Recently I was asked to guest-post on Cie Adams’s blog, so I wrote up an old favorite story of mine about how Robert Bloch and I creeped out a waitress. What I was really talking about was how sometimes an editor is lucky enough to work with a writer whose work she or he has loved for a long time. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is one of those writers for me, and I’ve realized that this makes part of my job as Quinn’s editor kind of tricky.
I know the Saint-Germain books fairly well; I’ve read about twenty of them and edited the last half-dozen or so. Which is kind of breathtaking when you think about it — this is a series where twenty volumes isn’t yet the whole of the thing and the author’s not done writing.
How on earth does a new reader approach that mass of wordage?
Luckily, Quinn makes it pretty easy to jump on board. The great advantage to writing about an immortal hero is that Quinn doesn’t have to tell Saint-Germain’s story chronologically. She writes whatever bit interests her most at the time, positioning it properly within the overall history she’s established for her hero. (I’ve gotten a few glimpses of her Saint-Germain timeline over the years, and it is very impressive.) Other than the Count and his faithful manservant, Roger, there are almost no continuing characters in the novels, so each book has its own individual, and fascinating, cast.
Some people like to read in order of publication (starting with Hotel Transylvania) because they want to see Quinn’s development as a writer and because to them, publication order trumps all (this is my personal position on Narnia; I always start people with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and tell them to go in publication order). Some people like to read about a particular location. For instance, there are currently 4 novels set in Rome; the “earliest” is set during the reign of Nero and the “latest” in the late 1600s CE, so Quinn covers a lot of ground, historically speaking, in that single city.
Some people like to read according to the cycle’s internal chronology, beginning with Blood Games, the first of the Rome books. Other chronological readers say that Out of the House of Life (set in Egypt, primarily in the 1820s) is the first book because it contains a lot of flashbacks to Saint-Germain’s life in ancient Egypt. The chronological approach fails for me personally because there’s no telling when the next book will be set; it might well be earlier than the book someone is currently reading. For instance, the 6 most recent books have been set during the Reformation, in the 200s CE, in the early 1800s CE, in the early 1700s CE, in the 400s CE, and during the French Revolution.
Geography is another way to approach the Saint-Germain books. You can start in Paris or Rome and read your way through Europe; you can hop-scotch from continent to continent. Or you can read by culture — interested in Tsarist Russia, the Mongols, the Huns, the Inca?
Whenever people ask me where to start or which book I like the best, I generally answer, “the latest one,” and it’s always true. I’m one of those people who likes to learn something from fiction, and Quinn’s books have taught me a lot about times and places not covered in my history classes. But I’m particularly fond of the newest book, Commedia della Morte. The French Revolution is fascinating, and the novel talks about the Revolution outside of Paris, which was something I knew very little about. The book also focuses on theater, specifically commedia dell’arte . . . and I’ve been a theater kid since — well, since I was a kid. So I really liked the backstage parts of Commedia della Morte. And the love story parts. And the parts that made me want to grab certain characters by the shoulders and say, “You idiot! Don’t do that!”
When it comes to the Count Saint-Germain, you can’t go wrong. Pick one and dive in. Anywhere. Any time.
Melissa Singer is an editor at Tor Books.