Elisabeth Waters Interview

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Elisabeth Waters Interview
Interviewer: Darkstars Fantasy News
Interviewee: Elisabeth Waters
Date(s): March 24, 2008
Medium: online
Fandom(s): Darkover
External Links: Elisabeth Waters talks of her collaborations with Bradley, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Elisabeth Waters Interview was a 2008 interview.

Elisabeth Waters was long-time companion and work partner to Marion Zimmer Bradley.

It was conducted in German, and translated into English.

"Not only speaks she about her novels and short stories but also about her collaboration with one of the most beloved authors in the genre: Marion Zimmer Bradley."

Some Topics Discussed

  • collaboration
  • fans who write in MZB's universe are breaking the law
  • Elisabeth Water's statement that "Certainly there was a strong similarity in our styles, especially when I was writing under her name and trying to match her style."
  • MZB's strokes and her inability to write
  • MZB's tendency to immerse herself totally in the characters she wrote
  • MZB lighting her robe on fire during a Pagan ritual
  • Greyhaven
  • MZB's restrictions on her depository
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust


Diana L. Paxson wrote some Avalon novels and Deborah Ross some new Darkover books. You’ve written some Darkover short stories yourself in the past. Will there be a Darkover novel written by you some day? Or do you have plans to maybe edit another Darkover anthology?

Deborah Ross is the person MZB chose to continue the Darkover series, and I think she’s doing a wonderful job with it. I would prefer to write in my own worlds rather than go back to Darkover. There are definitely no plans for another Darkover anthology; Deborah is the only person who has permission to write anything set on Darkover. Anyone else who wrote Darkover fiction would be breaking the law.

You worked on several novels closely together with Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example LADY OF THE TRILLIUM and TIGER BURNING BRIGHT. How did that work? How did you divide the work?

I had helped with BLACK TRILLIUM, the original book in that series, written by Julian May, Andre Norton, and MZB. Julian wrote a sequel, then Andre wrote one, so the publisher wanted one from Marion to complete the set. She wasn’t wild about the idea, so I said I’d write it with her. We agreed to set the book several generations in the future, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about contradicting anything in the other sequels, and decided to make the book about Haramis and her successor. The original plan was for Marion to write the wise old sorceress, Haramis, and for me to write from the point of view of Mikayla, the reluctant girl Haramis was trying to train as her successor, in alternating chapters. We had barely started the book when Marion had another stroke, so I ended up writing almost the entire book. Marion read the chapters I wrote for Haramis, who had also a stroke, which gave her more problems (characters always need problems, or the story would be totally boring), and checked to make sure that the symptoms and feelings I described for a stroke victim were correct. Mikayla was much more my character, a teenager who wanted nothing to do with Haramis or her job. Marion complained about a scene I wrote where Mikayla was yelling at Haramis, saying “my characters never yell like that!” I mentally reviewed her work and realized she was correct: when her characters got that angry they didn’t yell, they killed people. Given that killing Haramis at that point was out of the question, Marion agreed to the scene. When the publisher wanted revisions on the book, however, the entire household (feeling less than enthusiastic about life with Mikayla) agreed that I should go to Ice Castle, a training center for ice skaters in Lake Arrowhead, and do the work there. This got Mikayla away from MZB’s household and into an environment where most of the people around her were either teenage girls or people accustomed to dealing with teenage girls.

TIGER BURNING BRIGHT was done immediately after that, and I did most of the work at Ice Castle, with files emailed between me, Andre Norton, and Misty Lackey, and quite a few phone calls to Misty to toss ideas back and forth. Marion read and approved the manuscript, but she didn’t actually write any of it as she was still recovering from her latest stroke.

You were Marion Zimmer Bradley’s assistant for long time. She is sadly missed. Could you tell us a little bit about your collaboration? And maybe you can share an anecdote with us?

I’ve mentioned MZB’s tendency to turn into her characters. When she was writing THE FIREBRAND, I spent about two years running her household while explaining to people who wanted to talk to her that it was difficult to get her to take an interest in anything that happened after the fall of Troy. She participated in a lot of neo-Pagan rituals during those years, and one night she set her robe on fire when it brushed against a candle. (I was half-asleep in the back of the room, but I woke up fast enough when the girl representing the Maiden started screaming.) I took Marion into the house and started first aid, and then one of the guys drove us to the hospital.

