Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy

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Event
Event: Marion Zimmer Bradley and a story in the zine Moon Phases
Name(s): Marion Zimmer Bradley
Date(s): 1992
Type: urban legend, fanfic controversy, creator's rights, profic
Fandom: Darkover, multifandom
URL:
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Contents

Beyond her well-known writing career, Marion Zimmer Bradley (often called MZB) is famous in fandom as the central figure in a controversy over fanfiction, specifically Masks, which supposedly made it impossible for her to publish one of her own novels called "Contraband."

The story is told often and in widely varying forms throughout fandom and among professional authors. It's frequently cited by authors who object to fanfiction to one degree or another, or as evidence that professional authors should avoid reading fanfic based on their published works, to a degree that approaches "urban legend" status.

The details in popular accounts regarding Bradley vary widely, involving alleged threats of lawsuits on both sides and estimates of the amount of material lost regarding "Contraband" ranging from incomplete notes to "four years of work."

The controversy created discussion about gift culture, fandom and profit, what makes a "good fan" and a "bad fan," the pros and cons of playing in someone else's sandbox, power imbalances, and gratefulness.

For one thing, fans lost a source of fanfiction, as well as a source of income. After Darkover had became popular both from Bradley's published books and among fanwriters, Bradley began to accept submissions from fan and professional authors for a series of Darkover anthologies which she edited and were published by DAW Books, beginning with The Keeper's Price (1980). This gave some fan fiction writers an opportunity to be professionally published.

The DAW Darkover anthologies ceased after the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy, something that was upsetting to many fans who'd enjoyed the visibility, status, and money of being published professionally.

There is no evidence of the fanfiction writer suing the author during this controversy.

For another event involving fanfiction and the Bradley Trust see: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust and Unauthorized Fanworks.

Before the Controversy

Marion Zimmer Bradley had been writing professionally since the early 1950s.

Her first Darkover novel appeared in 1958.

According to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, she was asked by Gene Roddenberry to write a script for Star Trek and turned him down.

MZB also edited the fanzines Mezrab, Day*Star, Andúril, and Astra's Tower. She was also a very frequent contributor to many other science fiction fanzines.

In the 1970s, Bradley wrote fanfiction for Star Trek and Tolkien fanzines.

Early Participation in Darkover Fandom, Including Zines

MZB had said that she didn't so much create Darkover as she discovered it, and she encouraged fan fiction writers to write in, what she called, her "back yard." She herself edited fiction fanzines, the DAW anthologies, and the long-running publication Darkover Newsletter in which there was much discussion regarding fannish creations.

Bradley published her own fanworks zine, Starstone and Bitter Honeymoon and Other Stories: The Amorous Adventures of Dyan Ardais. She also gave specific approval to several other zines, including Moon Phases, as well as implicit approval to others.

She was actively aware of, participated in, and actively encouraged fan writers to write Darkover and other fan fiction in her universes, especially in her contributions and comments in the long-running Darkover Newsletter.

Bradley and Walter Breen's first mention of their interest in publishing a zine of Darkover fanworks (which they called "apocryphal stories") was in August 1976. In Darkover Newsletter #2, Walter Breen proposed the zine that later became Starstone:
APOCRYPHAL STORIES: An annual publication is being prepared, to contain additions to the Darkover mythos by other hands, including (but not limited to) poems, songs, short stories, ballads, and other material filling in gaps, similar to what has been going on for some years now in Star Trek's various parallel universes. We have seen quite a few such items already ranging in merit from hopelessly crude to highly creditable. And now a forum exists for these and similar pieces. Submissions to this publication (whose name has not yet been decided on—let us hear your proposals) are welcome at Box 472. It is too soon, as yet, to talk about publication date or cost.[1]
Bradley, in the same newsletter, added her comments regarding their zine of fanworks:
About the annual magazine — I guess it had to happen. People started sending us poetry, outlines for fiction, and the like. Also, I have written odd bits of background material such as a study of the female reproductive cycle on a planet with four moons, which is hardly suitable for the newsletter. So there will be, sometime next spring, an issue of a Darkover fanzine devoted to fiction, poetry, apocrypha of various sorts, and possibly some material written for publication which was deleted by editorial requirements or my own self-censorship amd second thoughts. For instance, I agreed to give the editors, for the first issue, a description of the Arilinn Tower (Jeff's quarters) which was deleted by the editor from BLOODY SUN, and a description of the battle with the catmen from SPELL SWORD which didn't make it into the final manuscript of SPELL SWORD, for various reasons. There will also be a couple of poems, and possibly the music to various folksongs quoted in the texts. As yet we have no title; Jessica Salmonson suggested in one of her letters that ARILINN would be a good title for such a magazine, but we're open to your ideas. Send anything you want to have considered for publication to Tracy Blackstone, Box 472, Berkeley CA 94701.[2]
In January 1978, Bradley made this statement regarding a story she shared a byline with Elisabeth Waters in Starstone #1:
THE KEEPER'S PRICE is a collaboration; and when such a story bears the names of two authors, one amateur and one professional, the reader is always curious to know how the collaboration came about. Last summer, visiting Jacqueline Lichtenberg, I met Lisa and in the course of the evening she told me she found the character of Hilary, briefly mentioned in FORBIDDEN TOWER, so intriguing that she had written a story about her. This startled me --I too had written a Hilary story -- and I urged Lisa to send me hers, promising to let her read mine. When Lisa sent her story, untitled, somewhat fragmentary, I found it so gripping to my imagination that I was almost unconscious of its flaws; and it dovetailed into my world in such a way that all I really contributed to this story --which is, in essence, Lisa's -- was the detail of Keeper's training which Lisa could not have been expected to know. I'm proud to present it here [in Starstone]. -- MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY" [3]
In early 1978, she wrote:
Mostly I let other people write about Darkover because it is so much fun to read a new Darkover story without having to sit down and slog through the writing of it! I don't need to borrow ideas. After all, I KNOW what really happened... and yes, it's egoboo, but it's not just an ego trip. I'm just sharing, I think. I don't have as much time to write Darkover stories as I'd like to. I have to do other books that pay me more. So I like to think somebody's keeping it warm for me when I'm not there. [4]
In December 1978, Bradley wrote:
I've finished the judging of some splendid stories which came in for the Starstone short story contest. I LOVE reading Darkover stories without having to write them first; something you all have been doing all these years and I am only now having the chance to do. [5]
In October 1979, Bradley wrote about some agonizing choices she had to make regarding choosing stories for the DAW Books, "Keeper's Price," and she was very forthright about an excellent story she had read, and rejected:
The final choice was agonizing. Some stories from the contest, and some of those submitted to me, were, I admit, better than the ones I bought for the anthology. I wanted, for instance, to use Mary Frey's prize story from the contest, which was one of the best-written short stories I have read this year; I finally had to decide not to do so, on the grounds that it overlapped a story I hope someday to write, the original story of Cassilda and Camilla, and anything going into the KEEPER'S PRICE anthology will be "Official" Darkover, included in future editions of the Concordance, etc. [6]

Regarding transformative work and influence: In April 1982, Bradley responded to letters that accused her of "stealing" names, and perhaps ideas, from James Blish and H.P. Lovecraft. She offered up a lengthy explanation and ended with: "But none of us was self-consciously plagiarizing any other; we were merely adapting materials we loved into our own individual universes. And that's how it should be."[7]

1978 Discussion of Fanfic and Copyright

Bradley also actively encouraged fan writers to write Darkover and other fan fiction in her universes, a topic that came up early on and was worrisome to some.

In an undated Darkover Newsletter (certainly 1978, most likely March), a fan wrote a con report about Boskone and describes how a fan approached her, and several others, and instigated a lengthy discussion about the inherent problems regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley's heavy involvement in Darkover fandom. While the account below was written for publication in the newsletter, it is specifically addressed to Bradley. It provides much foreshadowing, and in fact predicts, the events that would occur fourteen years later:

[1978]:
Linda Bushyager... wondered about the problems involved when pro writers allow (and even encourage) fans to write fiction in their universes. We all floundered around in this discussion because none of us understand copyright law, and because we consider this a potentially sensitive subject... [Name redacted] wondered why you as pros encourage fans to write Darkover and Sims fiction. We said (1) to make us happy and allow us the egoboo of getting published (2) to collect ideas on what interests us, for possible future work, thus allowing us to contribute to your work. We said you did much of the fanzine [referring to Starstone] yourselves, because fans were going to write fan fiction anyway, and this way they can do it officially and legally. You aren't just out for egoboo or professional or personal self-aggrandizement. (And, what the heck, if this publicity manages to help win a Hugo for you, well, your influence on the sf field can only be good.)... [Name redacted] is particularly concerned that fan writers might get hurt feelings if one of you takes one of our ideas and uses it professional. We said, 'No, we'd be pleased,' and besides we trust you. Hopefully, we all manage to trust each other, and we fans get to feel part of a living universe. But I still thinks she feels that this would be unfair to us, that you would be using us, albeit with our very willing consent. I said certainly, you're 'using' us, and we 'use' the opportunities you provide, and everybody's happy... [Name redacted] also worried about the possibility of YOU getting hurt, at least in reputation, if some encouraged fan writes a story or zine in your universe and proceeds to get it copyrighted themselves, perhaps leading to legal hassles. All we could say is, we have to trust each other. [8]
Marion Zimmer Bradley responded in the same newsletter:
... While I can't speak for Jacqueline, I participate in Darkover fandom because it is FUN. I would be writing non-publishable peripheral Darkover stories for my own amusement, and publishing fanzines about something or other... where does it say I have to be professional all the time. I am a fan. I think [name redacted] argument stems from a fear that Jacqueline and I will exploit young writers using their ideas in our professional work, ideas which they, themselves, might later make use of in their own private world... I have encouraged young writers to speak in their own voice -- one of the first things I ever wrote to Jacqueline was that she would never do anything worth doing, professionally, until she got out of Roddenberry's Star Trek universe and started creating her own. And of course, this ties in with the fannish question I get very tired of hearing... 'Where do you get your ideas? As if ideas were a precious commodity, so scarce that I would be reduced to stealing them... I can get a couple of thousand story ideas between breakfast and dinner, and very few of them will I ever have time to write... So why should I snitch any of the fannish ideas about what happens in the Starstone world (which I, frankly, regard as a 'parallel world' to Darkover, not MY Darkover, not quite.) Now, I suppose if I were sick, or exhausted, or overworked, or had writer's block, and happened to come across a fannish story with the gem of a good idea it in, I might write the kid and say, 'Hey, I like that idea, and you probably don't have the skill to make a novel out of it. I'll give you (say) twenty bucks for the idea.' And if the kid should say, 'Hey, wow, I'm flattered, use it for nothing,' I would still say, 'No, I want you to sell it to me, so that you kick if I do something completely different than you want to, or so you won't later think I ripped you off, when you get older.' On the contrary, if the kid says, 'I want to use it in my own private world some day for a story of my own,' then I would just have to start with that idea and work on it till its own author would never know I began there... Mostly I let other people write about Darkover because it is so much fun to read a new Darkover story without having to sit down and slog through the writing of it! I don't need to borrow ideas. After all, I KNOW what really happened... and yes, it's egoboo, but it's not just an ego trip. I'm just sharing, I think. I don't have as much time to write Darkover stories as I'd like to. I have to do other books that pay me more. So I like to think somebody's keeping it warm for me when I'm not there. [9]

See more at Darkovans Invade Boskone!.

Darkover Anthologies Accepting Fan Submissions

After Darkover became popular both from Bradley's published books and among fanwriters, Bradley began to accept submissions from fan and professional authors for a series of Darkover anthologies published by DAW, beginning with The Keeper's Price (1980). It was in the author's foreward for "The Keeper's Price" that Bradley stated her own disapproval with authors who sought to suppress fan fiction set in the worlds they had created, as well as why she enjoyed writing alongside fans in Darkover:

[1980]:
…by reading the Darkover short stories written by my young fans, and sometimes criticizing them and trying to explain just what is wrong with them, I have somehow learned to write short stories myself and been encouraged to try my hand at this best and subtlest of fictional forms. The four stories in this volume are, I think, among the best of my short stories, and they were written because, after seeing the kind of mistakes I could recognize in other people’s stories, I could learn to avoid them in my own writing. So that I have learned as much from my fans as I hope they have learned from me about the art of writing.

Some critics have been disturbed about the possibility that I might exploit my young fans, or steal their ideas, or use their work in future novels. No, except that everything I read finds its way into my subconscious, there to undergo a sea-change which alters raw ideas into fiction. But this is just as likely to happen with a story by Roger Zelanzy – or Daphne du Maurier – or Agatha Christie – or Pearl S. Buck.

Of course I get ideas from my young fans, just as I give them ideas. But as for stealing their ideas – I have quite enough ideas of my own. If their ideas find lodgment in my head, it is in the same way that I “got the idea” for my novel Planet Savers by reading a classic study of a multiple personality, as an assignment in my psychology class; or that I might get an idea from National Geographic or Scientific American, which are magazines in which I browse when temporarily short of inspiration…

This is why I don’t mind other writers writing about Darkover, and at the same time, I have no wish and no need to exploit their ideas. If I ever do make use of a fan’s writing, it will be so altered and transmuted by its trip through my own personal dream-space that even the inventor would never recognize her idea, so alien it would be when I got through with it!

Nor do I feel threatened by stories not consistent with my own personal view of Darkover. To me all Darkover stories written by anyone else are presumed to be in a parallel world to “my” Darkover; or one of the parallel universes, which can be very close to my Darkover, or very different, just as the young writer wishes.

Because, in a very real sense, I regard myself not as the “inventor” of Darkover, but its discoverer. I others wish to play in my fantasy world, who am I to slam its gates and in churlish voice demand that they build their own? If they are capable of it, they will do someday. Meanwhile, if they wish to write of Darkover, they will. All the selfish exclusiveness of the Conan Doyle estate (which went so far as to demand that the late Ellery Queen anthology, ‘The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes’, a very fine volume of Holmes pastiches, be withdrawn from sale and never reprinted, thus denying Holmes lovers a wonderful reading experience) as not stopped lovers of Sherlock from writing their own stories and secretly sharing them. Why should I deny myself the pleasure of seeing these young writers learning to their thing by , for a little while, doing my things with me?

Or, look at it this way. When I was a little kid, I was a great lover of ‘pretend’ games, but after I was nine or ten, I could never get anyone to play them with me. And now I have a lot of fans, and friends, who will come into my magic garden and play the old ‘pretend games’ with me. [10]

Mercedes Lackey's Comments Regarding "Ideas"

Mercedes Lackey, one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's protégées, and ironically the person entrusted with the notes to "Contraband," [11] had some things to say about ideas and copyright.

