Anne (Inez) McCaffrey Biography (1926-)
Born as I was on April first, which was Holy Thursday in 1926, I had a reputation to live up to. (Though I didn't know it until much later, I was also born in the first hour of the Sheep—1:30 P.M.—in the Year of the Fire Tiger: not a good sign for a woman in China, except that I was also, as my Chinese sister-inlaw tells me, a sleeping tiger and therefore less dangerous than a tiger child born at dawn.)
There are those who say our Fate is decided by our Stars at birth. I don't wholly go along with that but it is fact that April 1926 also saw Hugo Gernsback publishing Fantastic and Amazing magazines. Who could have predicted at that time that science fiction would become an integral part of my life?
Frankly, no one. Certainly not my parents, who raised me with the notion that I would do well in school and college; marry; have children; and DO something with the rest of my life. Granted, few women during my adolescence were encouraged to think of having independent careers, or careers at all: marriage was considered quite enough to occupy most women's lives. That's where I also lucked out: being subtly conditioned to have marriage, motherhood, AND self-fulfillment. (How could my mother, who did have the family Second Sight, realize what a gift she had given me with her insistence that I expect all three!)
I was also very lucky with my parents. Son of a Boston Irish policeman, my father was a brilliant scholar, attending Roxbury Latin Grammar School and then Harvard, taking both a B.A. ('12—magna cum laude) and M.A. ('13), achieving his Ph.D. in '38 in government. Dad had had a travelling fellowship in the 1910s, had been a recruiter, then serving officer in the Seventy-eighth Lightning Division, Infantry, in World War I. He stayed on in Europe to be a military government officer in war-torn Poland. At the time I was born, he had just taken the position of Chief Researcher for the Commerce and Industry Association of New York City.
My mother, the daughter of a journeyman printerengraver and a schoolteacher, was born in New York City, raised there and in Pennsylvania, and finally moved with her parents to Boston, where she worked as an advertising copywriter in a big Boston department store. Mother never stopped learning: she was a good linguist, being fluent in French, had studied Russian, and both Japanese and Thai when she was living in those exotic countries. And she was an inveterate traveller, for she loved to go by sea to "far distant places with strange-sounding names" and had been around the world, by freighter or plane, at least ten times. Her only sibling, John, was a gifted engineer, designing submarines in World War I, and then became a prominent and innovative textile engineer in Boston. His wife, Gladys Norton McElroy, was an important influence on my life: in my self-centered childhood, my aunt Gladdie was one of the few people I unquestioningly obeyed and respected.
I had two brothers: Hugh, who was two and a half years older, and Kevin, who was seventeen months younger. My childhood and most of my adolescence were spent in Upper Montclair, New Jersey: what Dad called a "dormitory" town for New York City. In 1929, Mother had had a premonition of disaster, so she had withdrawn a great deal of her own private money (not that it was more than a good-sized nest egg) from the wild speculation of Wall Street, prior to the Crash. Dad had not quite believed her forewarning but had been sufficiently prudent in retracting funds so that our family was in very comfortable circumstances all during years which ruined and demoralized many families. My mother's mother lived with us in our comfortable home on Lorraine Avenue until her death in 1939. Hindsight allows me to see her as a rather petty tyrant, lace-curtain Irish, certain that her daughter had married beneath her, and never failing to make my father aware of this opinion.
What she hadn't the wit to see was that both my father and my mother were unusual people, each in their own way, and formed a superb partnership. For instance, it never occurred to my father to prohibit Mother from taking off on her cruises, just as it never occurred to her to require him to abstain from his Army Reserve duties, for Dad kept up his training in the years between the two wars. He was known respectfully as the Colonel to our friends and neighbors. Kids sniggered about that and the parade-ground voice in which he would summon us home. He could be heard three blocks away from our house. It made us "different" from other kids; and we were taught to be proud of being different. So even as kids we were able to turn "difference" into "advantage." Being willing to be "different" can be an invaluable asset. It certainly keeps Life from being dull!
The Kernel, as he signed himself often in letters home, was a gruff, undemonstrative man, with rigid
standards requiring excellence and obedience. I used to complain that he cared more about his (damned) Army and his wretched garden than about his kids. It was a shock therefore for me, when Dad volunteered for active service after Pearl Harbor, to see him weeping as he left the hospital where my younger brother lay stricken with the then-incurable osteomyelitis. In their unique partnership Mother did not even suggest that Dad had other responsibilities than patriotism, or that she could have used his moral support and physical presence as she, and dear Dr. Eddie Jones, fought to keep Kevin alive.
Despite their dictum to me about self-fulfillment, my parents had traditional notions about duty and responsibility: the man protected the hearth and family while the woman cherished them. It still makes sense … at least, up till the time your children have left the family hearth.
What I'm saying is that I had a secure childhood, with well-established parameters for behavior and parental expectations despite the war, and Kevie's illness, and not seeing my father for over five years. My clever, resourceful mother was quite able to cope with the rigours of Kevin's illness, an often sullen me, a reduced income, and a separated family.
However, I also had a lonely childhood, because, until I was nearly fourteen, I was the most belligerent, opinionated, egocentric, obstreperous brat in the entire Mount Hebron school system. I had no friends, didn't deserve them, and transferred thwarted affections to the household pets: Thomas Cat, a monster of a Maine coon cat, tortoiseshell in design with seven toes on both front paws, highly intelligent, and quite likely the basis for fire-lizards; my father's sleek and marvelously pantherish Sooty-Bagheera; my own common alley cat, Pepper; and any horses! (I grew up at the time milkmen, and icemen, delivered to the door with horse-drawn carts.)
Well, I didn't own a horse, though I promised myself fervently and frequently that I would. (It took me a long while but I kept that promise … and others made in teenage tantrums of rejection.) The McCaffreys didn't have the kind of income that allowed a horse. While the garden of good ol' 209 Lorraine was large, it was filled with Dad's carefully planted bulbs and roses. (Hugh used to say that we spent the weekends manicuring the ants' toenails.) But I had been able, thanks to a colonel father, to get riding lessons (actually, the only formal lessons I had until I got to Ireland) at the South Orange Arsenal, where cavalry horses were exercised by brats, like me, whose parents needed relief from them for an hour or so on Saturdays. Mother also managed to pay for me to ride at the Girl Scout Camp—dear old Madeleine Mulford in Stokes State Park, Branchville, New Jersey. My joy that tenth summer of my life was an elderly former trotter, named Chief. He never would canter but oh, how he could swing along at a truly breathtaking trot. And I adored him, my first horse love!
I was well and truly "bit" by the horse bug, and fancied, as I always did, that I was an absolutely superb rider. (Age has brought me the wisdom to say, quite honestly, that I am only competent to stay in a saddle without interfering too much with my mount.) I used my allowance to pay for rides on the old Newark-Paterson canal path, where Stanley Mitton had a rather dilapidated livery stable. My especial favorite was a sorrel chestnut gelding named Buddy, who had a lovely rocking canter and, now that I look back on it, not much else to recommend him except reliability: what we'd call a bomb-proof ride. But to me, and here one finds the first hint of the dragons of Pern, he was the quintessential riding horse, able to do EVERYTHING a good horse could. (I always secretly knew that he wasn't that great, certainly not a patch on some of the other elegant horses, like the Morgans owned by the Winslows, or Racketeer, who frequented the bridle paths, but I'd have died before I'd admit that out loud.)
