Marion Zimmer Bradley: June 3, 1930 - Sept. 25, 1999

Rachel E. Holmen

She grew up poor, during the Depression, in upstate New York. Her father worked a farm and held a day job, but he still couldn't earn enough and was too proud to go on welfare, so Marion remembered being hungry. Still, they had books and whenever she wasn't in school or doing farm chores, she was reading. Saturday mornings, she would do the ironing and listen to opera, which became a lifelong passion -- opera, not ironing. She played hooky from high school to spend days in the state library at Albany, and nobody had the heart to turn her in. She discovered science fiction fandom and it formed her adopted family for the rest of her life.

She started college near home, but without support from her alcoholic father, she was forced to drop out. Angrily, she told him she'd marry the first decent, sober man who asked her, and she did: Robert Alden Bradley, an older man from Texas. Brad was startled at how young she was; they had corresponded for years but never met. After they married and had a son, David, Brad worried that Marion might be left a young widow and taught her to drive so that she could attend classes at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, where she received a B.A. One of her required courses there was a Bible studies class which she said was, in retrospect, excellent training for a writer.

Even before she could form letters on paper herself, she was dictating stories that her mother wrote down, and in high school she wrote the first draft of the novel that was to become THE FOREST HOUSE, based on a libretto she'd read of the opera "Norma". She sold short stories to the true confessions magazines and any other pulp market that would pay, then graduated to novels. Her son David asked later why she and his father had stayed married for so long, when they were so obviously incompatible; she replied, "He knew he could trust me with his money and we never ran out of things to talk about." And their conversations led to better novels that sold easily to publishers.

She met Walter Breen at a convention and was captivated. Brad didn't want to give her a divorce but she was persistent, so they agreed to part. The Breens lived in Berkeley for a time, moved back to New York, returned to California again. They had a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Moira Evelyn Dorothy, named after Marion's mother and after her closest friend in Albany fandom. Marion started graduate school at UC Berkeley in 1965, but never completed her Master's, due to Walter's nervous breakdown.

She was a morning person. While the kids were in school, she'd get up at 5 a.m., just as she had on the farm, and work at her typewriter on the current novel. Then she'd wake her kids and get them ready for school, then plot out the next section of the novel over the breakfast dishes. When I came to work for her in 1991, I rarely saw her because I'm an afternoon person, but I think our slow acquaintance actually improved our working relationship; I can't remember one actual argument.

Remembering her own difficult college years, she took into her household a long succession of young people and encouraged them to take advantage of Berkeley's atmosphere of learning. She lent money to friends and paid her employees generously. Debbie Notkin of Other Change of Hobbit bookstore once told me, "I can't think of anyone who's done more good than Marion has, for more people."

She collected circus lore for years and eventually wrote a novel about trapeze artists, based on the kind of adopted family that she'd found in fandom, called THE CATCH TRAP. Its gay love story theme was controversial and has prevented it from being filmed, but the book has, in its way, almost as enthusiastic a following as MISTS OF AVALON does among women and Arthurians. She admired Mary Renault's works about Greece and wrote her own novel of the Trojan War, THE FIREBRAND.

One of her hopes, while writing MISTS, was to encourage Christians to value the contributions of women to religion. When MISTS went platinum, she was pleased but totally astonished; some of her Darkover novels had been as good, she thought. With the money, she bought gifts for her children, remodeled her kitchen, and bought her first new car. In later years, her accountant often asked in exasperation why she persisted in running her FANTASY Magazine when it consistently lost money. "I can only wear one fur coat at a time," she'd reply -- though as far as I knew, she didn't even own a fur; she was just making a point. The magazine, and the market she could provide to young writers, was more important to her than any amount of cash.

She and Walter separated in 1979 but continued to have almost daily contact. His arrest in the 1989 on child-molesting charges left her feeling stunned and betrayed; she finally realized that the old rumors about him had probably been true. She had a stroke less than a month later, and a heart attack six months after that; other strokes and heart trouble followed. After Walter died, she continued to mourn the charming, affectionate man he'd been when she first married him.

The strokes, plus the ongoing difficulties caused by diabetes and congestive heart failure, robbed her of a great deal, but she continued to work as a writer and editor literally up to the day of her final heart attack -- that morning, she had dictated the magazine editorial into my pocket tape recorder, and then she went back to reading manuscripts for SWORD & SORCERESS. She was disappointed that her ill-health prevented her from any trips involving flying, but she was able to take two west-coast cruises which she enjoyed tremendously, partly for the scenery and partly for the lavish buffet meals. She took great pleasure in her grandchildren; she had hoped to "catch up" to Diana Paxson's three.

She died at Alta Bates Hospital a few days after suffering a fatal heart attack, and is survived by her sons David Bradley and Patrick Breen, her daughter Moira Stern, and two grandchildren.

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