Marion Zimmer Bradley
(The following account is based on information in the biography on the MZB Literary Trust website, and family history gathered from Marion’s mother, her brother Paul, and her son David)
Marion was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and grew up in what has been described as an “old Lovecraftian farmhouse,” in the farm country outside Albany. She was the first child, followed the next year by a brother, Leslie, and twelve years later by the youngest child, Paul Edwin Zimmer. Although the New York hinterlands offered little in the way of culture, Marion’s mother was a great reader and Marion was introduced to the classics of literature at an early age. The Saturday broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera instilled in Marion a love of music in general, and opera in particular, that she retained throughout her life. She herself had a fine lyric soprano voice and for a time studied singing, but found she did not have the stamina (or the tolerance for late hours) to pursue an operatic career.
Growing up as a bright, intellectual girl in rural New York in the forties was not easy. Marion began reading science fiction and fantasy in her teens, and tried writing it as well. In the letter columns of the science fiction magazines she at last found people who shared her interests and began a copious correspondence with other fans. Robert Alden Bradley was one of them. They married in 1949, the year in which she made her first sale as an adjunct to an amateur fiction contest in Fantastic/ Amazing Stories, and she moved to Texas, where “Brad” worked for the railroad. Rural Texas wasn’t much better than upstate New York as far as culture was concerned, but by this time Marion was publishing a fanzine, Astra’s Tower, and attending science fiction conventions. Her oldest son, David, was born in 1956. While living in Texas she also attended Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, from which she received a B.A. in 1964.
In 1952 Marion sold her first professional story to Vortex Science Fiction, and soon was making a small but regular income from short story and novel sales, writing science fiction, gothics, and even true confessions (under a variety of names). The Planet Savers, the first novel in what editor Don Wollheim eventually persuaded Marion really was a series, was published in 1962, followed in the same year by Sword of Aldones. Additional Darkover novels followed at frequent intervals for the next thirty years, eventually numbering nineteen. At the same time, Marion was writing other books in the field of science fiction and fantasy, many published by Don Wollheim, who became her mentor. During the 60’s and 70’s she averaged two books a year, rising at 5 a.m. when the house was quiet and often knocking off 60 pages before breakfast.
In 1964, Marion’s marriage to Brad ended and she married fellow SF fan Walter Breen, an expert in antique coins, and moved to Berkeley, California. Her son Patrick and daughter Moira were born in the mid-sixties. Between 1965 and 1967 she also attended graduate school in Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1967 the family moved back to New York, where she and Walter edited Sybil Leek’s Astrology magazine, and Marion started the Kingdom of the East of the Society for Creative Anachronism (see below). In 1973 they returned to Berkeley, where she continued to live until her death.
Marion’s real breakthrough as a writer came in 1975 with Heritage of Hastur, when for the first time her husband was making enough money to support the family and she could take the time she needed to really do justice to the book. In 1979 she published The Catch Trap, a novel about gay trapeze artists based in part on her experiences with a small circus in Texas, which some consider her best work.
By the early eighties, Marion had become interested in feminism (although she stoutly refused to be called a “feminist”) and women’s spirituality, a perspective reflected in the Darkover novels about the Free Amazons, and in her most popular book, The Mists of Avalon, which appeared in 1983. Suddenly she was world famous.
From the mid-80’s onward, Marion began to focus on editing, which she had begun with the first Darkover anthology in 1980. In 1984 she began editing the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, creating a unique market for fantasy with a female focus. Marion had always been generous in taking the time and trouble to advise beginning writers. Through her anthologies and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, which she started in 1988, she gave a start to a whole generation of fantasy writers.
Marion had suffered from heart trouble for many years, and during the 90’s, her health became increasingly fragile. She died on September 25th, 1999, after a major heart attack.
Diana wrote a memoir of Marion, published in the Winter, 1999 issue of Sagewoman magazine, and reproduced here.
Diana L. Paxson
Diana was born in 1943 in Detroit, Michigan, an error of location that was corrected when she was three and the family moved to southern California. She grew up on the coast in Pacific Palisades, and moved to northern California to attend Mills College in Oakland, and later the University of California in Berkeley, and she has lived in Berkeley ever since. She received a B.A. degree from Mills in English in 1964, and her M.A. in Comparative Literature from Berkeley, specializing in the Middle Ages, in 1966.
Diana met Marion in 1965, the year she first encountered Science Fiction fandom. In 1966 Diana held a tournament which was to become the genesis of the Society for Creative Anachronism in her backyard in Berkeley and invited Bradley and her family to attend. Also present were Marion’s brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer, who had just come to California from New York with Jon DeCles, himself already a published Science Fiction author who had been informally adopted into Marion’s family in 1963. Marion’s mother arrived shortly thereafter. Although the next year Marion moved to New York, she carried the idea with her, and while Diana, Jon and Paul were starting the Kingdom of the West along with some of the others who had attended that first tournament, Marion started the Kingdom of the East of the SCA.
In 1968, Diana and Jon were married, and set up a household with Paul and his wife, and Paul and Marion’s mother, Evelyn Zimmer. In 1971 they jointly bought an old grey-shingled house they called Greyhaven. Diana’s son Ian was born in 1968, and a second son, Robin, in 1973. This was also the year that Marion and her family returned to Berkeley from the east coast, and found a house five minutes away from Greyhaven. The anthology Greyhaven, edited by Marion (DAW 1983), reflects the talents of the literary community that grew up around the two households. Unfortunately the introduction has left some confusion regarding who lived where–Marion was a regular guest at Greyhaven’s Sunday afternoon teas and other events, but her own house was called Greenwalls.
At this time Diana was working at Far West Laboratory (now called WestEd, writing teaching materials on everything from Environmental to Indian Education. She had also begun to write fiction. She got up her courage to ask Marion to critique her work, and rewrote it until she was satisfied. Diana’s first short story sold in 1976. Her first novel, the duo Lady of Light and Lady of Darkness, was published in 1981 and 1982 by Pocket Books, which had also published Marion’s occult novel, Web of Darkness (later reissued by Tor as The Fall of Atlantis). Since then she has sold over seventy short stories (see bibliography). Her stories have appeared in the Thieves’ World series, a number of Darkover anthologies, and every volume of Sword and Sorceress except XXI, which Diana edited, and XXII.
Besides her work on the Avalon novels, Diana is best known for the Chronicles of Westria and her many historical fantasies. She has published twenty-six novels under her own name. Most recent are The Golden Hills of Westria, and Ravens of Avalon.
Diana has also written non-fiction, beginning with a regular column on goddess mythology for Sagewoman magazine. Taking Up the Runes was published in 2005, followed by Essential Asatru in 2006.
Diana has served as Western Regional Director of the Science Fiction Writers of America, First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, and Steerswoman of the Troth. She is currently editor of the heathen journal, Idunna. Diana still lives at Greyhaven, which she now shares with her son Ian Grey and grandchildren Evan, Arael, and Michael.