In 1990, while researching my first book, The Dark Shadows Collectors' Guide, I interviewed Dan Ross, author of the Popular Library Dark Shadows novel series:
Craig Hamrick: How did you become the author of the Dark Shadowsbook series?
Dan Ross: I had done a series of Gothics for Paperback Library, and they were approached to do the books for the Dark Shadows project. They apparently felt I was best suited to do it, so they asked me if I'd do them, and I did.
CH: How did you do research for them? Were you able to view the show?
DR: I viewed the show, and decided that I would make the books independent of the show, except for the characters and the setting. I felt it would be of more interest and give the people who enjoyed the story a fresh viewpoint of the characters.
CH: Did you watch the show very much?
DR: I watched it enough to keep up...to keep knowing what was happening.
CH: You probably had to watch it to know how the house was supposed to look and that sort of thing?
DR: Oh, yes, of course. And their relations to each other, and what developments were going on.
CH: How long did it take you to write each Dark Shadows book?
DR: That kind of book, probably, three weeks.
CH: They were about 150 pages each.
DR: They were longer than that typed, but they were 150 pages in printed form.
CH: Is that about how long it has taken you to write most of your books?
DR: That varies with the book. That would be a fair amount of time, I would think. I don't think they went quicker. I did quite a lot of research for some of them. They were in different time periods, and that made research necessary for each book.
CH: Have you ever visited the area in Maine where Dark Shadows was supposed to take place?
DR: Yes, I'm very familiar with Maine.
CH: A lot of your books are set there aren't they?
DR: Yes, quite a few, in other towns mostly.
CH: Why is that?
DR: For instance I've done a lot of summer theater books, and I've used the area of Kennebunkport for them, because that is where most of the summer theater work on the coast is done.
CH: When you were writing the Dark Shadows books, did you try to keep track of the family as it went through the different decades? I mean, if you had a character in the 1850s, did you worry about whether that character's parents had been in the 1840s?
DR: Well, they weren't that close together. In most cases it would be a different generation. The people who were fans of the show -- and they primarily had to be fans of the show to enjoy the books -- certainly seemed to like the books. We sold 17 million copies. That's a lot of books.
CH: Are there any of the Dark Shadows books that stand out as some of your favorites?
DR: I loved The Vampire Beauty, and I liked The Son of Doctor Jekyll.
CH: I've heard that you were on David Letterman's show once. Is that right?
DR: Yeah, I did that about two years ago.
CH: Was there any mention of the Dark Shadows books on that show?
DR: To tell you the truth, he didn't really stress any particular books. He stressed the number of books I had written, which seemed to be most interesting to him. But as far as I can remember, there wasn't any mention made of Dark Shadows at all.
CH: What was it like being on his show?
DR: I was on the same night as Dolly Parton, and she was very helpful. She cued me into his mood. He was a little tough at the beginning, but I was just as tough coming back, and by the end of it, I think we had a good rapport. It worked all right.
CH: Do you think you'll go back on?
DR: Oh, I wouldn't know that. I live a long distance away. It cost quite a bit to have me. He might have me back some time again. They used my show over again as a rerun, so they must have liked it.
CH: How many books have you written now?
DR: Close to 332.
CH: Is that a record?
DR: It's a record for a Canadian author. I don't think it's a world record. Some people have written more than that. Not very many-maybe two or three, mystery writers mostly.
CH: Are you continuing to write now?
DR: Yes, I'll be writing today a little later on. I have a new book in the hands of my agent. And I've done a play called Phantom Wedding, which I think has some possibilities.
CH: Have you written under other pen names besides Marilyn Ross?
DR: Oh, yes.
CH: What were some of them?
DR: Clarissa Ross, Ann Gilmer, Dan Roberts, W.E.D. Ross-I have about 14 or 15 of them.
CH: Why do you use pen names?
DR: At one time I was writing for three or four publishers, or more, and they didn't want me to have too many books with my own name on the market at once.
CH: How did you pick the different names?
DR: Well, depending on the type of book. Dan Roberts I used for adventure stories and westerns and things like that. Ann Gilmer would be more romances.
CH: And Marilyn is your wife's name, right?
DR: That's right. Marilyn Ross is the name I use on most of my products. She became identified with the Gothics.
CH: Is that because women prefer a woman author?
DR: Women are the primary audience, though many men do read them. I think women tend to read who they think is a female author more readily.
CH: Have you written as Dan Ross at all?
DR: Yes, and as W.E.D. Ross-my initials.
CH: Does it give you a different kind of feeling to see your own name on a book instead of the pen names?
DR: I'm really more interested in the book than the name. I've had my name on perhaps three dozen books, and it doesn't mean much after that, right?
CH: I wouldn't know! I'd like to just get one published. (He laughs.)
DR: Well, don't despair.
CH: How do you think you've done it? How do you write so much?
DR: Well, assuming I don't write very badly-and I don't think I write as well as some people do, but I think my books have been enjoyed-I think that I have a gift for moving a book along pretty quick once I get on it. I have a good imagination and a lot of determination, and I've really worked hard.
CH: Is there a certain time in the day when you write?
DR: In the old days I wrote every time I could get a moment-evening, morning and afternoon. It wasn't unusual for me to spend an hour and a half in the morning, three hours in the afternoon and another three hours at night, which made for a long day. It isn't an easy game, as you know. I had deadlines to meet, and that makes you work a little harder than you would otherwise.
