in certain circumstances. He can't go to medieval Japan and pretend to be Japanese. That's the only way you could get into medieval Japan. They wouldn't like him very much. There are other parts of the world where you would have similar kinds of problems. 

"For the first time I'm doing a book set in Africa. But this is at the height of the pilgrimage craze. so the sight of Europeans in Eastern Africa was not unusual. So you can be European and not necessarily stand out." 

In Part Two we will discuss rights issues and fandom. 

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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.