Monday, March 11, 2013

Meeting Marion. Part 1

The next Darkover book, The Children of Kings, was released on Tuesday, March 5, from DAW Books. Here and in the following weeks, I'll also talk about how I met Marion Zimmer Bradley, how we came to work together, and a few thoughts on "playing in her sandbox."

I frequently am asked how I came to work with Marion and to continue her Darkover series after her death. Senior author-junior author dual-bylines are not unusual these days, but each partnership has its own story. In this case, the answer centers around our long-established professional relationship. That in itself would be insufficient to produce a smooth collaboration, but it was how she knew my natural literary voice would match hers and why she trusted my understanding and love for her special world. In addition, I had respectable publication credentials in my own right, both novels and short fiction, and was not using the collaboration to establish my career; I was already a working professional writer.

To begin with, I met Marion by writing her a letter. This was back in 1980 and I had no idea fandom existed, but I felt so moved by her work that I wanted to let her know. Having been on the receiving end of such letters, I now appreciate what a thrill they are for an author. We hurl our creations into the void, send our literary children forth without any clue as to where they will end up; to learn that we have touched the hearts of our readers or helped them through a difficult time is wonderful beyond words.

Marion wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. At the time, she was on the Grievance Committee of SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America, as it was then) and used the official stationery. I now appreciate the prudence of that step, knowing the volume of fan mail she received over the years and her sad experiences of theft and exploitation by people she reached out to. We began a cautious correspondence, although I must confess to a certain giddiness that my favorite author had taken the care to write to me.

After several rounds of letters, Marion's secretary wrote that she was organizing a Fantasy Worlds Festival convention and how would I like to work security? I had a number of years' study in Chinese martial arts and had written to Marion about it. With glee, my kung fu partner and I agreed. So the first convention I attended was as part of the security team. The weekend also gave Marion and me the occasion to greet one another face to face, and that was the beginning of a personal relationship and many visits in each other's homes. Today, I think writers are more cautious--with good reason--but Marion was an unusually welcoming person and these were more trusting times.
Marion had read a little of my Darkover fiction for the fanzine she edited for Friends of Darkover, so when she began work on the first SWORD & SORCERESS, she invited me to send her a story for consideration. She bought that story and many others over the years, although she occasionally sent back stories with requests for revision. In preparing this blog, I went back and re-read some of her letters, wincing at the mistakes I had made and impressed with her kindness and patience in explaining "in words of one syllable," to use my favorite phrase, where I had gone wrong.

Marion edited not only SWORD & SORCERESS and its "overflow" volume, A SENSE OF WONDER, and Darkover anthologies, but her own MZB'S FANTASY MAGAZINE. Although she did not accept every story I sent to her, not by a long shot, in general she wanted to read what I wanted to write. As my prose-craft improved, I became more skillful in discerning which story ideas matched which market and how to develop them in ways that expressed my own creative voice. I needed to stretch my literary wings, to write stories beyond the fairly narrow restrictions of "MZB fantasy." Although I continued to submit regularly to Marion, I also sold stories to FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, ASIMOV'S, REALMS OF FANTASY, and a host of other anthologies, including STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA'S PALACE, DAW 30TH ANNIVERSARY FANTASY ANTHOLOGY, and SISTERS OF THE NIGHT. (Most of these were under my former last name, Wheeler.)


  1. Thanks again for this piece! It's so inspiring to read how a creative life can begin to unfold.
    I was actually born in 1980, so I guess I have yet a long way to go... Unfortunately I got some negative comments on my writing and no positive ones at all when I was a teenager, even though, when I read it now, I still think it was quite good.
    It's only now, in my thirties, that I dare to venture to write again. I'm currently entering a few (non-paid) contests for autobiographical short stories and I'm working on a psychological novel tinged with fantasy and spiritual elements.

  2. Gigi, hooray for you for following your dream of writing. I get angry when I hear of young people (or young writers of any age) being discouraged, sometimes devastated, by harsh criticism. Each one of us has a creative gift, a voice, that is unique and precious. What we need is encouragement and nourishment through the tough job of learning the craft. Then our voices can sing and everyone is enriched by our vision.

  3. Deborah,

    I guess you meant SPELLS OF WONDER? Otherwise, there's a a MZB book that I need acutely to hunt down! :)

    Petri Peltonen

  4. Yes, SPELLS OF WONDER is S&S 5-1/2. With regard to constructive criticism, MZB used a handout called "the stranglers and the wranglers" in all her writing workshops. She didn't allow negative criticism during them.