It was at Madeleine Mulford, whilst Kevie was languishing in hospital with the first of his many long and miserable operations, that I learned just how awful and despised I really was. I overheard counsellors talking about how great the summer would be without that McCaffrey brat. Rough surgery. Aided and annealed by the arrival of a new counsellor who would take the art and riding classes. Who admitted a few years ago that coping with me was one of her assignments. Claudia Capps hailed from Walsenberg, Colorado, horse and cow country, and she rode with that fluid-hipped ease of the western trained. I wished for her approval and, to gain it, I literally turned myself, and my attitudes, inside out in
heroine worship. The summer transformation lasted the rest of my life. And, while at camp during a rain-beset summer, I also got my teeth into the thrill of directing when I adapted Kipling's "The Butterfly That Stamped" as a skit for me and my tent-mates to perform. I also sang, having inherited Dad's lung capacity and volume, and fancied myself quite a "voice" even then. (My brothers called it shrieking and consigned me to the cellar of 209 Lorraine. I swore that they would rue the day that they'd been mean to me when I was a famous singer.)
I didn't think of those years, '41, '42, '43, and '44, as being traumatic, though they were. Dad was assigned to an Advanced Air Training Base, in Moultrie, Georgia, as quartermaster. Considering that he was an infantryman, though overage in grade as a lieutenant colonel for active combat, this was also a blow to his amour propre. And, despite every blandishment, even direct orders from inspecting generals, the Colonel never changed the crossed rifles for any other insignia.
But Dad never did anything by halves and he made the Base into the most efficiently run, best-equipped and most sought-after post in the Air Force. Because he loved to bowl, he got four lanes built on the Base, scrounging them from "somewhere," with no preference given officers over enlisted men.
For 1942—43 I was sent to a girls' boarding school (the only one Mother had ever heard of), Stuart Hall, at Staunton, Virginia, because Keve had to be hospitalized in Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Mother, who had rented our home for the income it would produce to pay Keve's expenses, lived in a room near the hospital to help nurse Keve, but wartime New York City was not a place for an active and headstrong fifteen-year-old. Stuart Hall would be. Mother, as she put it, waved the baby and the flag in order to get me in and I was reasonably sure that the dean regretted that extorted admission. "Home" for Kevin and my mother was often the back of the old 1936 green Buick, her best-favorite car, packed with her faithful Royal typewriter, and Keve's modeling things, and his chess set. During those peripatetic years, my father and brother listed "Irving Trust Company" as their home address on their dog tags: Good old Unswerving Trust!
Then Dad was sent to the new Military Government School at University of Virginia, at Charlottesville, and Mother rented a house there. Hugh had by then left Harvard to enlist (sending Mother a wire that he needed only forty-two more promotions to become a general) and, being a truly indoctrinated son of his father, was serving in an infantry unit in Kentucky. He got leave that Easter, Kevie was in hospital again, and this time a guinea pig for the newly discovered penicillin. (Awful stuff in those days, like thick machine oil and very painful to inject.) That Easter was the last time for five years we were together as a family.
But I flowed along with all the changes and adjustments this entailed: including one-night stops with neighbors or family friends as I completed my high-school education back in Upper Montclair, rather pleased to be able to adapt and proud of my ability; though occasionally I would write bitter poems of jealousy that Keve had all Mother's attention. I did, however, also admit to myself that it was proper that he should have her undivided attention in his terrible illness. Kevie taught me about courage, and pain, without ever opening his mouth. However, it was almost a relief to be accepted into Radcliffe in February 1944 and know that I'd have the same address for three-anda-half years.
The Kernel had been sent to Africa in May 1943. Not that we were told when his convoy sailed, except that both Mother and I knew. I was at Stuart Hall, Mother was in Charlottesville, and both of us woke up suddenly and completely at about 3:00 A.M. I wandered about the Stuart halls, avoiding the night watchman until, all at once at about 4:30, I was overwhelmed again with sleep. Mother phoned me the next day, though the dean did not LIKE the girls to receive personal phone calls, wanting confirmation of her unnerving experience. She was certain that it was Hugh who was in trouble while I was positive it was the Kernel. It was. Though we didn't find out until five months later, when his letters finally started coming through, that he had been in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic as the convoy was being attacked by Nazi submarines. The attack had lasted exactly one-and-a-half hours.
My dad was quite a guy! He was the first man off the first LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) to land at Licata, Sicily. There were only kids on that LCT, scared of their first sight of combat with planes trying to strafe the stone wharf (it was heavily mined by high explosives so it was as well the pilots were Italian—by no means as accurate marksmen as the Germans), so Dad walked up and down, like a Sunday stroller, smoking a cigarette and encouraging the orderly landing of the troops.
There's a bridge named after my father in Sicily, Ponte del Caffreo, after the black night when he and his driver were returning to the base at Agrigento and suddenly Dad made the driver stop. Two feet beyond the tyres, the bridge was no longer across the gorge. They would have been killed. Dad had a trace of Second Sight, too. I think that was the only time he admitted to it, though.
We're a long line of rebels, we McCaffreys. My maternal great-grandfather was a hedgerow teacher of Catholics in Ireland when the British prohibited them from learning to read or write. That's why Mother's father was born in Roseneath, Scotland: the McCanns had just barely escaped Ireland with their lives. My maternal great-uncles were "Molly Malones," union organizers in the Pennsylvania coalfields. My paternal grandfather arrested Honey Fitzgerald (JFK's grandfather) for electioneering too close to the polls. And made it stick, although he remained a cop on the beat until he retired.
My father countermanded an order by General George Patton in Sicily and never got higher than bird colonel although he'd been promised a general's star.
Hugh ended up with the CIA, training Thai border police, I write science fiction and my elder son, Alec Johnson, is very active in CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), having been arrested several times in the performance of his protests, at Seabrook, New Hampshire, and in Boston. Heaven alone knows what my granddaughters, Eliza and Amelia, will think up, or the other grandchildren which will hopefully be born.
I digress from an orderly recital of events.
Penicillin cured Kevin of osteomyelitis though he has terrible scars on his left leg to this day. Recalled from the Pacific war zone, Hugh became a second lieutenant of infantry at Benning School for Boys and was sent, thank God, to the European campaign. Dad left Calabria, Italy, for London to train for the Austrian occupation, arriving the day before the buzz bombs started and leaving for Vienna the day after they stopped. Mac managed to stay alive through 120 days of combat as a second lieutenant of infantry, and was highly incensed that the Third Army couldn't follow the Germans all the way to the Russian border, but there had been the Yalta Conference and the occupation zones had been decided. Dad became the first American military governor in Vienna, the city he came to love fervently, and later was Mark Clark's chief policy advisor.
Once Mother had seen Keve off to Harvard, too, she had gone to work as a real-estate agent in Upper Montclair, a job which she adored and did extremely well. Until the last few years of her life when her memory failed her badly, she had a genius for detail and for showing the right clients the house most suited to their needs. And she studied Russian.
So did I, at Radcliffe, as much because the dean said that she didn't think I was capable of succeeding at such a difficult major. She required me to obtain permission of the department head, who I heard was a crusty gentleman. What I didn't know was that he'd been a classmate of my father's. Samuel Cross remarked that if I was George's daughter, I had the brains to do anything I attempted. I proved him right. I graduated with honours. I've the sort of personality that enjoys a challenge that forces me to test my limitations.
Then I graduated, my proud parents in the audience, although Dad gruffly complained that I ought to have achieved a magna as he had. We didn't know then that he had a heart condition nor that his body was developing diabetes from the rigours and poor diet of those war years.
And the Great Wide-Open World awaited Anne McCaffrey, sparkling new and hopeful. In those days, you had your choice of jobs—if you had qualifications. Fortunately I had worked during my summers at a variety of occupations: slinging hash, short-order cook, typist. I had also taught myself a form of shorthand called speed-writing, and I early learned just to nod wisely if asked for that skill. The college degree was nice but it was my typing and "shorthand" that got me my first job. Actually, I ought to have been able to utilize all the Slavonic languages I had learned in that first job, World Trade Intelligence, but the time was not yet ripe for that sort of service and the job folded in three months.
