Within the last year, scholar Catherine Coker and writer Jim Hines both looked into the legendary controversy surrounding the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, her uncompleted Darkover novel “Contraband”, fan writer Jean Lamb, and her Darkover-verse fan novella “Masks.”
Hines and Coker report that for most of her long and prolific career, Bradley was well known for her encouragement of and interaction with fan fiction authors, until her confrontation with Lamb ended that practice in 1992. (Bradley died in 1999.)
I had heard about this controversy for years, and eagerly read about it wherever I found it mentioned, but I confess I’m still left with more questions than answers. Might be the journalist in me!
Coker interviewed Lamb and Lamb’s former beta reader (fan editor), Nina Boal, and wrote about her findings in an article for the latest issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures.”
Hines researched the controversy and wrote about his findings in his blog and mirrored the post at his Livejournal in May 2010. (The blog post garnered 23 comments; the LJ post 157, for whatever that’s worth.)
I can do no better for conciseness here than to quote Hines’ conclusions after his interviews and research:
“As far as I can tell, the following is not disputed.
1. Bradley originally encouraged fanfiction.
2. Bradley read Jean Lamb’s story “Masks” in Moon Phases [a fan zine].
3. Bradley contacted Lamb, offering payment and a dedication in exchange for rights to use the ideas from “Masks” in the Darkover novel “Contraband.”
4. Bradley and Lamb were unable to reach an agreement, and “Contraband” was cancelled.
5. Bradley changed her policy on fanfiction, stating that she would no longer allow it.”
In his post, Hines asked the same questions I want answered, questions that in my opinion the Coker article does not answer, one of which is: Why exactly was “Contraband” cancelled, and by whom? Hines says that DAW, the publisher, did not cancel it. Coker apparently did not try to get a statement from DAW, which is a big gap in her information-gathering.
Coker did not interview writer Mercedes Lackey, either, though Coker states that before her death, Bradley gave the unpublished notes for “Contraband” to Lackey.
Hines, on the other hand, links to a comment Lackey made in a discussion hosted at the SFF blog “Making Light” back in 2006. In this comment, Lackey states that Bradley “liked the ‘take’ a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn’t have to, after all, you can’t “own” an idea). However in this case, the next party heard from was the author’s agent, who demanded cover credit and co-authorship, or there would be a lawsuit.”
Hines, like Coker, quotes Boals.
Neither Hines’ post nor Coker’s article quotes anyone from Bradley’s estate.
Another problematic element of Coker’s article was the quotes she chose to include from fans who responded to the controversy in the nineties on newsgroup threads. They seem to be stating their own opinions or impressions of the controversy, but as they are using fannish pseudonyms and are not otherwise identified as being directly involved, it’s hard to understand why they were included at all in Coker’s article, and impossible to evaluate their credibility. I found myself, as a journalist, questioning why Coker allowed them space in her article.
Personally, I would love to hear from Lackey in more detail, because she could apparently document how much of “Masks” was actually going to be in “Contraband” as Bradley envisioned it at the time “Contraband” was cancelled.
I’d also like to hear more concrete information from DAW, and from Bradley’s estate. It seems to me that the facts regarding what Lamb actually asked for and the substance of her threat to sue are documentable at this point, but neither article has complete information about that. Coker in particular talks her way all around this very important point, going so far as to include hearsay.
Coker concludes her article by talking about how the incident has been “spun” in fandom, which to me is much less important than the facts of what happened.
Hines concludes by talking about what pro writers can learn from this incident in regard to interacting with fan writers and reading fan fiction.
I think it’s important to remember that Bradley harmoniously interacted with fan writers for more than 20 years before “Masks” and “Contraband”. But it seems to me simply a wise choice for pro writers to adopt a policy of benign neglect toward whatever fan fiction is created for their canons.