Tuesday, May 20, 2014

INTERVIEW: Robin Wayne Bailey on Stars of Darkover

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, to celebrate Marion's 84th birthday

Robin Wayne Bailey is the author of numerous novels, including the Dragonkin trilogy and the Frost series, as well as Shadowdance and the Fritz Leiber inspired Swords Against The Shadowland.  His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies with numerous appearances in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword And Sorceress series and Deborah J. Ross's Lace And Blade volumes.  His novelette, "The Children's Crusade" was a 2008 Nebula Award nominee.  Some of his stories have been collected in two volumes available from Yard Dog Press.  He is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and co-founder of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, now located in Seattle, Washington.  He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Deborah J. Ross: How did Marion Zimmer Bradley influence your writing career? What inspired your story in Stars of Darkover?

Robin Wayne Bailey: Marion Zimmer Bradley was an early supporter of my writing.  I had just sold my first novel, Frost, when I saw an announcement that Marion was seeking stories for a new anthology called Sword And Sorceress.  I decided to take a shot at that and wrote a story called “Child of Orcus,” involving female gladiators in the Roman arenas during the reign of Caligula, which was a little-known or discussed historical fact at the time.
Marion loved the story and wrote an astonishingly complimentary introduction for it, stating, among other very nice things, that “I bought this story under the impression that this was a woman writing about a woman.  Only after deciding to purchase it did I discover that Robin Bailey was a man; but like all really good writers, gender is unimportant to the perceptive eye he brings to the study of his heroine.”  That’s a compliment I’ve always held closely.  “Child of Orcus” became my second professional genre sale and saw publication exactly one year after my first novel appeared.

I sold a good number of stories to Marion after that for further Sword And Sorceress volumes and for such anthologies as Spells Of Wonder.  Indeed, one of my favorite stories, “The Moon Who Loved the Man,” appeared in Spells.  I also sold to her magazine, too.  Marion was always very complimentary and supportive, even going so far as to provide a couple of nice blurbs for my subsequent novels.  But then came a very special anthology invitation.  Marion had decided to put together a special small-print hardback volume of stories by writers she considered “her literary children,” and it would be called Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Worlds.  That she considered me one of her children was immensely flattering, but by that time I was, I thought, leaving the kind of fantasy I had previously sold to her behind and exploring other directions. 

Nevertheless, I decided to take a chance.  I wrote “Eyes of Moonlight, Tears of Stone,” a raw, horror fantasy set in the ghetto drug culture of a modern city and featuring an elderly fat black woman who worked in Child Protective Services.  I knew I was out on a limb, and Marion wrote that she intended to reject the story.  Then, a couple of weeks later, she called.  “Damn you,” she said.  She hated the story, but she couldn’t get it out of her mind, which was, she added, the mark of an excellent story, even if she hadn’t seen it at first.  My story does not fit at all with the other stories in that volume – yet there it is, and Fantasy Worlds today is an extremely valuable collector’s book.

When Deborah Ross contacted me about writing a contribution for a brand new collection of Darkover stories, I was a bit stunned.  I’d written stories for Deborah before, specifically for her Lace And Blade anthologies, and knew her to be a terrific editor and fun to work with.  Yet, I had not read one of Marion’s Darkover books in maybe thirty years.  I wasn’t sure that I knew the world well enough to write such a tale.  Deborah reassured me and promised any help with details I might need.

So, having committed, I settled in one evening with a pair of early Darkover novels and with a computer close at hand so that I could find useful website information.  What I actually found were contradictions upon contradictions.  Marion had never valued continuity over story.  My head was spinning, yet I found details and passages that fascinated me.  I lost my fear of writing a story that wouldn’t fit into an established continuity.  I’d let Deborah iron out the wrinkles with me when the time came.  Little by little, “The Ridenow Nightmare” took form in my brain.  The Ridenow family were the outcasts among the great families of Darkover, and that appealed to me.  I like outcasts, and suddenly I knew my characters, all their strengths and foibles – and all their secrets.  It was one of those nice moments when all the research you’ve done and all your fear and anxiety about a story come together in a special collision, and the words just start pouring out.

When it was done, I felt an immediate concern about the sensuality of the story, but I loved the elements of madness.  Deborah and I wrestled about a single detail, a mere matter of geography, but she accepted the story, and I am excited to be part of Stars Of Darkover, the first anthology of new Darkover stories in many years, and I hope it will serve to introduce an entirely new generation of readers to Marion’s wonderful series.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?

RWB: For the past couple of years, after producing twenty or so novels, I’ve concentrated
mostly on writing short fiction.  Although I’ll eventually return to novels, I like the versatility short fiction allows: fantasy heroines today, robots tomorrow, time travel the day after that, then maybe a mystery.  More, I’m at a point in my life where I prefer to write for editors that I know want my work and seek me out, who understand my voice and views, and who trust me enough to let me take risks.  That’s a rare and wonderful place to be.  Recently, I’ve sold a number of stories.  “King of the Galaxy Knights,” has just appeared in a terrific collection of modern space opera tales called The Raygun Chronicles.  “The Ridenow Nightmare,” of course, will appear this summer in Stars Of Darkover, and a brand new “Frost” story called “Vengeance” will appear toward the end of the year in a Baen Books anthology called Shattered Shields.  I’ll also have a book of poetry out this year, and my writing schedule for the rest of this year is pretty well booked up.    That, too, is a nice place to be.

DJR: What do you see for the future of Darkover?

RWB: Among the writing projects now on my schedule is Deborah’s next volume of brand new Darkover stories, which she intends to call Gifts Of Darkover.  I’m already turning over possible ideas.  Whatever I write will not be a sequel to “The Ridenow Nightmare.”  I want to leave that story exactly where it ends, for now, at least.  There are so many tales to tell about this fascinating world.  The trick will be to make everything fresh for new readers while also satisfying older, loyal readers and remaining true to Marion’s creation.  It will be an interesting balancing act.  The stories need to be accessible to new readers who may not be familiar with all the previous volumes.  They need to feel welcomed in and charmed to stay.  From what I’ve read so far, Stars Of Darkover does that admirably.  The next trick will be one of marketing – letting readers know that the legendary world of Darkover, one of the great classic creations of the science fiction genre is once again alive.  That will take, among other things, a lot of “word of mouth,” so if you’re seeing this interview – spread the word: Darkover is back and exciting once more.

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