So I began doing advertising copywriting, just as my mother had. And enjoyed it. And got a chance at theatre as sort of dogsbody for Wilbur Evans, whom I had met occasionally through family friends, and who had a new bride my age, Susannah Foster of the incredible coloratura voice. Through Wib and Susie I did a summer of stock at the first tent circus at Lambertsville, New Jersey. I played Margot, the tavern keeper in the Vagabond King, helped Wib adapt several of the old favorite operettas to the circular stage, did two supporting roles in Bittersweet, and generally enjoyed myself. But I learned what hard work the theatre is, that I'd never be able to sing the way Susie could, and that I really preferred a regular paycheck. However, I became more determined than when I was an unfriended solitary child that I was going to become famous, somehow, at something. And I went back to my old pastime of writing.
I mentioned Mother's faithful Royal typewriter. Well, I learned how to hunt and peck at it by the time I was nine. And, because I was such a miserable unattractive youngling, I used to indulge myself in writing stories. My first one was about a preposterous horse, red chestnut with white mane and tail, who was "Flame, Chief of Herd & Track," along with his mother, who really kept track of the herd when he didn't. The second I wrote in Latin class, much influenced by Caroline Dale Snedeker, entitled "Eleutheria, the Dancing Slave Girl." Unfortunately, Miss Emmons caught me writing it, screened by my copy of Caesar's Wars, and there was hell to pay when her note reached my father. (And no, there are no copies extant of that remarkable juvenile attempt.)
In my teens, and in college, I wrote a great deal of bad, and some not-so-bad, poetry: lots of doggerel and topical ballads, all of which have fortunately disintegrated with the passage of time. I submitted stories, too, spending idle hours thinking up pen names—you'll note the one I ended up with is nothing fancy, but easy to remember because it's the name I was christened. I was determined to become published. God knows I submitted enough stories to the slick magazines.
My ambition got diverted by that most insidious of all diversions—Love. I had met the man who became my husband, Wright Johnson. He wooed me with John Gay's Beggar's Opera, still one of my favorites. He married me in January 1950, and we went to live in a cold-water flat in New York City, about where the garden for the UN building now is. A graduate of Princeton, he was then a reporter for Women's Wear Daily, a big trade newspaper: we both adored opera, ballet, good music, and cheap entertaining, and had a grand coterie of friends with similar tastes.
Our second New York apartment was the billiard room of the old German Embassy on Fifty-seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth, unusually spacious but gloomy as the sun only got down the airshaft at high noon. In the fall of 1950, I had my yearly bout with bronchitis and the only reading materials in the furnished apartment were old science-fiction magazines! Well, you aren't choosey if you're sick with bronchitis but I got hooked on science fiction after reading Edmund Hamilton's The Star Kings. I couldn't read s-f and fantasy fast enough, to the disgust of my husband, whose tastes were considerably more literary. It didn't matter how he chafed or taunted: I bought everything science fictional I could get my hands on. When the old Ace Double books weren't printed fast enough, I started writing myself. And realized that my penchant for such works had begun with my mother's reading of the Just So Stories, Kim, and Mowgli. She had also introduced me to that master of horror and suspense A. Merritt. I found Austin Tappan Wright myself on Cape Cod and lived in Islandia during the summer of 1942.
My former roommate, Betty Wragge, had taken on in my place a woman named Lila Schafer who was then an editor for Ziff-Davis (who now owned Fantastic and Amazing magazines). Lila and I had met before I had had to leave my good job at Helena Rubinstein to save my pregnancy, and I had submitted several (badly
written) s-f stories to her for editorial comment. Although I never did publish in Amazing and Fantastic, I might never have published at all but for her kind and constructive criticism at a crucial time.
Meanwhile, my father, rather restless after being involved on an international scale, gratefully accepted a chance to revise Japan's archaic and bizarre tax structure. He was flown out to Japan in mid-1950: the family legend is that he played nonstop bridge for thirty-five hours across the Pacific until someone put a Mickey in his coffee. Dad never did anything by halves.
Mother joined him later in Tokyo and spent the three happiest years of her married life. But I must admit I was rather bitter that she didn't come home from Tokyo to sustain me through my first pregnancy. After all, Dad had waived his physical disabilities to become Chief Finance Officer for the United Nations Forces in Korea, so he didn't need her. Now I realize that Anne Dorothy McElroy McCaffrey was busy being herself again, not "Mother"; and I was a grown woman, twenty-six, resourceful with a loving husband, so I'd learn to cope. I did, of course, and had a healthy, husky baby, Alec Anthony.
By the time Alec was a year old, I had sold my first story to Sam Moskowitz for his Science Fiction Plus magazine. It was a woman's story, sparked off by my pregnancy: short and sweet but it earned me one hundred dollars and an article in the Montclair Times. Fame was sweet.
Until Dad came home from Korea with TB and was sent to Castle Point Veterans' Hospital. My wretched Second Sight told me that he would never leave the TB establishment. Six months later he died, peacefully, but before reading that day's New York Times.
The death of my father, Colonel the Honourable Doctor George Herbert McCaffrey, was the most traumatic experience of my life. To this day I cannot hear taps, or see a flag-draped coffin, without weeping. In 1958 (though it was not submitted until 1961), his death influenced a new story, "The Ship Who Sang," a story which, despite its literary flaws, still provokes the same emotion, in me, and in other readers: tears of grief. It is one of my most reprinted stories, certainly one of the most effective ones I have written, and every time anybody reads it, I think: here's to you, Dad! (I'm bleary-eyed as I write this.)
"Ship" taught me to use emotion as a writing tool. And I do, with neither apology nor shame, even though I am writing science fiction, a genre not often noted, in those days, for any emotions, only intellectual exercise and scientific curiosities. Somehow, through the many processes required to turn a manuscript into the printed and distributed word, if you, the writer, feel some genuine and deep emotion, by some strange alchemy, that emotion is transmitted to the reader. I'm ahead of myself.
After the glory of publishing my first story for Sam Moskowitz, it was nearly five years until I was able to sell again. In 1957, I submitted to Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine an unabashed love story about parapsychics which Algis Budrys fished out of the slush pile and persuaded Bob Mills to buy: "The Lady in the Tower." He edited the story slightly but I don't remember what he changed. He always assures me that it wasn't very much.
It was the hot summer of 1959 when, very pregnant with my third child, I attended my first Science Fiction Writers' Conference at Milford, Pennsylvania. With the professional encouragement I received there, I went back to Wilmington, Delaware, where my husband was now working for mighty DuPont, reread "The Ship Who Sang," and submitted it to Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Mind you, my first six stories were unsolicited, bought out of the "slush pile" of the magazines. Let me remind you budding authors that I, too, was once in your position—unknown, tenacious, and, more importantly, unpublished. The only special influence needed is a good story, well written and well told.
Then, a stroke of the most fabulous luck: Virginia Kidd, one of my Milford friends, was starting up a literary agency. As Virginia had been a copyeditor, is a poet and writer herself, with good contacts in the science-fiction field, it was a superb opportunity for me. We talked about the association and then Virginia came down to Wilmington and spent a weekend, vetting unpublished and unfinished stories, and the novels I had been working on.
This was in 1964 and that association, as staunch as ever, has benefited me in more ways than having a voice in the publishing marketplace. In the early days of my writing, I made appalling grammatical and syntactical errors which Virginia patiently corrected and annotated—for me to learn from. I did. She was also marvelously patient with my authorial nerves and encouraged me through the first drafts of the four stories that comprised Dragonflight, and consoled me when checks were late—as they usually were in those days. We both rejoiced in my first novel contract.