I don’t know what drugs they gave her, but the next morning she didn’t know who she was — or, for that matter, who I was. And given all the books she was writing or doing research for, she had a lot of identities to chose from. Apparently the one she settled on was Captain Bligh; she had been working on a novel about the him and the Bounty mutiny on and off for decades. She tried to get out of bed while she was still mostly asleep, and I asked “where are you going?” She replied “they’re piping all hands on deck.” I didn’t bother to explain that she wasn’t on the Bounty; I just shoved her shoulder back down to the mattress and said “they don’t mean you; you’re on the sick list.” She went back to sleep immediately.

Did working with her have an influence on your own writing – both style-wise and habit-wise?

Most of what I know about writing I learned from her (I took her short-story workshop every time she offered it), and I lived in her household for about two decades, so she was an enormous influence on both my writing and my life. Certainly there was a strong similarity in our styles, especially when I was writing under her name and trying to match her style. As I continue to write, there will probably be less similarity.

Erbin von RuwendaAs for habits, we share the tendency to become immersed in our work to the point of acting like our protagonists. Marion always wrote first thing in the morning before everyone else was up, between 5 and 8 am. I write last thing before I go to bed, which allows me to go to sleep as my character and wake up in the morning as myself. One morning at Ice Castle I got a great idea during the morning and wrote a little bit of LADY OF THE TRILLIUM, and I spent the rest of the day being Mikayla, which felt rather strange.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was one of the most leading forces in the fantasy and science fiction genre. Her impact is still recognizable. What do you think is the reason for the fans’ loving her work so much?

I think there are many individual reasons. MZB wrote a variety of different things, even in a single series such as her Darkover novels, so there’s probably something she wrote that nearly everyone can identify with. When HERITAGE OF HASTUR came out she got a lot of letters from young gay men saying that they now realized it was possible to be gay and still be an honorable person and they didn’t feel that they had to kill themselves. (Remember that this was in 1975, when you couldn’t just log onto the Internet and find a community you could fit into; a lot of these young men felt completely alone.) There are many women who identified with the Renunciates, and quite a few of them took the Amazon form of their names (and spent years explaining that n’ha was not a middle name and was not a typo for Nina). A number of people identified with one of the Comyn families — most often the Ridenows — and there were several legal name changes there as well.

Marion said that a story should “reach out and grab you by the throat on the first page and not let go until it was done.” Most of her work does that. I remember reading THE CATCH TRAP when it was still a manuscript. It was about 1,000 pages long and took me two nights to read, and the circus world portrayed in it was so real that it seemed strange to spend my days on the ground at work instead of up in the rigging practicing trapeze stunts.

If there’s one general reason that fans love her work, I think it’s because it’s so real — it takes you someplace else, away from your daily life.

Is there still this little author circle called “Greyhaven”?

Greyhaven is the house in Berkeley where Marion’s brothers Paul and Don lived with their wives and children. Except for Paul’s wife Tracy, all of them wrote, and Tracy was a literary agent. Paul is dead now, and most of the others have moved away. I don’t know who still lives there and I haven’t heard that anyone is running a writing circle from there.

Are there any manuscripts or fragments left from Marion Zimmer Bradley, which didn’t get published? And if so – do you think her fans will be able to read them one day?

All of Marion’s papers are in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center Archives at Boston University. (See http://www.bu.edu/archives/holdings/contemporary/index.html.) Some of the material is sealed until 50 years after her death, and the collection is open only to “a qualified scholar” who has to be in the physical library building in Boston, so it’s not exactly readily available.

Can you remember what your first story (or novel) was about? And how did you realize you have a talent for writing?

Back in 1977 I wrote a Darkover story about Hilary Castamir. One of my friends knew MZB and passed it on to her, and she rewrote it into “The Keeper’s Price.” Eventually it became the title story of the first Darkover anthology. My second story was “The Alton Gift” — I wrote that for a contest that Marion was running and three of five judges gave it a perfect score. One of the judges hated it, so it didn’t win the contest, but it did convince me that I had a talent for writing.

Now, if I understand things correctly, you’re one of the persons in charge for the MZB Literary Works Trust. What are your duties and responsibilities with the Trust?

I’m not in charge of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust; Ann Sharp is the Trustee. The Trust hired me to edit S&S 22. I help Ann if she asks for my help, which she sometimes does because a lot of the things I learned working for Marion are still in my head — things like the original name of someone who sold a story to one of MZB’s anthologies 20 years ago and has had two name changes and five changes of address since then.