On a wondrous planet of telepaths and swordsmen, nonhumans and ancient mysteries, a
I asked Ty Nolan to talk about his story, writing, and the future of Darkover.
Deborah: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Ty: From the time I learned to read I always had my nose in a book on science fiction or fantasy. One of my prize possessions was a postcard from Issac Asimov. While everyone knew him as a science-fiction writer (and the creator of the Laws of Robotics), he also used to do a monthly column in a magazine and I was in awe of his brilliance. His ability to knock out a well-written and researched essay was amazing. I wrote to him (I was 10 years old) and told him one day I wanted to be an author and asked him how did he know so much about everything. He wrote back he was not an expert in everything, but he just managed to sound like one.
Then one day I discovered Stormqueen! Which had one of the best covers I had seen at that time. That’s what got me hooked on Darkover. I want to also say Marion Zimmer Bradley (I had the honor of meeting her more than once—my first professional sales were to her) also impressed me with a work completely different from the Darkover or Avalon universes—The Catch Trap. It was the first “gay novel” I had found, and even though I haven’t read it in years, there are still scenes I vividly remember. It’s set in the post WWII era, when love between men was illegal. MZB details the societal pressures they had to deal with on a daily basis. They work together as trapeze artists in a circus.
What about the world drew you in?
I’m an American Indian and my family has always been very connected to our culture. The concept that in the future, Colony Ships would sail through space and that many were intended to maintain their cultural heritage was quite striking to me. In the Star Trek Voyager series, there’s a similar idea of Native American colonists, rather than the Celtic influence of Darkover. I grew up hearing our traditional legends and stories. I often felt a strong connection with pre-Christian Celtic culture, which has a lot of parallels to Native American cultures and even some of the legends seem very familiar. That made Darkover even more fun to explore. I’ve also been curious about gender issues, and have taught courses on the subject when I used to be a University Professor. Just so, MZB’s depiction of the Chieri was so interesting to me I introduced one into my own contribution to Gifts of Darkover, and had my female Main Character aware of her own Chieri heritage.
My first Darkover story—“A Legend of the Hellers,” appears in the second of MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies: Sword of Chaos. I have been intrigued in the more “ancient” history of Darkover, before they are “re-discovered” and before the society had become as organized as it eventually did. “Climbing to the Moons,” my story that’s in Gifts of Darkover is set in more “modern” times because I wanted to have an “outsider” who had served in the military on other planets be challenged by the lack of technical support he would be accustomed to using, but that would be unavailable on Darkover. I also wanted a very strong heroine and researched the history to find a family that would be more likely to allow a woman in a major leadership role. This tied in to her hiring the main male character because in looking at his record, he had served under female superior officers, so he wouldn’t confront her, based on her gender.
Of course, one of my favorite parts of getting to play in the Darkover Universe is getting to invent some totally new concepts. As I mentioned, I was always curious about what life was like in the “really old days” when it was always a sort of Game of Thrones in-fighting between petty chiefdoms. If you don’t have particularly useful technology, how do you construct a decent war machine? Then I remembered Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants and thought---“Wow—imagine being under attack by an extremely intelligent herd of elephants—and to make them even more scary—what if I make them ominvores so they can bite the heads off an enemy?” I did a lot of research on elephants and explained they had been genetically bred with a now-extinct animal that was the largest mammal on the planet, so I didn’t have to worry about a poor African elephant freezing to death on Darkover.
My story also let me look into the “culture wars” of Darkover of those that want to embrace what the Terrans can offer and those that would prefer to blow up the Space Port and sprinkle the ashes with bonedust. That conflict fuels the drama in my story as my heroine’s enemies are trying to stop her on many levels, even to the point of breaking The Compact with the use of bombs they’ve gotten from the equivalent of a Darkover terrorist.
What have you written recently?
Oh, I had a fine time under my pen name of Skye Eagleday, contributing to an anthology—Highland Shifters. Under Skye Eagleday, I write a lot of paranormal romance and a number of my werewolves are gay. I think I’m one of the only people I know who can honestly say “gay werewolves pay my rent.” We launched Highland Shifters to tie into the TV series The Outlander, based on a bestselling novel about a World War II nurse who “falls through time” and ends up in a Scotland two centuries ago and encounters her husband’s ancestors. Highland Shifters hit the USA Today Bestsellers List.
The premise of the anthology was—obviously—about shapeshifters in the Scottish Highlands. Since I’ve written so much about werewolves, I wanted to do something different and decided to use an Irish Pooka as a main character. Shakespeare called his Pooka “Puck” in Midsummer Night’s Dream. According to Shakespeare, a Pooka can literally turn into anything, and can perfectly mimic the voices of humans. My hero is a Scottish-American named McKay and I knew I wanted him to retrace the steps his beloved Grandfather took when he arrived from Scotland. I felt I needed to introduce McKay to the Supernatural World before he gets to Scotland, so I wrote a prequel, where he ends up dating a Metis artist who turns out to be a Loup-Garou, the word the Metis use for a werewolf. I’ve set it on “perma-free” status—the title is McKay’s Werewolf Ways. I’m happy to report it was published last August and it’s remained in Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers for its category—usually in the top ten. I just checked and it’s #2 under Gay Action and Adventure.
Just so, when McKay does fly into Scotland in my story Roots & Fangs, he’s already up to speed when he encounters the Scottish Fae and the male Fae’s current lover—the Irish Pooka. I had great fun because I figured if the Pooka can take any shape, then gender shifting would be a breeze. In the story, in one of the first chapters, the Pooka seduces the male Fae while in her female form, and then laughs and reveals her own supernatural side and shifts into a series of different animals and then into the Pooka’s male form. It turns out the male Fae actually enjoys other males as well, so they have sex again, as two men. Later on when he leaves the Pooka for McKay, she resumes her female form and has revenge sex with a lesbian. Let’s say that takes a very flexible character!
I’m actually working on the sequel to Roots & Fangs to have it ready for when the Outlander Series starts up again for its second season. So—it’s sort of been a circle for me, of writing about the Scottish culture of Darkover and then getting to revisit it by writing about the Highland Shifters and the Fae. And trust me—there is a lot of overlap between the magical abilities of the Fae and the amazing Laran powers possessed by some of the Darkover locals.
Trained as a traditional Native American Storyteller, Ty Nolan had his first short story published by MZB in Sword of Chaos. His book, Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories, received the 2014 BP Readers Choice Award for Short Story Collections and Anthologies. He is a New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author. He currently splits his time between Arizona and Washington State.