One particular incident comes readily to mind of our early association: I had phoned her to figure out some draconic foible and we were chatting away merrily when suddenly we were on a crossed telephone line. The usual apologies and one line went dead so Virginia and I carried on with our discussion. Suddenly, a perplexed and exasperated male voice said: "What the hell are you two dames talking about?"
Said Virginia promptly: "Read the book and find out! Ballantine will publish it next spring."
It seemed only proper that I should dedicate Dragonflight to her, and the wording of that dedication is as heartfelt now as it was when I wrote it.
I joined the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1965, and started regularly attending the Milford conferences, chaired by Damon Knight and Judith Merril. When Judy moved to Toronto, Kate Wilhelm, now Damon's wife, was joint chairperson. Those were exciting, frustrating, and highly stimulating affairs, those summer meetings of the so-called "Milford Mafia." Rather hard on the tenderer egos to have twenty-five to thirty-five professional, and successful, writers in the genre tearing your story apart, and putting it back together again. But oh, I learned my trade and improved my style. Self-defense mostly. However, let me progress chronologically.
Georgeanne, my lovely daughter, was the product of the 1959 pregnancy. Todd had been born in 1956: and he became the basis for my young protagonist in the second published novel, Decision at Doona.
Once I had started earning the occasional buck at writing, I wrote when I could. At that time in Wilmington, my husband and I were both active in Presbyterian church choir: he had an excellent bass, actually a far superior natural voice than mine, but I fancied the business more. While the kids were small, I also took advantage of the many amateur theatrical groups in Wilmington, both as a singer and stage director. I had the chance to study stage direction with Frederic H. Robinson, the director of Lancaster Opera Company. He became the Pernese character whom many have come to adore, as I did, Masterharper Robinton. It was he who tactfully suggested that I'd do better as a stage director than a singer. My voice, a dramatic soprano with a three-and-a-half-octave range, had a few notes that were really rather ear-piercing. I could be heard above a full choir, orchestra, and organ. Enter Killashandra, a nonsinging role.
Operetta, opera, and choir dominated the years between 1958-1965, with writing generally taking a back-seat for lack of uninterrupted time to concentrate. My husband was posted to Düsseldorf, West Germany, in 1963 for nine months to form a promotion and publicity bureau in that city. He insisted that he have his family with him. It was a stimulating and broadening experience for us all: we placed the boys in the local grammar school where they quickly learned enough German to get along, and that children in Germany are seen and not heard. Even Gigi at three could make herself understood in German.
For my husband and me, it was a musical experience. Not only were we able to attend the Deutsche Oper Am Rhein as often as we wished, for the tickets were exceedingly cheap, we also met the many American singers gaining experience in a ten-month opera season. We had some marvelous times. Both my husband and I studied voice with a tenor who, unfortunately, had a totally different opinion about my voice than I: he insisted I was a mezzo and began training me to that range. What he did was to increase the effective, if not always musical, range of my voice and further increase that awful burr on E, F, and G below high C. I could now sing from D below middle C to E above high C, but we could never fix the burr.
That training, however, stood me in good stead when Clarence Snyder of the Greenville Church, Wilmington, asked me to stage direct his Christmas presentation of Carl Orff's Ludus de Nato Infante Mirificus, in which I also played a choral part in the first segment, sung in German against a twenty-seven-piece percussion orchestra. It was an incredible experience, for we sent recordings to Carl Orff and he responded with high praise for the orchestral and choral performances.
In those days, my main concern was my children, as I endured their infancy and adolescence. I found that I enjoyed them up till the time they turned about three, at which point they irritated me beyond bounds. Then, at fourteen, they suddenly became "people" I could relate to. I like my children as adults. Mind you, I would not have missed the experience of raising children—now that it's all behind me—but there were times. To this day I hate February, the longest month in the year for a mother with young children: wet, miserable, with Christmas bills to be paid, and the kids bringing childhood diseases home from school. But, writing was beginning to be a compulsive occupation: I might not have time to sit down and type, but that didn't keep me from thinking about stories. Constantly.
Then, a friend suggested that I hire a baby-sitter for three hours every morning, and volunteered her daughter, Anne Phillips. In those three hours hell could break loose, and frequently did, but I ignored it all and WROTE, while Anne coped. (My baby-sitters were known to admit that any two of my kids were rather fun: add the third and Chaos erupted. I could only agree.) However, several more Helva/The Ship stories were generated in those precious three-hour periods and a parcel of others: two novels were attempted, one of which was finally edited into the first published McCaffrey novel—Restoree—which Betty Ballantine bought in 1966.
I had lots of fun writing Restoree. I was so disgusted with idiotic s-f heroines who wailed and wrung their hands while their boyfriends were getting beaten up by the aliens that I totally rebelled and wrote it from the Intelligent Girl's point of view. I used lots of the thud and blunder s-f cliches and turned it around, with my heroine as the one with the answers and a real, live, honest-to-goodness, no-blushes love story, so that there was no hand-holding off into the sunset: the reader knew that the hero, Harlan, got it off with Sara! I told 'em so.
The book promoted a lot of denigrating reviews: tripe, crap, cliche, until a more astute reviewer realized that it was all a send-up. By then, I also had sold Decision at Doona and had written "Weyr Search," which John W. Campbell bought for Analog magazine.
If "to boldly go" (split infinitive and all) were the three words that heralded the Star Trek phenomenon, "Lessa woke, cold," announced to an unsuspecting world the advent of Pern, and its dragons. Now, mind you, my husband was still not impressed by science fiction but the occasional dollars the pursuit of my fancy put in the family pot were never refused by him.
By 1965, my husband had been transferred to New York, working in the DuPont head office as a publicity and promotion man. And damned good he was at the job. With another couple and their two children, we found and shared an immense house in Sea Cliff, Long Island: eighteen rooms and ten bathrooms. There were the four adults and five kids, and strict rules for our communal living arrangements. We lived together most equably for five years, sharing some marvelous experiences.
I did one more amateur show, Babes in the Woods, for the Sea Cliff group, but the backbiting and unprofessional attitudes towards performing irritated me beyond measure and, anyway, I was far too engrossed with writing now, and my involvement with SFWA. I was secretary/treasurer of that organization from 1968-1970, which duties took over my life and a lot of my energy. A blessing in disguise, for I was beset with a vicious insomnia and I had all those early morning hours to fill up with useful endeavours. SFWA provided me occupation and the chance to help other new writers in the field, and generally to improve the standard of
science-fiction and fantasy stories, one of the aims of SFWA.
In 1968, while I was struggling with the realization that my marriage was in danger, my dear aunt Gladys franked me to a trip to England. We had a marvelous time together and the week we spent in Ireland—seeing the splendid August Horse Show and the beautiful country—was the highlight. I had a week at home—to do laundry and get the house to rights—before I went to Berkeley, California, for the World Science Fiction Convention, traditionally held over Labour Day weekend. It was there that I received my first major recognition: the Hugo Award (named to honour Hugo Gernsback, considered the "father" of modern science fiction) for the novella "Weyr Search." I was also the first woman writer to receive that accolade, though in the intervening years many women writers have Hugos on their bookshelves. In 1969, I was also awarded the Nebula by SFWA for "Dragonriders." Both were first published in Analog and later became the novel Dragonflight.
By 1970, I knew the differences between myself and my husband were irrreconcilable, and I asked for, and got, a divorce. My son Todd, and my daughter, Georgeanne, accompanied me to Ireland, and my mother joined us later. Alec was enrolled in Stony Brook College, New York.
