Darkover Short Story Contests

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Darkover Short Story Contests were sponsored by the zine Starstone.

There were three of them.

The first one was announced June 1978 and had a deadline of September 1978.

The second one was announced in December 1978 and had a deadline of May 1979.

The third one was announced March 1982 and had a deadline of June 1982. These stories appear to have been published in Starstone #6.

Where Did the Winners Appear?

Winners were published in Starstone and in the zine Tales of the Free Amazons. Some winners were published in the professional DAW Anthologies.

The First Contest

The first contest was announced in Starstone #2 in June 1978 and had a deadline of September 1978.

For MUCH more about the first contest, see the essay by Marion Zimmer Bradley called Adventures in Reading Darkover Stories Without Having to Write Them First..

flyer for the first contest, flyer was printed in Starstone #2, June 1978

Some stats:

  • there were five judges: Randall Garrett, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Diana Paxson, Katherine Kurtz, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
  • the top score was 150; the top score achieved was 134
  • there were 34 qualified entires by 26 different authors
  • 23 of the 26 authors were female

Some of the winners:

  • Journey to Newskye by Mary Frey (first place tie) (Starstone #3, also in Contes Di Cottman IV #8)
  • A Simple Dream by Penny Ziegler (first place tie) (printed in Starstone #3, reprinted in "The Keeper's Price")
  • At Nevarsin; Valdir and Valentine (second place tie) by Mary Frances Zambrene
  • The Alton Gift (second place tie) by Elsabeth [1] Waters
  • The Banshee by Sharrie n'ha Verana (Sherry Kramer) (third prize, printed in Tales of the Free Amazons)
  • The Fall of Neskaya by Roger Bermingham (tie, fourth place)
  • Promises Called Home by Susan Schwartz (tie, fourth place)
  • Cast Off Your Chains by Margaret Silvestri (fifth prize winner, printed in Tales of the Free Amazons)

See the images on this page for other entries and winners.

From the flyer, printed in Starstone #2:

Would you like to win $20 --$15--or $10? You have as good a chance as anyone else--because all stories will be judged ANONYMOUSLY! Three prizes will be awarded for the best short story about Darkover--all the winners (and perhaps most of the rest) will be printed in STARSTONE

CONTEST RULES 1. All short stories must be double spaced on white paper (not onion skin) and no more than 20 pages long. Clear xerox copies are acceptable. KEEP A CARBON COPY OR XEROX OF YOUR STORY!

2. Do NOT put your name on the manuscript; but we suggest you put the title of your story at the top of every page.

3. Put your name and address and the title of your story on a SEPARATE SHEET of paper, and put this INSIDE a SMALL SEPARATE ENVELOPE, with THE TITLE OF YOUR STORY on'the OUTSIDE of the small envelope. Use a paper clip or staple to fasten this envelope to the FIRST PAGE of your story. Then put the story AND the separate envelope, with the title on the outside and your name and address on the inside, into a LARGER envelope. PLEASE NOTE: if your name or address appears ANYWHERE ON YOUR MANUSCRIPT your story will be DISQUALIFIED. We will read it and consider it for STARSTONE, but unless it is ANONYMOUS, and accompanied by your name and address in a SEPARATE SEALED ENVELOPE, it will NOT be considered for a prize. (The envelopes will not be opened until AFTER the stories have been read, judged and the prizes decided on. So be sure you give a permanent address where mail will always reach you.)

4. Stories will be judged on a criterion of originality, freshness, plot, characterization, and general enjoyability. Write the kind of story you would like to read. No taboos except good taste. No poetry. All stories should bear some relationship to the Darkover universe, but need not deal with the same period as any published story. Be original.

5. All stories will be considered for publication in STARSTONE, and by entering a story you agree to allow it to be published in STARSTONE if the editors wish, whether or not it wins a prize. Otherwise all stories remain the exclusive property of the person submitting them; the only right you give us is the right to print them once in STARSTONE.

