Monday, December 14, 2009

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro talks about her Saint Germain Series

CONGRATS TO LUCKY WINNER - MARIE!

Burning Shadows: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain (St. Germain)Readers, please join me welcoming Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, author of the popular Saint Germain series who's guest blogging here today!

If you have not read the series, Quinn Yarbro is well-known for her impeccable historical research and her Saint-Germain books are among her most popular works. This past summer, Quinn was a co-recipient of the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association. She was also the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild (2006) and she is one of two women to be named a Grand Master of the World Horror Convention (2003). Her latest book is Burning Shadows. More information can be found on http://www.chelseaquinnyarbro.net.

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Saint Germain and a Star’s Entrance 

Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosIn any long-running series about a single character, it is important to give that character a star’s entrance in every book — that is, a way of introducing the character to the reader in such a way as to focus the book on that character. Almost all novels need some kind of distinction for the main character the first time he or she shows up on the page, but in long-running series, this becomes increasingly significant, for those introductions tend to shape the series, not only in tone, but in the understanding of the continuity of the books of the series. I’m hyper-sensitive to star’s entrances, both in my work and the work of others, and I often spend more time working out those first sights of Saint-Germain than I do in putting together the letters that frame the chapter that introduces him.

Sometimes it has been easy to do the star’s entrance, other times it has been a bit of a struggle, and since all Saint-Germain novels begin with letters that set the time and place of the story — necessary with a four thousand year old character — placing Saint-Germain in the context of the story is essential. One of the most difficult star’s entrances in terms of writing, was in Hotel Transylvania, not only because it was the first first look at the character, he, as a significant deviation from other literary vampires at the time, needed to be established as a Good Guy before he was revealed as a vampire. His meeting with the alchemists brought him on stage so that his strengths and skills were displayed without having to account for certain aspects of his behavior. In many ways he has a second entrance in the book, that being at the midnight supper with Lucienne Cressy.

In The Palace, Saint-Germain’s star’s entrance was truly easy. It was simply a matter of letting the builders talk; when Saint-Germain walked in on them, the focus was so automatic and complete that the chapter almost wrote itself. It remains among my favorite Saint-Germain entrances. Blood Games was a dicier star’s entrance.  "Stop that" is a strong first line, and it shifted the center of the action to Saint-Germain in a way that promised a load of trouble later on, always good in a star’s entrance. In Path Of The Eclipse, Saint-Germain doesn’t appear until the second chapter, and that made for a little trickier set-up, but since T’en Chi-Yu’s predicament was what put Saint-Germain into the story line, his quiet entrance after her largely fruitless appeal to the powers-that-be gave a good chance to reveal why he might accept the post of her executive officer at her remote fortress at a time that foreigners were being viewed with suspicion in Lo-Yang. Tempting Fate had one of the most complex star’s entrances in the series; there he was in prison, and he made the guards uncomfortable. His calm in the face of tremendous threat truly planted his character in the readers’ minds, and helped, I hope, to increase sympathy for the eventual tragedy later on.

Returning to the series after a nine-year absence, and the three Olivia books, gave me another series of challenges. Generally speaking, I was fairly pleased with the star’s entrance in Darker Jewels: the dialogue between Saint-Germain and Istvan Bathory set up the story effectively. But with the central conflict being some distance away, both in pages and mileage, it was difficult to get the tone right. Better in the Dark was another passive star’s entrance, and unlike almost all the rest of the Saint-Germain stories, it established his vampirism at the git-go. When I wrote it, I knew it was risky, but since it was important to the story that he be more bound to Ranegonde from the beginning than she was to him . . . Mansions of Darkness was a special case, because I started the book on what eventually became Chapter 4 of Part I. By the time I cycled back to Don Ezequias, I had done three star’s entrance set-ups, and had to restructure all but the first. Since I rarely rewrite, this was a particularly awkward start to that book for me.

Writ in Blood was another book that set itself up fairly automatically. That doesn’t mean easily, but since the story was firmly rooted in historically recent events, I had little wiggle-room for providing the kind of star’s entrance that was possible in most of the others, where less specificity is available. Blood Roses, which had a double-role for Saint-Germain to play, required two star’s entrances, one as the exiled aristocrat, one as the troubadour, and they needed to be different, one from the other, an engaging challenge that took planning, but seemed to work reasonably well.