In 1989, Lackey offered an eight-point tutorial for aspiring writers. One of those points was the subject of ideas and their theft:
Nobody is going to "steal your idea," much less your book. First of all, you can't steal ideas; no two authors will do the same thing with the same idea. Secondly, nobody would even consider stealing a book; it's not worth it. A publisher could be wiped out by a single lawsuit.
In 2006, Mercedes Lackey gave a bit of a different spin on MZB's borrowing from fans:
I actually am privy to and part of the "Marion Zimmer Bradley situation" and I can state with confidence the facts of the matter. Marion had begun to write a Darkover book about Regis Hastur. She liked the "take" a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn't have to, after all, you can't "own" an idea). [12]

The Cross-Pollination of Creative Works and the Communal Human Psyche

Bradley often commented on how writers drew upon other writers for for ideas and inspiration. [need some examples]

In 1977 and 1978, there were a number of statements made in her newsletter that George Lucas "lifted," or was "inspired" by Darkover for Star Wars.

From a statement in 1977 in Darkover Newsletter #6: "After all, "Alderaan" is a name lifted from Darkover, accidentally or otherwise, the rebel base was on the Red Moon, Tatooine resembles the Drylands almost as much as it does Arrakis, the Force is not very far removed from certain manifestations of laran, and a local Council member who calls himself "Chang," our martial-arts expert, is a Mark Hamill look-alike."

From the 1977 essay by Ted Bryan in Darkover Newsletter #8: "...yes, it HAS been pointed out that laran is a manifestation of the Force, and that evidently Lucas was familiar with some of the Darkover books."

"The Mists of Avalon" -- An Apex

Bradley's sister-in-law, Diana Paxson, wrote in 2001, that the success of The Mists of Avalon (1983), while gratifying and exciting, was also an unexpected strain on Bradley:

But no one expected what happened when The Mists of Avalon was published. Some of its success was no doubt due to the editorial and promotional genius of Judy Lynn Benjamin Del Rey, who got the book reviewed in the New York Times. But the rest has to be put down to Marion’s ability to resonate with the zeitgeist. Glowing reviews certainly helped, but what made the book a bestseller was word-of-mouth publicity, and that’s what keeps it selling today. People bought and read and loved it, then bought copies for their friends. Suddenly Marion found herself world-famous.

This was not what she had expected, especially when people began to phone her in the middle of the night wanting spiritual counsel. Morgaine herself could not have fulfilled all the expectations being laid upon the author of The Mists of Avalon. Marion continued to write, but she began to withdraw from public life.

Her health was also beginning to fail. To the heart trouble from which she had suffered for many years was added diabetes, and then a series of strokes. [13]

Ghostwriters and Collaborators

In 1978, Bradley wrote of an early collaborator, Elisabeth Waters:
THE KEEPER'S PRICE is a collaboration; and when such a story bears the names of two authors, one amateur and one professional, the reader is always curious to know how the collaboration came about. Last summer, visiting Jacqueline Lichtenberg, I met Lisa and in the course of the evening she told me she found the character of Hilary, briefly mentioned in FORBIDDEN TOWER, so intriguing that she had written a story about her. This startled me --I too had written a Hilary story -- and I urged Lisa to send me hers, promising to let her read mine. When Lisa sent her story, untitled, somewhat fragmentary, I found it so gripping to my imagination that I was almost unconscious of its flaws; and it dovetailed into my world in such a way that all I really contributed to this story --which is, in essence, Lisa's -- was the detail of Keeper's training which Lisa could not have been expected to know. I'm proud to present it here [in Starstone]. [14]
In 1980, Bradley suffered one of her first serious health problems. She wrote:
Thendara Council nearly came to a screeching halt with MZB's illness, which was reporedt in LOCUS, not quite accurately as a "mild stroke." MZB herself, wrote the following for us: "It wasn't precisely a stroke, but a momentary paralysis which my doctor called an "Ischemic attack" -- a stroke that didn't quite happen. [snipped] It took me considerable time to recuperate, but I'm working again and feeling, all things considered, quite well." [15]

While her health issues were serious, this was initially downplayed [16] [17]. On October 30, 1989, Bradley's health took a much more serious turn for the worse when she had a moderate-to-major stroke. It is widely believed both among fans and sf/f industry professionals that after that date, most or all of the books published under her name were either collaborations or entirely ghostwritten by other individuals. [18] Some sources assert that Bradley was entirely unable to write after 1989. Evidence for this belief varies widely where specific works are concerned, sometimes amounting to little more than rumor & speculation, while in other instances collaborators received cover credits or other acknowledgement. In the case of at least one series, the copyrights were later reassigned to the second author. A close reading of credited editors and authors in some of Bradley's books show the quiet revisions in subsequent printings.

Bradley herself writes of being personally disappointed, and some challenges she faced, regarding her own books at this time. [19] [20] [21]

Near the end of 1993, Bradley admits that Elisabeth Waters was writing at least some of her correspondence with fans. When a fan asked about the book "Black Trillium," Bradley appears to write a long answer, one that she then immediately attributes to Elisabeth Waters. It is an example of how with Bradley's declining health, it is very difficult to know who's words are whose, where those boundaries are, and when those boundaries started to be blurred:
Probably the major influence on Haramis was my secretary Elisabeth, who is terribly efficient and organized and always likes to be in control of her environment. She runs my office, my house, and sometimes my life. This varies from being helpful (when I'm on deadline for a book and don't want to be bothered with mundane details) to very annoying (when she organizes the library and I can't find anything without asking her). Like Haramis [a character in "Black Trillium"]. I' m sure there are times when she finds living with me difficult, too. [Elisabeth, of course, wrote much of the above] MZB. [22]

According to Mercedes Lackey, MZB had a "release form" and used it at least once: "[My] release form was copied wholesale from Marion Zimmer Bradley's fanfiction release form and covers the occasion when she used someone's idea (with their permission and signature) in one of her Darkover novels. It also covers the novels that another author finished after her death." [23]

An undated interview with Rosemary Edghill mentions Bradley's health issues and describes the process Edghill followed as one such collaborator. [24]

From a 2000 discussion about Bradley's later books and "co-writers":

[Heather Rose Jones]: A number of MZB's later books were produced by having Marion's outlines, notes, character sketches, and such worked up by other authors. Not quite a "franchise" but not quite a full collaboration either. The decision to leave the cover-credit in Marion's name only was, I believe, the publisher's.

On the other hand, if you're guessing about which books were co-written purely on the basis of which ones you think "sucked" you might be rather surprised at the actual breakdown.

It is an exaggeration to say that nothing in this period that appeared under MZB's name was written by her. I have first-hand knowledge of this because I worked for her magazine for several years in the mid '90s. What is true is that pretty much anything she wrote had to be heavily edited to turn it into readable English -- in part because she couldn't be bothered to polish things up beyond a very rough first draft, and in part because she no longer had the acuity of mind to do so.

But the editorials and short stories that appeared under her name in the magazine during the time I was there were all, in major substance, MZB's writing. They were all, also, heavily edited. I know, because when I was working there, I was one of the ones doing it. Sometimes they only needed very heavy-duty copyediting; sometimes one had to deal with eliminating repetitions, turning fragments into sentences, and fishing an identifiable theme out of the prose and then making the rest of the work relate to that theme. But the result was always based on her substance.

(The only thing that occasionally got her name attached to it in the magazine that she hadn't actually written were occasional replies to letters to the editor.) [25]

From a 2006 discussion about MZB's later books and "co-writers":

... MZB was completely open about [having ghostwriters]. When complimented about a passage in one of the last books, she said 'that sounds interesting, I should read it' :)

She was in very poor and declining health the last couple of years of her life. With her medical bills, she needed to keep money coming in. Her publishers told her the books needed to have her name on them to sell.

[...]

... the Darkover books are continuing, written (thus far) by Deborah J. Ross. The next one, The Alton Gift, is scheduled for 2007. Exile's Song, before her death, was ghostwritten, without a cover credit for the ghost-writer, but look in the 'acknowledgements' paragraph for her identity. [26]
In 2004, a fan speculated:

But easily the biggest problem, that starts to unravel the whole thing - MZB had a stroke on October 30, 1989, and continued to suffer from heart congestion and more strokes for the rest of her life. This and future strokes (and perhaps a previous stroke in 1987, but most sources peg the 1989 one as the significant one) left her with significant cognitive impairments. Every single book ostensibly written by her after that point was at most, co-written, and, judging by the words of at least one ostensible co-writer, MZB's input didn't extend too much farther than her name and approval. [27] Even the most adoring co-writer only talked a lot about MZB's ideas and inspiration, but didn't say a word about the actual text itself. [28] The last book that was probably mostly written by MZB was published in 1989, 3 years before all this happened. No matter what else happened, whoever's book might have been scuttled by the fan's lack of cooperation - it was almost certainly not hers.

So...who were these ghostwriters? Well, MZB's inner circle. She'd dedicated herself to mentoring new and upcoming writers for a long time. MZB was honestly, in my opinion, a better editor than writer, and she had three major venues where she picked up new authors to mentor: her Fantasy magazine, the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, and Darkover fanfic, both the official anthologies and fanzines. As such, there were a lot of authors who got their first publishing credit from MZB and who she continued to mentor and encourage and some of whom were, presumably, willing to keep churning out novels for her with a minimum of credit in her time of need. With the severity of her health problems, I can't imagine that money didn't become a rather pressing matter. And so, at some point the decision must have been made to continue her series via ghostwriters, to keep the money flowing in.

The three who seem to have been most deeply involved early on were Elisabeth Waters (MZB's secretary and housemate) who dabbled in writing but mostly seems to have been the one who took over the anthologies (to whatever extent they might have been taken over, since the state of her ability to edit is less clear than her ability to write), Mercedes Lackey, MZB's prize student and who's generally the one I've seen talk most about this case in public, and Diana Paxson, MZB's sister in law who was the one who took over ghostwriting the most potentially profitable of MZB's potential series, Mists of Avalon. Keep in mind, though, these are only the names which come up most often, and the person most responsible could've easily been someone else all together.

Between her stroke and the incident, things were pretty slow. They'd kept up the anthologies well enough, with a new S&S and Darkover fanfic anthology coming out on average once a year. Black Trillium had been co-written with Andre Norton and Julian May, which judging by the timeline, could've been either mostly completed before her stroke or mostly written by Julian May with input from the other two (or both). The Forest House by Diana Paxson and Rediscovery by Mercedes Lackey, the first of the real ghostwritten novels, would've been in the pipeline, considering they were published only a year later in 1993, but that was all. Probably, that's where the four years worth of work idea came from - that's the duration of the gap between the last book and the first ghost-written book. During this lull where they were just beginning to experiment with ghost writing, the zine with the novel that would become the fanfic at the center of all this seems to have been published. I can't dig up the date anywhere, unfortunately. There might've been a free copy sent to MZB, there might not have. I'm inclined to say there was, if only because MZB did encourage fanfiction and so I'd be surprised if she didn't get a free copy of most zines that published her fanfic, and that particular zine had had material by her run in it in the past. Either way, one of them saw it, and obviously liked it enough to send the letter that started the whole mess.

I want to be very clear here - it was not a coincidentally similar idea. Period. It was an idea that one of MZB's ghostwriters thought was awesome and wanted permission to use [29], and was willing to pay $500 for the free and clear right to do so. Mercedes Lackey herself mentions that fact. [30] , and that it wasn't the first time MZB had done such a thing. In fact, Elisabeth Waters had apparently become acquainted with MZB when MZB rewrote her story into the title story for one of the Darkover anthologies. [31]

For much more on Bradley's health issues, see Bradley's Health.

Elisabeth Waters wrote at length in 2008 about three 1990-1995 anthologies which include MZB's byline, but in fact, due to MZB's health, were written, either in part or entirely, by Waters herself:

Interviewer: 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?

Waters: 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. [32]

Deborah J. Ross who was awarded the official rights to continue MZB's Darkover books after MZB's death describes meeting MZB, and their collaboration. From an undated post on Deborah J. Ross' webpage:

I began writing stories around fourth grade but did not do so seriously until the late 1970s, when I made my first professional sale to the debut volume of Sword & Sorceress. For the next decade or so, when my children were small, every year I wrote one or two short stories every year, which Marion bought for her anthologies or fantasy magazine, and one unpublishable novel [33]

[snipped]

I am frequently asked how I came to work with Marion Zimmer Bradley and to continue her Darkover series after her death. Senior author-junior author dual-bylines are not unusual these days, but each partnership has its own story. In this case, the answer centers around our long-established professional relationship.

To begin with, I met Marion by writing her a letter. This was back in 1980 and I had no idea fandom existed, but I felt so moved by her work that I wanted to let her know. Marion wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. We began a correspondence, and I must confess to a certain giddiness that my favorite author had taken the care to write to me.

Marion had read a little of my Darkover fiction for the fanzine she edited for Friends of Darkover, so when she began work on the first Sword & Sorceress, she invited me to send her a story for consideration. She bought that story and many others over the years, although she occasionally sent back stories with requests for revision.

Toward the end of her life, Marion suffered a series of strokes, which made it difficult for her to concentrate on novel-length stories. I was one of the writers Marion considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional.

We began work together as we had begun our relationship, first in correspondence, then in person. We'd settled on a time period and general story arc when I visited her for the last time. When I arrived at her home, she had been resting, on oxygen, but insisted on sitting up to talk. I knew she had been very ill, but seeing her made her condition so much more vivid for me. 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. We never got a second visit. She died a month later.

The belief that Bradley was using uncredited and/or unacknowledged collaborators during this period is likely to have influenced fan and industry opinions regarding the subsequent controversy over Bradley's "lost" novel. If the most extreme accounts are correct -- that Bradley couldn't write at all after 1989, and that abandoning the novel cost "four years of work" -- then it follows that the lost work must have been a ghostwriter's, or not written at all.

It was during this period that the famous fanfiction controversy occurred.

The Controversy -- "Masks" is the Tipping Point

cover of the zine, Moon Phases which contains "Masks"
a June 1992 ad in On the Double #23

Contraband was the name of a long-awaited novel by Bradley.

Pre-1992 Mentions of "Contraband"

In March 1990, Bradley mentioned "Contraband," a proposed book, for the first time in Darkover Newsletter. The book was in note form, and possibly just a series of ideas. Bradley's letter to fans says she has recovered fairly well from her stroke.
Of course if the stroke had been a really severe one, 'Heirs of Hammerfell' would have been the last Darkover novel. Not that 'Heirs' is a bad book, but it is far from my best... The second Darkover novel I'm actually working on now... is 'Return to Darkover'... The third Darkover novel, waiting in the wings as it were, is called Contraband. At present all I know about this one is that it covers the events in 'Heritage,' mentioned between Regis and Danilo; and is about Rafael Hastur and Rafael Syritis. No other details yet. [34]
In September 1990, Elisabeth Waters wrote:
The first draft of 'Rediscovery' has been turned into DAW, and 'Return to Darkover' is started,' though I'm not sure how far along she is on that one. She's also talking about doing a Darkover novel (tentatively titled Contraband) about Regis's and Danilo's fathers, who were killed by smuggled Terran weaponry. [35]

In July 1991, a story by Jean Lamb titled Masks was published in Moon Phases #12. [36] Both Lamb's story "Masks," and Bradley's proposed novel are said to have focused on the character of Regis Hastur.

