From Soraya: Interview with Chelsea Quinn Yarbo

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro at Continuum Australian science fiction convention. Photo courtesy of Catriona Sparks.

Today I have another interview from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.

Soraya has so many incredible interviews that I’ve created a category for her work. You can find all of Soraya’s interviews here.

Today, she shares her interview with Chelsea Quinn Yarbo, an American writer known for her series of historical horror novels about the vampire Count Saint-Germain. You may find Chelsea Quinn Yarbo on Amazon here. 

Soraya—In the year 2003 you were named a great teacher of terror. What was that like  for you?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—A Grand Master award is given for a body of work, not a single title, just as Life Achievement awards are. It’s always flattering to receive that kind of recognition. The words on the page are the same as they were before the award was given; it is the work that counts, awards or not.

Soraya—You have very good average of books a year. How many hours do you dedicate daily to write? Did writing become an addiction for you?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—My average is three books a year, and one or two shorter works. I’m lucky not to need to do many drafts of my work as many others do, and that allows me to produce enough work most years to keep a roof over my head. I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old.

Soraya—You’ve touched virtually all genres from science fiction, westerns, historical, horror… do you think a writer should know enough to write in any genre?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—The way I keep my stories fresh is to work in many genres. I find that changing genres frequently is similar to crop rotation, in that I let my skills in one genre lie fallow, so that I can tell more stories over a year, or a decade, for that matter.

Soraya—You created a sexy, erotic vampire far from the traditional Monster. Why did you think it necessary to make a change to the vampiric tradition?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—Negative vampires have been a mainstay of vampire stories since before there was literature: so far as we can tell, vampire stories have been around for 35,000 years. After I read “Dracula”, I wondered if it would be to possible to push the vampire to the positive and still have a recognizable vampire — apparently it is.

Soraya—Saint-Germain is a vampire in a novel of terror where the evil is not the Vampire, they are certain human. You wanted to humanize the vampire or give any message about the evil?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—It seems to me that anything anything even a very greedy vampire couldn’t come close to what human beings could do to themselves. Dracula versus Jenghiz Khan, Jenghiz Khan wins every time for atrocities. I call the Saint-Germain books historical horror novels not because vampires are horrifying, but because history is.

Soraya—How long do you research? Can there be too much research?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—Writing any kind of historical novel — or any other kind of genre for that matter — requires research. Luckily, I like research, and I have a private research library that I can visit frequently for all kinds of information. For a novelist, the hard thing to find out about people in history is not what they did — we know what they did — it is what they thought they were doing. Once you can get that about an historical period, you will be ready to write about it.

Soraya—In 1985 John McTiernan directed the film “Nomads.” Then you adapted movie to a novel. What did it take to do so?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—I’ve done three novelizations, one of which was never published. When a writer is contracted to do a novelization, you get the screenplay, and about a month to turn it into a novel, which makes it a wonderful exercise in craft. Often there are problems in the screenplay that do not work well in prose, such as explosions, since you cannot see them on the page and are reduced to the limitations of words instead of special effects. Generally speaking, it is a way to get paid quickly, and for working writers, that is an unusual benefit.

Soraya—In addition to writing, you compose music. What do you usually listen to while you write?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—Yes, I often listen to music while I write — usually classical music and grand opera (not Wagner). It helps me pace myself.

Soraya—From your sci-fi novel, “Jacinthes,” Jeanne Bliss is a woman whose ambition took her to unhappiness. Is that the message that you wanted to tell, that all human beings are corrupt?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—“Hyacinths” was intended in part to show what kind of poor decisions get made after prolonged frustration. Jehanne is a capable woman who has not received the advancement she deserves, and so she becomes reckless, and that emerges to destroy her. She is not evil, but what she does to others is wrong.

Soraya—They say that you have one of the most complete personal libraries. Can you please tell me about it?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—I do have an extensive library, as I’ve mentioned. I’ve spent over forty years assembling it, and I’m still adding to it. Much as I like ebooks, I like to makes notes and to underline in my books, and although there are ways to do it in ebooks, it hasn’t the same impact that it does on paper.

Soraya—Having such a library is fantastic. What do you think about the e-book?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—I’m all for ebooks. Hidden-Knowledge brought out my first one in 1999. And finally a great many of my out-of-print books, some of them out-of-print for decades. On the other hand, it is difficult to police the Internet for pirated material, and that is a serious concern to me. I’ve been saying for twenty years that the electronic back-list is going to save mid-list writers, like me.

Soraya—As a lover of the occult it is inevitable to wonder: do you believe in beyond?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—Yes, I’ve been doing occult studies since I was about nine, It’s a matter of personally cosmology: many people in this culture see the world as essentially rational with occasional bits of irrationality. I see the world as essentially irrational with a thin veneer of rationality, which is more in line with occultism than rationality. But I also think that the occult is a branch of physics that we have not yet described, and in that, I am in accord with Isaac Newton, who was as much an occultist as a physicist.

Soraya—I’d like to tell me about your way of writing. Tell me how it is a typical day when you are writing a book.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—Most days I get up around 7:30 am, feed my two cats, take my vitamins, have a cup of tea, and a little after 8:00 am, take a bath. I go to work around 9:00 am and work until noon, when I have lunch, and take an hour or so to watch the news on TV. I go back to work for about four hours, then stop around 4:00 pm (1600). Occasionally I go back to work around 8:00 pm (2000). Writing is my job, and I treat it that way.

Soraya—To which writers do you admire? What book do you have better remember?

Chelsea Quinn Yarbo—My favorite writer was and is William Shakespeare. All others are subject to change without notice.


Soraya Murillo Hernandez

From  Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.

Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith's work has been published in several print and online publications, including the “Horror Writers Association's Poetry Showcase” vols. 2-4, “Christmas Lites” vols. 1-6 and the “Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy” anthology. She has nearly 20 books of speculative fiction and poetry for adults, YAs and children. Her first collection of poetry, “In Favor of Pain,” was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award.
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