6. ALL STORIES MUST REACH US BYJEPTEMBER 15, 1978. Winners will be notified no later than November 30th, 1978. If there are more than twenty entries, "honorable mention" prizes( two $5 and two $2.50 prizes)will be awarded. Every entrant will receive a copy of the issue of STARSTONE containing the names and the winning stories. The three winners will be printed in #4.

7. EXTRA PRIZE; the two top winners will also receive, if desired, the privilege of having their story professionally read and criticized by his or her choice of the judges, at least two of whom will be professionally published writers. This means that the next short story, non-Darkover, which you write, or up to three chapters of a novel, will be read by your own choice of judges (Marion Zimmer Bradley will be one of the judges) and criticized with tips for improving your writing, in a conference. Professional individual help of this kind often helps a novice make that first sale.


The Second Contest

The second contest was announced in December 1978 in Starstone #3, and had a deadline of May 1979.

The judges were again Diana Paxson, Katherine Kurtz, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, and Walter Breen.

the flyer printed in Starstone #3

This contest differed from the first one in that entries for this contest were to be considered for professional publication in the DAW Anthologies.

Three stories were disqualified, two for length, one for other reasons, see below.

Bradley had much to say about the entries, including that the judges all treated another story harshly, saying it was very juvenile—the story turned out to have been written by an actual juvenile, a 12-year old girl (which Bradley discussed in a fairly shaming way):

Oh, yes, there were some "bad" stories—by which I mean they were clumsily plotted, had little point, or in which nothing really happened, so that after finishing it a judge would be likely to say, "So what?" But this year, at least, we had no attempts to write a novel in nine or ten pages, and most of the stories, including the losers, were better than some that I sold way back in the fifties, when there were more magazines around, and fewer good story tellers.

The worst I could say for a few of the stories was that some of them were silly. One story which was universally treated badly by the judges, about a young girl's struggle with playmates who taunted her because she had six fingers, LURA'S HANDS, did badly in the vote-count because we were judging it from an adult's point of view; the author turned out to be 12-year-old Rohana Kenin, and re-reading the story from the point of view of a magazine for children, I realized that by those standards it was a very good story, which, of course, simply means that one must judge the market before submitting. REGIS IN MIDDLE EARTH, though a very well-plotted, well-written story, would hardly be considered suitable as a Darkover story... it was about, I think, Regis Hastur straying, as in A MEETING IN THE HYADES, into Middle Earth and meeting Gandalf and Sam Gamgee. Having done myself, who am I to complain?

Yet another, RAVNA'S BRIDE, was flippanty [sic] subtitled DRACULA COMES TO DARKOVER by two different judges, and that's all I m going to say about it; very well-written story, but are there vampires on Darkover? A couple of stories were marked low because of basically unlikely events, THE SNOW PEACE required a just-blinded woman to deliver a child. A woman blind for years might make a good midwife—especially with laran but not a new-blinded one. Pat Mathews otherwise-excellent THE ACCURSED was marked down by me, at least, because she did not play fair with the reader; a woman lies and I think other judges felt as I did, that this was an un-Darkovan attitude, that the character might have evaded but would not lie directly under oath. I think we have all learned a lot. Who knows, we might even do this again!

The winners:

  • Clingfire by Jane Brae-Bedell (first prize, printed in Starstone #5)
  • Where the Heart Is by Millea Kenin (second prize)
  • Miracle of Modern Medicine by Jane Brae-Bedell (tie, third prize)
  • Regis in Middle Earth (tie, third prize, but disqualified)
  • The Keeper by Lynne Holdom (tie, fourth prize)
  • Cold Hall by Aly Parsons (tie, fourth prize)
  • Oath-Breaker by Eileen Berkun (tie, fifth prize)
  • Useless Wife by Elisabeth Waters (tie, fifth prize)

The flyer in Starstone #3 for the second contest told fans their contributions may be harvested for possible publication in the DAW Anthologies, as well as Starstone.

Some Hijinks by Bradley

Bradley expounds at great length about the contest in Darkover Newsletter #23. In it, she explains that three entries were disqualified: two because they were too long, and one that didn't include an address or name. The third disqualified story was a Darkover/Tolkien crossover.