In December 1991, Bradley wrote "'Contraband' hasn't been written yet. 'Return to Darkover' is half done. 'Re-Discovery' is being rewritten by Mercedes Lackey, whose approach to Darkover is a lot like mine..." [37]

In June 1992, nearly a year after "Masks" was published, Bradley wrote: "I never know what books I'm going to write until I've written them. At present, I'm finishing up 'Return to Darkover' and beginning "Contraband," about Rafael Hustur and Rafael Syrtis from 'The Hawkmaster's Son' in 'Keeper's Price.'"' [38]

Oddly, when a fan in September 1991 asked if Bradley read had read a Darkover story she sent her called "Holidays on Darkover, Part 1" and if she should send Part 2 and Part 3. Elisabeth Waters had an interesting reply: "Yes, We did receive Part 1 of "Holidays on Darkover." I myself have not read it.... but I do know that, after Mrs. Bradley saw it, it was sent to the "Marion Zimmer Bradley Collection" at Boston University. By all means, send Parts 2 and 3; that way the library will have the whole thing." [39]What makes this interesting is this is the first time Bradley's official depository in Boston is mentioned. This occurs just two months after the publication of Masks. This could mean that the conflict regarding "Masks" has already hit the fan, as it were, and that Bradley is now stepping back from supporting fan fiction.

Some "Contraband" Background

Bradley said several times that she read fiction in fanzines and kept abreast of things there. She wrote this in several flyers that stated submission guidelines for her DAW Darkover Anthologies. One example is this statement from a March 1992 submission guideline for Bradley's next offering: "Original stories only please - if your story has been printed in a fanzine, I've already seen and considered it." [40]

It was also common practice, and an expected one, for Darkover fans to send copies of their fic to Bradley. Bradley had read Masks, and "then wrote a response to Lamb, commenting on what she thought worked and what didn’t, and closed saying she had enjoyed the book." [41]. Sometime before September 1992, [42] Bradley offered Lamb a payment of $500 and acknowledgment in exchange for the use of Lamb's material in Bradley's work-in-progress. Lamb tried to negotiate different terms, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement.

Nina Boal, editor of "Moon Phases," "described Lamb’s feeling as of being “convinced Marion wasn’t paying enough attention to Danvan. And it was like he was a real character, a person” whom she had to rescue from the author in order to “do right by him.” [43]

"Masks" was offered for sale between June 1991 and at least June 1992, when it was then permanently pulled from ads.

Contraband was never published.

Points of Agreement

Sources -- including Bradley herself -- agree that Bradley had in fact read Masks: "One of the fans [Lamb] wrote a story, using my world and my characters, that overlapped the setting I was using for my next Darkover novel. Since she had sent me a copy of her fanzine, and I had read it,..."[44] Even if Lamb hadn't sent her story to Bradley, Bradley would have seen it. From the March 1992 submission guidelines for Bradley's next DAW Darkover Anthology: "Original stories only please - if your story has been printed in a fanzine, I've already seen and considered it." [45] [46]

It is also generally agreed that Lamb had not read "Contraband," as it not only hadn't been written yet, it may have also only existed in outline form, if even that. It's also generally agreed that Bradley's initial offer to Lamb involved money and an acknowledgment or dedication in what would have been Contraband had the book been published. According to Moon Phases editor Nina Boal: "Marion did offer Jean a special dedication and also $500. Jean refused this, saying that she wanted a byline for the novel." [47]

Nina Boal commented:
People, I was right in the middle of this and discussed this with the parties involved first hand. The following was acknowledged on both sides. Marion did offer Jean a special dedication and also $500. Jean refused this, saying that she wanted a byline for the novel. Jean also became convinced (erronenously) that Marion intended to plagerize [sic] from her fan-written work about Danvan Hastur. Her actions made me positively sick. Jean was my good friend, but no more after what she did here and the unfounded accusations she made about Marion." [48]

Lamb's own statement is that: "I received a letter offering me a sum and a dedication for all rights to the text. I attempted at that point to _very politely_ negotiate a better deal."[36]

It's at this point that accounts begin to vary.

In 1999, Patricia Mathews, a fan close to Lamb responded to another's fan's statement of the trouble that resulted when "... at least one Darkover fan... [claimed] credit for something that appeared in one of MZB's books." Mathews corrected her:
Excuse me. She did no such thing. She wrote a long piece of fanfic MZB asked to use in a future novel and offered her a sum of money. The fan tried to bargain (oh, shock! horror!) by asking for more money and a by-line. Next thing you know MZB/DAW/whoever has hit the panic button and is screaming "lawyer! lawyer!" Do you know why we have never heard That Fan speak up? Is it because she has crawled into a corner cringing with knowledge of her guilt? NO!!! It's because MZB threatened to sue her if she 'said anything derogatory' about the author concerning this situation. Incidentally: who has more access to lawyers to sue? MZB/DAW? Or a schoolteacher's wife? [49]

Mercedes Lackey, widely regarded as a member of Bradley's 'inner circle' at the time, frames the offer in slightly different terms, saying that Bradley "liked the 'take' a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowledgement in the front of the book."[50]

The different phrasing makes it unclear whether Bradley (or a hypothetical collaborator/editor) wanted to incorporate text from Masks directly into Contraband, or merely to draw on material from Lamb's work as back story/reference material in shaping her own narrative.

Lawyers & Legalese

There is no evidence of the fanfiction writer suing the author during this controversy.

Accounts of the negotiations between Bradley and Lamb are vague as to who may have first retained legal counsel (and for what reason). Bradley, again in the Writers' Digest letter, mentions "the cost of inconvenience of having a lawyer deal with this matter".[44] She also writes several times of her lawyer's involvement in the Darkover Newsletter #58 that was published in September 1992.

Lamb's account insists that she didn't initiate a conflict, at least not on receipt of Bradley's offer: "I did not threaten any sort of suit whatsoever; in fact, a few months later I received a letter from Ms. Bradley's lawyer threatening me with a suit should I be a bit too frank about Ms. Bradley's um, writing methods,"[42] This is contradicted by a statement Ann Sharp made to a fan who'd asked if Bradley had read the Darkover poem he'd sent to her. "You may not be aware that, as a result of an unfortunate incident two years ago, complete with threatened legal action, Bradley has had to forego the pleasure of reading fan material." [51] Nina Boal also states that "Jean also became convinced (erroneously) that Marion intended to plagerize (sic) from her fan-written work about Danvan Hastur"[47], and Robert Frieling's 2003 report quotes a representative of Bradley's estate to the effect that "the fan threatened to sue". [52]

It's unclear, however, at what point or to what purpose Lamb may have sought legal representation -- and it's interesting to note that the alleged threat Lamb received from Bradley's counsel doesn't appear to involve a copyright action (or, indeed, to involve Masks directly at all).

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Letters

1992 letter to the Darkover Newsletter: "Holes in My Yard"

"Holes in My Yard," a September 1992 open letter by Bradley to the Darkover Newsletter #58, signals the end of Marion Zimmer Bradley's involvement with fanfiction:
I've finished 'Rediscovery' and 'Return to Darkover'... My next project was going to be 'Contraband,' the novel about Dyan Ardais I mentioned in the introduction to Elisabeth Water's story 'A Proper Escort' in 'Renunciates of Darkover.' Unfortunately, my decades of encouraging young writers and allowing fans to 'play in my yard' just caught up to me. Somebody had written a fan novel covering the same time period, and I had read it. It used my characters, sometimes in ways I wouldn't have, but it also contained a few ideas I liked, so I offered the author a reasonable sum of money (about one sixth of what she would have received as the advance of a first novel) and an acknowledgment in the dedication for incorporating those ideas (not her writing) into my book. I offered this even though ideas cannot be copyrighted, because I have never believed in taking advantage of my fans. She wrote back saying that, while she could live with the monetary compensation I'd offered, what she wanted was a shared byline. It might be that she thought I was asking to collaborate with her, although I cannot imagine what in my letter could have possibly given her that impression... This was essentially the same deal I made with Jacqueline Lichtenberg on 'Thendara House.' but unfortunately this person still did not seem willing to accept the deal. I talked to... my editor at DAW Books, who says the only person she would agree to have me share a byline on a Darkover novel with is Mercedes Lackey, who has collaborated with me on my last two Darkover novels, and is the writer to whom I am leaving the series when I am no longer able to write it. [My editor] also says that, under the circumstances, DAW cannot publish 'Contraband.' She was kind enough to refrain from pointing out that I had been an idiot to read fan fiction set in my world without a legal release form. I have, however, agreed to refrain from such behavior in the future. From now on, the only Darkover material I will read is anthology submissions accompanied by the proper release form. If you publish a Darkover fanzine, run an APA etc., do NOT send me copies. They will be returned unread by my office staff. (Instead, send any courtesy copies you would have previously sent to me directly to [address for the Mugar Library in Boston]. This is the depository for the 'Marion Zimmer Bradley Collection, and your work will contribute to making the collection more complete.) I'm sorry that things have come to this. I never wanted to have to keep a "professional distance" from my fans, and for more than twenty years I didn't need to. But I guess even the longest streak of good luck runs out eventually, and sometimes one bad apple does spoil the whole barrel. I regret having to give up a novel that I had already started work on, and I apologize to all of you who wanted to read it. --Signed, Marion Zimmer Bradley.
There is a note included after this letter:
The fate of the Darkover fanzines, and of stories Marion Zimmer Bradley does not buy for the anthologies, is still being researched by Mrs. Bradley's lawyer. The person who started this problem has received a cease-and-desist order from Mrs. Bradley's lawyer. If she continues to distribute her Darkover material or writes any further Darkover material, there will be serious legal consequences, both for her and any fanzine or APA editors who may publish her material. We will keep readers abreast of further developments. -- Signed, Ann Sharp (editor of the newsletter).

1993 Letter to Writer's Digest: "KEEP OUT OF MY YARD"

In March 1993, six months after her letter to Darkover Newsletter, Bradley wrote a letter to Writer's Digest.

Writer's Digest titled the letter in bold, "KEEP OUT OF MY YARD.":

Roberta Rogow's "Having Fun with Fanzines" (Dec.) is inaccurate in its reference to me. While in the past I have allowed fans to 'play in my yard,' I was forced to stop that practice last summer when one of the fans wrote a story, using my world and my characters, that overlapped the setting I was using for my next Darkover novel. Since she had sent me a copy of her fanzine, and I had read it, my publisher will not publish my novel set during that time period, and I am now out several years' work, as well as the cost of inconvenience of having a lawyer deal with this matter.

Because this occurred just as I was starting to read for this year's Darkover anthology, that project was held up for more than a month while the lawyer drafted a release to accompany any submissions and a new contract, incorporating the release. I do not know at present if I shall be doing any more Darkover anthologies.

Let this be a warning to other authors who might be tempted to be similarly generous with their universes, I know now why Arthur Conan Doyle refused to allow anyone to write about Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to be more accommodating, but I don't like where it has gotten me. It's enough to make anyone into a misanthrope. [53]

Comments by Jean Lamb describing the 1992 Events

1999 Comments by Jean Lamb

From LOIS-BUJOLD Digest:

Hello, I'm the fan who was involved in the whole MZB business. This cropped up AGAIN in the _Locus_ remembrance of her, unfortunately. Here's what really happened:

1. I wrote a Darkover novel (I was In Love, a condition with which I hope you will sympathize).

2. Ms. Bradley made an offer for the use of the novel (I was to sign an agreement not to sue for copyright infringement in exchange for a sum. I understood this to mean that she could use any or all of it as her work in exchange for little or no attribution).

3. I tried to negotiate a better deal.

4. This was not received well. Though Ms. Bradley was welcome, as always, to use any of the ideas I came up with, this was apparently not satisfactory.

5. I actually discussed the situation with some friends in what I _thought_ was private conversations.

6. I thereupon received a letter from MZB's lawyer requesting me to cease and desist from saying anything that could be construed as derogatory (i.e., negative)--and I am paraphrasing here, though I do still have copies of all the paperwork involved for my own protection--under threat of being sued.

7. For all the years thereafter, the situation has been turned around to where I'm the one at fault, including the final remembrance in _Locus_ (and once here, on this listserv) the source for which was undoubtedly people who actually knew what really happened. I leave their motivation as an exercise for the reader.

I've got proof that I was the one who was threatened with a lawsuit. But the other side has lots more people who are apparently willing to state it happened differently than it actually did. [54]

2001 Comments by Jean Lamb

Lamb's comments at rec.arts.sf.written:

Here's what happened. It _was_ fanfic, but published under MZB's more or less aegis as a permitted issue of MOON PHASES (Nina Boal, editor). It was a book entitled MASKS set entirely within Darkover.

I received a letter offering me a sum and a dedication for all rights to the text. I attempted at that point to _very politely_ negotiate a better deal. I was told that I had better take what I was offered, that much better authors than I had not been paid as much (we're talking a few hundred dollars here) and had gotten the same sort of 'credit' (this was in the summer of 1992).

At that point I did not threaten any sort of suit whatsoever; in fact, a few months later I received a letter from Ms. Bradley's lawyer threatening me with a suit should I be a bit too frank about Ms. Bradley's um, writing methods, and who her current collaborators were at the time (at least that is how I took the lawyer's phrasing). Needless to say, I could not afford to defend myself if sued. Winning with the truth could have bankrupted me (and probably still could).

I can't use the book. A later submission to DAW of original work was returned in _incredibly_ short time with a preprinted slip. (this may have had more to do with the quality of the work than the byline, I hasten to add, though I've never seen them work quite that fast before).

It's been a long strange trip. But it DID cure me of fanfic. [55]

2011 Comments by Jean Lamb

Lamb's comments via email to a 2011 interviewer:

I was unable to determine how much of the novel I wrote was going to be used. The offer consisted of a few hundred dollars and a mention in a dedication, in exchange for my signing an agreement not to sue for copyright infringement. This seemed a bit open-ended, and I consulted with my agent…he didn't think much of it, given that my agreement not to sue did not mention how much or how little of the book was going to be used. I then responded with a counteroffer, which asked for either more money or a shared byline, unless the amount of my work being used could be clarified. If Ms. Bradley was going to use some ideas from the book, then she was free to do so without any cost, but if there was going to be a lot of my writing used, then I wanted to be compensated fairly. [56]

So, Who Spiked The Novel?

Sources disagree as to who made the decision not to publish Contraband.

Again, there is no evidence of the fanfiction writer suing the author during this controversy.

It Was DAW!