Communion Blood, on the other hand, wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. Somehow the rhythm was wrong, and it still perplexes me, but I couldn’t come up with a better set-up for the story, so there it is. In Come Twilight, there are four star’s entrances, one for each section of the book. In retrospect, I think Parts III and IV have the more successful of the lot; they get the movement of that part of the story going lucidly while at the same time allowing the reader to shift gears to another century.

In all the Saint-Germain stories set in generally unfamiliar periods of history, and/or locales that may be unknown to most readers, the star’s entrance also needs to be a grounding in the place, period, and problems that will command Saint-Germain’s attention. That was essential in the star’s entrance in A Feast in Exile, which was one of the most demanding of star’s entrances in the series, at least from my point of view. Night Blooming had a similar problem in that, while most Americans have some idea who Charlemagne was, most of what they know is wrong, so in setting up Saint-Germain’s star’s entrance it was important to establish that the story was about the German warlord, Karl-lo-Magne, who never was the first Holy Roman Emperor — Otto the Great was — was not the figure of legend, but the historical man, who, illiterate though he was himself, valued written records, thus leaving accounts of his long reign which made my setting up the star’s entrance easier than it would have been without all those contemporaneous accounts.

Midnight Harvest has one of my favorite star’s entrances in the whole series — thus far. His tryst with Inez was for me a perfect set-up for the story, and an engaging (re)introduction to Saint-Germain; it planted the coming Spanish civil war without being obvious about it, and while revealing Saint-Germain’s concerns, it showed that they did not appear to be immediately dangerous, only inconvenient. Dark of the Sun, on the other hand, was a demanding undertaking that required a star’s entrance that didn’t include any portion of the catastrophe that dominated the story because, of course, at the beginning of the book the catastrophe hadn’t happened yet.  

States of Grace was another star’s entrance that like The Palace, almost wrote itself. The Reformation is not a period of history I’m entirely comfortable with, and in the case of that book, for me at least, that edginess made Saint-Germain’s star’s entrance effective, emphasizing as it did, the ambiguity of his position in Venice, from the page’s behavior to the way in which Saint-Germain reacts to it. Roman Dusk, on the other hand, had a star’s entrance that was intended to lull the reader into a false sense of security, showing Saint-Germain very much at ease in a Roma that had changed a lot since Blood Games.

Saint-Germain had a second-Chapter entrance in Borne in Blood, although, in a very real sense, he has an implied entrance in the first letter of the book, the one from Hero’s egregious father-in-law. By the time we actually saw Saint-Germain, the story had pretty well established that his respite at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was about to come to an end. By contrast, A Dangerous Climate has a strong star’s entrance as Saint-Germain comes to after having been mugged out in the marshes of the new city of Saint Petersburg. That’s another one that pleased me for a variety of reasons including how well it hooked into the title. By the way, I don’t know who mugged him, but I think the Finnish Guards might have been right, and it was one of the gangs that operated in and around Saint Petersburg at the time.

Which brings us to Burning Shadows : there is a kind of double stars’ entrance in this book because it opens with a discussion between Saint-Germain and Olivia about the amount of danger posed by the Huns. I had a lot of fun writing it; only the readers know if I got it right.
I haven't read this series, but boy, now I sure want to! Many thanks to the author for stopping by with such a comprehensive and compelling post.

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10 comments :

  1. OMG! I'm sure Ms. Yarbro wouldn't appreciate me mentioning it, but I've been a fan of hers for decades! I especially love her short stories, but anything she's written is guaranteed to keep the reader totally enthralled. I'd love to read this one!

    lahlstedt (at) gmail (dot) com

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  2. I subscribe by email!

    lahlstedt (at) gmail (dot) com

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  3. I'm a follower!

    lahlstedt (at) gmail (dot) com

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  4. I love historical fiction and I need a book to hide out with while my four boys are home for the two weeks of winter break! Thanks for the giveaway.

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

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  5. Thanks to Saint-Germain's readers, long-time and new ones. And thanks to a Book Blogger's Diary for posting this. If you have questions about the series, check out my website or contact me at
    quinn@ChelseaQuinnYarbro.net

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  6. It has been a while since I have picked up a Saint-Germain book, but I remember enjoying them -- I obviously need to get back to reading them once more. I would love to win this one!

    marielay@gmail.com

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  7. I am a subscriber by email.

    marielay@gmail.com

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  8. I am a follower.

    marielay@gmail.com

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  9. RT http://twitter.com/maynekitty/status/7749378310

    subscribe in google reader
    follow u on twitter

    I am a keen follower of all authors who are serious about their research when writing historical fiction.

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  10. Thanks for stopping by. The winner has been notified.

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