Moving to Ireland was one of my smarter ideas: basically I did it because I knew the school system was excellent and, as Todd would now be considered a "gifted student," I wanted the best for him. My daughter needed a solid education, too, though at eleven it was a little early for us to figure out in which direction she was going. Ireland was also three thousand miles away from my ex-husband and afforded me, the struggling writer, an exemption from Irish taxes due to the Artists' Bill, Charles Haughey's inspiration in 1969. But I have always felt, even when the Aer Lingus plane touched down in Dublin in 1968 for that never-to-be-forgotten holiday with Aunt Gladdie, that Ireland would suit me admirably. Mother, having seen hoodlums unbolt the engine from her car late one night, no longer felt safe in the Long Island area. She had visited Ireland several times and loved the land, not just for ethnic roots and pride. And she was happy and safe there for the last four years of her life.
Meanwhile Life was really just starting for me: a whole new direction and some very hard times. What Gigi calls our pancake years: "Gee, Ma, wouldn't it be nice to have pancakes because we WANTED them." (Now, whenever we do dine at a Crêperie, we are assailed by a fit of the giggles, but because we WANT pancakes!)
We lived in rented houses for the first six years: including a marvelous 230-year-old Georgian mansion in Dundrum, complete with stables and a paddock. We
moved into that because I had acquired Mr. Ed, my first horse, ostensibly a "hunter" but Eddie not only had a scopey jump, he could do dressage to a reasonable level as well. If you worked him hard enough. And he liked you that day.
Mother spotted the advertisement in the Irish Times that February morning: "For the rest of the Hunting Season, the use of a heavy-weight hunter gelding." The phone number connected me with Iris Kellett's Mespil Road establishment and I arranged a time to ride the horse and speak with his owner, a Miss Hilda Whitton.
One of the acts of bribery I committed to make Ireland more palatable to my kids was to promise riding lessons. We arrived on August 25, 1970, two days before Gigi's eleventh birthday. By October we were riding at Captain Ian Dudgeon's Burton Hall. Gigi had it all to learn and learned it well; Todd unlearned some western habits; I discovered that I knew a lot more about riding than I could get the dulled school horse to do. Infuriating. I had about decided to pack it all in when Mother poked the ad under my nose.
So I rode this immense dapple-grey gelding in Iris Kellett's sand arena, and he responded to every aid I gave him. And then I turned him down the jump alley (would you believe that it was Eddie Macken, just starting off as a show jumper, who put up the fences and urged me to use "leg, leg, leg"). Mr. Ed was supposed to be a reluctant jumper. Never for me. That horse would do things for me, including full passes, and shoulder-in, turns on the fore and hind, and jump ditches, that he wouldn't do for anyone else. He would also shed me at least once a year, to prove who was boss!
Hilda Whitton thought I got on with Ed rather well and my future was sealed in horses as much as it had been in science fiction when I opened Amazing magazine and read Edmund Hamilton's story. By May, I had bought Mr. Ed from Hilda, promising that I would ask her permission to sell him on, and that, if the expedient became necessary, he would be put down in his own stall. I agreed willingly.
Now, mind you, I had already written Dragonflight, had written one version of Dragonquest which my agent had told me to burn. And I did. But neither Mr. Ed, nor any other horse, has anything to do with dragons. Cats may have similarities to fire-lizards but horses have none to dragons. You see, a horse can be smart within his/her own limitations but basically horses are rather stupid creatures in the domestic scale: cats are much smarter. But a smart horse is a great boon, and a joy, despite occasional lapses into intractable behavior. Ed, vast hulk though he was, was terrified of tractors, having been chased by one in a field when he was a yearling. He NEVER forgot! Dragons always do or however could you get them to fight Thread on a weekly basis?
And the dragon pattern had been set before I met Ed. It might have altered drastically if I'd known that grey gelding first.
In June of 1974, my mother had a massive stroke and never quite regained consciousness, and died on July 12. She had also asked to be cremated and her ashes placed in my father's grave in Boston. I missed her immensely. She had been a friend as well as my mother, delighting in my professional success and aiding me personally during those years when things were tough financially.
When, the next year, the New England Science Fiction Association invited me to be their guest of honour at Boskone XV, I was also able to honour her last request, my sons by my side on a dreary cold day, much like that awful January day twenty-one years before when my father had been buried with full military honours.
That Boskone was a special occasion for me, for Gordon Dickson presented me with the E. E. (Doc) Smith Lensman Award. It was also the beginning of many trips across the Atlantic to attend s-f conventions, speaking at schools and colleges whenever the opportunity arose.
By 1976, the Dragons (Dragonflight, Dragonquest) had been followed by two books for Atheneum, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, and suddenly the family fortunes, which often were assisted by redeeming deposit bottles, began to improve. Bantam bought the paperback rights to Dragonsong and Dragonsinger for a fabulous price, and I had enough cash to BUY a house, with space for my horse and the one I wanted to buy for Gigi, who had inherited my passion for the beasts. Todd had gone on to motorbikes as more comprehensible and useful, though he still enjoyed an occasional hack out on Ed.
Established now in Dragonhold (gratefully named after the agency which generated the funds to purchase it), Gigi and I had two horses, both greys, Ed and Ben. Gigi was in her final year at Avoca-Kingston Secondary School and aiming for an equestrian career. This was to be shot down as the Crohn's disease which she contracted in 1975 left her by 1980 with what she termed "permanent saddle sores." There was a horrible irony to the fact that, despite the fact I now had the financial resources to afford any medical treatment she required, Crohn's is incurable. (Well, penicillin came along when we despaired of Keve's health … Gigi is still waiting for her own miracle, trying to make a life and career for herself despite formidable odds, continuous pain, and sporadic ill health.)
In 1976, however, horses other than the redoubtable Mr. Ed, whom I called Horseface, were beginning to dominate my life as well as Gigi's. A friend, Jan Regan, who had always been involved with horses and indeed had been an exercise rider for Seamus McGrath's large racing stables, came to live with us, partly to manage my house and stables while I was touring the States, and partly to start a horsebreeding operation which would supplement my income should the Well of Ideas in my head ever dry up.
(THAT, dear reader, is where I get my ideas, from some data my active brain recalls, occasionally sparked by some casual reference or newspaper article. The "Crystal Singer" series was ticked off by a friend's remark, that he thought "Killeshandra" was a beautiful name. I agreed. He then said that "Killeshandra" was a brand name for butter. That night I wrote the first page- and-a-half of Crystal Singer, though why my heroine should be a crystal singer has never been quite clear, even to me. It just happened that way, folks!)
The year is now 1978, and The White Dragon, published as one of Judy-Lynn del Rey's first hardcovers under her own imprint, Del Rey books, actually got on the New York Times best-seller list. I have long maintained that the success of that book was mainly due to Michael Whelan's absolutely magnificent cover illustration of the young hero, Jaxom, astride the white Ruth. It was a beautifully conceived and effective cover and, although I have seen the original artwork, I am also glad that Michael will never sell it. It was a talisman for him as much as me: a turning point in both our careers.
Of course, The White Dragon came out in the August that the New York Times was on strike but the functions of that vast publication continued, if unpublished, and we all rejoiced in the knowledge, if not the printed proof. I was actually the first unrepentant science-fiction writer to break onto that exalted listing of quantity sales. It gives me a rather warm, proud feeling to be a First at something. (I remember rejoicing when in August 1984 there were no less than nine science-fiction hardcover titles on the New York Times best-seller list—including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Jean Auel, Joan Vinge, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Piers Anthony. We SFWAns graciously allowed James Michener's Space in our calculations.)
For the paperback publication of The White Dragon, Del Rey asked me to do a nationwide tour in May 1979. I was chuffed to be asked to do an extensive tour—it was carved down to twenty-two cities in thirty-two days. This tour followed directly after a weekend s-f convention in Antwerp, Belgium. I was fifty-three, fit, reasonably active from riding and mucking out. I never gave it a minute's thought.
