Not only speaks she about her novels and short stories but also about her collaboration with one of the most beloved authors in the genre: Marion Zimmer Bradley.
1. Recently SWORD & SORCERESS 22 has been published in the USA. You are the editor. Thank you for continuing the series. For the previous anthologies you’ve written a lot of stories yourself. How does it feel now to edit a new volume yourself?
It’s been a bit strange. I started to help MZB with the editing around volume 4, so I’ve been doing it for a long time. I edited volumes 18, 19, and 20 after her death, but for those I had a pile of stories that she had held for the final choice to work from. This was the first time I’d done one from the very beginning. After working with her all those years, however, I have a voice in my head that tells me what she would have liked and disliked — in fact, one review of the anthology remarked how much it looked like her work.
2. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote – at least in the very early volumes – that she received each year an astonishing number of stories about a special theme, which seemed to be very fashionable. Is there a special theme in SWORD AND SORCERESS 22 as well – and if so, which one is it?
This year there really wasn’t a theme. When S&S was an annual event, we got a lot of stories, but due to the fact that there was a break of several years between the previous volumes and this one, we didn’t have the large group of stories that our usual contributors had already written for “next year’s S&S.” MZB generally had enough stories by the end of the reading period for three good anthologies — she used to call it “agonizing reappraisal time” when she had to send back perfectly good stories she would have loved to use if she could buy what she wanted instead of being limited to what would fit in one book. Having such a large number of stories meant that she could choose a theme; in fact, the ones submitted for S&S 18 could be grouped into three main themes, which is how I chose which went into volumes 18, 19, and 20. With a smaller volume of submissions (although I still had to send back stories I really wanted to keep), what I looked for most was originality.
3. I’ve never had a chance to read your first solo-novel, CHANGING FATE. However I’ve read a lot of quite good reviews and praises about it. According to your website you’re working on a sequel novel. Are there any plans to re-publish CHANGING FATE as well? And are there plans for a German translation?
I’m currently working on MENDING FATE. When that is finished, I’ll send it to my agent and he’ll try to make a deal for it that includes reprinting CHANGING FATE as well. I haven’t heard of any plans for a German translation; my agent’s foreign rights department would handle that. I think a German publisher would want me to be better-known or to have some evidence that there is sufficient demand to sell enough copies to make printing the book profitable.
4. I guess you cannot share to much with us right now, but can you tell us a little bit about MENDING FATE?
MENDING FATE takes place about 15 years after CHANGING FATE, and the main characters are Akila and Ranulf’s son Kyril, and Briam’s two daughters: Zalina, who is Queen now that her mother is dead, and Zora, Druscilla’s daughter. Kyril and Zora are both shape-changers, and Zalina probably is as well but doesn’t know it. The book is called MENDING FATE because the characters in CHANGING FATE did things that annoyed several gods, and it’s up to the next generation to put things right.
5. What do you think is the reason that so many fantasy writers love telling their stories as a trilogy?
It’s easier to sell books that are part of a series; readers often want to know what happens next after they finish a book they like, so if they liked the first book, they’ll probably buy future books in the series. Professional writers tend to write what they believe they can sell, either because this is how they make their living or because this is how they want to make their living. Trilogies are popular — Mercedes Lackey wrote most of her Valdemar books in groups of three — but other combinations are also used. Tamora Pierce, another one of my favorite writers, tends to write in groups of four. I tried to do that Fate series as a trilogy, but the middle volume, which I called SHAPING FATE, kept falling apart, so I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
6. With what do you feel more comfortable with: novels or short stories? And how do you recognize which plot will work better as a novel and which one better as a short story?
I supposed I’m more comfortable with short stories because I’m more accustomed to writing them and they can be finished in about a week. With a novel, you’re in it for months, if not years. This can be particularly awkward if you’re the sort of author who turns into the protagonist while writing. MZB autographed my copy of MISTS OF AVALON “to Lisa, who lived uncomplainingly with Morgaine le Fay for two years” — and her children were still complaining about life with Lew Alton more than five years after she wrote HERITAGE OF HASTUR. That’s why Akila, the protagonist of CHANGING FATE, is such a competent person. If I was going to be someone else for months on end, it had to be someone capable of running MZB’s business and household. With MENDING FATE, while Zora is the main character, I’m writing enough about Zalina that she’s becoming part of my current personality as well. This causes occasional problems because Zalina is rather timid, which means that I have days when I’m almost afraid to leave my room. (The fact that I spent years struggling with agoraphobia doesn’t help either.)
A plot can be used for either a short story or a novel — or in some cases, both. CHANGING FATE started as a story called “A Woman’s Privilege” in S&S 3, and Mercedes Lackey’s novel CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT comes from her story “Nightside” in issue #6 of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.
