Why Should I Encourage People to Write Darkover Stories?

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Title: Why Should I Encourage People to Write Darkover Stories? (see notes about this title in the article below)
Creator: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Date(s): June 1978
Medium: print
Fandom: Darkover
Topic:
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Why Should I Encourage People to Write Darkover Stories? is the title used here on Fanlore for the essay by Marion Zimmer Bradley that makes up the very lengthy editorial to the zine Starstone #2. The title comes from a line early in the essay and hopefully is a helpful and descriptive one.

first page of the essay, printed in Starstone #2

Topics Discussed

  • the dead end of Star Trek fanfic writing
  • making the leap from amateur to pro writing
  • "And finally I have an odd belief that I am not so much the inventor as the DISCOVERER of Darkover. If I have made it so real to others that they wish to write about it, who am I to stand at the gates like an angel with a flaming sword and refuse them the right to build fahtasies in my garden"
  • how everyone sees Darkover in their own mind
  • "I envy you YOUR Darkover which I can never see or know. And I am grateful to you for turning around and sharing YOUR Darkover with me as I have shared mine with you; for letting me see, reflected in YOUR stories, reflected in the mirror of your words, a little of the picture I have created in your mind."

The Essay

It's been a great pleasure to see how much talent has emerged from our readers — and it's a real pleasure to bring you this copy of STARSTONE #2. One of our contributors has already made that giant step from fan to professional writer — Diana Paxson, who has sold a story to Isaac Asimov's S-F and to the anthology MILLENNIAL WOMEN, edited by Virginia Kidd — and another wrote us, just a while ago, to say "I wonder if writers ever make that giant step from fan writing to professional writing? I think I shall..."

I can tell you that they can and do. Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner, Robert Silverberg, Juanita Coulson, Harlan Ellison, H.P. Lovecraft —yes, and Marion Zimmer Bradley — all had long and more or less successful careers in the fan magazines before they ever crossed the line into professional sales. And it is to these people, the would-be writers who make our magazine what it is, that I'm addressing myself this time.

What makes the difference between the professional writer and the amateur? Why should I encourage people to write Darkover stories, when the beginning writer might very well be struggling with his (or more likely her — our writers are female, about 3 to 1 —) own plot and characters, own new society, fantasy world, future Utopia, star war or cosmic encounter?

Having seen what happens when young writers discover their desire to write by fantasizing "What happened next?" about someone else's story, I am convinced that this can act as a bridge to the novice writer (young, or new to the field) who might be daunted at the thought of inventing a whole new universe of his own, but can invent new adventures for characters already familiar. The Star Trek universe is a case in point. Star Trek fanzines printed an intolerable deal of rubbish, yes.

And for many fans it was a dead end. Many who wrote about Spock, Kirk]], Uhura and all the crew were simply repeating and re-combining old ideas in a slightly new form; they never wrote anyothing [sic] else. But even so I don't think their time was completely wasted. They discovered, one and all, that writing is hard work, a form of self-confrontation, demanding discipline. To write, one must learn to sit down, completely alone — the way I put it, is, APPLY THE SEAT OF THE PANTS FIRMLY TO THE SEAT OF THE CHAIR — and remain there, facing a sheet of blank paper with nothing to fill it up except the contents of what the late great Walt Kelly called "my own personal headbone." That's a frightening thing. The person who, in this day of eternal distractions and easy entertainments, manages to do that much, has already become one out of a thousand in this world, having done something which the other nine hundred and ninety-nine never dreamed of doing and couldn't if they tried. Even if what she writes is utter tosh, balderdash and nonsense, the very act of writing has set her above her fellows in a very special way; the attempt to create, to communicate, to face herself, and dig into her inner creativity.

As I say, many young writers never write anything else. The true writer, though, discovers, having tasted the joys of writing, that it becomes an addiction. A time comes, for these special people, when noting really exists until it has been shaped and re-created and wrought into words, one's own words, with a life of their own, standing quite apart from the experience with which they may have begun.
Too many young people say, never having tried (especially in these days when even your English teacher won't read your "themes") —too many young people say, "Oh, I could never write. I wouldn't know where to start. I wouldn't know what to say." If the attempt to write Star Trek, Darkover, or Sherlock Holmes pastiches can break that block, and get the young writer to take that first step of actually sitting down in front of that sheet of blank paper, then it's worth while. Who knows? He, or she, might have a genuine talent—but suppose it never occurred to her to try? Imagine how many talents might otherwise have gone to waste! And, of course, quite selfishly, I love editing STARSTONE for a very special
 reason. How else can I get to read Darkever stories without having to sit down
and write them first?

And finally I have an odd belief that I am not so much the inventor as the DISCOVERER of Darkover. If I have made it so real to others that they wish to write about it, who am I to stand at the gates like an angel with a flaming sword and refuse them the right to build fahtasies in my garden?

