Award-winning novelist Suzy McKee Charnas has passed away. She was best known for her 1980 novel The Vampire Tapestry, and the Holdfast Chronicles, published between 1974-1999. She adapted the novel into a play Vampire Dreams, in 2001.

Suzy McKee Charnas was born, appropriately enough for a horror writer, soon before Halloween, October 22, 1939, in New York. City, NY, USA. She was educated in New York. she earned her bachelor’s degrees from Manhattan’s prestigious Bernard College in economics and history. She went on to New York University, earning a master’s degree in education. She taught in both the USA and Nigeria. she went to Nigeria as a Peace Corps volunteer. Mrs. Charnas and her husband lived in New Mexico.

In Her Own Words

In a 1999 interview with SFFWorld, she said,

Q: What’s your favourite genre as a writer?

A: “Anything with fantastic, supernatural elements — which includes much SF ,fantasy, and some mainstream and thriller literature as well. As a reader, I like to be shown something in fiction that I don’t ordinarily see in my daily world, something mysterious, grand, glorious, or terrifying; that’s also what I try to provide in my own work.
     As a reader, I favor mysteries and thrillers (but no serial killer stories — what a grotesque, artificial sub-genre this has come to be!People of the future will study it as a puzzling aberration of our time, Iam sure).”

Suzy McKee Charnas wrote Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Like many female SFFH writers, her work focused on the “sociological an anthropological —rather than exclusively the technological—dimensions of science fiction” Perhaps the best description of her work was her husband’s, who said she wrote “realistic stories about fantastic things.” As James Michener pointed out, the USA is a country where a writer can make a fortune, but not a living. Therefore, Mrs. Charnas was lucky to have a lawyer as a husband to support her; despite her many awards (Nebula, Hugo, James P. Tiptree) he was, like most American authors, unable to support herself financially as a writer.

Awards and Honors

Suzy McKee Charnas won several literary awards.

  • In 1980, she won the Nebula Award for Best Novella for “Unicorn Tapestry.”
  • Ten years later, in 1990, she won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “Boobs.”
  • In 1994, her YA novel The Kingdom of Kevin Malone won the Aslan Award for Best Children’s Literature.
  • Two stories she published in the Seventies, “Walk to the End of the World” and Motherlines” won the Retrospective James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1996.
  • Her story “The Conqueror’s Child” won the 1999 James Tiptree Award.
  • Her Holdfast Chronicles, a quartet of stories published between 1974 and 1999, won the 2003 Gaylactic Spectrum Hall of Fame Award.

Suzie McKee Charnas’s Advice for Aspiring Writers

“Speaking as an American, familiar only with the business of writing fiction here: if there’s anything else you like doing that you can get paid for, choose that instead. Everyone wants to write, but fewer and fewer people want to be readers as we grow more and more oriented toward quick visual messages fit for short attention spans in an increasingly frantic storm of images and sound-bytes. If you think you can be happy diving ever deepe rin search of an ever lower common denominator you may flourish in thisenvironment, but how you can keep from suffocating on sheer boredom down there I can’t imagine.

 So, you may ask, how have I survived then? Well, truth to tell, I haven’t. That is, I continue to write the highest quality fiction I can,but I have never made a living on it; my husband, a lawyer, has enthusiastically supported my writing habit for thirty years. If a time comes whenthere simply are not enough readers out there willing to buy high quality work to make publishing my books sufficiently profitable for the accountantswho have taken over publishing, I will no longer be able to find a publisher(this has already happened to a number of writers who have had to resort to false names and the pretense of being first-time authors to get new workinto print because the “track record” on work under their own names did not throw off vast quantities of profit).

Of course this situation is changing as print-on-demand and e-books come into being, making it possible for work appealing to fewer readers tosurvive by finding its audience one by one on-line, as it were. But for the time being the days of making your fortune as a writer of high-quality fiction are apparently as good as done, unless a book is struck by the weird lightning of Fate (eg The Name of the Roe or Lives of Monster Dogs).

You spend a huge amount of time and energy just trying to keep up with what you need to know to survive and protect your interests as the bascially despised and exploited originator of story (an attitude caught, like lice, from Hollywood where the Big Bucks are). A story-maker in this environment is just like a farmer or fisherman, a producer of the raw material, on the repackaging and resale of which various “developers” (filmmakers, chain bookstores, and mega-corporations that have bought up publishing) make huge profits for themselves, while keeping the producer poor.

(Incidentally, I do not include editors among the writers’ enemies; they are in the unenviable position of plantation overseers who are them-selves paid slave wages. They enter the business because they love books but are not themselves writers — well, you would have to do the work outof love, or you couldn’t accept those entry-level salaries! — and then find themselves trying to work for books while actually serving the purposes of corporate boards who couldn’t care less.)

In practical terms: if you get something published, IMMEDIATELY join the nearest and best professional writers’ organization that you can find. This will be your source of warnings against various predators (from the IRS to your publisher to, yes, your agent) and of methods of self-defense.

And get plenty of exercise and exposure to the other arts; you needto keep the body vigorous and the soul nourished by the visions of others.”

A cause of death has not been released yet, but given that Mrs. Charnas was 83, natural causes seem likely. Our condolences to her husband, sister, friends, and former students.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.