Holes in My Yard

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Open Letter
Title: Holes in My Yard
From: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Addressed To:
Date(s): September 1992
Medium: print
Fandom: Darkover
Topic:
External Links:
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Holes in My Yard is an 1992 open letter by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was printed in Darkover Newsletter.

The letter formally ended Bradley's personal involvement with fanfiction and other fanworks. The circumstances surrounding "Holes in My Yard" are 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.

For more on this complex and much-cited topic, see Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy.

The Letter

I've finished 'Rediscovery' (which should be out in hard cover next April) and 'Return to Darkover,' the sequel to 'Heritage of Hastur' and 'Sharra's Exile." 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 Id 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. Since I got her letter just as I was leaving for Westercon, I asked my secretary Lisa to call and see if she could clarify the situation. Lisa did her best, pointing out that 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 Betsy Wollheim, 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. Betsy 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. (Send a SASE for guidelines and the release form before submitting to any Darkover anthology.) 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 Dr. Howard B. Gotlieb, Special Collections, Mugar Library, 771 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, 02215. 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 "Holes in My Yard in 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. [1]

Fan Comments

I don't understand why MZB said this could make her a misanthrope. From what I read here, the fan didn't do anything wrong, it was just a sad coincidence that the two of them were working with the same characters in the same timeframe. This would appear to be a hazard of the way MZB did her work. I'm also not sure what she was saying about the lawyer. Was she planning on suing the fan, the publisher, or what? Was it just that the lawyer was needed to draw up the new anthology contract? Couldn't she just work out a deal with the fan so that the fan would sign an agreement not to sue, or something, so that the book could be published? [2]

Further Reading

References

  1. from Writer's Digest, March 1993 issue
  2. comment by Rich Kitchen at rec.arts.sf.written › Marion Zimmer Bradley (February 5, 1993)
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