AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNE MCCAFFREY
When I look back at the period of my life when I worked at a German software company called Thalion Software, I come up with mixed feelings. One the one hand there was great friendship and a lot of talent, and on the other hand there was commerce knocking on your door, commerce littered with individuals you couldn't trust at all. One of the good things to come out of that period, however, was my colleague Erik Simon's advise to check out a writer by the name of Anne McCaffrey. At the time we were creating an entire concept world in which all future Thalion games would be put - a project that was axed not much later due to lack of funds - and McCaffrey's world of Pern was a most excellent example of such a world.
I bought the first book of the Dragonriders of Pern series, a book by the name of "Dragonflight" (the game of the same name released by Thalion was a total coincidence, as Erik had read the German version of the book and had never before heard the English title). I read it and was hooked. The end almost had me in tears as main protagonist Lessa rescued her world from the ravages of the main threat to life on Pern, Thread.
Anyway, in the following years I bought all further Pern books and read most of them up to and including "Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern". After that I somehow lost interest and it wasn't until a few months ago that I started reading again. "Nerilka's Story" was next, and now I'm reading "Dragonsdawn".
Recently I also got in contact with Mrs. McCaffrey - a good opportunity to do an interview, of course. The result of that can be found below.
Can you give us a short biography of your life (date and place of birth), education, computers (if applicable), work and social status?
Anne: Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 1 1926 (Holy Thursday that year), in the Sign of the Fire Tiger at the hour of the Sheep. Raised in Upper Montclair New Jersey with two brothers, one old, Hugh and one younger, Kevin Richard. Father returned to active service during WW II and was one of the formational Military Governors in Agrigento, Sicily, Italy and Vienna Austria, then in Japan for Tax Reform and, waiving his physical disabilities, he became Chief of the Finance Division of UNCACK in Seoul, Korea: He contracted TB and died six months later. My mother was a linguist and real estate agent. I graduated from Radcliffe College cum laude in Slavonic Languages and Literatures and, although I used my languages in my first job, when the company folded, my next job was in copywriting. Married in l950, three children, Alec, Todd and Georgeanne and divorced in l970 at which point I moved with my two younger children to Ireland, joined by my mother who died in l974. My son Todd introduced me to computers in l982 - a Kapro II, user- friendly, and it was. I have since graduated to a 486 IBM clone and "Microsoft Word" 6.0 and Windows.
Can you give us a short description of the surroundings where you live? Its nightlife, its people?
Anne: I live in Ireland which has no nightlife to speak of, save in its pubs which I used to frequent until I got too old to drink heavily. I am in rural Ireland, 27 miles south of Dublin, between the hills and the sea, on a 47 acre farm which I own and which contains not only my house but the stables that I started in l977.
Can you give us a description of your home, most specifically the room where you do your work or another room that you perhaps think deserves to be known better?
Anne: The house I now live in was designed by me for the purpose of housing all my books, artwork, papers, me and various relatives and assorted guests. The County Council thought I was building a B&B since I included 5 bathrooms. I have a heated enclosed swimming pool to ease my arthritic bones. The house is termed a bungalow but it's large, more or less modern in style though it owes certain architectural details to older Irish houses. My office is a large room, overlooking one of the jumping paddocks, facing west, and it's crammed full of worktops, bookshelves, CD shelves, the CD unit, fax and my laptop and some of the more recent awards, plus two geraniums on the window sill and photos of friends, horses, and people.
What do you look like? Or, at least, how would you describe yourself?
Anne: My hair is silver, my eyes are green and I freckle. The rest is subject to change without notice (a literal quote from her book jackets, ED.).
What is (are) your worst habit(s)?
Anne: My worst habit is interrupting people and playing "FreeCell" (a computer card game of the Patience variety) when I should be working on the latest novel.
Do you have any pets and, if so, what kind? What are their particular characteristics?
Anne: I have cats - or rather, they have me. Right now there are five in the house, plus an ageing Dobermann soon to be replaced by a Weimaraner pup. There is tuxedo b&w Bronsky who is currently senior cat, a tortoise shell Chesapeake, who lives with my sister-in-law in her apartment (which is part of the house but separate), three Maine Coon cats, Chanel who is tricolor and drapes, Thomasina who is silver mackerel and timid, and Punjab Pumpkin who is orangey-pink and charming. Saffron is my red Dobermann and noble watchdog for the past 12 years. My special mount is a b&w mare named Pi who is bomb proof but I've had to give up riding as my right hip is too stiff to get over the saddle, fore or aft. Pi misses me.
If I were ever to visit you, where would you take me for a night out?
Anne: I'd probably take a visitor to The Tree of Idleness where the Greek-Cypriot food is some of the best to be had in Ireland. If you're younger by far, I'd get my daughter and her husband to take you to Johnny Fox' Pub or some of the nightclubs in Dublin but I'm no longer comfortable in such rackets.
Do you do any other work except for that through which most people tend to know you?
Anne: How would I have time to do any other work than my writing?
Which book have you read recently that made most of an impression on you, and why?
Anne: I think Carol Severances' two Polynesian based books, "Reef Song", and something about Drums (she changed the name from the manuscript title) have haunted me the most. Strange and unusual background, with strange and unusual protagonists and some really, truly queer folks. And Connie Willis' "Doomsday Book" which was so brilliantly written and compelling to read. But I get a lot of books through here that I'm supposed to read and sometimes I don't get a chance to finish them. Both those selections go back about a year or more but as I still remember them most vividly, they made an impression.