The March 1993 Writers' Digest letter quotes Bradley as follows: "my publisher will not publish my novel set during that time period, and I am now out several years’ work."[44]

In 2008, Catherine Coker reported DAW Books had turned down Bradley's book: "Betsy Wollheim, Bradley's publisher and the wife [57] of her late friend Donald, would not take the manuscript for publication. Bradley was left with two years of work now gone, an unprintable text, and very stung feelings. [58]

It Was MZB!

By contrast, a 2003 report from Robert Frieling cites correspondence from Bradley's estate: "I emailed the MZB estate about the status of Contraband recently and they said "No, CONTRABAND will not be published. Not enough of it was written down for anyone to finish it. Mrs. Bradley was still in the plotting stages when the fan threatened to sue and DAW Books refused to touch the book, so she went on to something else and never wrote any more of it. Too bad. [59]

Novelist Jim C. Hines reports in 2010 that "I’ve also spoken to Betsy Wollheim at DAW, who states that this was Bradley’s decision, not DAW’s".[60]

Post-1992 and The Spin: Comments About "Contraband" in "Darkover Newsletter" -- The Fans React, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elisabeth Waters, and Ann Sharp Respond

While Darkover Newsletter wasn't the only venue for fan discussion, it was the most public. In the internet era, it would have acted as Bradley's blog. It was in the newsletter that fans had access, or perceived access to Bradley and her spokespeople.

Below are all comments regarding "The Contraband Incident" that were published in "Darkover Newsletter." They are a representation of how this whole thing was presented to fans, and to other interested parties. Keep in mind that all comments were vetted by Bradley, Elisabeth Waters, or Ann Sharp and are therefore a filtered and pre-chewed picture of the public face of this controversy.

The common theme of these comments were:

  • extreme disappointment and anger over being denied a new official Darkover novel
  • extreme disappointment and anger over being denied the opportunity to write for, and make money from, being in the DAW Darkover Anthologies
  • all letters blame the fan
  • two fans hesitantly ask why Bradley didn't just not use the fan's idea in "Contraband"
  • several fans offer Bradley the use of their ideas and say they'b be honored if Bradley took them
  • most fans took care to state that they were good fans, not bad fans

Holes in My Yard was printed in September 1992 (Darkover Newsletter #58). This was the first time most fans learned of the controversy.

All quotes below are from Darkover Newsletter.

December 1992

A fan commented:

Thank you for responding to my inquiry about the reasons behind the need for the "release" form. I was saddened to learn that someone would so abuse your good will and also disappointed that Contraband won't be published. I was looking forward to reading it. If it's any consolation (I suspect it probably isn't) you are more than welcome to take any of the ideas I've used in my series of Darkover stories and incorporate them into a sequel to Stormqueen, should you decide to write one. Far from threatening lawsuits, I would be thrilled.

... In my four years of submitting stories to you, I've never written anything but the most business-like of cover letters, as I know you don't like long personal ramblings. This time, though, I beg your indulgence. The letter you sent with the release form was a bit chilling, not that I have any qualms about signing the release — I don't; Darkover is yours; I've always known that. But in the letter, you raise the possibility of calling an end to these anthologies, and I would hate to see that happen.

I love writing stories in this world. Getting my first story published in Domains of Darkover meant quite a lot to me, and I'm sure there are many, many other aspiring writers who have felt the same way. I have since sold you several stories for your other projects, but the Darkover work remains my favorite. Losing the opportunity to write Darkover stories would be something like losing a friend.

I've always found you to be an extremely fair editor, and I hope the release is only a precaution, that you haven't already had legal problems because of the Darkover anthologies. Here and there, I have encountered a few amateur writers whose opinions about themselves and the publishing world are seriously at odds with reality — people who think their (usually sort of average) ideas are so unique that editors are dying to steal them. I suppose with so many people writing Darkover stories you might have to deal with some of these. For the sake of the rest of your writers, though, I hope you'll find a way through the legal tangle, allowing us to continue to have the joy of writing Darkover stories. I really do hope that Snows of Darkover won't be the last anthology, but whatever happens, I've enjoyed having the opportunity to write in this universe. It's taught me a lot and been fun. [61]
Bradley responded:
... I like the possibility of an end to the Darkover anthologies less than anyone, but this year has been a nightmare. The so-called fan causing the trouble was also — along with her husband — quite verbally abusive to Lisa when she called at my request. Now Lisa's room is filled with piles of manuscripts waiting for releases, manuscripts being held for final consideration, releases, blank release forms, cover letters for the release forms, and various sizes of SASE's. [snipped] Lisa is not happy. Lisa says she doesn't deserve the kind of abuse she got from these people, and she's tired of juggling legal forms and wants to work on her own writing. And after thirteen years of working for me, one could argue that she has earned the right to some sort of life and career of her own.

DAW also already has two Darkover anthologies they haven't published yet; Snows of Darkover make three. Towers of Darkover isn't scheduled until September 1993, so when I turn in Snows, DAW will have enough anthologies to get them through 1995. My agent is talking to them about whether they will still want any more Darkover anthologies. And I'm not sure I do.

And my lawyer is still doing research on the matter of fanzine stories and copyright ownership. I feel like Frankenstein's monster facing enraged villagers.

So the future of all Darkover short fiction is pretty much up in the air at this point. I wish it weren't so, but that's the situation.

March 1993

A fan wrote:
Once again, it seems, some greedy stupid person has managed to mess up something that was operating just fine on trust and honesty. Among other painful consequences, the legal problems mean that no one else will get the wonderful surprise I did when you wrote me to ask if I'd hke to see my story published in Free Amazons of Darkover. [snipped] Your generosity in letting people play in your world has meant so much! I can well understand that you and Lisa might be sick of the whole mess, but the thought of there being no more Friends of Darkover anthologies is truly depressing. It's some consolation to know that there will be Darkover anthologies at least through 1995; being an incurable optimist, I continue to hope that they can somehow be continued past that. [62]
A fan wrote:

I've just finished reading the latest issue of Writer's Digest and send my deepest sympathies to you concerning your Darkover novel and anthologies. If such a thing must happen to anyone, I wish it had not been you. I have enjoyed many of your Darkover novels and look forward to reading the next. I hate to think of anything interfering with the publication of any of your works.

[snipped]

I should have written sooner to tell you how much I admire your writing and how much I appreciate the time you take with manuscripts. Were it not for - the respect I have for your time, I would send you all my writing just to get your rejection slips. Because I know you have precious little time, though, I will not send you anything I feel you won't find perfect for publication. I am still a novice though, so forgive me if any do not quite meet your expectations, and know I'll look forward to your rejection letter.

Again, I'm sorry you're having trouble getting your latest Darkover novel out .... I can only imagine how frustrated and downright angry you must be over the loss of time and effort you put into that manuscript. Surely it surpasses the disappointment I experience with rejection. I, at least, have the consolation that trying again through revision, then another submission, may land me in print (as you know from past experience) .... I hope there are no further delays, and thanks for the advice on fanzines. I hope you don't turn into a misanthrope because of this mess. You are one of the few who show your fellow writers compassion in the world of submissions, and you have millions of fans out here who care about your projects.
A fan wrote:

I also enjoy your anthologies very much. You have introduced me to several new authors, two of my favorites being Mercedes Lackey and Jennifer Roberson, whose stories I liked so much that I went out and bought all their novels. I was so upset to learn about that person and the trouble she has caused! To think that if you were not so generous as to let people "play in your backyard," (a very apt expression!) that I would not have enjoyed half so much is very upsetting to me. To know that one of your novels will not be published because of this and that your anthologies may stop (I am praying that they don't!), is heartbreaking. I am much more of a reader than a writer, although I have written a few short stories, but to me just to know you thought my ideas had merit would be such an honor, so much more so than any kind of monetary payment!!

I sincerely hope you continue to write and edit. I would hate to think of aspiring authors, who, without your generosity and support, would not go on. I have enjoyed your work much more than I can ever put into words, and I sincerely hope you will continue in your writing.

Nian Boal, the editor of Moon Phases (the zine that the controversial story "Masks" was published in) wrote:

I want to thank both you and Lisa for your prompt replies to my queries about the continuance of my Darkover fiction fanzine, Moon Phases. I also want to thank you for the trust you have continued to put in me as Moon Phases' editor, throughout the years and also during the present difficult times. I also want to take this opportunity to announce to all Darkover fans that Moon Phases will continue publishing as before. Certain back issues have gone out of print; some of the stories in these back issues will be reprinted in "special editions" some time in the future .... I am overwhelmed at what has happened. I want to offer you my support. I am saddened that Contraband will not be able to be published, and that the Friends of Darkover anthologies may have to be discontinued. I also want to offer my continued gratitude at giving me so much help with my writing. Like [Patricia D] in DNL 59, I would be thrilled if you chose to utilize any characters or ideas I have used in any Darkover stories I've written. You have been generous in allowing me and other writers to "play" in your universe so that, with your guidance, we could develop needed skills. As you said at Darkover Grand Council, the Friends of Darkover have been like a "family."
Bradley's response:

My main consolation through this whole unfortunate mess has been the number of people who have understood and sympathized with me. [snipped] I'm afraid that Contraband, the novel involved in this unfortunate affair is dead -- at least, for my lifetime. The fan tried to get Mercedes Lackey to read it, but she refused, so it's possible that Misty could write it after my death. I'm leaving the notes I made on it before I read the fan's story.

There will, of course, be other Darkover novels. Rediscovery, which Misty Lackey and I collaborated on, is on bookstore shelves this week, and Misty and I are also collaborating on Return to Darkover, a sequel to Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile. I've finished the first draft of that and Misty now has the second draft so that she can do the second draft. I am currently working on a new Darkover novel, tentatively called Drytown Renegade, which is set shortly after Rediscovery and has Kadarin as a major character. As for future Darkover anthologies, I really don't yet what will happen. DAW has enough to get through 1995. It has been suggested that after that I might do one by invitation one. But I'm afraid that I shall never again be able to open Darkover to new writers.

June 1993

A fan wrote:
I'm still so steamed about the fact that I won't get to read Contraband. Yes, others respond with sympathy for the waste of your hard work; I am selfishly most upset for my loss. The thought that there is a book by Marion Zimmer Bradley present in the universe... and I'll never get to read it!... well, it's almost intolerable. It just doesn't seem fair that one person acting like an idiot can ruin it for the rest of the world... This leads me to wonder (I'm sure you've looked into this already) whether the fans' contributions were so intrinsic to the book that the book could not be revised and these contributions removed. I guess that would be a hard thing to prove, though... (Couldn't you just sneak me a copy of 'Contraband'? No one would ever know... Did anyone besides me note the irony of the title and the fate of the book?)
Ann Sharp replied:
Well in Madame X' defense, I have to say that I'm sure she, and even her husband, who made the actual suggestion to sue if they felt 'Contraband,' when published, had made use of her idea, probably did not realize at the time what the full consequences would be. Ms. Bradley, a professional, knows all too well that the only result of a plagiarism lawsuit is an expense legal education for everyone involved.
Bradley responded:
You don't feel any worse than I do about 'Contraband.' But sometimes you just have to cut your losses. I couldn't 'sneak you a copy' because I stopped halfway through and tore up the manuscript. Maybe twenty or fifty years from now when Ms. X has crawled back into the woodwork whence she came, I'll try it again, carefully minus any of her ideas.

September 1993

A fan wrote:
I was delighted to see the collection of letters in this DNL about that Person who spoiled it for the rest of us. I hope someone sent her copy. She needs to know just what she has done to so many people in addition to Marion. Where else can we submit stories and get a rejection letter that we keep and cherish? Who else is there to encourage new writers? There are more writers out there, only needing a Marion to give them the boost they need to get started. I wonder how many unwritten/unpublished books will have died aborning because they didn't have MZB to encourage them? There are always the S&S anthologies, and Fantasy, but somehow, playing in Marion's world was special. [The editor responded, giving everyone some confidential information: "The Person's subscription hasn't expired!"]
Elisabeth Waters wrote:
Unfortunately, there is no way that anyone but Mrs. Bradley can get novels or stories set in the Darkover universe published. Darkover is her property and it is a violation of copyright laws to prepare derivative works without the permission of the copyright holder. Due to a very unfortunate incident which occurred last year, Mrs. Bradley is no longer giving anyone permission to write Darkover fiction. It has been more than three years since Mrs. Bradley was last ill, and she continues to write Darkover books herself, so she definitely does not need anyone else to do so. What I would suggest that you do with your novel is to rewrite it so that it is not set on Darkover and does not use any of Mrs. Bradley's characters. Once you are using your own characters in your own universes, you can finish it and sell it. As long as it is set in the Darkover universe, you cannot.
Bradley said:
Due to an unfortunate incident last year, I have no current plans to do any more Darkover anthologies.

March 1994

A fan commented:
I am sorry about Contraband, as I have always wondered why you didn't do a book about Regis's father and Danilo's brother. It is too bad that some people play dog in the manger, but that's life. I don't understand, though, why you couldn't do the story without reaching the ending. Everybody knows that the ability to see the future or many futures was a Hastur donas, so why not do the story, and end it with a foreseeing of consequences but not the actual circumstances of the last battlefield scene. Perhaps I am just being naive, but it seems to me that that would resolve any claim this outer party might have to credit for the story.

June 1994

Thank you for replying to my letter and enclosing the pink sheet explaining the problem with the publisher over Contraband. It is unfortunate that because of this affair no one will get to read that new book. I hope that someday the legal problem will be resolved and the book will come out after all. (A true fan would give it up, rather than kill the author's work.) I am sure that there are many who would want to read it.

I was naturally disappointed (polite understatement) to find how close I came to that missing thai window in rime when stones from fans were getting into print. Since I wrote most of what I wrote was done in the spring of 1991 I wish I had submitted the oudine then. Due to the existence of the anthologies, it appeared at the time that it was all right to develop unsolicited works, and that if they were sent to the originator and owner of the series, acceptance and publication might follow. So by delaying it seems I have missed the boat on which so many others were able to embark because they did it long enough ago. Arrgh. However, of course, she night have rejected my story anyway.

I am only human and cannot help having some hurt feelings, (such as an impulse to throw out the Darkover books I have and never look at another because it would be impossible to shut out of my consciousness the story I invented). Unfortunately my trilogy cannot be convened to any other setting. I of course respect copyright law and no one will ever see that story, but no law cart erase it or the pain I feel from my memory. Only time and my own efforts can do that. I hope that I will soon get over this and waste no further emotional energy grieving for a lost opportunity.

It has been a theory of mine for a long time that if the Darkover books were subjected to a final edit that cleaned up the little grammatical glitches, fewer people would think, "if she makes so many errors and gets published, maybe I can write too". Also all future printings of Darkover books, especially the anthologies, should contain that statement about non-acceptance of stories, to prevent people from getting ideas and washing their time and effort writing them up.

