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An Interview With Anne McCaffrey
by Lynne Jamneck

Return to Speculative Fiction · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Anne McCaffrey is a literary icon in the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy. She has received numerous awards in the field, including the Hugo Award in 1968 at the World Science Fiction Convention for best novella for Weyr Search, which was later incorporated into Dragonflight, first in the Dragonriders of Pern series. She has also received the Gandalf Award, the Ditmar Award, the Golden Pen Award, the Barnes & Noble Freedom's Choice Award and numerous others. She was the guest of honor at DragonCon in 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia.

How much time do you spend writing, and what do you do when you're not writing?

It used to be I wrote 18/7 with some hours out for sleep. What I used to do between writing fits was feed my kids, ride my horse and go shopping for cat and dog food. Nowadays, since my horse died of a stroke, I don't ride anymore though I miss it. The ground gets harder every year and I've 78 of them so I don't need to come a cropper. Besides which, our stable got burgled and some $3000 of tack, bridles and saddles, clippers, got stolen so I'd have had to break in a new saddle to ride. So I figured I'd hang up my stirrups -- I never used spurs.

Tell us a bit about the short story "Beyond Between" in the Legends 2 Anthology from Del Rey. The story is about a very interesting facet of the Pern Universe...

When I wrote Dragonlady and allowed Moreta to go between and not come out, there was quite an outcry, including one from Judy-Lynn del Rey, my editor. She thought Moreta could have mistakenly gone to the future, or the past but that she was still alive. I also don't have organized religion on Pern. I figured -- since there were four holy wars going on at the time of writing -- that religion was one problem Pern didn't need. However, if one listens to childhood teachings, God is everywhere so there should be no question in any mind that he is also on Pern. Thus, there is a heaven to which worthy souls go. So, without mentioning any denomination of organized religion, I figured that both Moreta and Leri deserved respite after their trials... and that's where "Beyond Between" is.

In what major ways has publishing changed for women writers of sf in the last fifty odd years? It almost seems that, these days, there seems to be more women sf/fantsy writers making a good living out of writing than there are men.

There were always some, Andre Norton in particular, Katherine McLean, Judy Merrill, (Margaret St. Clair, Virginia Kidd) and another one who went into screen writing whose name I have forgotten. (She did the script to Red River.) I do believe that I helped get others published by example as women began to realize what a marvelous genre sf was. Now there is no more fooling around. A good story is a good story no matter who wrote it. And women could tackle gender stories that slick fiction would not handle. Pamela Sargent is a very good example of fine writing in the sf mode, so is Elizabeth Moon whose novel The Speed of Dark just won the Nebula. Kate Wilhelm, Ursula K LeGuin, Connie Willis are other sterling winners and the list is now fairly long of women writing specifically in the sf genre. I think that it's true; more women writers make a good living out of writing...whether they are married or single.

Many people tend to see your writing as Fantasy, when in fact it's firmly based in science. Are people ever surprised when you point this out to them?

People have freaked out when I tell them that my dragons are scientifically based... what else can you call a genetically engineered life form? But I must say I get a kick out of cutting them short when they call me a 'fantasy' writer. I have nothing against fantasy and have several short novels that are definitely in that category.

With regards to the science in your work -- how do you keep up to date with new developments in the field?

I don't keep up with developments, but I do find an expert in any field in which I must explain myself and the science involved. I have since become quite friendly with Dr. Steven M. Beard of Edinborough Observatory, and he has really made Pern realistic by giving me maps of the stars as seen from Pern's surface at night. (Not all the stars we see would be invisible from Pern, but I needed to know which brilliant ones would still sparkle in Pern's skies... I'd kept the names the same.)

Why dragons? What eventually made you decide on these as opposed to, say, gryphons?

Why dragons? To which I generally retort, Why not? They've had a bad press for years. And I was turning them on their tails and making them useful.

Besides the Pern series of books, which of your other books have been a favorite -- either in terms of end product, or the process of penning it, or both.

I'm very fond of the Talent series, and also the Crystal Singer trio. But Ship Who Sang remains my favorite story. I really rocked folks with that and still cannot read it aloud myself without weeping at the end. This one's for you, Dad!

