Monday, April 8, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Robin Rowland

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Robin Rowland:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Robin Rowland: When I was in Grade 2, our teacher told us one day to write a two foolscap page short story.  I wrote a sequel to a Tarzan comic I had been reading.  After class the teacher told me it was one of the best in the class and that I should be a writer. I took her advice.

DJR: What authors inspired you?
RR: Fiction authors who have inspired me are Rosemary Sutcliff, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Robert A. Heinlein.   In narrative non-fiction the authors who inspired me are Barbara Tuchman, Mark Bowden and Catherine Drinker Bowen.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
RR:  I grew up  in the mountainous coast of British Columbia in a small town called Kitimat.  In a local First Nations (Native Canadian) language Kitimat means “people of the snow.” The valley is at the end of an 80 kilometer fjord  from the Pacific Ocean that has a unique micro climate. Four times we’ve had a record one day snowfall for all of Canada. The weather can change to warm to wet in a half hour.  Winters can see snow up to the roof of a two story ranch style house or  sometimes so little snow I only use a half jug of snow melter. Summers can either be dreary, overcast and wet or warm to sunny and very hot with the occasional drought.   So for me, that unique micro climate of  the Kitimat valley is perhaps the closest thing on Terra to Darkover. 

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
RR: My family moved to Toronto when I was fifteen.  As my only income at the time was an allowance, I haunted a huge used book store in downtown Toronto called “Old Favourites”  which had a large science fiction section.  I bought Star of Danger, the boys were my own age and the description of Darkover made the planet sound like the home town I had just left.  I kept buying Darkover books, first used and then when I got after school jobs, new releases from a variety store near my home which always stocked with a lot of science fiction in the late 1960s.  What convinced me that I loved the planet was Darkover Landfall, which again, reminded me of Kitimat.

DJR: What inspired your story in Citadels of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?
RR: Like many people I have had a fascination with dinosaurs since I was a little kid.
I’ve also been fascinated with stories of Celtic and pre-Celtic history ranging from Stonehenge to the Druids, the Roman occupation from the early invasions to the Rome’s abandoning the island; the Saxon invasions. That includes the stories of King Arthur, whether the more romantic versions or the those now set in an as accurate as possible historical context and, of course, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon.

When I received the invitation to contribute to Citadels,  immediately the story of  King Vortigern, his castle and the Welsh Dragon, which is related to the Arthurian legend, popped out of my subconscious. The red dragon storyis much older, a different version with the dragons  but no castle is found in the Mabinogion. 

How to transfer that to Darkover?

I remembered my visit years decades earlier to a famous citadel, at Mycenae, home of Agamemnon, the later the bloody Atreid cycle and other famous stories of  Greek mythology.  If you’re a backpacker, you take a bus to Mycenae. Then you walk, as the ancients did, to the citadel.  From the highway bus stop (rather than from a tour bus parking lot) Mycenae, at first,doesn’t appear that impressive even though the citadel is  at the top of a 900 foot hill/acropolis. 

Once you pass through the Lion Gate and stand by the citadel walls, you can see the entire surrounding Argive valley.  You immediately know why Mycenae became a citadel and the capital of a small empire. It dominated the valley and the nearby seas.   So one possibility was a bloody Darkover Comyn family struggle in the Ages of Chaos.

The Argive doesn’t really resemble Darkover; no  towering snow peaked mountains.

That’s when another project I am working on gave me an idea.  A friend and I are writing a boater’s guide book to  Douglas Channel-- that fjord that connects Kitimat to the sea.  I had just finished a first draft of a chapter on the geology of the fjord.  

During the Mesozoic era, beginning in the early Jurassic, the same plate tectonics that produce earthquakes created chain after chain of volcanic islands ranging from what today is now California all the way to Alaska.  The plate tectonics pushed those islands against the North American plate.  The collisions created mountain chain after mountain chain: the Coast Ranges, the Cascades and the Sierras.

Geologists have identified one of the mountains that overlooks the Kitimat Valley as a long extinct island volcano from the Jurassic.  The way the geology works, what is left of tha dinosaur-era volcano is mixed in with other more geologically more  recent mountains.

That’s when I had the inspiration.  How were the Hellers formed?  What if that giant wall around the world had once been a chain of offshore mountains?

The red dragon of Wales resurfaced. Dragons=Dinosaurs.

So a paleontologist visits Darkover? What would he be looking for?  What would she find?  First going back to the Hellers, Mesozoic  fossils are extremely rare in northwestern British because, as I say in the story, the mountain folding and metamorphizing has destroyed them.  There are someisolated locations which have ammonite fossils but nothing larger.

The last piece of the puzzle is a remarkable fossil site in a  British Columbia inland upland plateau surrounded by mountains called the Bulkley Valley.   Driftwood Canyon, near the town of Smithers, which the hero visits in the story,  has remarkable fossils not from the Mesozoic, but the Eocene about 50 million years ago. The fossils, like the ones in the story, are near photographic perfect.  That’s because where the canyon is now was once a lake where the lake bottom consisted of  very fine silt.  From time to time nearby volcanic eruptions would cover the silt.  Luckily the volcanic ash was made up of very fine particles.  Anything that died and fell into that lake, from the ancestor of the salmon, to bird’s feathers to a branch with spruce needles  are minutely preserved.  For example, the tiny, fine legs, wings and proboscis of an ancient mosquito preserved in the rock look just like a modern mosquito beside it on a table.

The Bulkley Valley became the Vale of Valiant, with a Mycenae-like citadel in the center of the valley; a valley where luck preserved fossils on Darkover that were otherwise destroyed when the Hellers were raised.

DJR: What have you written recently?
RR: I have written a short story “Aranzazu Banks” that takes place off the coast of British Columbia, which will appear in the “magic-realism horror” anthology Canadian Dreadful later in 2019.

DJR: What lies ahead for you?
RR: I am working on  fantasy novel built around the climate crisis and a couple of non-fiction book projects.

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