How did you get to write Darkover novels? How did you meet Marion Zimmer Bradley?
I am frequently asked how I came to work with Marion Zimmer Bradley 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.
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. Marion wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. We began a correspondence, and I must confess to a certain giddiness that my favorite author had taken the care to write to me.
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.
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. Although I continued to submit regularly to Marion, I also sold two novels (Jaydium and Northlight) and short stories to F & SF, Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy and a host of other anthologies, includingStar Wars: Tales From Jabba's Palace, Olympos, Witch Fantastic, DAW 30th Anniversary Fantasy Anthology, and Sisters of the Night. (Most of these were under my former name, Wheeler.)
Toward the end of her life, Marion suffered a series of strokes, which made it difficult for her to concentrate on novel-length stories. I was one of the writers Marion considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional.
We began work together as we had begun our relationship, first in correspondence, then in person. We'd settled on a time period and general story arc when I visited her for the last time. When I arrived at her home, she had been resting, on oxygen, but insisted on sitting up to talk. I knew she had been very ill, but seeing her made her condition so much more vivid for me. One of my best memories of her was watching her "come alive" as we discussed character and hatched plot points. Her eyes "glowed as if lit from within," to use one of her favorite descriptions, and energy suffused her whole being. I asked question after question and then sat back as she spun out answers. It was as if she had opened a window into her imagination and invited me to peek inside.We never got a second visit. She died a month later.
What is it like to write about Marion's characters?
One of the most delicate and challenging aspects of continuing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series--or any world invented by another author, for that matter--has been the portrayal of characters not my own. Most were created by Marion herself, but some came from one or another of the writers she had worked with before me. A case in point is Marguerida Alton, who began as a small child in Marion’s books but was brought to adult life, much to the delight of many readers, in those written by Adrienne Martine-Barnes.
To begin with, writing someone else’s characters is a no-win situation. No matter how carefully you, the new writer, study what has been done before, notes and out-takes and letters as well as published material, you’re going to get something wrong. Or perhaps not wrong but different. This is primarily because we are all individuals. Each creative vision, each way of working with characters, is unique. Add to that, the variations inherent in each story.
A novel is like a character unto itself, and plot and theme interact with character. Most writers have had the experience of realizing that a character is wrong for this particular story (or vice versa) or of a secondary character who keeps trying to run away with the story and has to be bribed back into submission with promises of a future story all her own. In writing Marion's characters, I had to keep in mind that her work spanned decades. The character of Regis Hastur, for example, evolved through a number of novels. This was partly because Marion’s conception of Darkover and the people on it had matured, but also that each story required a different view, even of the same character. So when I sat down to write about Regis, I needed to ask which version of Regis and which aspects of Regis were necessary for the story at hand. Which incarnation would bring the right anguish, the passion, the integrity, the insecurity, the instinctive gift for leadership?
To do this, I drew not only on the published novels in which Regis played a role, but in the short stories, notes and personal communications. My editor at DAW Books is Betsy Wollheim. Betsy not only edited Marion herself, but her father, Don Wollheim, was Marion’s editor at Ace, so the father-daughter editorial team has been part of the unfolding story Darkover from the beginning. Betsy was able to give me not only specific information about the history of Regis and Danilo, but a perspective on Darkover. Ann Sharp, the Trustee of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust, and Marion’s secretary, Elisabeth Waters, also furnished invaluable insights into how Marion saw these and other characters. Finally, the manuscript was reviewed and approved not only by the Trust but by DAW’s own in-house Darkover maven, Marsha Jones.
Once a character-written-by-someone-else has made it into a published story, however, a sort of feeding frenzy begins. As uncomfortable as it sometimes is to be on the receiving end of criticisms from readers who are furious that their favorite characters are being misinterpreted, I applaud the passion and loyalty. I believe that we fall in love with characters who reflect and inform the deepest stirrings of our own hearts.