Halfway across the United States, after five nights of no sleep, I was so exhausted that I nearly cancelled the rest of the tour. I was on an adrenaline high from which I couldn't relax. Fortunately, I have discovered fans in critical places: this time a nurse on the emergency ward in the Minneapolis hospital I entered at 3:30 A.M. for assistance. She had done the usual preliminary tests, I had shown her my schedule, and she went off to consult the doctor on duty.
"Don't you know who she IS?" I heard her whisper urgently to the man. He gave me sleeping tablets on that recommendation and I have blessed them both ever since.
It took me nearly four years to recover from that trip, however, though I retain some vivid and marvelous memories. I kept following Colleen McCullough around the tour circuit. She'd be at the same bookshops, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, in the shopping malls either the day before I came or the day after. We never met but Thorn Birds was in mass display cheek by jowl to The White Dragon all across the States. I often wonder what she thought of such proximity. I know I was rather pleased to be in such good company. I was also followed by that week's classic movie, shown twice each evening. Invariably I entered my hotel room as Butch Cassidy and Sundance were discovering their pursuer: "Who is that guy?" I began to wonder who he was, too.
From that tour, I, and my publishers, learned to go slowly and I have now almost given up transatlantic tours. I used to make one each spring and fall, leaving my summers free to see to the horses. Now I make one every two years.
The stable project had quite a few ups and downs: economic hard times hit Ireland in 1980, the year we had bought five hunters for sale in October. We had to sell them at a loss for we had neither stabling nor funds to see them safely through the winter. As it was, we kept one small hunter in what had been the hay shed and stored the hay under tarpaulins in the yard.
Mr. Ed had been retired from active use in 1979: his arthritis made it hard for him to move easily. On September 9, 1981, I had to do the hardest thing I had ever done in my life: put Eddie down.
By then his arthritis had extended even to his jaws and it would be criminal to ask him to go through another hard winter. He was twenty-two, a respectable age for a big horse. Our vet, Finbarr O'Sullivan, did the deed and drove me back to the house, assuring me kindly that it was a service we could do our animal friends when life became intolerable. I knew that, but it was still a hard, hard moment. That evening my son Alec phoned me, from the delivery room in Boston, to tell me that his daughter, Eliza Oriana, had just been born and she and her mother, Kathleen, were doing very well. One life ends and another begins! Eliza's birth made Ed's death a little easier to bear. And that day's sorrow, and joy, became the last two chapters of Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern as once again I was able to use a keenly felt personal sorrow in a novel.
Alec had become a father; Todd was serving as a sergeant in a Combat Supply Company in the U.S. Army, stationed in Bobblingen, West Germany; Gigi, coping bravely with Crohn's, had had to leave horses completely and was in the States, working at this and that while attending University of Massachusetts.
Then, in 1984, knowing that unless I could expand, there was no way to make Dragonhold Stables a viable proposition, I bought Ballyvolan Farm Upper, in Newcastle, County Wicklow, five miles from Dragonhold. Derval Diamond had become my managing director, competition rider, and trainer. In 1985, our "tinker horse" skewbald, Jack, was entered in the Punchestown International Three-Day Event, and lasted through the Cross-Country section. But for us, the 15.2-hand-high skewbald, me, and Derval, it was an achievement. We were also doing well with Ruby Tuesday, our elegantly paced 16.1-hand-high mare by Bahrain. By 1985, we had completed a twelve-stable American-style barn, affectionately called the Horse Hilton, at Ballyvolan, and under Derval's inspired administration, and help from our trainer, William Micklem, Fellow, British Horse Society, my dream of the Dragonhold Stables, keenly imagined as an unpopular and asocial teenager, was now a reality.
With the help of an excellent thoroughbred mare, Texello, who had won four races and placed six times, we were attempting to find a cross with half-or three-quarter-bred stallions that would produce potential three-day-event horses of our own. Tex has had four foals and we have kept her latest two as being good prospects to fulfill our ambition.
In November of 1986, prompted by my British editor, Toby Roxburgh of Macdonald-Futura, I completed a contemporary novel about Ireland, The Lady (in England The Carradyne Touch, the title I prefer), set in 1970, and utilizing what I had learned, so painfully, about keeping and training horses in Ireland. Nineteen seventy was also the year the Troubles in Ulster began hotting up, and the year in which I discovered that Irish women had no position in law at all and that divorce, which I considered my moral and legal right, was impossible in this Catholic nation. In 1973, I had written The Kilternan Legacy, one of my six non-science-fiction books, about that appalling and indefensible situation. The Lady/Carradyne Touch examines the problem from an Irishwoman's viewpoint. I had been disappointed not to acquire Spring Farm, which was at the bottom of my road. It still became the site of the novel. The land has now been let to a sheep farmer, the house is an uninhabited shambles, the yard antiquated but, in imagination, I could envisage Spring Farm/Cornanagh as a going concern, a horse-breeding establishment. So I did. It causes me a pang to go by the huge beeches and the fallow fields! I keep seeing it as it is in the pages of the novel.
It's as well there is no spaceship—yet—to take me to Rukbat in the Sagittarian sector where Pern circles its primary. Except that, in 1978, an Australian astronomer took pains to inform me that spectroanalysis has proved that the sun Rukbat is not the type to generate planets. (When I discussed this minor problem with John Campbell, because I like to get things as correct as possible, he airily assured me that such technology wouldn't be available to us for another score of years.) How did I respond to the Aussie? I told him that his information was valid in this space-time continuum, but not in the one I'm writing in.
Anything IS possible in science fiction, if you can logically justify the premise of your story. Though dragons are generally considered a fantasy element, the dragons of Pern were biogenetically engineered from the indigenous life-form, the fire-lizards, which qualifies them for science fiction, not fantasy. The American Medical Association in discussing the possibility of brain-controlled mechanisms cited Helva in The Ship Who Sang as an argument against the use of only the brain of a human. As I said, I have fans everywhere.
I shall continue to write—I can't NOT write anyhow—until I am too frail to touch the keys of my word processor. For you computer fanciers, I recently graduated from a "user friendly" Kaypro II to a hard-disk Compaq Deskpro, using a Perfect Writer programme. I'm not a programmer, mind you, but I do great with the little I know and understand, as long as the Compaq doesn't throw up incomprehensible statements. Both my sons work professionally now with computers and they keep Mother up to date.
These days I ride a piebald mare, Cherokee Pie, using a bush-ranger's saddle which I acquired when Derval and I went to Australia in 1985. It's very difficult to get shifted from that sort of a saddle, though Pie is always a lady when we ride out.
In 1987, I put up an indoor school at Dragonhold: a vast success in our wet and windy weather. We added seven more boxes in the hay barn, lofted it for hay and straw storage, and still have a waiting list. And I wrote Dragonsdawn, with the technical assistance of Dr. Jack Cohen, formerly Senior Lecturer in Reproductive Biology of Birmingham (England) University. Jack enjoys creating logical, biologically functional aliens and he has got so involved with the dragons of Pern that he's helping me with the science in the final-solution novel, All the Weyrs of Pern. The Renegades of Pern is sort of leading into All the Weyrs and that came out in 1989.
Pern fandom is alive and well in the States and the U.K., even if many wishful thinkers try out unacceptable variations (like red or black dragons) in the fan groups. On the professional level, Karen Wyn Fonstad has done an Atlas of Pern which I gratefully use as a reference: Robin Wood, in collusion with me, brought out The People of Pern, a portrait book of all the major, and some minor, characters of the first eight Pern novels. Most recently, Jody-Lynn Nye, I, Todd Johnson, and Todd Hamilton produced The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern with all sorts of information about the planet which I haven't been able to work into other stories. Mayfair Games has reissued an updated board game, The Dragonriders of Pern. Joanne Forman has composed music and additional lyrics to those I used in the Harper Hall books on a tape which I also narrate.
