Interview: Marilyn Ross
Widow of Paperback Library author Dan Ross

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Marilyn Ross 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 ever produced…

How 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.

How did Dan come to write the Dark Shadows novels?
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.

What 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.

Dan 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.

Ah, 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.

Did Dan have any favourite aspects of his Dark Shadows work?
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 new chapter.

Dark 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.

Did Dan keep any mementoes from his Dark Shadows work?
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.

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