I have been asked if Darkover stories by amateurs will give me ideas for future novels—or, perhaps, inhibit me from writing as I please.

I don't think so. For instance, many people, even those who read the dedication, don't know how I came to write THE HERITAGE OF HASTUR. Years ago, in my twenties, I wrote a long, sprawly and childish novel which I called INSOLENCE— I printed an small excerpt from it, in STARSTONE I. Jacqueline Lichtenberg read it and started insisting I should tell the story of Kadarin, Lew Alton and the younger Regis Hastur. I kept insisting that there was no way to transfer the fantasy world of Al-Merdin to the science fiction background of Darkover, and anyhow I had already used parts of it for WINDS OF DARKOVER and STAR OF DANGER. The more I insisted that it couldn't be done, the more she demanded that it could -she even went far enough to say that nothing was worth doing unless it was impossible, a point of view I still resolutely refuse to share, but we are arguing about definitions, of course — and finally she sat down and wrote me an eight or ten page letter telling me just EXACTLY how it could be done, including a complete outline, chapter by chapter, of what she called THE HASTUR GIFT.

Well, I read it, dismayed, and sat down at the typewriter to demolish her, tear her limb from limb. For one thing, I started out, determined to PROVE to her that it couldn't be done and she was a nitwit for thinking it could, Lew Alton couldn't possibly behave like THAT. Where upon I explained to her, for five or six pages, exactly what he would have done instead. She had completely misunderstood the psychology of Dyan Ardals— which I proceeded to set her straight about, in nine or ten pages. Regis Hastur couldn't possibly have done THAT; I explained at great length just how he would have behaved instead, and why. And I explained over and over again that if I ever WERE foolish enough to write such a book, it couldn't possibly be done the way she said, but THIS way instead. And by the bye, I thought THE HASTUR GIFT was a perfectly terrible title. And now that I had PROVED to her that such a book couldn't possibly be written, would she please drop the subject or something? Whereupon, after I had mailed the letter, I began to reflect that I had actually proved her point. Maybe it couldn't be done the way she said, but by golly it could be done the way I said. And she wrote back saying that instead of proving my point, I had proved HERS—not only had I admitted it could be done, I had explained at great length HOW to do it, so why didn't I sit down now and DO it?

And I did.

So that if any amateur Darkover story should ever "inspire" me, it is more likely to be in reverse... I would read the story and say "No, no, not like that, not in MY Darkover, it would have had to be like THIS..." and proceed to write what "really" happened.

Which does not mean that my Darkover is "Right" and yours is "wrong." Only that yours and mine differ by that exact same degree which separates your mind from mine. I think of all Darkover stories not written by me, as having taken place in a subtly DIFFERENT Darkover—not a "Mirror Universe," exactly, but not quite mine. A world perhaps where Regis Hastur has only five fingers on his hands. A Darkover differing from mine only by that micrometer of difference which makes it yours and not mine...

But then, the Darkover I write about is not, and cannot be, the Darkover you read about. Something strange happens in transition from my manuscript to the book you purchase, and what you read about. When you read about it, it becomes YOUR Darkover; if by some mystic laran I could see how my Darkover reflects in your mind, I might not even recognize the color of the sky. Is the red sun I imagine, the same red that shines, or lowers, in the sky of your mind? These are deep waters, but perhaps they explain why I don't feel, have never felt, that it is an intrusion when others write about "my" Darkover.

We touch, of course. The novel I write is not — quite — the novel you read, but if we are lucky and I am skillful and you are sensitive, I can rouse in you some echo which corresponds to the emotion the writing roused in ME. And in turn, your words, your writings about Darkover, reflect it back to my mind; T can see, reading what you write, what I have created in you. And your words in turn reflect upon my mind, and our worlds, and our words, and our minds, move as the Universes move, both within and without. I am aware that no one will ever know what I see when I describe a chieri. Conversely I will never know what you see when you dream of one.

I envy you YOUR Darkover which I can never see or know. And I am grateful to you for turning around and sharing YOUR Darkover with me as I have shared mine with you; for letting me see, reflected in YOUR stories, reflected in the mirror of your words, a little of the picture I have created in your mind. And if I have inspired so much beauty and so much creativity, I am awed; and humbled; and profoundly grateful.

But was it I who created so much beauty? I don't think so. I can create, in any mind, only what beauty is already there. I can touch, in the mind that reads, analogues of beauty—but THEY WERE THERE BEFORE. To the stupid or imperceptive, my books could be arrant nonsense. But to those who breathe them in — and like the writers of these stories, breathe them out again, enhancing them with their own fantasy and beauty — they are something else.

And I am proud. And grateful. Yes, and humble, too.

Because, although I may first have shown Darkover to you, you are showing it, again, to me.

References