Films? If a producer will agree to let me do the script and NOT mess up The Dragonriders of Pern as most Hollywood producers insist on doing.
I've also written in shared universes, where another author sets up the premise and then invites writers to have fun and games in this world. (I don't permit that with Pern, but it IS my planet so I get the final word.) I have collaborated with Elizabeth Moon on Sassinak, and Generation Warriors, and with Jody Lynn Nye on The Death of Sleep, novels which expand the two I did about the Dinosaur Planet. That's kind of fun—working with another mind to spark up your own thought processes.
My sister-in-law, Sara Brooks, has come to make her home with me in Ireland so that I have someone of my own generation to joke with. Simon Big Paws, my eldest cat, basks in the light of the desk lamp; Bronsky snoozes in a computer-paper box; and Bear-cat, the orange marmalade, is curled in front of the fire with Chessie. My Doberman pinscher, Mellow Yellow Saffron, has curled up on my bed, her head cradled on a muddy boot.
Alec and Kate presented me with a second granddaughter, Amelia, in 1988; Todd and Gigi live within two blocks of each other in Los Angeles: he's a computer-project manager and she's back in university again, hopefully over the worst of the Crohn's finally, now! (Cross fingers.) Todd flew himself across the States last summer in a two-seater Tomahawk, and back again: he was nearly as proud of himself as I am.
So, I've been married, raised children, and DONE something with the rest of my life, which I'm still doing and living!
If you will look back over what I have said, you will understand the sources from which my novels spring. You will comprehend why I never have wars, or human combat in my books. Do not ascribe to me any deep philosophical messages: I don't have any, merely examples of what people can do when pushed to perform at their limits. Most of my books are love stories, too. Come to think a little, I did have one message, in Decision at Doona written during the time of the Vietnam War. Ken Reeve, my protagonist, remarks that Mankind will be mature when it no longer feels the need to impose its moral judgments on any other species. Generally I write for a purely commercial reason: I've signed a contract and received an advance. I find "inspiration" when working with the elements of the story I'm already writing: I don't wait around for Inspiration to strike me.
To be a writer, one must also be a reader, preferably not because you're too unpleasant a character to have friends to play with. It's also essential to know the elements of good grammar and how to spell. (I have nine English dictionaries in my office.) You wouldn't drive a car without oil and gasoline, would you? Well, then, you can't drive the vehicle of your imagination without the necessary fuels—spelling and grammar. Don't argue with me. Learn them! It is also a very good thing to be able to type or word-process, to present your story properly to the editor. Remember, it's the editor's opinion that really matters, not your best friend's, or even your English teacher's (unless s/he is a published author, too): it's the editor who will pay you money to publish your story that you must impress—with a good story, well told, and well presented. That's how I got started so many years ago, and that's how I'll continue!
"May it be so for others."
—February 1990 at Dragonhold
POSTSCRIPT: Anne McCaffrey contributed the following update to SATA in 2004:
Yes, well, where did I leave off in 1990? My life has continued at a merry pace, and yearly I've added to the list of books published. I thought I would probably happily go on writing for the rest of my life. But age catches up with you. I'm fond of quoting two lines from Mardi Oakley Medawar's The Incident at Fort Larned. Her Indian protagonist looks in the mirror one morning and remarks: "Being old is a mess. I can't say as I'd ever recommend longevity to the timid."
I had a good laugh at that one when I first read it but I'm not laughing as much now. I had a mild heart attack in September 2001, followed three months later by a mild stroke. At least they were both mild and I recovered with no obvious handicap except, and this is crucial, a lack of energy. However, I had finished writing The Skies of Pern which was my most ambitiously scientific novel.
Todd and I had been sort of wondering what I could write about next on Pern. He wanted me to kill a dragon … which I could not bring myself to do. However, I would allow one to be badly hurt and brought back only by the skills of the Healers and his/her rider. And I also needed some sort of a job that the Dragonriders of Pern could do when the current Ninth Pass ended. I had also made the acquaintance of Dr. Steven M. Beard, at Edinburgh Observatory, and his wife, Elizabeth Kerner (author of A Song in the Silence). Steven was very gracious in helping me with some astronomical facts I needed for Pegasus in Space. And that's when—and in some degree, why—I decided that Pern was going to get hit with a comet. There'd also been some heavy hurricanes in the States and insufficient warning to get people to safety. (Since the dragons could travel back in time, they would be able to evacuate people before they could suffer some of the ancillary damages inflicted by comets.) I told Steve what I needed in terms of a disastrous cometary strike. I also heard of a Scott Madden who was computing the trajectories of Possibly Hazard Asteroids. He was at Armagh Observatory. Between the two of them I had all the help I would need to have such a catastrophe happen to Pern and the Dragons. They were ever so helpful and patient with me. One of the maps Steven Beard made me was to have a very interesting future.
I'm glad I was able to finish Skies of Pern when I did. Writing takes a great deal of energy and I wish that I had bottled all the excess I used to have, so I could release and profit by it now. I have yarns I'd like to write … situations on Pern; the story of the twins Yana and Sean in the Petaybee series; the biggest swap fair in the world, sponsored by Zainal and Chris in the empty parking lot at Newark Airport. Several other stories that plague me when I try to go to sleep at night. But I don't have the energy to sit myself down and type them out. It is extremely frustrating.
All is not lost for Pern fans, however, as my son, Todd J. McCaffrey, has taken up the banner and is proceeding with themes and subjects which he would like to address. We've already done one collaboration, Dragon's Kin, and he is busy on a solo novel, Dragon's Blood. Mind you, he grew up with Pern, and with me nattering away about problems which he helped me solve a time or two. He grew up reading s-f, not just me but starting with Space Cats, and developing his own thing. So he is my heir, as it were, to fly the Pern banner. Watch for his name! He's a good writer. And he knows Pern intimately.
There have been several unexpected joys in my life, despite the erosions of age. In the fall of 2001, I had a totally unexpected letter from Colonel Pamela Melroy of NASA. She said that she was a fan of my books and invited me to the launch of Discovery on which she was the mission pilot. Well, that was a real stunner, and I hastily wrote a joyous acceptance. I was really looking forward to seeing a real launch from Canaveral, as I saw as many as possible on TV for the sheer thrill of the moment. Then I got my heart attack on September 25, which put paid immediately on going to the launch. I wrote my apologies and asked if I could possibly attend another launch.
Colonel Melroy did not receive my letter until after she was safely landed—which is how NASA keeps its personnel focused on important matters, a policy I do not dispute. What she sent me were pictures of herself on Discovery, with Killashandra in her hands, complete with a little square of Velcro so she could attach it while in free flight. Not only was it remarkably courteous of her but also it did my flagging morale a considerable amount of good.
She visited me here in Ireland later on that year and she really is a splendid person. She has also had sufficient problems to make a fine book out of her struggle to be a test pilot and then an astronaut. So I was more than flabbergasted that she read my books, too.
I got an invitation to attend the launch of her second flight, on the Atlantis, and Antoinette O'Connell came with me to Florida as my "minder." (My balance is none too good and I had been "falling" down at awkward moments and bruising myself badly … and occasionally breaking a bone.) I want to tell you it was even more exciting to watch the shuttle take off when I knew someone in it. The noise, the power, the sheer thrill of watching the bird rise from its pad and soar into the sky was better than anything I could possibly write about it. I wished I could have seen her land (which is the most dangerous task of a launch) but both Anto and I had to be back home. Colonel Melroy took a copy of The White Dragon with her on this flight, and kindly had the members of her crew sign it for me. There's a little sticker on the back that says "This copy of The White Dragon made 171 orbits around earth, 244 miles above the surface." I gave her one of my last hardcover copies of The White Dragon so that she would give me this far more enhanced copy of the paperback. I got the good end of that bargain.