September 1994

A fan complained that Bradley had not read his rewritten version of Ballad of Hastur and Cassilda and says: "I did not ask for credit of any sort, not even so much as the use of my name.... Therefore, I find it odd that you did not take the trouble to even read it... I should realize, at my age, that one's heroes and heroines often have feet of clay, but I expected better from you." Ann Sharp responded:
You may not be aware that, as a result of an unfortunate incident two years ago, complete with threatened legal action, MZB has had to forego the pleasure of reading fan material. Any Darkover material sent to her is immediately forwarded by her office staff to the Marion Zimmer Bradley Collection in Boston. MZB never sees it. I am happy to be able to assure you that, if MZB has feet of clay, it is not because she wouldn't LIKE to read everything that comes over the transom!

December 1994

A fan asked:
...I would like to reiterate that I hope someday the legal problem will be resolved, and not only Contraband, but also this [her fan-written] trilogy -- or some better story of similar magnitude -- will come out after all. I am sure that there will be plenty of people around who would want to read not only these but also any more stories that literate and creative fans might write in the limitless future of the Darkover concept.
Ann Sharp wrote:
Well, as explained, MZB's current legal position involves an agreement not to read Darkover fan fiction. She hates this, but that's how things have worked out.
Elisabeth Waters wrote:
Unfortunately, there is no way that anyone but Mrs. Bradley can get novels or stories set in the Darkover universe published. Darkover is her property, and it is a violation of copyright laws to prepare derivative works without the permission of the copyright holder. Due to a very unfortunate incident which occurred two years ago, Mrs. Bradley is no longer giving anyone else permission to write Darkover fiction.
Bradley wrote:
Your story will go to the... Mugar Memorial Library... This is the depository for the 'Marion Zimmer Bradley Collection.' You are free to -- and I would like to see you do this -- use the elements of your story in another work; re-do it on a world you create yourself that no one can take away.

June 1995

... When I sent you Darkover stories, I don't think I violated copyright since I have not offered them to commercial publishers (except to MZB). I was very angry about it since I had been told that you liked getting fan stories and you had asked for more in 1990. I have now stopped writing Darkover stories. The last manuscript ... I transformed into a non-Darkover story... Hans-Jurgen Buhl decided to change the Liebener-Rurier into a non-Darkovan fantasy.... because we cannot write any new Darkovan stories. [It is a new world], a planet inhabited by people from Eastern Germany and by cats. We both like cats very much. Adelandeayo. P.S. I had changed my second Christian name to "Chris" because of Darkover. It was rather difficult and it cannot be changed back. And in my dreams I'm "Kris n'ha Camilla" still. Tonight I dreamt of it - what brought me to the idea to write this letter. [Ann Sharp replied: "In 1990, Mrs. Bradley was reading Darkover fan fiction with pleasure. The problem came up in the late summer of 1992, and it was then that she, very sadly, had to agree to stop reading Darkover fan fiction. I'm especially pleased that you were able to convert your manuscripts to non-Darkover stories... May you long enjoy your new name, too."]

September 1995

A fan wrote:
I was very sorry to hear of the scandal involving Contraband; not only did this rude and egotistical author ruin things for Marion, she ruined things for the rest of us who were regular Darkover anthology contributors.

Lasting Consequences

Other Authors Follow Suit

1992 was an especially bad year and was a tumultuous time for fans of female professional fantasy writers and their fanworks, with Bradley leading the pack. .

  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was HWA's third President, and served from 1988 to 1990. When the "Horror Writers Association" was founded, it was done with the plan to do "whatever it took to insure that HOWL would be (hopefully) immediately recognized as a professional writers organization, not 'a fan club' for side-show horror buffs." [63]
  • P.N. Elrod, another professional writer of vampire fiction (and then-active creator of fanworks in the Quantum Leap and Blake's 7 fandoms) cautioned fans in September 1992: "Berkley Publishing has an army of lawyers with nothing better to do than indulge in pricy lawsuits against plagiarists and copyright pirates and I would make use of their skills. I fully realize that fan stories are written for fun and out of admiration for a character or the excitement of a dramatic situation. On the other hand, if someone came up and decided to "borrow" your car out of a sense of fun or admiration or excitement you'd probably be more than annoyed at them and call the cops. The same principal applies." See the whole statement at Open Letter to FYI from Author P.N. Elrod.
  • In December 1992, Mercedes Lackey published a long statement in Queen's Own. Queen's Own Newsletter. See I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment. Included is the first release form. Citing advice from her agent, Lackey withdraws support for most fanfiction based on her published works. From a discussion of her "Official Policy thingie": "Sorry to bring the cold, cruel world in here, but let me put it to you this way before any of you decide that I am being unreasonable, paranoid, or a control-freak. Would you walk into my house and take one of my pieces of jewelry? Would you help yourself to my bank account? Would you sit down to dinner with me at my invitation, engage me in pleasant conversation, then as soon as the meal arrived, take my plate away from me? That is precisely what you would be doing by deliberately messing things up for me. STEALING from me, after I have let you into my world. There is no graceful way to put it." [64]
  • In October 1992, Anne McCaffrey McCaffrey's Fanwork Policies addressed fans' "indiscriminate usage of our characters, worlds, and concepts," calling them "ACTIONABLE!"

An Often Cited Cautionary Tale: The "Urban Myth" Element

The entire controversy has had lasting effects on the subject of transformative works. The case has been cited over and over again as a cautionary tale, cited by writers who object to fanfiction to one degree or another as evidence that professional authors should avoid reading, interacting, or "allowing" fanworks based on their published works.

The affair has become one of oft-repeated bits and pieces, the sometimes careless repeating of rumor, and the acceptance that this case is proof of the dangers and evils of fanworks.

Some of these comments contain truths, errors, rumors, and are included here both for context, as well as to illustrate the misinformation with which this subject is riddled, and the difficulty in sorting out what really happened.

1992

Mercedes Lackey said:
Having established that I am a Good Guy for letting you play in my sandbox, following in the footsteps of my mentor Marion Zimmer Bradley, let me continue. Some folks have been horribly incensed because I asked, politely, that you not post Valdemar fanfic over in Prodigy, because that service lists itself as a PUBLISHING SERVICE and not an information service, and it is a FOR PROFIT entity. This was to protect YOU." (December 1992) [65]

1994

J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5's showrunner said:
Fanzines (specifically published fan fiction) is a problem for many writers; Marion Zimmer Bradley had a book torpedoed by the publishing company - - killing a year's work -- because the story was too similar to a fanzine story, and they were concerned the person might sue. jms [66]
Alara Rogers said:
Marion Zimmer Bradley has gotten burned by an asshole fan whose husband, a lawyer, told her that if she had been given persmission [sic] to write Darkover stories she could legally challenger Zimmer Bradley's copyright, so I'd be careful about Darkover stories if I were you. [67]

1996

J. Michael Straczynski said:
You don't understand the consequences of this sort of thing, it's not a profession to you, it's something you'd like to toss out there. But it can hurt. Marion Zimmer Bradley recently found herself in a *terrible* position...she'd worked for about 2 years writing a new novel, turned it in...and had the book canceled by her publisher because a fanzine to which she had possible access had published a very similar story and they might sue. Two years of work, down the drain. (June 1996) [68]

1997

Comment at alt.startrek.creative:
Marion turned in a manuscript for her Darkover series to her publisher. Upon examination of the manuscript, the publisher *refused* to print it because of several simularities between it and some fanfic that had been published in a fanzine somewhere. The mere threat of a legal dispute over the origins of the story was enough to quash its publication. Ms. Zimmer Bradley lost a bit of creative control over her *own* fantasy universe because of one of her "fans." Unfortunately, I don't have any other information to offer on this -- I couldn't even tell you when it happened." (January 1997) [69]
A comment at old-archives/lois-bujold:
All this took place before the Great MZB Flap. I merely asked Lois is a letter and she said "OK", adding that her characters were unique enough that it was impossible to get the true flavor. In fact, the best stories in there were jokes; after a while, the only plot anyone could come up with was Gregor's wedding. One writer had him threaten to marry Bel Thorne in order to get his way! PS - as I heard it, the Great MZB Flap was not the fan's fault. Someone - I think DAW - pushed the panic button over what began as a mere attempt to negotiate the terms of MZB using part of a fanfic writer's plot. I will say no more except to suggest checking the copyright pages of some of her latest works." (October 15, 1997) [70]
Comments from a conversation in 1997 at alt.books.m-lackey:
Well, actually, I don't know if there's anything about it around anymore. It was several years ago, and probably most people (save those involved or directly concerned) even remember it. But, it's a good example of how one person can really, REALLY mess something up for a lot of other people, and a prime reason most authors are skittish about letting fans publish fanzines & fan-fic in their creations. What it boils down to basically --- and to make a long story shorter, hopefully --- is a woman wrote a story based on DARKOVER. It was, as I'm given to understand (since I didn't read it myself, but Misty told me about it), a rather mediocre story, but there were some interesting concepts and ideas which MZB really liked. I don't know what these were, but they apparently coincided with an up-coming DARKOVER book MZB was plotting. At any rate, MZB contacted this "fan", requesting to use a couple of these interesting ideas & concepts, explaining the "fan" would be given full credit (in the ndicia/dedication) for them. What ensued, I don't know exactly, but the result was that instead of being flattered, or pleased, the fan ended up demanding full co-authorship of the novel (on which she would have negligible input or influence), royalties, etc. MZB's publisher went ballistic when the "fan" threatened litigation (as I understand), and the end result was pretty nasty. The final results were that MZB could no longer publish the book she was plotting, or any future book set in that specific era of DARKOVER. She was cautioned NOT to read any more "fan-fic" from non-professional writers, lest she be embroiled in another similar incident. The upshot being one "fan" (and I question this term used for this person) denied the original creator of the DARKOVER books from ever writing a book she wanted to write. Other agents and publishers caught wind of this, and had similar fits, the results of which brought about the "Release Form" for both MZB and Misty. I hope that clarifies a bit of what is a sordid, much longer story. I freely admit I wasn't privvy to a lot of what went on, but from what Misty told me, it got pretty nasty. It also really hurt MZB who had, up to that point, been VERY open with her assistance and help for aspiring authors. She no longer is, sadly, and other authors are getting just as antsy about helping non-professionals climb that ladder toward being published. It's a dirty, rotten shame, IMHO, and I really, truly hope that woman "fan" knows just what she did to a lot of people who would have never DREAMED of pulling a stunt like hers. I mean, if Misty saw one of my stories, liked one of my ideas for Valdemar, I couldn't be MORE willing to let her use them, and be grateful for a credit mention. I mean it, and I'm another aspiring writer. <shrug> People may think the fan was right in what she did. I don't. But that's my opinion only, and I honestly don't know ALL the facts about this. Just what i was told, which is what I just posted. Perhaps someone else out there can give you more info." (July 28, 1997) [71]
Comments from a conversation in 1997 at alt.books.m-lackey:
Hmph! I wonder how many good stories will never be because someone laid claim to an idea and demanded an unreasonable price for it? (July 28, 1997) [72]
Comments from a conversation in 1997 at alt.books.m-lackey:
What a thoroughly rotten, greedy thing to do!! Demanding full co-authorship for a couple of _ideas_?!? How arrogant! I don't know about anyone else, but personally I think that woman -- whoever she is -- ought to be shot. Not only did she cheat MZB out of finishing that book, AND cheat Darkover/MZB fans out of getting to read that story, but to really louse it up in the mentoring department. . . That just makes my blood boil! And *I* have no current ambitions to write! -- Victoreia (the really ticked) [73]
Comments from a conversation in 1997 at alt.books.m-lackey:
From what I recall Misty telling me about this event, it was not the fan who demanded the credits, but her husband. The fan was willing to go with what was (in many respects) a fair deal, but the husband (smelling dollars) decided to make a stink that resulted in the novel never seeing print and a lot of distaste over it in people's mouths. Upshot: If you're lucky to have a pro like Misty think you've got a good idea and they want to use it, feel flattered. But don't think you're as good as the pro... or, as in this case, the husband believed. It will only make folks think you're just trying to make yourself look good. (July 28, 1997) [74]

Mid-to-Late 1990s

Elisabeth Waters said:
Ann Sharp, ex-editor of the Darkover NewsLetter, was kind enough to send me a copy of the DARKOVER NON-GUIDELINES (coming directly from Elisabeth Waters). I include here this copy -- "In the summer of 1992, Mrs. Bradley was forced to stop reading unsolicited Darkover stories. At that time she also stopped giving permission for her fans to "play in her yard." One of her fans wrote a story, using MZB's world and characters, which overlapped the setting she was using for CONTRABAND, the Darkover novel she was working on at the time. Since the fan had sent MZB a copy of the story and she had read it, the publisher refused to publish CONTRABAND. This meant that Mrs. Bradley was out several years' work, as well as the cost and inconvenience of having her lawyer deal with a fan who was convinced that she should have a shared byline on a Darkover novel. She does not plan to do any more Darkover anthologies. As things now stand, anyone writing a Darkover story, or using Mrs. Bradley's world or ANY of her characters, is violating her copyright. (Look up "derivative work" in the copyright law if you want the details.) She is NOT giving permission to do this. If she finds out that anyone is using her work in this fashion, she will turn the matter over to her lawyer. It's a shame, but the Darkover books are a large part of her livelihood, and she can't afford to have anyone compromise her copyright in them. Any Darkover stories sent to her are therefore returned or destroyed unread. If you see this notice and you have already written a Darkover story, please either destroy it or rewrite it so completely that it is not a derivative work of Mrs. Bradley's work." -- Note: The short version is simple: you cannot publish (including on the Web or for free, as far as I understand legal details) any fictional work about Darkover. This site, which is basically an analysis of Darkover novels, is not a derivative work and therefore does not seem to be illegal." (mid to late 1990s) [75]

