On Writing a Dry Towns Darkover novel

The next Darkover book, The Children of Kings, was released on  March 5, from DAW Books.  I’d like to share some background on the book and why I think it’s special.

Marion’s original concept for Darkover centered on the clash of cultures, so for this next book, I wanted to bring the Terran Federation back into the picture, but not in a nice sedate and friendly way, but in an OMG-terrible-crisis-about-to-descend-upon-us way. I also have long had a secret longing to run away to live with the chieri, and Kierestelli (Regis and Linnea’s daughter, from Hastur Lord) kindly offered to take me.

Writing in the Darkover universe is very much like writing historical fiction. Marion explored so much of this world and its history that I can’t “make it all up as I go along.” One of the frustrating and yet exhilarating aspects of tackling a Darkover story is that Marion never let things like geography interfere with telling a good story. Although a number of fans produced maps of Darkover, she refused to endorse them, saying that she never knew when she might need to move things around. She also appreciated that Darkover had evolved as she herself had matured as a writer. In the Note From The Author for Sharra’s Exile, she says,

One result of writing novels as they occurred to me, instead of following strict chronological order, was that I began with an attempt to solve the final problems of the society; each novel then suggested one laid in an earlier time, in an attempt to explain how the society had reached that point. Unfortunately, that meant that relatively mature novels, early in the chronology of Darkover, were followed by books written when I was much younger and relatively less skilled at storytelling.

For this tale set mostly in the Dry Towns, I used as background not only The Shattered Chain but a very early (1961) “proto-Darkover” novel, The Door Through Space. The Door Through Space contained many elements familiar to Darkover readers, from jaco and the Ghost Wind to the names of people and places (Shainsa, Rakhal, Dry-towns). Marion was exploring a world in which Terrans are the visitors, and adventure lurks in the shadows of ancient alien cities. She drew upon and further developed this material in The Shattered Chain (1976).

These books reflected the growth of Marion’s vision, but each of them was also part of the times in which it was written. 1960s science fiction novels were often tightly-plotted, fast-paced, and short by today’s standards. Most, although by no means all, protagonists were male, and female characters were  often viewed from that perspective, what today we call “the male gaze.” By the middle of the next decade, publishers were interested in longer, more complex works. Not only that, the women’s movement and the issues it raised influenced genre as well as mainstream fiction, opening the way for strong female characters who defined themselves in their own terms. If Marion had written The Shattered Chain a decade and a half earlier, I doubt it have found the receptive, enthusiastic audience it did. Her timing (as with The Mists of Avalon or The Heritage of Hastur) brilliantly reflected the emerging sensibilities of the times.

Now we live in a different world. This is not to say that the previous struggles have been resolved, but that much has changed in the social consciousness from 1976 to today. In writing The Children of Kings, I considered how Marion’s ideas about the Dry Towns (and any patriarchal desert culture) might have changed over the last three decades. The Shattered Chain, with its examination of the roles of women and the choice (or lack of choices) facing them, focused on only a few aspects of the Dry Towns culture. What if we went deeper, seeing it as complex, with admirable aspects as well as those we find abhorrent? With customs that we cannot truly comprehend but must respect, as well as those that resonate with our own? With men of compassion and women of power?

As the Dry Towns developed in my mind, I turned also to the theme that had characterized the early Darkover novels—the conflict between a space-faring technological race and the marvelously rich and romantic Domains, with their tradition of the Compact and the laran-Gifted Comyn. And now, I add to that mix the ancient, kihar (honor)-based Dry Towns.

I hope you find this book as rich and rewarding to read as it was to write.

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On Writing a Dry Towns Darkover novel — 2 Comments

  1. I wondered how it was to work with MZB’s material, which sometimes seemed to willfully conflict. I admire how you’ve managed to pull a cohesive whole out of such disparate parts–and while never betraying the material, making it appealing to today’s audience. Not an easy task.

  2. Thank you — it is at times daunting! Not only was Marion inconsistent with herself — she never let previously published material interfere with a good stand-alone story — but the ghost writers who preceded me had their own ideas about Darkover as well. Often the best I can do is to try to be true to the spirit of Darkover, if not the letter.