We still communicate and I've visited her in Houston where she lives. She's a fiend with Scrabble. But what a personal coup for me!
Then there was a letter from Janis Ian, the singer and composer of "At Seventeen" and "Society's Child." She was visiting in Ireland and could she see me? Well, indeed she could, and I gave her my once-over-lightly tour of Wicklow County's famous spots. I also urged her to try her hand at writing s-f and told her that I thought her song-writing already could qualify her. She got an anthology of stories from top writers, using her songs as their inspiration. A very fine collection, I add with great pleasure.
Another recent BIG moment in my life was hearing from The American Library Association that I had won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement writing for young adults. Hey, that meant I was literary as well as science-fictional. However, when I was phoned, the lady told me it was for the "Dragonrider" series and The Ship Who Sang … at which point I burst into tears and had to hand the phone over to Georgeanne. I've got so it is sort of expected that the Dragons are tops, but for the award to include the most emotional and provocative of my short stories was especially special to me. "Hey, Dad, this one's for you!" Todd joined me in New Orleans for the occasion. I'd never expected such a prestigious accolade. The Award hangs in my living room where it can be seen by anyone who visits me.
Let me say that I am further gratified by how many people manage to find Dragonhold and visit me during the year, usually to have their picture taken with me and get me to sign a book for them. I do enjoy these visits although it's much easier to go online to my website, http://www.annemccaffrey.org. If you are online, drop in. I have a live chatline called the Kitchen Table on which I often appear, surprising newcomers and the faithful. It's very nice to have such a contact with the people who read my books. My son Alec set up the original website but we've been upgrading it lately to provide new interest to fans and friends. It's also fun to talk to someone in New Zealand or South Africa and America. My online fans have also been very gracious when I need sudden information, like names for new characters, or some geographical information I can't quite bring to mind.
I have attended Dragon*con in Atlanta, Georgia, on several occasions now and in 2003, did so again, stopping off to see Pam Melroy in Houston, my dear brother Kevin for his birthday (his last as he died in December, 2003), and Janis Ian in Nashville. Usually an overseas trip is all business/convention/book signing. This time it was to see people I'd like to spend some time with.
Not only had Colonel Pam taken White Dragon with her on the very successful Atlantis mission, she had also (at my instigation) taken the map Dr. Steven M. Beard had made of the sky above Pern and the stars that would be visible at night on its surface. I wanted him to have something special for all his help. Steve has been marvelous in helping me "justify" Pern. So his map is now verified as having been 244 miles above the earth on 171 orbits. Pam and her crew were in England touring in January, 2003, and we joined them in Edinburgh for Pamela's solemn handing over the map of Pern to Steven and to me the copy of White Dragon, which was now autographed by the entire crew. I gave the Russian member a copy of the Russian translation of Dragonflight. He'd heard enough about the world from Pam and was quite appreciative. When fact becomes fiction, unusual things happen in real life.
For those of you who have wanted to see Pern on film, we came reasonably close at one point in 1997 but the film industry is frustrating. I have hoped that, with the tremendous success of The Lord of the Rings cycle and Harry Potter, the Pernese dragon might be considered filmable; but we'll see. Don't hold your breath.
I also commissioned a friend, Tania Opland, who is a fine musician and folk singer to do Harper Hall songs, which she and her husband, Mike Freeman, have compiled on a CD. The music is exactly what I think Pern would produce. Tania is busy right now producing a song book of those melodies and working ahead on providing music to Menolly's tunings.
Then, just the other day, I got a letter and several photos, showing a most special library chair contrived by Jim Fair of Red Wing, Minnesota. Each year the public library at Red Wing selects artists to restore and paint a chair, each chair to be dedicated to the author of their choice. Jim Fair chose me, and he put in a mischievous fire-lizard. What he couldn't have known is that such chairs, of a basic good design, are part of what young woodsmiths must make to get their journeyman's rank. The very best of them are made of skybroom wood, which, as readers will know, is the toughest wood available on Pern.
I have a lot of dragonalia in my house: projects inspired by the books and sent me by their creators. I don't do much merchandising since I do hope for a movie and the filmmakers count on the merchandising to defray the costs. But it has been fascinating to see what other people contrive. I have about 130 different dragons, made of all kinds of material, including wax, but I just can't bring myself to burn a dragon candle. One of my favorite dragons was created in copper and I have plenty of soft-toy dragons. In fact, I was so over-whelmed by them that I gathered them up and took them to one of the local hospital's children's wards.
I also convinced Del Rey to bring out a special edition of my young adult stories, A Gift of Dragons, in
November 2002 … and the book sold an amazing number of copies, not quite rivaling The White Dragon, but doing very well, thank you. "The Smallest Dragonboy," written about my brother, Kevin, is still my most reprinted story, well ahead of both "Weyr Search" and Ship Who Sang and is now included in textbooks for seventh graders in the States.
I'm no longer as active as I was, and indeed, had to give up riding after my arthritic hip was replaced. (Couldn't force my right foot into the stirrup without help.) My lovely pinto mare, Pi, had a stroke about the same time I had mine, and died, so I wouldn't have a bomb-proof horse to ride anymore even if I were able to ride. (I'm fond of saying that the ground gets harder every year. And it does.)
To keep idle fingers busy, I have recently taken up quilting with my daughter, Georgeanne. She became enamored of the craft while making a baby present for a friend. We're now stitching together one for my grandson, Owen. And I have some very ambitious plans for other designs to do. I've always enjoyed handwork, having knitted so many Arran sweaters that I had to quit. Now I've found something new to do.
I have been traveling to conventions, now and then. Mainly I attend Dragon*con over Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. It features a Pern track and brings in many actors from s-f series. I had the chance to meet Christopher Judge who plays Téalc in Star Gate, which is my current favorite show. He was most charming and we talked about the scripts he has been doing for the show. He's good at it and I teased him about the fact that there is usually a "love interest" for him in his own scripts. Why not? I plan to be at Dragon*con again this year, 2004.
So, the main message in this update is that I have had to slow down. I figure that's equitable as I am now seventy-eight and a full-time job is no longer necessary. I do miss my daily stint at the keyboard and fuss because I can't do what I want to as easily as I once could. I am trying to be graceful about it and hope to have something overwhelm me that I MUST write.
I am also renovating my library, which has approximately 4500 books, magazines, and pictures in it, with the help of my good friend, Lea Day of Portland, Oregon, who is a power weasel when it comes to such tasks. Trouble is, we both keep handling books that we can't quite remember the story of and the temptation to stop work and read this or that is almost irresistible.
To those of you who want to write, let me point out that a seventeen-year-old, Christopher Paolini, has recently published Eragon … another book about dragons, which is why I read it in manuscript, and it was very well done, indeed. So it can be done, if you TELL A STORY and have followed my suggestions on learning syntax, grammar, and spelling.
Todd has finished his solo Pern adventure, Dragon's Blood, and we are now turning our attention to collaborating on more young adult novels, treating those areas Todd feels need clarification.
As I write this, Alec is in Des Moines, Iowa, working with the Democratic Party for the upcoming elections. Todd is still in California with his daughter, Ceara Rose, and Gigi lives down the road in Ashford with her husband, Geoff, and her son, Owen. And I have numerous friends known as the "usual suspects" who keep me informed, and so I am rarely lonely.
Pumpkin is senior cat with his mate, Thomasina, and their children, Razmataz, Tigger, and Maggie, while Silky the Weimaraner and Moses the Black Labrador head up the canine squad. I don't have a horse of my own, but I can gaze out at the fields where Dragonhold Stable horses pasture and they know the sound of my voice and come to the fence whenever I call. (I usually have carrots or peppermints to bribe them.)
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalAnne (Inez) McCaffrey (1926-) - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights, Autobiography Feature