Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. A professional writer for more than forty years, Chelsea has sold over eighty books, more than seventy works of short fiction, and more than three dozen essays, introductions, and reviews. She also composes serious music.
Her first professional
writing - in 1961-1962 - was as a playwright for a now long-defunct
children's theater company. By the mid-60s she had switched to
writing stories and hasn't stopped yet.
After leaving college in 1963 and until she became a full-time writer in 1970, she worked as a demographic cartographer, and still often drafts maps for her books, and occasionally for the books of other writers.
She has a large reference library with books on a wide range of subjects, everything from food and fashion to weapons and trade routes to religion and law.
She is constantly
adding to it as part of her on-going fascination with history and
culture; she reads incessantly, searching for interesting people and
places that might provide fodder
In 1997 the Transylvanian Society of Dracula bestowed a literary knighthood on Yarbro, and in 2003 the World Horror Association presented her with a Grand Master award. In 2006 the International Horror Guild enrolled her among their Living Legends, the first woman to be so honored; the Horror Writers Association gave her a Life Achievement Award in 2009. In 2014 she won a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention.
A skeptical occultist for forty years, she has studied everything from alchemy to zoomancy, and in the late 1970s worked occasionally as a professional tarot card reader and palmist at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco.
She has two domestic accomplishments: she is a good cook and an experienced seamstress. The rest is catch-as-catch-can.
Divorced, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area - with two cats: the irrepressible Butterscotch and Crumpet, the Gang of Two. When not busy writing, she enjoys the symphony or opera.
Norm: Good day Chelsea
and thanks for participating in our interview.
you first consider yourself a writer? As a follow-up, what was
the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
CQY: I never thought about it; as soon as I knew there was such a job as writer, I knew it was what I would do. I wrote my first story when I was six --- a fantasy story, as I recall, about twelve pages long with illustrations --- and fortunately it has vanished.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write?
CQY: This probably sounds arrogant, but I didn't have to: I knew how to do it from the first. I read eclectically and compulsively all through my youth and into my adult years. Still do. However, I wrote a book on writing fiction based upon a series of seminars I gave at the Writers Connection in Cupertino twenty years ago. It's called Fine-Tuning Fiction and anyone interested can order it online.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to horror stories? As a follow-up, are there aesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to horror stories? Does it have a form?
CQY: My original publishing was in science fiction, and I still write it from time to time. My first award nomination was for a mystery story, but that was back in the 60s and early 70s, when the horror market was flatter than Westerns. My first novel sale was a mystery; my next two novels were science fiction. But to answer about horror stories: for most of my life folklore of all sorts has fascinated me, and it's a short hop from folklore to horror. Over the early years I read a lot of Victorian literature, and that meant a healthy helping of horror: Stoker, of course, LeFanu, Collins, Nesbitt, Shelley, Polidori, and the turn of the century guys like Saki, Blackwood, Kipling, James (Henry and M. R.), and Wilde. I like the kind of emotional punch those stories deliver, and so I began to shift in that direction.
Since there are only seven basic plots, I think you're asking about style and story line, and there probably is, but horror by its nature, being fear of the unknown, usually has a high level of ambiguity in its storylines, which makes the genre a very adaptable one, and that's convenient for a writer like me.
Norm: What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
CQY: I've made a lot of them over the years, and it's difficult to say which is the biggest. Just at present, I think that being drawn into a ghostwriting project that was supposed to be six months long and was still on-going after twenty-three months is high on the list.
Norm: What is the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
CQY: I don't know how to answer this, since I don't know what other pros give to beginning writers. And from doing seminars, I know that what is bad advice for one aspiring writer is good advice for another. Sorry.
Norm: What helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
CQY: When I write I usually have music on, opera if possible, symphonic music otherwise; it helps me pace my story-telling. When you say "reading back", do you mean a work in progress, or something completed some time ago? If it's a work in progress, that depends on how demanding the story is and what I am trying to achieve; for the most part, it's a factor of writing, and it comes with the job. If you mean reviewing years after publication, it depends on the book or story in question. Some books wear well for me, others don't.
Norm: What do you think of the new Internet market for writers and where do you see book publishing going?
CQY: The Internet is a very useful adjunct to print-and-paper publishing, but it is also very easy for beginning writers to post on-line without going through the editorial process, which, if you're writing for anyone but yourself is necessary. Too many of the books I've seen on the Internet need a good editor and a really good copyeditor. That said, I also think that the Internet is the savior of the backlist, and those Internet publishers --- particularly those coming out of traditional publishing --- are performing a wonderful service to mid-list writers as well as small press writers. Publishing is in such a state of flux that I don't think anyone knows where it will end up, but I do know that it isn't ever going back to the way it was before the Internet.
Norm: Your most recent work, Sustenance, will shortly be available. Could you tell our audience a little about the book?
CQY: I'll be glad to. Sustenance is Saint-Germain #27, and it takes place in Europe and America from 1949-1952; it deals with a number of American academics who have fled McCarthyism in the hope of finding employment in a less dangerous academic environment. Saint-Germain, being a publisher, befriends a group of these academics and attempts to help them get around the machinations of the newly established CIA.
Norm: Which fictional character in Sustenance would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
CQY: Although my characters are very real to me, we don't have that kind of relationship --- I may be deeply involved with them, but for them, I do not exist except as a means to tell their story. I do not function in their universe. Frankly, I think it would be a bit creepy to have a drink with a figment of my imagination.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
CQY: Try my WEBSITE or my official Facebook Page
Norm: What's next for Chelsea Quinn Yarbro?
CQY: I need to finish Saint-Germain #28, Orphans of Memory, and a couple of short stories, and then it will depend on how sales to publishers go, which is in the hands of my agent. I have a couple of portion-and-outlines out, and we'll see which one sells.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you like me to ask you?
CQY: I'd like you to ask about what is currently available in the way of e-books: there is a reprint of my first Western, The Law in Charity, out from Oakledge Press. Open Road has fifteen of my titles, eight of which are currently available, with more to come. This is includes the first three Saint-Germain novels. I have a high-fantasy trilogy up as well, The Vildecaz Talents, and a young adult fantasy called Arcane Wisdome. Tor has a number of Saint-Germain books and the companion Madelaine and Olivia books available as e-books. And, of course, my first three e-book originals, Magnificat, Alas, Poor Yorick, and In the Face of Death. There are links to more information on ChelseaQuinnYarbro.net. Thanks for letting me mention all that.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all your future endeavors.