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28 October 2004




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Anne McCaffrey: Heirs to Pern November 2004

Anne McCaffrey, born April 1, 1926 in Cambridge MA, began writing at the age of eight. She graduated from Radcliffe, performed in or directed stage productions, worked as an advertising copywrighter, and in the 1950s married and had three children. After a divorce in 1970, she and the children moved to Ireland, where she has run stables and raised horses ever since.

McCaffrey's first story was published in 1953, her first novel, Restoree, in 1966. She was the first woman to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, in 1968 and 1969, for stories incorporated into her second novel, Dragonflight, first in the hugely popular "Dragonriders of Pern" series now totaling 15 books, among them The White Dragon (1978), the first hardcover SF novel to make
The New York Times bestseller list.

Her other series include the "Freedom" series, the "Doona" series (with Jody Lynn Nye), the "Dinosaur Planet" series (with Jody Lynn Nye and Elizabeth
Photo by Charles N. Brown
Moon), the "Crystal Singer" series, the "Brain & Brawn Ship" series (with Margaret Ball, Mercedes Lackey, S.M. Stirling, and Jody Lynn Nye), the "Petaybee" series (with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough), the "Talent" series, the "Tower & Hive" series, the "Acorna" series (with Margaret Ball, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, and various other authors), and, most recently, the "Coelura" series for a total of 66 titles in print. She lives in a house she designed herself called Dragonhold-Underhill in Wicklow County, Ireland.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Writing has been so much a part of my life that I'm really quite annoyed that I can't do as much as I used to. But I have nine series, for godsakes, give me a break! I'm 78, I'm on my pension in Ireland, and all that good stuff. I have my good days and my bad days, but I don't have as much energy as I used to back when I was young and foolish and didn't count the cost -- and it takes a lot -- to write.”


“With 'Pern', I'll pass the torch down to my son Todd, because he grew up with the dragons, he knows the canon, and he helped me work through a couple of things. So he and my daughter Gigi (Georgeanne) have the right to continue the dragon series. I think it's splendid that someone in my family is willing to carry on a tradition. I didn't raise Todd to be a writer, but he happened to be one anyway. When the editors at Del Rey first asked him to consider what would happen when there was no more Anne McCaffrey to write Pern, he said, 'perish the thought' and told them he didn't have enough ideas to do a novel on his own. Then they said (according to him), 'Why don't you just go write this sort of scrapbook thing, so your mom doesn't write her own autobiography and we can get more Pern books out of her?' That non-fiction 'scrapbook' was Dragonholder: The Life and Dreams (So Far) of Anne McCaffrey.

“While he was working on it, we talked about doing a collaboration. At first it was just a matter of sharing ideas. I was blocking out what I wanted to do after All the Weyrs of Pern, and he said he had always wondered what would happen in a situation with two riders and one dragon. We started tossing this around, but he was busy getting Dragonholder done and raising a child, so I decided to start on it by myself. (He wanted me to kill a dragon! There was no way I could do it. But I could injure one very badly -- which I did.) That became The Skies of Pern.”


“I think the best story I ever wrote was 'The Ship Who Sang'. It still causes people to cry, including me. When Todd and I were reading it at Brighton, they had a BBC crew filming it. So there were these BBC cameramen hunkered down filming us, and comes the end of the story (which Todd always reads, because I can't go through it without weeping), I saw that these cameramen had tears rolling down their faces. That's such a thrill -- a story I wrote at the beginning of my career, and it's still packin' the house. I wrote that story because I couldn't tell my father, he died in 1953. I remember reading a story -- I can't remember the name or that of the author -- about a woman searching for her son's brain, it had been used for an autopilot on an ore ship and she wanted to find it and give it surcease. And I thought what if severely disabled people were given a chance to become starships? What if they wanted to do that? I thought, 'Hey, that would be a gorgeous idea.' So that's how 'The Ship Who Sang' was born.

“I have always used emotion as a writing tool. That goes back to me being on the stage. The thing is, emotion -- if it's visibly felt by the writer -- will go through all the processes it takes to publish a story and still hit the reader right in the gut. But you have to really mean it.”


“I'm still doing a bit of solo writing. I have an idea for a couple of stories, but my main work now is collaborations with people like Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Margaret Ball, Elizabeth Moon, and Jody Lynn Nye. Because I have won more awards than anybody else, I can proclaim, 'I'm the senior writer on this, but if you have any good ideas I'm always willing to put them into the outline.' I do outlines when I'm writing with someone, but they also need to have a certain amount of freedom. Some of them came to live with me, so it was easy to talk over lunch and hack the magic bits between us. Most of the time we had no quarrels. You don't run roughshod over anybody's feelings. Writing is the most tender-souled thing, so if you're the least bit diplomatic you can talk over what should come next.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the November 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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