7. You worked on several novels closely together with Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example LADY OF THE TRILLIUM and TIGER BURNING BRIGHT. How did that work? How did you divide the work?
I had helped with BLACK TRILLIUM, the original book in that series, written by Julian May, Andre Norton, and MZB. Julian wrote a sequel, then Andre wrote one, so the publisher wanted one from Marion to complete the set. She wasn’t wild about the idea, so I said I’d write it with her. We agreed to set the book several generations in the future, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about contradicting anything in the other sequels, and decided to make the book about Haramis and her successor. The original plan was for Marion to write the wise old sorceress, Haramis, and for me to write from the point of view of Mikayla, the reluctant girl Haramis was trying to train as her successor, in alternating chapters. We had barely started the book when Marion had another stroke, so I ended up writing almost the entire book. Marion read the chapters I wrote for Haramis, who had also a stroke, which gave her more problems (characters always need problems, or the story would be totally boring), and checked to make sure that the symptoms and feelings I described for a stroke victim were correct. Mikayla was much more my character, a teenager who wanted nothing to do with Haramis or her job. Marion complained about a scene I wrote where Mikayla was yelling at Haramis, saying “my characters never yell like that!” I mentally reviewed her work and realized she was correct: when her characters got that angry they didn’t yell, they killed people. Given that killing Haramis at that point was out of the question, Marion agreed to the scene. When the publisher wanted revisions on the book, however, the entire household (feeling less than enthusiastic about life with Mikayla) agreed that I should go to Ice Castle, a training center for ice skaters in Lake Arrowhead, and do the work there. This got Mikayla away from MZB’s household and into an environment where most of the people around her were either teenage girls or people accustomed to dealing with teenage girls.
TIGER BURNING BRIGHT was done immediately after that, and I did most of the work at Ice Castle, with files emailed between me, Andre Norton, and Misty Lackey, and quite a few phone calls to Misty to toss ideas back and forth. Marion read and approved the manuscript, but she didn’t actually write any of it as she was still recovering from her latest stroke.
8. You were Marion Zimmer Bradley’s assistant for long time. She is sadly missed. Could you tell us a little bit about your collaboration? And maybe you can share an anecdote with us?
I’ve mentioned MZB’s tendency to turn into her characters. When she was writing THE FIREBRAND, I spent about two years running her household while explaining to people who wanted to talk to her that it was difficult to get her to take an interest in anything that happened after the fall of Troy. She participated in a lot of neo-Pagan rituals during those years, and one night she set her robe on fire when it brushed against a candle. (I was half-asleep in the back of the room, but I woke up fast enough when the girl representing the Maiden started screaming.) I took Marion into the house and started first aid, and then one of the guys drove us to the hospital.
I don’t know what drugs they gave her, but the next morning she didn’t know who she was — or, for that matter, who I was. And given all the books she was writing or doing research for, she had a lot of identities to chose from. Apparently the one she settled on was Captain Bligh; she had been working on a novel about the him and the Bounty mutiny on and off for decades. She tried to get out of bed while she was still mostly asleep, and I asked “where are you going?” She replied “they’re piping all hands on deck.” I didn’t bother to explain that she wasn’t on the Bounty; I just shoved her shoulder back down to the mattress and said “they don’t mean you; you’re on the sick list.” She went back to sleep immediately.
9. Did working with her have an influence on your own writing – both style-wise and habit-wise?
Most of what I know about writing I learned from her (I took her short-story workshop every time she offered it), and I lived in her household for about two decades, so she was an enormous influence on both my writing and my life. Certainly there was a strong similarity in our styles, especially when I was writing under her name and trying to match her style. As I continue to write, there will probably be less similarity.
As for habits, we share the tendency to become immersed in our work to the point of acting like our protagonists. Marion always wrote first thing in the morning before everyone else was up, between 5 and 8 am. I write last thing before I go to bed, which allows me to go to sleep as my character and wake up in the morning as myself. One morning at Ice Castle I got a great idea during the morning and wrote a little bit of LADY OF THE TRILLIUM, and I spent the rest of the day being Mikayla, which felt rather strange.
10. Marion Zimmer Bradley was one of the most leading forces in the fantasy and science fiction genre. Her impact is still recognizable. What do you think is the reason for the fans’ loving her work so much?
