In a blog tour celebration of the launch of the 23rd Saint-Germain novel Burning Shadows (released December 8), Chelsea has prepared a special post about the challenges of researching historical horror for SciFiGuy.ca. You can view the other stops on her tour near the end of the post. Chelsea is travelling but has said she will drop by to answer questions as time permits over the next few days, so please leave a comment.
Check at the end of the post for details on how you can win a copy of Burning Shadows.
Researching Historical Horror
If I don’t know a period, I get out The Timetables of History so I have some idea to know where to start, and I begin to look for information sources. Incidentally, I prefer books to the Internet since with books, I have a pretty good idea whose views I’m reading and can allow for any possible agenda; not so with the Internet. This groundwork usually takes me to period-contemporary sources. This is why I look as much as possible for period information from the people who actually lived it. Diaries, letters, broadsheets, graffiti, and gossip are all part of figuring out how various periods of history saw themselves, and from that, recreating the world can be not only convincing, it can be fun.
There is a usual list of questions that need to be answered: what did they eat? Where did they get their food? Where did they live? How did they live.? What were the laws like? Who enforced them? What aspects of life were proscribed? Why? What was considered to be good conduct? What was thought to be bad, or criminal? What did they wear for special occasions? What was the standard of beauty and how was it achieved? What did they wear when they were schlepping around the house? How did they travel? How long did it take to go places? What did it cost? Who were the people in charge? How did they get there? How did they maintain their positions? When did they bathe, and where? How stratified was society? Who was in what stratum? What was the local religion? How powerful were the religious leaders? Who was in the military? How powerful were they? Who controlled the money? How did they keep that power? Who was educated and what did that education consist of? What value did education have? What was the role of women in the society? What was their status? What was the role of children? What was the society’s attitudes toward sex? (There is a good reference on that called The History of Sex, that along with its companion volume, The History of Food, have proven invaluable over the years) What was the position of foreigners in the society? How was that position enforced? And so on.
For the Saint-Germain series, as well as for other books I’ve done in historical settings, I often use the grad student approach. To begin with, I ground myself in a basic knowledge of the period so I can ask intelligent questions. Then I look around for a grad student or two who is studying the period, — not as hard to do here in Berkeley as it is in some other parts of the country — and I ask him or her to lunch and I pick his or her brain over the food. The advantage here is that we can actually discuss the period, and I can get more references for any specific details I may need. Or, if such information isn’t available, I can get some educated speculation on what might have happened during the events in question. When there is a lot of disagreement about a period, I try to find two graduate students, and let them argue about the period and personalities while I take notes.
The other thing I look for is people with their own references on the subjects I need to study. I usually buy such contributors dinner when I’ve finished working on my notes, and thank them for their help as well as ask a few questions on their take on the material, since their familiarity with it far exceeds mine.
Burning Shadows, which is about Nicoris; there are many mentions of her in previous books, and I reviewed them as I put the book together, including that as integral to the more usual research — a problem only writers of fiction are likely to encounter. For those of you who don’t read introductions, let me encourage you to reconsider, at least for the Saint-Germain books, since the intros are intended to give a kind of sketch of the period, and to provide some basic information.
Many years ago I came across the aphorism: to be a writer of fiction is to condemn yourself to a lifetime of homework. It’s true. Luckily, I like homework.
Burning Shadows: A Novel of the Count Saint-GermainIn Burning Shadows, Yarbro looks at the legendary Huns from the perspective of the people who faced the brunt of their attacks. The vampire Saint-Germain seeks sanctuary at an isolated monastery, unwilling to abandon the hundreds of terrified villagers he has led in flight from the Huns. A few Roman soldiers and some village Watchmen are the monastery’s defense force—and they are undermined by the religious fervor of some of the monks, who argue that since everyone’s fate is in God’s hands, it is foolish to defend themselves. In the hothouse atmosphere of the high-walled monastery, Saint-Germain must take special care when slaking his vampire thirst, for discovery of his True Nature will result in his True Death. The novel is set in what is now known as Hungary and Romania during the early years of Hunnic aggression (430s).
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
(Saint-Germain Chronicles #23, novel #21)
Burning Shadows Blog Tour Stops:
- December 8th: Patricias Vampire Notes
- December 9th: Lesa's Book Critiques
- December 10th: Scifiguy.ca
- December 11th: Mondo Vampire
- December 14th: VampChix
- December 14th: A Book Bloggers Diary
- December 15th: Innsmouth Free Press
- December 16th: Vampire Wire
- December 17th: Vampirephile
- December 17th: Vampire Books
I have two (2) copies of Burning Shadows to giveaway courtesy of Tor books.
- To enter leave a comment for Chelsea Quinn Yarbro or tell us what historical period and place you would like to read about in a vampire novel.
- Open to residents of US and Canada.
- Leave a way to notify you if you should win.
- Blog, tweet, post on Facebook or other social network sites for an extra entry. Leave a comment here to let me know.
- Giveaway open until Midnight, December 21 EST.