1999

Patricia Mathews said:
Excuse me. She did no such thing. She wrote a long piece of fanfic MZB asked to use in a future novel and offered her a sum of money. The fan tried to bargain (oh, shock! horror!) by asking for more money and a by-line. Next thing you know MZB/DAW/whoever has hit the panic button and is screaming "lawyer! lawyer!" Do you know why we have never heard That Fan speak up? Is it because she has crawled into a corner cringing with knowledge of her guilt? NO!!! It's because MZB threatened to sue her if she 'said anything derogatory' about the author concerning this situation. Incidentally: who has more access to lawyers to sue? MZB/DAW? Or a schoolteacher's wife?" [76]
Comment at alt.books.david-weber:
The best known case is Marion Zimmer Bradley and some fan fiction originally posted (I think) in a CompuServe forum. MZB had a *finished* *novel* that bore some similarity to some piece of fan fiction, and the writer of the fanfic threatened to sue. Her publisher refused to publish the novel. Ever. It is still not in print, and *never* will be, because of the fan fiction. Note that one of the most damning aspects of the case was that the Compuserve forum had semi-official sanction from MZB at the time for fan fiction." (February 1999) [77]
Jean Lamb said:
Hello, I'm the fan who was involved in the whole MZB business. This cropped up AGAIN in the _Locus_ remembrance of her, unfortunately. Here's what really happened: 1. I wrote a Darkover novel (I was In Love, a condition with which I hope you will sympathize). 2. Ms. Bradley made an offer for the use of the novel (I was to sign an agreement not to sue for copyright infringement in exchange for a sum. I understood this to mean that she could use any or all of it as her work in exchange for little or no attribution). 3. I tried to negotiate a better deal. 4. This was not received well. Though Ms. Bradley was welcome, as always, to use any of the ideas I came up with, this was apparently not satisfactory. 5. I actually discussed the situation with some friends in what I _thought_ was private conversations. 6. I thereupon received a letter from MZB's lawyer requesting me to cease and desist from saying anything that could be construed as derogatory (i.e., negative)--and I am paraphrasing here, though I do still have copies of all the paperwork involved for my own protection--under threat of being sued. 7. For all the years thereafter, the situation has been turned around to where I'm the one at fault, including the final remembrance in _Locus_ (and once here, on this listserv) the source for which was undoubtedly people who actually knew what really happened. I leave their motivation as an exercise for the reader. I've got proof that I was the one who was threatened with a lawsuit. But the other side has lots more people who are apparently willing to state it happened differently than it actually did." [78]

2001

Nina Boal commented:
People, I was right in the middle of this and discussed this with the parties involved first hand. The following was acknowledged on both sides. Marion did offer Jean a special dedication and also $500. Jean refused this, saying that she wanted a byline for the novel. Jean also became convinced (erronenously) that Marion intended to plagerize [sic] from her fan-written work about Danvan Hastur. Her actions made me positively sick. Jean was my good friend, but no more after what she did here and the unfounded accusations she made about Marion." [79]
Another summary of events at Writers University:
Pardon the mess. This page has over twelve sources all dealing with different stories, different time period policies. Organizing the comments will eventually be done along with more refinement as to what the story is. Till than, please wade through the comments. The quotes are probably the most helpful.... (2001) [80]
Comment by Shomeret at alt.tv.highlander:
Darkover fanzines were routinely sent to MZB and she read them. She asked a fanfic author if she could use an idea from her fan novella in exchange for an acknowledgment. The fanfic author demanded full collaborator's credit and 50% of the royalties. Neither MZB nor her publisher were willing to consider this ultimatum. When MZB refused, the fan threatened to sue. At that point, MZB consulted with a lawyer, withdrew her permission for fanfic and destroyed her novel. This incident has had an ongoing impact. [81]
Comment by Leslie Fish at alt.tv.highlander:
*Sigh* That does sound like Marion. I knew her, back when I lived near Berkeley, and yes, she always did have a tendency toward hysteria—and a touch of paranoia. Damn, all she had to do was say: "Okay, fool—I'll just cut your idea out of the book and write around it, and you don't even get a mention. Goodbye." And if the book was so dependent on the fan's input that it couldn't be rewritten, then she damn-well should have given the fan collaborator's credit—but negotiated about the percentage of royalties. Either of those options would have been sensible. *Sigh* But Marion really wasn't a sensible person. [82]
Comment at alt.fan.peter-david:
Regarding that MZB thing, you should probably hear the whole story, because this is *not* just a case of some fan coincidentally coming up with a similar idea and threatening to sue (which is the way many people make it sound). This explanation is based on what I heard from several of MZB's friends at a con last year, so if it's biased at all, it's biased in MZB's favor, not in the fan's." (April 2001) [83]

Jean Lamb posted on several discussion groups in March 2001:

Here's what happened. It _was_ fanfic, but published under MZB's more or less aegis as a permitted issue of MOON PHASES (Nina Boal, editor). It was a book entitled MASKS set entirely within Darkover.

I received a letter offering me a sum and a dedication for all rights to the text. I attempted at that point to _very politely_ negotiate a better deal. I was told that I had better take what I was offered, that much better authors than I had not been paid as much (we're talking a few hundred dollars here) and had gotten the same sort of 'credit' (this was in the summer of 1992).

At that point I did not threaten any sort of suit whatsoever; in fact, a few months later I received a letter from Ms. Bradley's lawyer threatening me with a suit should I be a bit too frank about Ms. Bradley's um, writing methods, and who her current collaborators were at the time (at least that is how I took the lawyer's phrasing). Needless to say, I could not afford to defend myself if sued. Winning with the truth could have bankrupted me (and probably still could).

I can't use the book. A later submission to DAW of original work was returned in _incredibly_ short time with a preprinted slip. (this may have had more to do with the quality of the work than the byline, I hasten to add, though I've never seen them work quite that fast before).

It's been a long strange trip. But it DID cure me of fanfic. [55]

Reposted Ann Sharp's Writing Guidelines:
In the summer of 1992, Mrs. Bradley was forced to stop reading unsolicited Darkover stories. At that time she also stopped giving permission for her fans to "play in her yard." One of her fans wrote a story, using MZB's world and characters, which overlapped the setting she was using for CONTRABAND, the Darkover novel she was working on at the time. Since the fan had sent MZB a copy of the story and she had read it, the publisher refused to publish CONTRABAND." (July 2001 and January 2003) [84]
Comments by Terry Austin:
MZB apparently has a Darkover novel that will never be published because of a similar piece of fanfic that appeared in a sanctioned forum (Compuserve? Prodigy? I forget, but it was sanctioned by MZB at the time, in every account I've found). There was some kind of dispute, in which either the fan or her husband threatened a lawsuit, and MZB's publisher just killed the novel forever. I haven't ever found an account that is definitive on the subject, but it almost certainly happened, and was caused by MZB allowing fanfic to be published.... Most of the accounts I've seen (and they all disagree - I have yet to see a definitive account) say it was on a CompuServe (I think, maybe Prodigy) forum sanctioned by MZB _for_ fanfic, and read by MZB. Beyond that, I have found no coherent account that isn't in conflict with every other coherent account." (March 2001) [85]

2002

Mercedes Lackey said:
Because of an unfortunate incident several years ago involving Marion Zimmer Bradley, my agent has directed all of his authors not to read unpublished fiction. And I know that you and everyone else will swear that you would never sue me for "stealing your ideas," but that's exactly what the person who threatened to sue Marion once said. This is why I do not read manuscripts sent to me, or fan fiction. All manuscripts are returned by my secretary unread and usually unopened. It really is too bad that one rotten person has to spoil things for everyone, but there it is." (2002) [86]
Mercedes Lackey said:
The first fly in the ointment directly in our field happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley, after the wild success of MISTS OF AVALON, when a (former) fan threatened to sue her for her adaptation of an idea the fan had come up with for a Lew Alton Darkover novel. The situation rapidly involved lawyers and got expensive, and in the end, no one won (except the lawyers) since MZB elected to scuttle the novel altogether, and the fan got nothing but a bad metaphorical black eye. At that point, agents and authors began looking at the concept of fanfiction with a more critical eye. Some agents elected to try and eliminate it altogether; most cautioned authors against giving permission for it. This, by the way, is why I do not, and will not, read any fiction sent to me unsolicited, nor any "story ideas. Ah but now, 2002 AI...oh, how different things are. Authors of fanfic no longer have those pesky printing and distribution problems---just write and post, and make sure you list your stuff with the search engines! Coding games may not be a breeze, but it's a whole lot easier and within six months or less you can have a MUD, MUSH, or online RPG going, and as big an audience as size. bandwidth, and interest permit. OK, it's not very likely that fanfiction is going to cut into an author's sales, but now the opportunity for a lawsuit is expanded far beyond what it ever was in MZB's case---how can a writer prove she DIDN'T happen across the story online???" [87]
Another 2002 comment by Lackey at her official website, this one mentioning a rival agent procured by Jean Lamb, something that hadn't been mentioned before, nor again:
Reading and critiquing fan fiction or original fiction: We don't. No exceptions. Here's why. Some time ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley ended up having to cancel the idea of EVER writing a particular book, because a fan (who shall remain nameless) demanded equal collaborative credit and money, if she used a particular "idea" that had come from a fan-fiction story. It got to the point where the fan threatened to sue Marion if she did not get equal collaborative credit and money... As the fan actually had somehow gotten an agent and had the resources to do just that, Marion scrapped the book altogether---one which was greatly anticipated and would have been integral to her Darkover series, may I add. When I was co-writing a Darkover book with Marion, the same fan had the chutzpah to send ME a manuscript---which, needless to say, I returned unopened." [88]

2003

Joan Marie Verba, a fan who'd had fiction published in both Darkover zines and the DAW Books, asked for information about what had happened:
This may be an impertinent or delicate question, but whatever happened to Contraband? (This is the story of Regis's father and Dani's brother.) I know that Marion cancelled it when some idiot gave her a hard time over it (and if anyone knows the name of said idiot, please e-mail me at the address below...I've wanted to know for years), but she said it would be published after her death. I'd really love to read it (and am still annoyed at said idiot for causing it to be cancelled). [89]
[Diann Partridge] responded to Joan Verba and others:
I have no idea what happened to Contraband, but it was Jean Lamb that screwed up the Darkover anthologies that a large portion of us fans wrote for. She wanted a by-line on the book because Marion was going to use some of her ideas and when that didn't happen then the lawyers got into it and Marion scrapped the book.... [90]
[Robert Frieling] responded to Joan Verba and others:
I emailed the MZB estate about the status of Contraband recently and they said "No, CONTRABAND will not be published. Not enough of it was written down for anyone to finish it. Mrs. Bradley was still in the plotting stages when the fan threatened to sue and DAW Books refused to touch the book, so she went on to something else and never wrote any more of it. Too bad. [91]
[Louis DePasquale] responded to Joan Verba and others:
If I remember correctly MZB did offer her a mention in the acknowledgement page but the author insisted on a byline. [92]
[Diann Partridge] responded to Louis DePasquale and others:
Louis, you are right, then Lisa Waters got into it and then the lawyers and that was the end of the DO anthologies. Personally I would have been thrilled if she had used one of my ideas. We all had so much fun playing in Marion's world, not to mention making money from it. It's a shame too because I never got to finish my last DO short story, The Aillaird Anomoly. Personally I never understood why there was such a big bust up over Jean's idea anyway. It was Marion's world and Jean was using MZB's ideas to begin with. Who knows. The world goes as it will, not as you or I would have it. and not all the hindsite in the world can get Zandru to put that chick back in the egg. [93]
[Shalanna] responded to Joan Verba and others:
. . . um, if they took her threat seriously, as did her lawyers, there must have been some basis for her belief that she should have a byline or be mentioned in the acknowledgements page for her contribution of ideas. What would have been wrong with offering her a couple of lines on an "Acknowledgements" page? I think that would probably have served to make her happy (and be fair, if the ideas were actually used!) I don't think anyone should be annoyed, pissed off, or what-have-you at an author who wanted credit for her ideas. We should all believe in protecting intellectual property rights, or else we might find our own rights being trampled. [94]
[Diann Partridge] responded to Joan Verba and others:
MZB offered Jean Lamb an acknowlegement in the forword of the book and $500 to use one of her ideas. Like I have said before, I would have been thrilled. Since Jean had never been published before, MZB didn't think she was well known enough to share a by-line. and after all, Jean's idea came from MZB's ideas to begin with. So basically Jean was working with a character that MZB had created. It was a sad time all around because it cut off the rest of us from playing on Darkover. [95]
[Nina Boal], editor of Moon Phases responded to Joan Verba and others:
People, I was right in the middle of this and discussed this with the parties involved first hand. The following was acknowledged by both sides. Marion did offer Jean a special dedication and also $500. Jean refused this, saying that she wanted a byline for the novel. Jean also became convinced (erroneously) that Marion intended to plagerize from her fan-written work about Danvan Hastur. Her actions made me positively sick. Jean was my good friend, but no more after what she did here and the unfounded accusations she made about Marion.... If Marion had decided to either use any of my ideas i.e. the "Serrano Gift" (in "Shards" and "Shelter" in two of the anthologies) or any of my characters in her stories, I would have jumped up for joy rather than demanding a byline and threatening to sue if I didn't get one. [96]

2006

Wren said:
I'm sure there's someone around who can cite this better, but as I recall the MZB lawsuit related to a Darkover novel that allegedly contained plot or character elements similar to a fanfic that was submitted to her magazine, i.e., one that MZB could be assumed to have access to prior to writing her novel. The moral being, if you as an author become aware of fanfic for a universe you have any intention of continuing to write in, for crying out loud stay away from the fanfic. This is also reportedly why the Babylon 5 newsgroup spawned a moderated subgroup, so JMS could participate with some level of protection against random passersby lobbing episode "suggestions" at him that he would then be obligated not to use. [97]
Patrick Nielson Hayden said:
Ah yes, "Marion Zimmer Bradley's situation."

Did anyone actually google "marion zimmer bradley" "fanfic lawsuit", as someone suggested above? Did anyone notice the extraordinary variety of stories thus elicited? In some of which, Marion "lost a book"; in others, she was "forced to sue" to protect an existing work; in others, a contract offer from DAW was rescinded.

This should be a clue that perhaps, just perhaps, this is one of those overheated rumor-mill stories where the truth is perhaps a little more complicated than it's being made out to be.

Then there's this and this. True? Who knows? It seems as plausible as the insistence that "Marion lost a book! Because of fanfic!"

Do I have any idea what actually happened? I do not. Evidently, though, the difference is that I know I don't have any idea. And I know how to recognize the signs of what Mormons call a Faith-Promoting Rumor. Pending more reliable information, I think a moratorium on using the MZB tale to prove anything would be very much in order. [98]
Teresa Nielson Hayden said:
Re the Marion Zimmer Bradley story: You can find assorted versions of What Happened [99] and some further pertinent history here [offline].

That first linked page is interesting, for a collection of hearsay. What it tells us is not that fanfic is inherently bad or harmful, or that any author who condones it risks losing control of some part of their creation. In my opinion, it doesn't teach us anything at all about fanfic, because that's not what was going on.

Here's something you don't usually hear in the circulating versions of the story: the disputed events took place twelve years after the publication of the first Darkover anthology, a collection of stories by other authors that was published by DAW and edited by MZB. In the intervening time, there'd been a new anthology published each year.

So we're not talking here about some clear-cut, well-defined situation where some uninvolved author discovers one day that her fans are writing fanfic on their own. Neither is it a lost-Eden scenario where kindly ol' MZB was letting her fans play with her toys, until one of them ruined it for everyone.

MZB was writing and publishing Darkover novels at the same time that she was editing anthologies of original Darkover stories written by other authors. She was reading all the submissions to those anthologies, and she was reading other Darkover fanfic as well. It shouldn't have taken a lawyer to tell her that that setup was courting trouble.

