is a familiar name to Dark Shadows fans, emblazoned across
millions of copies of the Dark Shadows spin-off
novels produced in the 1960s. In reality, the author of the
books was prolific Canadian writer Dan Ross,
who used his wife’s name as a pseudonym for the books.
Dan’s widow Marilyn gives us some insight into the most
successful range of Dark Shadows merchandise
did Dan become a novelist?
Dan wrote plays and short fiction in high school, selling
his first story to a big Toronto newspaper magazine section
of the time. He also wrote, directed and acted in his own
plays. He won Drama awards for both writing and directing.
Dan fell in love with theatre and studied at the famous
Provincetown playhouse in New York City for a year. He then
came back to Canada and formed his own company, travelling
around the Maritime provinces. He also took courses in journalism,
and started writing and selling short stories. After we
were married in 1960, the short story market was shrinking
fast, so he started writing novels. As often happens, the
second book he wrote sold first.
did Dan come to write the Dark Shadows
At the time of Dark Shadows, Dan was writing
for Warner Paperback Library, and they got the contract
to create novels based on the show, and needed someone to
write the books, basing them upon the show’s characters.
Dan was the best and fastest, so he did it using some of
his own characters and storylines. The reason for this was
that we did not get the show here in Canada. We only watched
a few minutes when we were in the States, as did not want
to confuse ourselves.
was Dan’s creative process for writing each book?
I was Dan’s first reader and editor, and we attended
all our publisher meetings together. Some of the titles
that came up during the brainstorming sessions with editors
were mine. I also changed a few endings with Dan’s
agreement, and tried to catch all the mistakes. We missed
a few, but so did the New York editors! I also would stand
over his shoulder and dictate a few pages sometimes, to
help him get the female angle of his work. Plotting was
never a problem with Dan - it was his gift, along with his
ability to write so fast. The editors said I was better
at character-building. We bought a lot of books for our
research. To this day, I have a great library of strange
titles, many bought for research purposes.
successfully wrote for a wide range of genres. How do you
think he achieved this, particularly with the gothic novels?
Dan worked about the same way on all his books, with long
hours. He was writing romance, mystery and even westerns.
I kept bugging him, along with a couple of editors to try
the gothic genre. I have always loved Mary Stewart and had
been reading them. I knew he could do it, but it took a
year or more to convince him. Finally I pointed out he wrote
good romance and terrific mystery, and gothic novels were
kind of a blend of those elements. We decided to use my
name, as opposed to a made up one again, and Dan agreed
it was a good business move.
that’s Marilyn Ross explained, then…
Back then, men who wrote for a largely female audience used
female names, as the publisher insisted. We also had to
use different names for each publisher for business reasons.
Writers of women’s westerns had to use male names…
how times have changed.
Dan have any favourite aspects of his Dark Shadows
I think we both loved Barnabas. Dan wanted to give his vampires
some warmth and decent human traits, to make him more lovable.
He had a ball doing the feathered serpent story, Barnabas,
Quentin and the Serpent. We were very sad when the
series of books ended. Doing the movie novelisation for
House of Dark Shadows, working to a daily list
of changes was another thing. We were working on this in
Maine and I made daily trips to the post office with each
Shadows had a very active fan following - did Dan
receive any attention from viewers?
We had so many fan letters that we had to make multiple
copies of a standard reply, which one of us would often
add a personal note to. I added most of those notes and
we both signed many of them by hand. I still get letters
from fans of Dan's books.
Dan keep any mementoes from his Dark Shadows
Because we were not interested in most of the spin-off stuff
we gave it to local fans or ones we knew in the States,
some of them my friend’s children. I am selling one
of my prized souvenirs, the original oil painting of Victoria
from the first book cover, at the auction at this year’s
Dark Shadows Festival.