Tag Archives: darkover

Author Interview: Deborah J. Ross

Deborah J. Ross writes and edits fantasy and science fiction. Her work has earned Honorable Mention in Year’s Best SF, Kirkus notable new release, the Locus Recommended Reading List, and James Tiptree, Jr. Award recommended list, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and nominated for the National Fantasy Federation Speculative Fiction Award for Best Author, the Nebula Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She’s a past Secretary of SFWA and currently on the Board of Directors of Book View Café, an online writers coop. Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

Author Deborah J RossI grew up in California and Oregon, coming of age in the 1960s, so of course, I grew my hair long, protested everything, and have the tie-dyed t-shirt to prove it. I accumulated various academic degrees, including a BA in Biology from Reed College and an MS in Psychology from Portland State University, before realizing the true “work of my heart” was storytelling. Now I live in a redwood forest with my family, which includes three cats and a retired “seeing-eye” German Shepherd Dog. In between writing, I’ve lived in France, worked as a medical assistant to a cardiologist, taught parent-child gym classes at the Y, revived an elementary school library, studied Chinese martial arts (tai chi and kung fu san soo), classical piano, and yoga.

When and why did you begin writing?

Well before I learned to scrawl my name, I made up stories, and once I could form proper words and pictures to accompany them, I began putting together whole books. My father was a printer, and our home was amply supplied with paper and ink. In my teens and twenties, I began many novels, even finished a few of them, but never knew what to do with them next, nor did I know any writers beyond a few school friends who were just as clueless as I was. I knew I loved to write, and I occasionally dared to hope that someday, my writing would be more than a secret pleasure.

In my early thirties, just after my first child was born, I hit career burnout and decided to work part-time from home. A friend invited me to join a women’s writing group. Although none of us knew what we were doing, I came home from the first meeting so exhilarated that I drafted the story I’d been playing in my head for the last year. No one told me it was crazy to write a novel in 6 weeks with a new baby and a part-time career. The real break came in 1991, when I lived in Lyons, France. A couple of months after I returned to the States, I sold my first novel.

How did your writing relationship with Marion Zimmer Bradley develop?

Somewhere around 1980, I wrote Marion a fan letter. To my surprise, she wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. I’d been studying martial arts and we began a correspondence about women’s empowerment, story-telling, family, and a host of related topics.
At that time, the Friends of Darkover held periodic writing contests and published its own fanzine. I sent her a couple of stories and received encouraging comments (and, as I remember, an award for one of the stories and eventual fanzine publication of the other). When Marion began editing the first Sword & Sorceress, she suggested I submit a story for her. I was as elated by the invitation as if it had been a sale, and threw myself into writing the best story I could. It was a modest little story, a respectable first professional sale, but more than that, Marion showed me that I could take my writing seriously.

When I submitted a story for the second volume, Marion telephoned me. “Now Deborah,” she said, “I’m going to take your story, but I’m sending it back to you for revisions.” With that, I made the leap from all-or-nothing sale-or-rejection to working with an editor. My manuscript came back covered in red ink, with comments like, “All thuds are dull!” and “Overwritten.” Don’t just fall in love with your words, she was saying, make them serve the story.
Marion didn’t buy every story I wrote, but she saw most of them. More editorial notes followed, although not as extensive as that first round. I like to think I was improving, but it may also have been that Marion understood when outside critical feedback is helpful, and when the act of writing itself, story after story, is the key to development. She often said that the first million words are practice, and I was well on my way.

With my first novel sale (Jaydium, a science fiction adventure through time and parallel worlds, complete with gigantic, intelligent silver slugs), and short fiction sales to increasingly prestigious markets (like Asimov’s and F & SF), I came into my own.

Over the years, we became friends as well as colleagues and editor/writer. My natural authorial “voice” was close, although not identical, to hers. Toward the end of her life, hampered by a series of strokes, Marion worked with in collaboration several other writers. I was one of the writers she considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional. We discussed the basic details by mail and then I drove up to see her for a personal chat. She’d been resting and was on oxygen, but she insisted on sitting up when I came in, and soon we were deep in discussion of plot ideas. 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. She died before we started the actual writing (The Fall of Neskaya, Zandru’s Forge, A Flame in Hali). and I went on to write three more (The Alton Gift, Hastur Lord, The Children of Kings), and there are more to come.