MZB solicited other authors' professional participation in the Darkover franchise. The disputed story had been published in its author's own fanzine, but that hardly matters; the first Darkover anthology was drawn from material that first appeared in fanzines. It was not unreasonable for other authors to feel their own stories had a certain amount of legal standing. Nothing could have been more predictable than the dispute which subsequently developed.

When this tale gets told, why do we refer to the Darkover stories by other writers as fanfic, and its authors as fanwriters? Because that's how MZB described them in her own version of the story. Fans of her writing will, I hope, forgive me if I point out that she had an interest in depicting the situation that way.

Do you see why I argue that fanfic is a legal not a literary category?

Two more observations:

First, something every author knows is that non-writers and some amateur writers have an exaggerated sense of the relative importance of idea to book. Who hasn't had someone tell them they've got a great idea for a book, so they'll contribute the idea and the author will do the writing, and they'll split the take?

I do not assert, but I suspect, that something of that nature was in play. Hey, that's an interesting idea, mind if I use it in the book I'm already writing? is not justification for demanding a shared copyright. It is, however, what fulsome acknowledgements, waivers of all further rights, and one-time flat fees were made for.

Second: the other thing this episode teaches us is that MZB couldn't or wouldn't write around the problem. A more satisfactory solution might have been for her to come up with other ideas that not only avoided the idea under contention, but knocked the other writer's work clean out of canon. It's what Blackburn would have done. [100]
Mercedes Lackey said:
I actually am privy to and part of the "Marion Zimmer Bradley situation" and I can state with confidence the facts of the matter. Marion had begun to write a Darkover book about Regis Hastur. She liked the "take" a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn't have to, after all, you can't "own" an idea). However in this case, the next party heard from was the author's agent, who demanded cover credit and co-authorship, or there would be a lawsuit. Now, having been a party in a lawsuit myself, I can tell you that when you sue or are sued, the only people who win are the lawyers. Even if you win the case, you lose; time, effort, your sanity...in my case, before the suit was over (we were sueing our insurance company to get them to pay over my husband's studio fire) I was on three Prozac a day and hadn't been able to write for six months. And that was just a civil suit over stuff. This would have been over Marion's baby, her pride, her joy, her universe. She felt passionate about Darkover. And she, too, had been involved in lawsuits by that time, so she knew what she would have faced even if she won. She elected not to finish or publish the book. So that book will never see the light of day. In her shoes, I'd have done the same thing. Thats the facts, Jack. That said, I am in favor of not-for-profit fanfic. I just have to protect myself by making it policy that I never, ever, ever read any fanfic based on my work. If it gets sent to me, it's returned unseen my me. But I got my start writing the stuff, and I managed to get a lot of lousy writing out of the way by doing so. Though I am sure that there are some who would say that last statement is debatable. There are days when I would say so myself (grin)." (April 2006) [101]
Mercedes Lackey:
Back again. This is as irresistable as double-chocolate fudge chunk ice cream and about as bad for you. I should be writing paycheck prose... Theresa and Patrick; yes indeed, you have good points. Marion operated on some assumptions that might have held back in 1950 in the Golden Age of Fandom but certainly were not in operation at the time of The Affair, and believe me, I am the first to agree to that. [102]
Comments by cschick:
Lackey's restrictions are based on restrictions originated by MZB (Marion Zimmer Bradley) and are similar to those developed by Anne McCaffery. MZB's restrictions came about after she had to throw away a mainly completed novel or personally confront a lawsuit from a fan fiction writer in the early 1990s (her publisher refused to support her or publish the novel). Anne McCaffery has has her restrictions in place since the writing Weyrs started developing on the AOL message boards of the late 1980s. Lackey is MZB's protege (and, since MZB has since died, the manager of MZB's estate). So I don't find her restrictions surprising...Correction: McCaffery's restrictions on ONLINE fan fiction and fandom date back to the late 1980s. Her restrictions on fan fiction (no fan fiction allowed to be written in established Weyrs in established timelines with established characters) date back to the early 1970s. [103]

2007

See this survey and four pages of comments regarding opinion about pro-canon creators' and fanworks opinions about: Robin Hobb, Anne Rice, J. Michael Straczynski , Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, J.K. Rowling, and others (2007) [104]

2008

Elisabeth Waters said:
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." (March 2008) [105]
Diann Partridge commented on the legal fallout with respect to other Darkover authors:
Marion wanted to used an idea from one of the fan writers and promised to mention her name in the forword [sic] but the fan writer wanted a bi-line with marion. Then the lawyers got into it and that year everyone who got accepted got a big long contract to sign, [106] instead of the short one we'd always gotten before. and after that they refused to let MZB do the anthologies anymore for fear she'd be sued by some fan writer who accused her of using one of their ideas. I never understood how they could think of Darkover as "their" idea, but that's what happened as I remember. I know I never got to finish the The Aillard Anomoly [sic] trilogy that I was working on..[107]
A Mercedes Lackey fan named Tal Greywolf said:
Many, many moons ago, on a place formerly called GEnie, there was an area known as "Modems of the Queen", an area where Misty's fans (and Misty herself) used to congregate. Now, there was a fan area where you could write stories, but... before you could post there you had to sign an agreement that laid down the law... There was some other stuff about any ideas that you came up with could be used by Misty and that you basically signed over rights, etc, etc, etc... Now yours truly had already known and talked with Misty prior to his appearance on GEnie, so when I arrived there I already knew the rules of the highway there. *chuckle* This was when the novel "By The Sword" and "Winds of Fate" made its appearance in print. And by then, I had already posted a cobbled together and completely made up timeline from the beginning of "Oathbound" to the end of "Arrow's Fall". And I posted it on GEnie. So you can imagine my surprise when I get my copy of "Winds of Fate" and find that the dates I came up with (purely out of thin air) were the dates on the timeline. And yes, Misty did state that she did use the timeline that I came up with, since "it made sense." Later on, I discovered that those weren't the only things that Misty "borrowed" from me... as you probably well know. *Gryn* ... Seriously, the issue of story ideas today is a touchy one. Anyone who recalls the incident involving a fan-written story and Marion Zimmer Bradley will know what I mean, and why it has led to the situations that are so common today. I could mention an idea to Misty or any other author friend and care less if they use it or not, but there are lots of other folks who look at the possible dollar signs and will claim "THIEF!" at the drop of a hat... Oh, for the old days back in the 70's when you could write Star Trek fanfic or Doctor Who fanfic and not have anyone worrying about rights and copyright... because no one cared all that much. It's only when it became big money that the rights issue reared in a most ugly fashion. [108]
Catherine Coker said :
In exchange for the use of the fan's ideas, the fan would receive a tidy sum of money and and acknowledgement in Bradley's book. The fan disagreed: she wanted a byline. Darkover fans naturally fell in line with Bradley, berating the fan for her "selfishness." Lawsuits over the matter of copyright infringements seemed imminent: on the one hand, Darkover was Bradley's bread and butter; on the other hand she had encouraged fan work through sharing that universe for some twenty years. There was no clear-cut path for those involved. Betsy Wollheim, Bradley's publisher and the wife [109] of her late friend Donald, would not take the manuscript for publication. Bradley was left with two years of work now gone, an unprintable text, and very stung feelings. [110]

2010

opusculus said:
So, as the story goes, MZB was a kind and gentle soul, who was so generous that she even published professionally-paid anthologies of fanfic for her series Darkover. Until, in 1992, a fan sent MZB a free copy of the zine her fanfic had been published in. MZB saw the similarities to the story she was working on, and was kind and generous and naive enough to contact the fan and give her a dedication and a small amount of money for the idea. The fan was stupid and greedy and probably kicks puppies in her spare time and demanded full co-author credits for MZB's idea, and lawyered up. MZB, heartbroken at the loss of between a year to four years worth of work, regretfully laid aside her manuscript and forevermore banned fanfiction from her universe. Soon after, most the rest of the publishing universe followed suit, stunned and shocked that someone who had been so generous towards fanfic could have been so badly burned.... Yeah no. There's a whole lot of problems with this tidy fable, even ignoring the gaping logic hole of why MZB would offer $500 [111] to someone else just for happening to share her idea. Hey every author I've ever read - I can probably make a sweeping guess as to what the next book you write in a series will be like and usually get some things right. Will you send me $500 and a dedication out of the generosity of your heart if I write fanfic about it? Please? Seriously, call me cynical, but is this plausible to ANYONE? [112]
Comments by Jim C. Hines:
Most writers, both commercial and fanfic, have heard some version of the Marion Zimmer Bradley “cautionary tale” regarding fanfiction. In one version, Bradley was a generous, nurturing author who encouraged fanfiction until a greedy fanfic author tried to sue her, torpedoing a book in the process. In another, Bradley had was preying on helpless fanfic authors, using their ideas to perpetuate her publishing empire. If we’re going to toss this story around every time we talk about fanfiction, it would be nice to have a few facts to go with the fourth-hand accounts, guesswork, and rumors. Michael Thomas and opusculus have both posted about the MZB incident lately, and provided inspiration and starting points for my own write-up. But I wanted to dig deeper, and to avoid the wiki-style sources which in my opinion aren’t as reliable for this sort of thing. To put my own biases out there, one of my first sales was to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I later sold a story to Sword & Sorceress XXI. In addition, I’m published by DAW, which also published Bradley’s work. I’ll leave it to you to read and decide whether this influences my research and write-up." (May 2010) [113]
opusculus said:
At the time it happened, MZB's version was pretty much the only one that got heard since, you know, she was the pretty-well known author versus the tiny unknown, but only hearing one person's side in a complicated and contentious story is never going to get you the right answer. And the more I hear, the more skeptical I am that it was the fanfic author who was the more wrong one." (2010) [114]
nihilistic kid said:
Even the MZB thing may be a bit more complex than that. The fan's version of the story is rather different than the usual MZB one—basically, it boils down to "MZB had a stroke and can't write anymore, but we're encouraging fanfic to harvest the best of it and buy it at cut-rates as work for hire to put under MZB's byline. Cooperate or we shall crush you." Of course, who knows which version of the story is so. But there is more than one version and thus no reason to accept more commonly told one as unreconstructed fact.... Between the lines—MZB seems have been working with substantially reduced capacity and many of her collaborators were basically doing all her writing for her, but publishing it under her name to keep the MZB system going." (May 2010) [115]

2011

Comments by Deborah Ross:
To do this, I drew not only on the published novels in which Regis played a role, but on Marion's short stories, notes and personal communications. My editor at DAW Books is Betsy Wollheim. Betsy not only edited Marion herself, but her father, Don Wollheim, was Marion’s editor at Ace, so the father-daughter editorial team has been part of the unfolding story Darkover from the beginning. Betsy was able to give me not only specific information about the history of Regis and Danilo, but an editor's perspective on Darkover. Ann Sharp, the Trustee of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust and Marion’s secretary, Elisabeth Waters, also furnished invaluable insights into how Marion saw these and other characters. Finally, the manuscript was reviewed and approved not only by the Trust but by DAW’s own in-house Darkover maven, Marsha Jones." [116]
Comments by a fan named Jane:
Marion Zimmer Bradley used to publish anthologies of Darkover fanfic. She paid quite respectable rates for it, too. My first paid fiction publication was in one of them. Alas, MZB had to stop this generous sharing when someone threatened to sue her, claiming that she’d stolen her (as I recall) idea. There’s always some bozo who just has to get greedy. Maybe these fools are Murphy’s evil cousins. It’s fun to play in someone else’s yard sometimes. Fictional worlds can become so real to their readers that writing something set in that world is more like writing historical fiction than infringement. If an author doesn’t want fanfiction written in that author’s world, then of course people ought to respect that." [117]

2014

A fan named Rochelle answers a fan named Jane:
The story about Marion Zimmer Bradley being threatened with a lawsuit is not actually true, but has reached the level of urban myth. No fan threatened to sue her. When Marion Zimmer Bradley offered a fan $500 to incorporate parts of the fan’s story into her new novel, the fan asked for a byline, Marion Zimmer Bradley refused, and the book was never published.... It’s too bad this one very complicated situation, that includes a lot of collaboration, published fanfiction anthologies, ghostwriting, and the tragic ill health on the part of a beloved and nurturing author has become the anti-fanfiction policy-generating incident for so many others. But isn’t as simple as “if you read fanfiction, you will accidentally copy it and fans will sue you.” There’s probably something interesting to be said about how the power, participation, and autonomy of the pro writer was completely stripped out of the story as it became an urban myth. I don’t know why that happened. Fear? Bogeyman? In any case, there is no evidence whatsoever that any fan ever attempted to sue Marion Zimmer Bradley. As fanfiction becomes more acceptable, maybe we’ll see some of those terror policies change." [118]

Lasting Consequences: MZB Fanfiction Today

As of August 2014, fanfiction based on "The Mists of Avalon," "Darkover," and "The Catch Trap" number less than 30 at Archive of Our Own, and includes one with a comment by Elisabeth Waters warning of copyright infringement. [119]

From a FAQ on her official website, updated in 2010:
Can I write a Darkover story? No. Darkover is the property of Marion Zimmer Bradley and her heirs, and the right to prepare a derivitiave work belongs to the copyright holder. This means that even if you don't publish it or make money from it; it's still illegal. Nobody is allowed to write a Darkover story or novel without a contract with the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust. You may not write a Darkover story in English, French, German, or any other language. Any legitimate editor you sent it to would not publish it because that would be a violation of copyright laws and the Berne Convention. If you have an idea for a Darkover story, create a new background -- a new universe -- rename your characters, and write it so that the story is clearly NOT Darkovan. [120]

While free-range fanfiction has been strongly discouraged and is thin on the ground, the MZB's literary trust supports some "fan novels" written and sold. "Darkover proved to have a life of its own: she continued writing stories set in that world until her death, and her fans have kept it alive ever since; the most recent fan novel was published in 2013..." [121] The novel Tor Books is probably referring to is "The Children of Kings" [122] and is marketed as being written by MZB and another writer.

Where is "Contraband" Now?

The dedication in the 2010 Darkover book, "Hastur Lord," by Deborah J. Ross is: "To Betsy Wollheim [123], who preserved what Marion had written until it was time to finish it."

Wollheim, however, was not granted the notes to "Contraband." It is Mercedes Lackey who is supposedly the keeper of the skeleton of Bradley's "lost" book. In March 1993, Bradley wrote, "I'm afraid that Contraband, the novel involved in this unfortunate affair, is dead — at least, for my lifetime. The fan tried to get Mercedes Lackey to read it but she refused, so it's possible that Misty could write it after my death. I'm leaving her the notes I made on it before I read the fan's story." [124] [125]

Other authors have referenced Bradley's "notes" as they wrote official Darkover books. [126] [127]

Despite Marion Zimmer Bradley's death many years ago, her name continues to appear, large and ghostly, on all new official Darkover books. But not "Contraband."

Human nature regarding curiosity, and profit, most certainly dictate that if there was enough of "Contraband" that was remotely viable, and there weren't other complications, "Contraband" would have been resurrected long, long ago.