What's your favourite music for working?
Anne: I have a five place CD player and I load it up in the morning and let it rip, repeating. I prefer movie music - mainly James Horner, at the moment - as it makes as nice a background to writing as to the movie it was composed for.
What is the film you've been to recently that made most of an impression on you?
Anne: "Dances with Wolves" and "Last of the Mohicans" made quite an impression on me - I have the music, for starters, so I can endlessly get back into the movies. I don't go that often, however. I thoroughly enjoyed "Mrs Doubtfire".
Is there a person on earth whom you would now - had you been in your late teens or early tweens - seriously like to have a huge poster of, hanging above your bed?
Anne: I could use a photo of Tom Skerrit or Sam Shepard very handily, but I never was much of a movie-star fan. There were far too many others girls that such people would rather be with than I so I was pragmatic even then. I'd like to meet James Garner though.
Which of the male characters in your novels is your favourite? And which female?
Anne: Robinton's my favorite (an old Master Harper on Pern, ED.) and Afra is next on the list. I couldn't say which of my female characters I like the most - possibly The Rowan.
Besides the "Dragonriders of Pern", have you written any other novels and what kind are they?
Anne: Lordee, I've written some 42 books on my own, 13 collabs, and there're only 13 Dragonrider Books out of that total. All but 7 are s-f: the others are romances or Gothicks.
What's the book you're most proud of?
Anne: I'm still real proud of "The Ship Who Sang" though I'm aware of its flaws, too. "All the Weyrs of Pern" comes next and then "Lyon's Pride".
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which and how well or bad?
Anne: I used to play piano - but badly. Fingers are too stiff now to stretch.
When, in many years, you'll eventually die, which song would you like to be played at your funeral service?
Anne: Brahm's Academic Overture or Eye Level.
What is your favourite author, and why?
Anne: I don't have a definite favorite author though I immediately buy Dick Francis' latest hardcover.
What do you remember as the worst ever moment in your life?
Anne: I've had several 'worst moments' - but the recurrent one was the realization that, with plenty of funds available, the one thing I could not purchase was a cure for my daughter who suffers from Crohn's Disease. I think the second worst was the realization that my marriage was over and divorce was essential for the safety of my children.
Most cliché question of the interview (possibly): What's your favourite food and drink?
Anne: I'm very fond of broiled live Maine lobster and Clearly Canadian's my favorite drink since I have to be careful how much white wine I drink. In the wines, it's the Belle Pais from Cyprus that I particularly like.
What is your favourite fantasy?
Anne: Favorite fantasy? Personal or written? If it's written, it has to be Terry Pratchett's marvelous Discworld series. As to personal fantasies, I've accomplished most of them: Being successful, respected, owning my own home, having my children grow up to be responsible and reasonably happy adults. A couple of very private ones, I'm now too old for but hell, I've done pretty well. One of the earlier ones - say back in the 70s - was writing a book that got on the New York Times Best Seller List. I've done that with the last 14 books (smile).
What publications can we expect from you within, say, the next (few) year(s)? Any collaborations?
Anne: I'm currently working on the third of the Petaybee series with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough: I've just finished "The Dolphins of Pern" for Del Rey and am writing "Catteni" for Berkley. I'll have a fifth in the "Tower and Hive" series next year and that's what I've planned so far. No further collaborations are contemplated.
What would you advise budding writers to do?
Anne: I advise all budding writers to learn to spell, construct a proper sentence and learn the difference between the possessive pronoun and the contraction, and TO TELL A STORY!
What was the first thing you got published and what did you have to do to get it printed in the first place?
Anne: The first story I got published was "Freedom of Race" which Sam Moskowitz bought. All I had to do to get it published was send it to Sam to see if he'd buy it. There are no incantations, bribes necessary - just a fresh story that interests readers.
Do you do other things besides writing?
Anne: I don't have time for hobbies but I used to ride five or six times a week on my b&w mare, Pi.
Right. Now the words to react to, a section designed to provoke.
Anne: Maybe there's a good reason for some countries to be autocratically ruled by a dictator.
The ozone layer.
Anne: Well, I do my part not to dissolve it further.
Anne: What's MTV?
It's 24 hours a day Music TeleVision.
Anne: MTV doesn't occur in Ireland now that you've explained it. I miss WABF in the States which played non-stop classical music. Aint no such animal over here.
Anne: I know Guns'n'Roses is a rock group and that's all I know.
Anne: Michael Jackson is the epitome of the horror of popularity. I'm sorry for the man on quite a few levels.
Anne: Take every kid from the age of 3-13 and educate them in another country and without emphasis on religion and the problem MIGHT clear up.
Anne: I've never heard the question.
Anne: You will notice that I don't have religion in my books. I didn't import it to Pern and resist any attempt by fans to put some there. 'God' is a private concept and should remain a personal, not a public, figure. More horror and death has been done in His name than for any other reason. I'd prefer Commercial Greed. However, I sang in a Presbyterian Choir for l8 years.
Anne: Jane Austen was a woman so far ahead of her times we haven't caught up yet.
Anne: Atari was touted as a 'games machine' but is actually a far more versatile and powerful PC than it is ever given credit for. My son Todd taught it how to write in Greek, among other things. Too bad it got overshadowed by Apple and Macintosh (it should be noted that Anne is here referring to the Atari 800 series, ED.).
Written May 1994
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