Writing Darkover stories is much like writing historical fiction. I do research, using not only Marion’s published work, but The Darkover Concordance and her articles in the old Darkover newsletters. I try to create story lines that are true to Marion’s vision of Darkover and the themes that were meaningful to her. Since I work closely with the MZB Literary Trust, I hammer out a detailed outline before I start. Once that’s approved, I turn the process over to my creative back-brain. Because I’m not trying to distort my own intuitive style, I can then write from my heart.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

My most recent Darkover novel is The Children of Kings, an action-adventure set in the Dry Towns, featuring Gareth Elhalyn, Regis’s grandson, and some nasty space pirates bent on turning Darkover into a smuggling base. I just turned in the next Darkover novel, Thunderlord, a sequel to Hawkmistress, in which the son of the defeated Lord Scathfell plots revenge by marrying a girl from the Rockraven clan, noted for their ability to control storms and lightning. It’s scheduled for an August 2016 release from DAW, under the dual byline with Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Other recent publications include the Lambda Award Finalist Collaborators (under my former name, Deborah Wheeler), and an original epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield (in which women get to have heroic adventures), all of these from DAW.
In terms of editing, I’m wrapping up the anthology Realms of Darkover. Once that’s done, I’ll dive into the next novel, The Laran Gambit, which continues the “modern” timeline and brings Darkover and the Terrans back into conflict, er – contact – in a clash between machine-mediated mind control and natural laran Gifts.

What authors have most influenced your writing in addition to Marion Zimmer Bradley? What about them do you find inspiring?

The list is very long! Some of my favorite contemporary authors include Barbara Hambly, Mary Rosenblum, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sherwood Smith, Carol Berg, Freda Warrington, Jennifer Roberson, Chaz Brenchley, Judith Tarr, Vonda N. McIntyre, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Stross, Saladin Ahmed, Diana Wynne Jones, and Tanith Lee. I love authors who give me a new way of thinking about story or language. Once it was possible to keep up with who was writing what, but the field is so large now, I’ve given up trying. I rely on the advice of friends whose taste I trust. It’s hilarious when a friend hates what I love and vice-versa, so I go for whatever they pan. When I go to a science fiction convention, I try to buy at least one book by an author I have just met but have not yet read.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writing is both craft and art. You already have the dream. Now you have to learn the craft. As exciting as the prospect of publication is, if you’re in this for the long haul, be patient. It takes time and work to achieve excellence. There are so many aspects of success you’re powerless over, but the quality of your work is one you do have control over. I wrote a series of essays about nurturing yourself as a writer as you wrestle with the skills, called Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life.

Children of Kings Book CoverDeborah J. Ross
Boulder Creek CA


The Children of Kings

Cover artist: Matt Stawicki
Publisher: DAW Books


Book Review: The Bloody Sun

Book Name: The Bloody Sun
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
First Published: 1964/1979

Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley was an American author of fantasy novels such as The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series, often writing with a feminist outlook and even, under a pen name, gay and lesbian titles. She was born on a farm in Albany, New York, during the Great Depression, to a father who was a carpenter and farmer and a mother who was a historian. Bradley first attended New York State College for Teachers from which she dropped out after two years. She returned to college in the mid-sixties, where she graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas with a Bachelor of Arts. Bradley moved to California soon after and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, Berkely. She trained not only as a psychologist but also as a parapsychologist. In the end, she became a drop-out once more from not one, but three departments of education, “owing to deep disillusion”. Bradley also trained as a singer, and at one time, in her younger days, worked as a target for a knife thrower in a carnival.

Married twice, both of Bradley’s unions ended in divorce. Her first marriage to Robert Bradley in 1949 lasted fourteen years and they had one son together. Her second marriage to author Walter Breen in 1964 resulted in a son and a daughter, but ended badly in 1990. She had been separated from him for many years before the divorce was finalized.

During the 1950s, as a young wife with a small son, she became involved in the phenomenon known as science fiction fandom, writing for a variety of fanzines for nothing, but in time moved up to sell to professional science fiction digest magazines. It was here that she gained her writing chops and moved on to create novels of her own, becoming a professional full-time writer and editor by the early 1960s. Her main novel series featured a sword and sorcery themed world known as Darkover, but she also wrote short stories, articles and books in other subjects.