Other Sources of Investigations & Analysis

FanWorks.org tried to assemble all available versions of the story on one page, but the compilation raises as many questions as it answers. [128]

Novelist Jim C. Hines, whose books are published by DAW, has also researched the case. His findings, together with his personal analysis of the issues, appear in a 2010 blog entry.[60]

Catherine Coker wrote a symposium article about the incident for Transformative Works and Cultures Vol 6 (2011).[129] The article claims (without giving evidence) that Jean Lamb threatened to sue Bradley, but offers some interesting reactions to the fallout and quotes from an email by Lamb that is consistent with other accounts on this page.

The Darkover Newsletter page on Fanlore contains some primary information, as well as a multi-decade context, to the whole affair. See that page.

Also See

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. from Darkover Newsletter #2, August 1976
  2. from Darkover Newsletter #2, August 1976
  3. from Starstone #1 (January 1978)
  4. from Darkover Newsletter #11
  5. comments from Letter from MZB in Darkover Newsletter #15/16
  6. from Darkover Newsletter #19/20, October 1979
  7. Darkover Newsletter #25
  8. from Darkover Newsletter #11
  9. from Darkover Newsletter #11
  10. Bradley, "The Keeper's Price 7" New York, DAW books, 1980, page 14
  11. In March 1993, Bradley wrote, "I'm afraid that Contraband, the novel involved in this unfortunate affair, is dead — at least, for my lifetime. The fan tried to get Mercedes Lackey to read it but she refused, so it's possible that Misty could write it after my death. I'm leaving her the notes I made on it before I read the fan's story." -- Darkover Newsletter no. 60
  12. Making Light: "Fanfic": force of nature, comments by Mercedes Lackey, Archived version
  13. A memorial letter by Diana Paxson, written March 26, 2001, is here (scroll down to "Author Essay" in the "See More" link): Marion Zimmer Bradley, Archived version
  14. from Starstone #1 (January 1978)
  15. from Darkover Newsletter #21
  16. "Just for your information, it was announced on GEnie that Marion Zimmer Bradley suffered another minor stroke while lecturing at Bryn Mawr, PA. She's currently in the hospital there, but the primary problem seems to be she's bored of being in the hospital. It definitely doesn't look serious." -- Marion Zimmer Bradley, November 19, 1989
  17. "I got a letter from one of the people taking care of Marion Zimmer Bradley that I thought I'd pass along. They asked me to thank everyone who sent along get-well cards and letters to Marion. She's home, doing better and making good progress on her stroke, although the doctors are limiting her to no more than two hours of work a day. She hopes to be back up to speed soon, and I've been told that while she won't be travelling out of the Bay Area for a while, she will be doing some signings locally once she gets approval..." -- Marion Zimmer Bradley, January 1, 1990
  18. Marion Zimmer Bradley and credit for collaborations, September 3, 2015
  19. Bradley, regarding "Heir to Hammerfell and disappointment: "I've taken a clue from 'Heirs of Hammerfell' that the best character was the dog." -- from Darkover Newsletter #49 (June 1990)
  20. Regarding "Re-Discovery": " 'Re-Discovery' is being rewritten by Mercedes Lackey." -- comments by Bradley from Darkover Newsletter #55 (December 1991)
  21. When a fan wrote of his disappointment in 'Black Trillium," a co-written novel, Bradley responded: "I had the stroke during 'Black Trillium.' Both Andre Norton and I made it clear that the book was fantasy and not science fiction and Julian May put all kinds of science fiction cliches in it. Both Andre and I were unhappy -- we were unable to protest effectively... my collaborators did what they thought best for it. I feel like a fake for signing a copy." -- from Darkover Newsletter #56 (March 1992)
  22. from Darkover Newsletter #63 (December 1993)
  23. Writing; archive link, posted in 2002, accessed September 26, 2016
  24. Interview with Rosemary Edghill/reference link, accessed May 27, 2010
  25. comment by Heather Rose Jones at Marion Zimmer Bradley question ; archive link (with expanded comments), May 22, 2000
  26. William George Ferguson: MZB's Darkover legacy, September 24, 2006
  27. Interview with Rosemary Edghill/reference link, accessed May 27, 2010
  28. Darkover, Deborah J. Ross/reference link
  29. Re: Marion Zimmer Bradley Newsletter: Darkover Anthology Stories (was Re: Digest Number 215)/reference link, posted October 12, 2004, accessed June 11, 2013
  30. Making Light/reference link, posted April 26, 2006, accessed June 11, 2013
  31. Rethinking the MZB case/reference link, posted May 12, 2010, accessed June 12, 2013
  32. from Elisabeth Waters Interview (March 2008)
  33. Ross, very interestingly, may be referring to the scuttled book by MZB: "Contraband."
  34. from Darkover Newsletter #48 (March 1990)
  35. from Darkover Newsletter #50, MZB Enterprises had just shut down due to Bradley's poor health.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Re: The infamous Marion Zimmer Bradley case. March 19, 2001 post by Jean Lamb to rec.arts.sf.written. Accessed September 30, 2008; WebCite
  37. from Darkover Newsletter #55
  38. from Darkover Newsletter #56
  39. from Darkover Newsletter #54
  40. from Darkover Newsletter #56 (March 1992)
  41. The Angry!Textual!Poacher! Is Angry! Fan Works as Political Statements.”, Catherine Coker
  42. 42.0 42.1 The infamous Marion Zimmer Bradley case, 19 March 2001.
  43. Private interview with Boal. November 26, 2009, quoted here: The Angry!Textual!Poacher! Is Angry! Fan Works as Political Statements.; archive link, Cait Coker
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Writers Digest, March 1993.
  45. from Darkover Newsletter #56 (March 1992)
  46. Another example of Bradley's pro-active attention to Darkover fiction in zines: "Original stories only please — if your story has been printed in a fanzine, I've already seen it." -- from "Darkover Newsletter" #49 (June 1990)
  47. 47.0 47.1 Re: Contraband. July 19, 2003 post by Nina Boal to mzb_newsletter on Yahoo! Groups. Accessed September 30, 2008; WebCite and WebCite.
  48. post by Nina Boal, mzb_newsletter -- The Marion Zimmer Bradley Newsletter, Re: Contraband (March 9, 2001), http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mzb_newsletter/message/209?1=1, as reprinted in the Darkover Wiki, Contraband entry (July 17, 2002), http://darkover.wikia.com/wiki/Contraband
  49. LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, Archived version, November 3, 1999, comment by Patricia Mathew, November 3, 1999
  50. “Fanfic”: force of nature, 26 April 2006; WebCite.
  51. from Darkover Newsletter # 66 (September 1994)
  52. Re: Contraband. July 17, 2003 post by Robert Frieling to mzb_newsletter on Yahoo! Groups. Accessed September 30, 2008; WebCite.
  53. from Writer's Digest, March 1993 issue
  54. LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, Archived version, November 3, 1999, comment by Jean Lamb, November 3, 1999
  55. 55.0 55.1 Re: The infamous Marion Zimmer Bradley case, comments by Jean Lamb date=2001-03-19, Archived version and identical post: Copyright and Filk Song s at rec.arts.sf.written, posted 2001-03-19 by Jean Lamb retrieved 2017-01-28; Archived at WebCite 6Pj1E5M6C
  56. from The Contraband Incident: The strange case of Marion Zimmer Bradley
  57. Betsy was not Donald Wollheim's wife, but instead his daughter.
  58. The Friends of Darkover: An Annotated History and Bibliography, : archive link
  59. Re: Contraband. July 17, 2003 post by Robert Frieling to mzb_newsletter on Yahoo! Groups. Accessed September 30, 2008; WebCite.
  60. 60.0 60.1 Jim C. Hines: Marion Zimmer Bradley vs. Fanfiction Accessed May 26, 2010; WebCite.
  61. Darkover Newsletter #59 (December 1992)
  62. issue 60, March 1993
  63. A Shockingly Brief and Informal History of the Horror Writers Association by Stanley Wiater, accessed October 31, 2016
  64. I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment
  65. Queen's Own, Mercedes Lackey newsletter, December 1992, Archived version
  66. Fanzines (specifically published..., August 26, 1994
  67. The Fanzine FAQ, version 0.9, Alara Rogers,from the FAQ for alt.startrek.creative, September 10, 1994
  68. CompuServ transcript; WebCite
  69. alt.startrek.creative Something to consider: Marion Zimmer Bradley; archive
  70. an exchange at lists.herald.co.uk/old-archives
  71. Morgan: Roleplaying in the world of Valdemar
  72. Rick Hewitt: Roleplaying in the world of Valdemar
  73. Victoreia: Roleplaying in the world of Valdemar, July 28, 1997
  74. Tal Greywolf [Mercedes Lackey's "unofficial presence" on UseNet]: Roleplaying in the world of Valdemar
  75. Darkover Non-Guidelines; WebCite
  76. LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, Archived version, November 3, 1999, comment by Patricia Mathew, November 3, 1999
  77. Copyrights, Plotline Ideas, and the Public Domain; archive
  78. LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, Archived version, November 3, 1999, comment by Jean Lamb, November 3, 1999
  79. post by Nina Boal, mzb_newsletter -- The Marion Zimmer Bradley Newsletter, Re: Contraband (March 9, 2001), groups.yahoo.com/group/mzb_newsletter/message, as reprinted in the Darkover Wiki, Contraband entry (July 17, 2002), http://darkover.wikia.com/wiki/Contraband
  80. Writers University, Archived version
  81. Online Buffy/other shows roleplaying gaming, May 2, 2001
  82. Online Buffy/other shows roleplaying gaming, May 2, 2001
  83. alt.fan.peter-david: PAD: fan fiction...; archive
  84. Tad Williams' Message Board / The debate on fan-fiction rages, Archived version; BDG: The Saga of the Renunciates: Reposted Ann Sharp's Writing Guidelines, Archived version
  85. Copyright and Filk Songs, archive link page one, archive link page two, archive link page three, archive link page four, discussion at rec.arts.sf.written
  86. Mercedes Lackey; archive link
  87. Ask Misty Archive - Writing; archive link, accessed September 26, 2016
  88. Ask Misty Archive - Writing; archive link, accessed September 26, 2016
  89. Joan Marie Verba, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  90. Diann Partridge, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  91. Robert Frieling, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  92. Louis DePasquale, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  93. Diann Partridge, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  94. Shalanna, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  95. Diann Partridge, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  96. Nina Boal, editor of Moon Phases, 208 Re: mzb_newsletter: Contraband, July 17, 2003
  97. Comments: Marion Zimmer Bradley and/or Mercedes Lackey Focus, post at Making Light
  98. Comments: Marion Zimmer Bradley and/or Mercedes Lackey Focus, post at Making Light
  99. here
  100. Comments: Marion Zimmer Bradley and/or Mercedes Lackey Focus, post at Making Light
  101. Making Light: "Fanfic": force of nature, comments by Mercedes Lackey, Archived version
  102. Comments: Marion Zimmer Bradley and/or Mercedes Lackey Focus, post at Making Light
  103. Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey or How One Author Successfully Killed Her Fandom, Only Half Intentionally, comments contain much opinion (2006)
  104. Icon maybe appropriate: fanfic and creator's wishes; archive page 1, archive page 2, archive page 3, archive page 4
  105. Elizabeth Waters Interview
  106. this two-page contract can be seen in Darkover Newsletter #58, see that page on Fanlore
  107. Re: [Marion Zimmer Bradley Newsletter]: Darkover Anthology Stories (was Re: Digest Number 215). October 12, 2004 post by Diann Partridge to mzb_newsletter on Yahoo! Groups. Accessed September 30, 2008; WebCite.
  108. comment by Tal Greywolf at alt.books.m-lackey > Mercedes book - Stoned Souls...?, April 27, 2009
  109. Betsy was not the wife, but Donald Wollheim.
  110. The Friends of Darkover: An Annotated History and Bibliography, : archive link
  111. Re: Contraband
  112. The facts of the MZB case by opusculus (May 2010)
  113. Marion Zimmer Bradley vs. Fanfiction by Jim C. Hines
  114. Rethinking the MZB case
  115. George R. R. Martin is wrong about Lovecraft
  116. Darkover Characters: Yours, Mine, and Ours; WebCite by Deborah Ross [official Darkover continuator] (first posted at Book View Cafe blog in 2009, revised and posted to Ross' blog in June 2011)
  117. from Jane at Some uses for fanfiction May 24, 2011; WebCite
  118. comment from Rochelle at Some uses for fanfiction, posted March 24, 2014; WebCite
  119. "Unless this is intended as satire, it is an unauthorized derivative work. The right to PREPARE a derivative work, let alone post it on the Internet, is reserved to the copyright holder, which would be the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust. They have been known to file suit for this behavior, so if I were you, I'd take this down--at least until you can rewrite it do that it has nothing to do with The Catch Trap." -- comment by Elisabeth Waters left for a story at AO3 on February 16, 2012
  120. Frequently Asked Questions, Archived version
  121. from On This Day: Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives (June 3, 2014)
  122. WebCite for "The Children of Kings"
  123. Wollheim was the publisher of many of Bradley's pro books via DAW Books.
  124. Darkover Newsletter no. 60
  125. In 2002, Lackey responded to a fan's question on her website: "2002 Q: You co-authored a Darkover novel. The ending of that book was a bit open-ended. I know that the Bradley estate has autorized [sic] one book already. Do you think ther [sic] would ever be another Darkover book? A: I have so many contracts out for my solo name that I don't have time to do another Darkover novel, and that's the honest truth. -- Ask Misty Archive: Writing; archive link (scroll down), accessed May 30, 3017
  126. This was certainly the case with another of Bradley's books in note form: "The biggest news regarding MZB (at least for now) is the announcement of another Avalon novel to be written by Diana L. Paxson from notes left behind by MZB and a partial start that MZB wrote in the 80s. This new novel, which is worktitled THE ANCESTORS OF AVALON, will build a bridge between MZB´s THE FALL OF ATLANTIS and the rest of the Avalon series." -- New Avalon novel by MZB and Diana L. Paxson, February 8, 2003
  127. Elisabeth Waters mentions Bradley's notes in her comments about Deborah J. Ross' 2016 Darkover book: "Deborah has a genius for taking Marion's notes (which were very brief for this book) and earlier books and producing a novel that Marion would be proud to put her own name on. I enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to next year's novel." -- Thunderlord; archive link, March 30, 2016
  128. FanWorks.org : Fan Works Inc. - Help & Tools Index : Marion Zimmer Bradley, Archived version accessed February 17, 2012
  129. Catherine Coker. The Contraband Incident: The strange case of Marion Zimmer Bradley, in Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 6 (2011). (Accessed 15 March 2011)
Related Concepts, Fandoms, Terms, Fanworks
See also Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust and Unauthorized Fanworks