Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Author - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

My first exposure to the writing of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was through her very first Saint-Germain vampire novel Hotel Transylvania (1978). I even have a signed first edition (yea me). The combination of the supernatural and the rich historical setting was enthralling. I have been a dedicated reader ever since. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, but have not not read the adventures of Le Comte de Saint-Germain, you owe it to yourself to give the series a try. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has been writing the series for 30 years encompassing 23 books spanning historical settings from  68 BC through to the 20th century and countries all over the world. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a true pioneer of modern supernatural fiction.

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 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

Doing historical research for a novel isn’t the same as doing research for a term paper or even a graduate thesis. When putting together a novel in historical settings, the writer has to come at the subject from a very different angle. In a very real sense, preparing an historical setting is a lot like science fiction and fantasy world-building: your characters are going to have to live in it. Over the years I’ve built up a pretty good basic historical research library which allows me to gather the general information. I have two walls full of books in my living room and two wallsful in my bedroom, and usually I can find something that will get me off on the right track.

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.

I do as much as I can to immerse myself in the information, and when I’ve developed a feel for the period and the people, I work on the characters, starting with any historical figures I may want to use in the story, and work from there. The fictional characters tend to emerge during my studies of the period, once I have a take on it. A few come along before their stories have been written, which can be tricky when it comes time to write about them, since I have to go back through the books and remind myself what has already been said about them. This was true in 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-Germain
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
(Saint-Germain Chronicles #23, novel #21)
In 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).

Burning Shadows Blog Tour Stops:


    I have two (2) copies of Burning Shadows to giveaway courtesy of Tor books.
    1. 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.
    2. Open to residents of US and Canada.
    3. Leave a way to notify you if you should win.
    4. Blog, tweet, post on Facebook or other social network sites for an extra entry. Leave a comment here to let me know.
    5. Giveaway open until Midnight, December 21 EST.


    1. Hi Doug & Chelsea :)
      Thank you for the excellent post Chelsea & thanks to Doug for having the talented Chelsea Quinn Yarbo here.
      I was wondering how Chelsea keeps the series fresh after 23 novels. I've read series which should have ended but regretfully kept publishing (NOT YOURS).
      Also - Will Chelsea join Twitter?
      I posted about this great post by Chelsea on my site & about the giveaway as well. (for my 5am EST Dec 10 post)
      Happy Holidays

    2. Thank you for your insightful blog, Chelsea. I look forward to reading your books. I'm a late comer to the Saint-Germain books. I love Victorian England and Jack the Ripper, so something combining those with vamps would really be cool for me!

    3. I like the Romantic & Edwardian Era
      in Europe.

    4. I love Chelsea's books. The first one I read was Blood Games over 20 years ago!

      I would like to see a vampire during biblical times.

      Tracey D
      booklover0226 AT gmail DOT com

    5. I am so excited that Chelsea has a new book coming out and is doing this blog tour! St. Germain was my first fictional vampire and remains my favorite! And as a history grad student, I've always been impressed with the amount of research Chelsea does for this series--she really brings whichever era she's writing about to life!
      Anyway, to answer your question, I'd love to see St. Germain in Hellenistic Egypt. It has always struck me as such a cosmopolitan time and place. Ancient Persia would also be fun to read.


      Please enter me in the giveaway.

      I would like to read a vampire novel set in the medieval time period with swords and chivalry lol...

    7. As a lover of historical fiction (and one-time writer, as my own book was set during WWII), this was a really great post for me to read. I thank Ms. Yarbro for sharing her tips and techniques -- the one about lunch with a grad student is especially helpful!

      Please don't enter me in the contest as I've already done so over at Patricia's vampire notes.

    8. Yes! More St. Germain! Have loved the series since I was hooked on it by a friend. She even helped me backtrack and find some of the older books. Always a fun historical ride!

      And thank you for the awesomely insightful post!

      Very much looking forward to the new book. Just RT'd the Torbooks posting about the blog. Yay!

    9. Throwing my ticket in the hat!

      pj [dot] templin [at] gmail [dot] com usually finds me. :)

    10. I think it would be interesting to see vampires in the wild west and that may be because I'm living in Texas now. ;)

    11. Thank you both for the blogtour post -- I've been following Ms. Yarbro's stops and can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the new book. I'm a newbie to the series, so I still have a few to read before I could really comment on what else I'd like to see, but I would note that I quite enjoyed the current era short stories -- it was interesting to see how much and how little the years had affected both St. Germain and Roger...
      Thanks again!
      Christene (shayla at pulselabs dot com)

    12. I've been reading Ms. Yarbo's books since my early teens, starting with Hotel Transylvania. My mom was with the California Historical Society and one of her friends was one of Ms. Yarbo's grad students for an early book, which was wildly exciting for me as I hadn't realized ordinary people could be so useful to exalted souls like writers. :)

    13. Burning Shadows definitely has my attention. Can't wait to read it!

      I'd love to read about New Orleans and Louisiana in general during the beginning of the French reign and when it really came into its own.

      angel28140 (AT) yahoo (DOT) com


      Please enter me in the giveaway.

      I would like to see a vampire novel set in medieval times.

    15. A vampire in the 1960's, say Summer of Love, would be very intriguing.

      I would dearly love to be entered into this contest

      VWinship at aol dot com

    16. Vampires during the founding of America would be an interesting read.


    17. I enjoy reading about things in the last century.

    18. I live to read about the time of witch hunts.

    19. Please count me in. I just love the 1950's. I would love to see a Vamp novel set in that time period. Fangs and poodle skirts anyone??

      lizzi0915 at aol dot com

    20. Hey SciFiGuy/Doug, Thank you very much for the Chelsea Quinn Yarbro blog post mention!

      ~ Soni

    21. You are very welcome Soni! It was a fun blog tour.

    22. You emailed me about the Yarbro book contest and I just wanted to make sure my reply got through -- I replied but my email's been a bit flaky (and, oh, I'd hate to miss out because an email didn't go through!). Might you email back and just let me know whether you received my reply ( ?... Again, thank you -- I'm quite excited!

    23. Everything is taken care of SheepsPyjamas. Thanks!


    For bloggers comments are like water to a man (or woman) wandering in the desert. A precious commodity. I love to hear from everyone and do my best to respond to every post.

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