As an author, Bradley continued with an active role in science fiction and fantasy fandom. There were regular Darkover conventions in the 70s and 80s organized by the “Friends of Darkover” to which she was the star. Bradley was baffled by this popularity; she once made the observation: “I am perpetually surprised that I can make money at [writing], and people seem to like what I write.” She encouraged fan fiction based on her own popular Darkover novels and reprinted the stories in commercial anthologies. All this came to an end after a dispute with a fan. After the legal dust cleared, Bradley’s novel remained unpublished and she demanded the cessation of all Darkover fan fiction from that day forward.

Bradley also edited a Sword and Sorceress anthology series, which featured non-traditional heroines from new and up and coming female writers. It was here that she discovered her protegee Deborah J. Ross, who continues to write Darkover novels in the present day as well as her own creations. Bradley was editing the final Sword and Sorceress manuscript when she died in September of 1999. The year after her death, Marion Zimmer Bradley was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

As an author, her most popular novel is The Mists of Avalon which was later made into a major motion picture starring Angelica Houston. The book is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the viewpoint of the female characters, mainly Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar. As in her Darkover series, the later Avalon novels are written with or by other authors and have continued to appear after Bradley’s death.

Darkover is a planet that was colonized by people of the Terran Empire, but was lost to the Empire due to a crash landing. The survivors interbred with the native Chieri who have psychic powers and this merging of the two species create the future rulers of the world, known as the Comyn. This ruling class is known for their red hair and for possessing strong psychic talents that they call Laren. The Comyn create a magical appearing technology based on their laren talents, amplified by the use of starstones, and create a breeding program to promote those characteristics in their ruling class.

The Bloody Sun is not the first novel of this vast series chronologically, but it is the first novel set in what is known as The Second Age of the Terran/Darkovan contact. This is a time when the Terran Empire has rediscovered the lost colony they know as Cottman IV are are attempting to reintegrate it with the Empire. The Comyn rulers resist this and thus have restricted the empire to remain to the Terran Zone while on their world. This is to prevent Terran customs and technology from infiltrating their world and disrupting their people.

The story follows a young orphan named Jeff Kerwin who was born on Darkover, but sent to Terra at the age of twelve. He never forgot the planet of his birth and as he worked in the Terran Service, he finds an opportunity to transfer back to Cottman IV. Jeff attempts to learn more about his heritage on Darkover, but is surprised to learn that the orphanage that he remembers has no record of him having lived there. Jeff does not accept this information and follows a voice in his mind that eventually leads him out of the Terran Zone and into Darkovan culture. He suffers culture shock, and as Jeff learns more about Darkovan culture, we the readers are also introduced into this strange new world of what appears to be run by magic and the power of feudal swords. Due to his bright red hair, the mark of a Comyn telepath, he eventually finds his way to the Tower of Arilinn. A Tower is where the major telepathic work on Darkover is performed. Jeff finds a sense of home at Arilinn that he has never felt before. This is the first book of the series that introduces the inner workings of a Darkovan Tower and we get to see in full detail what the Tower Technicians do and what matrix work really is. In other Darkovan books, the workings of a Tower are hinted at and spoken of by characters, but this is the first time we see it in action. Jeff Kerwin learns that he is not a Terran as he thought as he grew up, but he is truly a Darkover Comyn with the full telephatic powers that this title and position conveys. He finds love, a sense of family, and that he has a major role to play in the shaping of the future of his planet, Darkover.

This was the first Marion Zimmer Bradley novel that I read and the first of her Darkover novels. I read the original 1964 version in the early 1970s, and later read the rewrite she did of the book in 1979. Will say that I liked both versions. While the rewrite is a more powerful novel with more detail, the original had a fresh pacing that drew me into this world and made me want to read the rest of the numerous books set in this universe. I don’t believe that the original version is readily available any longer, but I still consider The Bloody Sun to be the best introduction novel into the Darkover universe. It is also the best read of the series overall whichever version you happen to buy.

The Bloody Sun Book CoverAfter the Comyn (Against the Terrans: The Second Age) Series

The Bloody Sun (1979) rewrite of and replacement of The Bloody Sun (1964)
The Heritage of Hastur (1975)
The Planet Savers (1962)
Sharra’s Exile (1981) rewrite of and official replacement of The Sword of Aldones (1962)
The World Wreckers (1971)
Hastur Lord (2010 – written by Deborah J. Ross)
Exile’s Song (1996 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
The Shadow Matrix (1998 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
Traitor’s Sun (1999 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)