Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Interview with mystery author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Mystery author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro joins me today and we’re chatting about the newest novel in her historical mystery series, Living Spectres.

A professional writer for 49 years, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has sold over ninety books, more than eighty 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 for stories.

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.

Photo: Attached. If used, please give photo credit to Charles L. Lucke

Welcome, Chelsea. Please tell us about your current release.
Living Spectres is the second novel in my Chesterton Holte series. It takes place in Philadelphia in early September, 1924; Poppea Millicent "Poppy" Thornton is still covering the crime desk at the Philadelphia Clarion, following up her investigation of the murders of Madison Moncrief and Percy Knott, which revealed a smuggling and Customs fraud ring with ties to Poppy's cousin Stacy, now on the run from the authorities. With help from Chesterton Holte, the ghost of a Canadian history teacher who spied for England in Europe during WWI, and was inadvertently responsible for Poppy's father's death, Poppy is able to pursue leads among the ghosts of the various victims of the case she is investigating. In addition to the smuggling and Customs fraud case, Poppy is called upon to help in locating GAD Pearse, the heir to the Pearse fortune, who is missing in eastern Europe. Holte uses his contacts in the dimension of ghosts to track GAD Pearse, and Poppy is able to assist Inspector J. B. Loring in finding him, as well as supplying information regarding her continuing case.

What inspired you to write this book?
I liked the characters, and it's what I do for a living.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I've turned in Chesterton Holte #3, Shining Phantoms, and am about to start work on #4, Chasing Ghosts, my 96th sold book. In addition, I've been working on some short fiction as well as the next Saint-Germain novel, Orphans of Memory.

photo credit to Charles L. Lucke
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first story when I was six, and knew then I wanted to be a writer. When I sold my first short story in 1968, I felt I had earned the name as a professional.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like?
I get up around 7:30, feed my two cats, Butterscotch and Crumpet, take a bath, and around 8 or 8:30 go into my office and devote an hour to email and similar sorts of business matters. Then I get down to my writing work. I stop for lunch between noon and 2pm, and go back to work around an hour after lunch. I stop work around 4 and watch the news and feed the cats. Toward the end of a book, I go back to work from about 8 until 10, and try to be in bed by 11. I do this 6 days a week except when I'm traveling or have house guests.

What do you do other than write?
These days I concentrate on my writing, but I do like attending the opera and symphony, and seeing an occasional movie. I read a lot, and often watch TV in the evening. And I spend time with my friends --- I have the best friends in the world.

Before arthritis caught up with me, I rode horseback regularly; I still compose music occasionally and recently I've attended occasional rehearsals of a couple plays I've written for a Holmesian group in Jackson, CA.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably my love of semi-colons.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. This is one of those "beware of you desires for surely you shall achieve them" situations.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I've been in the business for 49 years and I have not seen the print-and-paper publishing industry as difficult as it has been for almost a decade; so do not lose faith in your own work --- but realize that right now, it's hard for almost all writers, and this is not likely to change any time soon.

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Thank you for chatting with me today, Chelsea!

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