CH: Did you work on other projects while you were working on these Dark Shadows books?
DR: I did a few other things, but I must admit that for the three or four years of Dark Shadows, I didn't do a lot of other things.
CH: Did you have an input on the covers and titles?
DR: I did all the titles, and I generally was consulted on the covers. I've got a number of the cover paintings here in my home.
CH: Have you attended any of the fan conventions?
DR: Yes, I've been to quite a few of them and had a good time.
CH: Are people surprised that you're a man?
DR: Not really, because they all pretty well knew that from reading newspaper stories. There were a lot of newspaper stories at the time, about the books.
CH: Was that a first-that so many books sold in a series based on a TV show?
DR: I think that was a first in the number of books, yes. Other book series that went with TV shows didn't seem to be quite as successful. I think the secret of that is that they copied the storyline on the TV shows, therefore it was rehashed material. When I did the original stories, it was new. It was like giving them an extra couple of days to watch the TV show. I think that had a lot to do with it.
CH: So that was a conscious decision from the outset?
DR: It was my decision. I didn't want to imitate other writers. I was willing to use the characters, but when it came to the storyline, I wanted to use my own storyline, and my own conception of bringing you back and forth in the different eras, under different conditions.
CH: Has there been a resurgence of interest in your books now that there's going to be a new TV show?
DR: Well, there's a continuing interest, and I would say it's growing right now. I think it will depend on how the new show goes.
CH: Do you think your books will be reprinted now?
DR: It's possible. There's been talk of it. But I don't think the moment is right yet for it. I think the other show should be launched before that would happen. And then it would depend on the success of the show. I have had offers from overseas, from people who want to do them over there, and that might be done.
CH: But they haven't been printed overseas yet?
DR: No. Up until recently, Mr. Curtis didn't want anything done, but I think in the future we might be able to work something out there.
CH: What about the actors? Have you met some of them at the conventions?
DR: Yes, and I had known a few of them previously to that. I had known Joan Bennett before that. They had a very good company of actors.
CH: What did you think of the show? Did you enjoy it?
DR: If I hadn't found some quality in it, I don't think I would have undertaken the project. I think it was unique in its conception. Like all continuing series of our time, there were times when they dropped and times when they were better. I think on the average it was a very good effort, and it showed a lot of imagination. I thought the taste was better than they show in some of these things. It was typical of Dan Curtis' imprint. He does tasteful work.
CH: There's a lot of people out there that write their own Dark Shadows novels. Do you have any tips for them?
DR: I've read a lot of the fan-written fiction. Some of it is not bad at all. I think it's wonderful if they get pleasure out of it. The only tips I can give them is that they are only limited by their own imaginations. I'm sure some of them come up with some very interesting possibilities.
CH: Have you continued to write anything, like short stories, based on "Dark Shadows"?
DR: No. I have done other books where the supernatural was part of it, but not any more Dark Shadows stories.
CH: I noticed on your stationery it says "600 short stories published." Where's the market for that? I haven't seen much of that in recent years.
DR: Well, there isn't in recent years. You're absolutely right about that. At the time I was first writing, I had a very popular mystery series called Mei Wong about a Chinese detective who lived in Calcutta, India, and this caught the public's imagination. And I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and The Saint and the London Evening News, in England. Then I got a job doing a short story a week for the New York Daily News, and I sold a lot there. Some of my stuff went to the religious field as well. I churned out a lot of them, and they generally found a home. Today, that's a very limited market.
CH: Why do you think that is?
DR: We're living in a world where magazines feature nonfiction. There's a lot more fiction titles out, but there's also a lot more fact titles-how-to books, and famous personalities, and famous murders-real murders. I don't believe we have the same kind of fiction readers that we had. There's a hard-core group there, but there's a lot of competition for that area. I'm doing a lot of the historical novels now.
CH: Why do you prefer those?
DR: I feel very happy losing myself in another era. I'm not sure that I can write to glorify the present day. There's a lot of things going on today in our society that make it a little difficult. I don't say that we don't have a lot of solid people out there, but there's a lot of other things, like customs, that bother me a little.
CH: Do you write non-fiction at all?
DR: I did some articles, but not many-so few that I don't list them. The first thing I ever wrote was about a woman who was a teacher in Siam, just about the time Anna and the King of Siam came out. This woman had been a teacher employed by the royal family as well, and that got me in print.
CH: When was that?
DR: That was longer ago than you were around! (He laughs.) About 50 years ago.
CH: How old are you now?
DR: That's a secret. (He laughs.) I don't like to give that away, but I started writing 50 years ago. You can work that out. 'Over 50' is a mild way of saying it.
CH: You've been writing for 50 years?
DR: Not really. I went into the theater for a period of about 15 years. Then I went into the film business, as a film salesman. And while I was doing that, I began writing again. So I've given a lot of my time to writing for the last 35 years, and the last 20 years I gave my full time to it.
CH: Do you feel lucky that you're able to support yourself with something that you enjoy?
DR: I feel unique. In the great number of writers, there's only a few people who make their living exclusively from writing. It's a very hard thing to do and have any kind of living standard. Many of the people who write, even best sellers, are lawyers or college professors or people who have other jobs and live on them. My first advice to any writer is to hold on to your job until you're sure that you've got enough coming in to make a go, because like the theater, it's very precarious.
The contents of this Dark Shadows Online, copyrighted by Craig Hamrick © 2004