Another story that wasn't officially in the disqualified section was a story she submitted herself, see below. This story ended up being "Knives" which was later printed in More Tales of the Free Amazons, as well as in a one of her professional anthologies. Its subject matter was childhood sexual abuse and revenge.

From Darkover Newsletter #23:

Another story was, not precisely disqualified (since it nowhere said in the rules that a judge could not enter) but my own desire for feedback; I slipped a short story of my own into the lineup, to see what my fellow judges would say. I wrote it for three reasons; one, to see if I could tell a complete self-consistent story in 20 pages; two, because so many of the Free Amazon stories I read had the same plot and I wanted to see what kind of story I_ would write at that length (the "same plot" runs about like this—Free Amazon finds a man she can really trust and realizes it's okay to give up some of her cherished freedom—later I received eight or nine of these things for the anthology SWORD OF CHAOS and did not buy a single one!) The story KNIVES received rather disappointing feedback from the four judges. Diana Paxson and Katherine Kurtz, giving it 22 and 28 points out of 30, commented only "very nice story" and "well done." (Reason three for this submission was to see how people who supposedly knew my writing very well would react to a story without my name on it.) Judge number three, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, wrote a fairly long helpful critique pointing out that there was an "accidental" shift in viewpoint on Page 2, and commenting on what she called a non-Darkovan attitude in the story. She too gave me 28 points out of thirty. The fourth judge, Walter Breen, did not suspect that I had written it—I used a different typeface and wrote it while he was away in New York—but wrote "I can't fault this one—I don't think even MZB would have handled it better." I of course did not rate the story at all, but even with four judges ratings it would have received an honorable mention. (I don't think it was good enough for the anthology; I'll probably print it in MORE TALES OF THE FREE AMAZONS . . . anyhow, it has a different plot from that same old one I mentioned above.

All the judges were annoyed when they found out what I had done, and I don't blame them, but, honestly, I wanted to see if some of the amateur writers in the contest weren't really just as good as I was, and I think I made my point. (Anyhow, I never claimed to be all that good as a short story writer, though in the process of showing people what's wrong with their stories, I am learning more about how to write good ones myself. Knowing how it's done, alas, doesn't always mean one can do it well.)

Bradley Had No Patience for Someone Else's Hijinks, However

While Bradley seemed to find her tricksy, anonymous entry in the contest acceptable, she had no patience for someone else's, even though it was benignly offered.

The third "disqualified" story was even more frustrating, since it actually tied for third place; when we opened the envelope, we found the following note (I am paraphrasing—I threw the note itself away in disgust), "The author of this story wishes to remain anonymous. If it should win a prize, please donate it to the stamp-and-ice-cream fund." Well, this was in violation of the rules, which CLEARLY stated that all stories must be accompanied by the name and address of the writer, sealed in a separate envelope. The prize went to the other story in the tie. (Please tell us who you are? You got three "thirty" votes!


From Starstone #3 in December 1978:

Would you like to have your Darkover fiction published in DAW BOOKS?

Here is something SUPER-SPECIAL for the Friends of Darkover.

Some of the stories in STARSTONE have impressed the editor who publishes Darkover to such an extent that he is willing to publish an anthology of Darkover short stories, edited by MZB, 85-90,000 words. Some of the stories will be written by Marion Bradley herself, but he intends to include a selection of the best of the amateur Darkover fiction, and that is where YOU come in.

We are talking about professional payment at the rates of 2-3¢ a word, which means a rate competitive with GALAXY and higher than AMAZING or FANTASTIC. Stories will be chosen by MZB with the advice of professional editors and agents.

SO— send us your best story TODAY; the DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION is May 1, 1979, which means that I should have ALL STORIES IN MY HANDS by that date, and the sooner your story comes in, the more time we have to decide whether it is of professional quality or can be made so with a little editing.

IF YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED IN STARSTONE, your story is already being considered; you do not need to resubmit. If we have chosen your story for the anthology you will recieve [sic] a formal letter of agreement and offer in the mail before May 15, 1979.