How are things these days with regards to the Pern Series being turned into a film? I think the film industry is currently -- at least technology-wise -- in a supreme position to bring the books to life.

Well, we have had several false starts to a film of the Dragonriders of Pern, which is infuriating when I see lesser ones getting their share of screen time. Technology is fine... getting a producer who won't dumb the material down is impossible. One of the more recent attempts had Kylara, a grown up Jaxom and Lessa all inhabiting Ruatha Hold when the Dragonriders come on search.

I really urped because there was no reason for Kylara (who comes from Telgar Hold) to be at Ruatha, and there was less for Jaxom to be grown up since he hadn't yet been born. Oh, well, they were trying to appeal to the teenage market, at the expense of my finely tuned plot. So it's probably just as well that that particular script was never shot.

Now if Peter Jackson would turn his attention to the Dragonriders of Pern, there would be a rival for the beauty and awesomeness of The Lord of the Rings Cycle, which I thought was truly spectacular.

Who first coined the moniker 'Dragon Lady'?

Dragonlady came out in the Cuniff comic book Terry & the Pirates, many years ago. But as a writer of dragons, it was no hard stretch to apply it to me.

Do you still play FreeCell on the computer when you should be writing or have you moved on to more flashy distractions?

I've gone on to Lady Cadogan and Forty Thieves in computer solitaire. Very relaxing. That is, until I took up quilting with my daughter.

How has moving to Ireland back in 1970 influenced your writing? How big a part does your immediate environment play in terms of creativity?

I don't think Ireland especially influenced me, but they do give me my space, which I appreciate, and lovely vistas. I think writers need windows on a view to remind them that a whole world is out there, not the minutiae with which they might be dealing on a close scale.

Do you think the Internet is having an overall positive or negative effect on how people approach fiction? What has the Internet meant to you, as a writer?

I think the Internet, particularly the availability of information, is great. I do a lot of correspondence on-line and have a chat line to talk to my fans as well.

Would you encourage aspiring writers to enter publishing through electronic media?

I wouldn't encourage new writers to start off publishing through electronic media... it still isn't wide enough for the readership they would need to get a good start.

Who are some of your favorite current authors, in any genre, and why?

I have a shelf of comfort books, which I read when the world closes in on me or something untoward happens. Sharon Lee & Steven Miller's Liaden Universe is one of my favorites, likewise anything by Elizabeth Moon, Orson Scott Card, David Weber, Sharon Shinn (her Samaria series). They all tell good stories with interesting plots and people...and new information.

Tell us something about Anne McCaffrey no one else knows.

Anne McCaffrey is growing old and keeping her secrets, thank you.

Are there any aspects of books that you have written you wish you could go back and change?

I don't often reread my own books, unless I am going into another in the series and need to refresh my mood when originating the concept. There are occasional paragraphs where I wince and groan. If I had known I'd be writing seventeen books in Pern, I might have left myself some untied knots to go back and sort out now, with the characters people like and more fire lizards.

What do you hope to give readers through your work?

Mostly I'm telling people that they don't have to be victims. They can be survivors but I don't as a rule put 'messages' in my writing.

What would you like your epitaph to read?

Lord, I'm close enough to epitaph writing that I wouldn't be very witty. I think 'Story Teller' would be a good summation.

Visit The Worlds of Anne McCaffrey at http://www.pernhome.com/aim/. [Editor's Note: Anne McCaffrey died in 2011.]

Read this article in French here:

Copyright © 2004 Lynne Jamneck
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Lynne Jamneck is a writer/photographer from South Africa. Her work has been accepted to and published in a number of diverse markets, including Best Lesbian Erotica 2003, H.P Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror, Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly, On Our Backs Anthology Vol. 2 and anthologies Raging Horrormones (Oxcart Press) and Darkways Of The Wizard (Cyber-Pulp Books & Specficworld.com). She was the editor and creator of Simulacrum: The Magazine of Speculative Transformation. Her first Samantha Skellar mystery, Down the Rabbit Hole, was published by Bella Books in 2005. Lynne currently lives in New Zealand with her partner Heidi.


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