I think there are many individual reasons. MZB wrote a variety of different things, even in a single series such as her Darkover novels, so there’s probably something she wrote that nearly everyone can identify with. When HERITAGE OF HASTUR came out she got a lot of letters from young gay men saying that they now realized it was possible to be gay and still be an honorable person and they didn’t feel that they had to kill themselves. (Remember that this was in 1975, when you couldn’t just log onto the Internet and find a community you could fit into; a lot of these young men felt completely alone.) There are many women who identified with the Renunciates, and quite a few of them took the Amazon form of their names (and spent years explaining that n’ha was not a middle name and was not a typo for Nina). A number of people identified with one of the Comyn families — most often the Ridenows — and there were several legal name changes there as well.
Marion said that a story should “reach out and grab you by the throat on the first page and not let go until it was done.” Most of her work does that. I remember reading THE CATCH TRAP when it was still a manuscript. It was about 1,000 pages long and took me two nights to read, and the circus world portrayed in it was so real that it seemed strange to spend my days on the ground at work instead of up in the rigging practicing trapeze stunts.
If there’s one general reason that fans love her work, I think it’s because it’s so real — it takes you someplace else, away from your daily life.
11. Do you feel the fantasy genre changed since her death?
Marion used to quite something that was first said of Christopher Wren: “si monumentum requires, circumspice” which can be translated as “if you need a memorial, look around you.” Authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley have an effect on their genre that lasts beyond their lives. Marion’s memorial isn’t just her books, although they are certainly part of it. Her memorial is also in all the writers she encouraged. If you look at the tables of contents of SWORD & SORCERESS you’ll see that she bought stories, often the first stories, of many people who are now well-known writers: Robin Wayne Bailey, Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson, Jennifer Roberson, Deborah Ross, Vera Nazarian (who has now founded the publishing company that produced S&S 22), Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, Josepha Sherman, Dave Smeds, and many others. So, no, I don’t feel that the fantasy genre has changed since her death; in many ways she is still with us.
12. Is there still this little author circle called “Greyhaven”?
Greyhaven is the house in Berkeley where Marion’s brothers Paul and Don lived with their wives and children. Except for Paul’s wife Tracy, all of them wrote, and Tracy was a literary agent. Paul is dead now, and most of the others have moved away. I don’t know who still lives there and I haven’t heard that anyone is running a writing circle from there.
13. Diana L. Paxson wrote some Avalon novels and Deborah Ross some new Darkover books. You’ve written some Darkover short stories yourself in the past. Will there be a Darkover novel written by you some day? Or do you have plans to maybe edit another Darkover anthology?
Deborah Ross is the person MZB chose to continue the Darkover series, and I think she’s doing a wonderful job with it. I would prefer to write in my own worlds rather than go back to Darkover. There are definitely no plans for another Darkover anthology; Deborah is the only person who has permission to write anything set on Darkover. Anyone else who wrote Darkover fiction would be breaking the law.
14. Now, if I understand things correctly, you’re one of the persons in charge for the MZB Literary Works Trust. What are your duties and responsibilities with the Trust?
I’m not in charge of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust; Ann Sharp is the Trustee. The Trust hired me to edit S&S 22. I help Ann if she asks for my help, which she sometimes does because a lot of the things I learned working for Marion are still in my head — things like the original name of someone who sold a story to one of MZB’s anthologies 20 years ago and has had two name changes and five changes of address since then.
15. Are there any manuscripts or fragments left from Marion Zimmer Bradley, which didn’t get published? And if so - do you think her fans will be able to read them one day?
All of Marion’s papers are in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center Archives at Boston University. (See http://www.bu.edu/archives/holdings/contemporary/index.html.) Some of the material is sealed until 50 years after her death, and the collection is open only to “a qualified scholar” who has to be in the physical library building in Boston, so it’s not exactly readily available.
16. Do you think an author has responsibilities for his/her work? Can novels change something within the reader?
I think that an author’s main responsibility to write the best work that he or she is capable of. I do not believe that an author is responsible if some lunatic uses his work as an excuse for criminal activity (unfortunately this does happen occasionally). I do not believe that MZB is responsible for the people who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality and decided the leave the Christian church and start doing their own brand of goddess worship. I do not believe that George Lucas is responsible for the number of people who put “Jedi Knight” for their religion on the last UK census.
Novels can certainly change something within the reader, but most of the novelists I know would prefer (1) that the change be for the better, and (2) that it have some basis in reality. Mercedes Lackey, who writes about horse-like Companions and hawk-like bond birds includes a warning in her books that horses are not intelligent the way Companions are and take a lot of work to care for, and that hawks should never be taken from the wild unless you are a licensed falconer and know what you are doing. I try to make any religious rituals in my books either vague and harmless or unthinkable (human sacrifice is illegal and a Really Bad Idea).
I think the best changes that come from novels are the kind I got from Andre Norton’s work. Some of her novels (particularly “The Magic Books”) helped me find the courage to travel when I had agoraphobia and was terrified to leave home.