Stories for this anthology should have a Darkovan background and should fit into the general pattern of Darkover, though they need not deal with any character already mentioned in Darkover fiction by MZB, and original ideas about other periods of time are welcome. PLEASE SEND RETURN POSTAGE FOR THE RETURN OF THE MANUSCRIPT IF WE CANNOT USE IT, and BE SURE YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS ARE CLEARLY WRITTEN ON THE MANUSCRIPT. ALL SUBMISSIONS MUST BE TYPED AND DOUBLE-SPACED. While we will willingly use a pen name if requested, we cannot consider or read anonymous contributions. Poetry will not be considered unless it is very good and outstanding.


The Second Contest: The Winners, MZB's Description of the Process, and Hijinks by Herself and By Breen

The Third Contest

The third contest was announced in March 1982 in Starstone #5, with a June 1982 deadline. There was no mention, this time, of entries being considered for publication in the DAW Anthologies.

And we are going to do a third Darkover Fiction contest. I find that reading what other people have written about Darkover inspires me to think in new ways, and along unexplored lines, about that world....when I grow jaded or get the feeling that I have said all there is to say about Darkover (which happens roughly four times a year). I find that when I see Darkover freshly, through someone else's eyes, restores my own sense of wonder and I am ready, again, to go back and write something new and different.[2]

flyer for the third contest, this flyer was printed in Starstone #5, March 1982

Previous contests have been such successes that we're going to do it again! The FRIENDS OF DARKOVER are again offering a First Prize of $20, a Second Prize of $15 and a Third Prize of $10 for the best original stories about Darkover.


1. ALL STORIES MUST BE TYPEWRITTEN, double-spaced on white 8x11 paper, and no more than 20 pages in length. (And please use some margins --we have to xerox-copy your story for the judges.) A clear machine-copy is acceptable. Please do not send carbons, and no legal size pages, please. We cannot return stories, so KEEP A COPY OF YOUR STORY!

2. Do NOT put your name on the manuscript. However, please put the TITLE of your story at the top of every page, (and number the pages.)

3. Put your NAME AND ADDRESS and the TITLE OF YOUR STORY on a small piece of paper, or on a 3x5 card, and put this INSIDE a small separate envelope. On the OUTSIDE of this envelope, put THE TITLE OF YOUR STORY. Use a paper clip (no staples, please, we broke too many fingernails in the first contest) to fasten this small SEALED envelope to the first page of your story. Then send us your story, with the sealed envelope marked on the outside with the story title, and with your name and address on the inside, in a larger envelope. If you submit two stories, they can be in the same (outside) envelope, but please HAVE A SEPARATE SEALED ENVELOPE FOR EACH STORY, with the title of the story on the outside and the name and address on the inside. (The way we do the judging is this; we mark story and envelope with the same number, then separate the story and envelope, the envelopes going into a locked box and the stories going to be xerox-copied for the judges. The envelopes are never opened until AFTER the stories have all been read and judged, so nobody knows who wrote what story till afterward.) Names and titles of all winning stories will be published in STARSTONE SIX.

3. By submitting a story to the contest, you agree to allow the story to be published once in STARSTONE. Otherwise all stories remain the property of the individual writer.

4. Stories will be judged on three criteria; originality, authenticity of Darkovan background, and general readbility. The judges will take into account the skill at plotting, freshness, characterization, and enjoyability. Write the kind of story you would like to read. Some hints from previous contests; don't try to write a novel in 20 pages; pick a single character for emphasis, write about that character overcoming some problem or coming into serious conflict with himself, another character, or the environment. Stories may be funny, tragic, dealing with high tragedy or romance, or tales of simple people and simple life. For examples of the kind of stories that win prizes, read the anthologies THE KEEPER'S PRICE and SWORD OF CHAOS --note that they all deal with human conflicts and human characters.

5. All stories must reach us by JUNE 30, 1982. If there are more than twenty entries, we will award "consolation prizes" of $5 and 2.50 to the fourth and fifth winners. All entrants will receive the judges' comments on their stories. Send all stories to CONTEST EDITOR, FRIENDS OF DARKOVER, Box 72, Berkeley, California, 94701.


  1. ^ Yes, spelled that way.
  2. ^ from Starstone #5