17. Can you remember what your first story (or novel) was about? And how did you realize you have a talent for writing?
Back in 1977 I wrote a Darkover story about Hilary Castamir. One of my friends knew MZB and passed it on to her, and she rewrote it into “The Keeper’s Price.” Eventually it became the title story of the first Darkover anthology. My second story was “The Alton Gift” — I wrote that for a contest that Marion was running and three of five judges gave it a perfect score. One of the judges hated it, so it didn’t win the contest, but it did convince me that I had a talent for writing.
18. Why fantasy? What is your personal opinion – what makes this genre so attractive to some readers (and writers as well)?
The great thing about fantasy is that you can do almost anything with it. You can do alternate history: “What if Richard I of England lived and John never became king and magic worked instead of science?” (Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” series), or “What if a small mining town in West Virginia was suddenly sent back to Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War?” (Eric Flint’s 1632, 1633, etc.). You can rewrite fairy tales (Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series), or operas (MZB’s NIGHT’S DAUGHTER (Die Zauberflote) and THE FOREST HOUSE (Norma), or ballets (Mercedes Lackey’s THE BLACK SWAN (Swan Lake). You can set your story any time: THIS SCEPTER’D ISLE and its sequels are set in England during the reign of the Tudors, but there are also books about the same family of elves that are modern urban fantasy, “The Serrated Edge” series — all of these are by Mercedes Lackey with various collaborators. “What if…” is a wonderful game, and I think that fantasy is the genre that allows you to make the most of it.
19. As an editor I could imagine you have to read a lot. But what kind of books do you read just for fun? Which authors can you recommend? And how do you choose a book in the bookstore? Just from looking on the cover…?
For fun I read fantasy, romance, science fiction, and young adult books. Publisher art departments probably hate people like me — I don’t pay much, if any, attention to the cover art on a book. The first thing I look at is the author’s name, and the second thing is the recommendations from other authors. Yesterday I picked up a book by an author I haven’t read before, but there are recommendations from two of my favorite authors on the back cover. I figure if I enjoy what they write, I’ll probably enjoy what they like to read.
Some of my favorite authors are: Margaret Ball, Lois McMaster Bujold, Meg Cabot, Loretta Chase, Rick Cook, Bruce Coville, Eric Flint, Esther M. Freisner, Randall Garrett, Dorothy J. Heydt, Georgette Heyer, Diana Wynne Jones, Jayne Ann Krentz, Lynn Kurland, Madeleine L’Engle, Mercedes Lackey, Stephanie Laurens, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, C.S. Lewis, C.E. Murphy, Charlotte MacLeod, Sharon McCrumb, Andre Norton, Naomi Novik, Elizabeth Peters, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Tamora Pierce, Julia Quinn, Nora Roberts, Dorothy L. Sayers, Maria V. Snyder, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Wen Spencer, Noel Streatfeild, David Weber, and James White.
20. Is there a question you always wanted to get asked in an interview, but it never occurred? Now is your chance. What question would it be and please give us an answer as well.
The questions I suspect every author wants to be asked is: Where can we find out what you’ve written and where we can buy it?
I have a website (www.elisabethwaters.com) that has a list of everything I’ve written — or am currently working on — with links to where you can buy it. All but two of my short stories are available on Fictionwise (www.fictionwise.com), and I expect them to be added this year. I also have two articles about writing: “Death, Taxes, and the Writer” and ” What Have You Done With My Manuscript?” which are available at no charge on MZB’s website (www.mzbworks.com) under “Articles on Writing.”
The question authors get asked most frequently: What advice would you give a new writer?
(1) Learn to type.
(2) Learn proper spelling and grammar — the spell-check feature on your computer will not tell you that you used “asses” when you intended to use “assess.”
(3) Learn how to act like a professional, and do it. You can start with the “Articles on Writing” section on MZB’s website, and then read a book or two, preferably by either a well-known author or a well-known agent. Always be polite and professional in correspondence with editors and publishers. (4) Before submitting to a market, get a copy of its guidelines, read them, and follow them.
(5) Write at least 5-6 days a week. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not, just sit down and write. I sit at my computer every night and tell myself I only have to write a couple of sentences. The next thing I know I look up, see the clock, and say “how did it get to be 1:30 am?”
(6) Take at least one day off each week. The Ten Commandments tell you to, and it really is a good idea. Writing is much harder on your body that you think it is.
(7) Exercise — and stretch — every day you write. Sitting at your computer for hours with no exercise makes you stiff and overweight.
Thank you so much for your time and for doing this! All the best for both your personal and your working life. Maybe we can do this in the future again!