The Grand Dame of Dragons

I want to read Dragonsong again, right now. Miss Anne was always in love with the Masterharper. So was I.

Anne McCaffrey taught me many things. She taught me to believe in dragons. She taught me that I should have lots of sex while I’m still young and beautiful. She–through Andre Norton–gave me a talisman that I treasure to this day (and now really wish wasn’t in a storage unit with my beloved crock pot and all my good suitcases).

I had a dream about her house in Ireland once, a great castle with huge golden gates that had a giant fancy P molded into them. I imagine she’s somewhere by that castle now, with the wind in her hair, feeding her dragons.

Love you, Miss Anne. Say hi to Miss Andre for me.


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Anything But Foolish

Today is Anne McCaffrey‘s birthday, everyone! The Mistress of Pern is 82 years young today. Woohoo!!

Like the rest of the SF world, Mark Newton and I were discussing Arthur C. Clarke over the Ides of March. Not just because he meant so much to the genre, or the world, or our careers, but because each time the world witnessed the passing of an SF Giant, the rest of us authors were left to realize that *we* were the next SF Giants. We thirtysomethings (or late twentysomethings, or early fortysomethings) are the Next Generation. But what have we done? Are we ready to wear this mantle?

No pressure.

The signs are there: Pat Rothfuss and Naomi Novik are taking the world by storm. Jay Lake is his own hurricane. Ken Scholes is being launched as the next Robert Jordan. Mary Robinette Kowal and Scott Lynch will be duking it out at the Hugos over the John W. Campbell Award, and I don’t know whom to put my money on.

And me? I’ve been handed a torch carried by two of the most powerful women in speculative fiction. A torch that, in this world, looks remarkably like a book. And two women, as it happens, whose names also begin with A.

Mom calls Andre Norton one of my guardian angels. I think she would have approved. Those few years of correspondence with her meant so much to me. And the few times I was invited to her library, High Hallack, I was honored. There was a time when I was afraid to visit her because I knew she would see right through me and know I was a fraud. Perhaps she did see right through me.

Only she saw something else.

The last time I saw Miss Andre was after the sale of her library to fund the prestigious Andre Norton Award. I had completely missed the public sale, but when I called she told me there were still many quality books left, and that I was welcome to drop by and go through them. I would have been just as happy donating a check, but no writer worth her salt is going to pass up books, for heaven’s sake. Especially when they might actually be helpful.

You see, every writer has a little library of their own. And almost every writer dreams of having a library so large that other writers would come and visit them to work in it. Miss Andre had that library. And, having been a librarian myself with my own misfit author friends, I shared that dream. Perhaps magic from the books that had been living in her library would rub off on my own personal collection, and I would be able to soak in it forever.

But at the time, the magic wasn’t in the books. It was in Miss Andre herself. When I arrived, she helpfully presented me with a cherry red library cart…and then took the role of my own personal shopper.

It was amazing.

I bought four huge boxes of books — most of which because she told me to and not because they looked like they’d be immediately useful. I didn’t care; I would have time to flip through them all later and decide for myself. I bought whatever she had left on the Victorian age, and various and sundry other ones about World Mysteries and Superstitions. She didn’t have anything left on costumes, but she unearthed a beautiful, huge stack of paper dolls that she swore would do just the trick in a pinch. And she made me an incredible deal. Too good of a deal. But as a poor little nobody fraud of an author, I was in no position to argue.

The books made it home and most of them stayed in their boxes for lack of shelf space. And then they got buried under other books, and other boxes. And then, after Miss Andre passed away, it was just too painful to think about going through them.

Fast forward to last summer and the Great Book Purge of 2007. I desperately needed a home office and something to distract me from my chronically absent fiancĂ©. I have no idea how many hours I spent surrounded by piles and piles of books, making a maze from which I wasn’t entirely sure I could escape…even if I wanted to.

Eventually, I unearthed the Andre Norton boxes.

Now, I’m a practical woman. I certainly hope that I’ll be as lucky as Miss Anne and have another 50 great years. But even if I read every single moment of every single day until then, I doubt I’d be able to make it through the entirety of my current library. It’s just impossible. Literally, literarily, impossible. Some things just had to go.

But I couldn’t get rid of Miss Andre’s books. Not a one. It was still too painful. They still meant too much. I sat there with a book in my lap: Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis. I couldn’t remember if it was one Miss Andre had placed on my cart, or one I had picked out myself — undoubtedly the former. “Lee,” I said to myself, “you know you are never going to read this book. Sure, it’s vintage 1930’s, but you’re about to get married. You aren’t even going to live alone. Put it in the give away box. Now! Do it!”

But I couldn’t.
I just couldn’t.

I sat there for a very long time, my brain yelling orders and my body stubbornly, sentimentally refusing.

Fine. FINE. I was going to keep the book. But if I was going to keep the book, the least I could do was open it up and read some. I gingerly lifted the front cover. That’s when I saw the inscription.

“A talisman for Andre–
May it bring her what it brought me.


Most writers are introverts — it takes one to know one. And being one, you know what a small circle of true friends you have, and how that circle grows and matures right along with you. New friends become old friends sooner than you think. They are yours forever, if you want them to be.

There was only one person “Anne” could be. But I checked against my signed Dragonriders of Pern just to be sure.

My family does not use the word “talisman” lightly. I knew what it meant to be holding that book in my hands. I knew what it meant for that talisman to have made the journey it did — from Anne to Andre to Alethea. I knew what it took to be a strong, successful woman in this industry, what sharks swam these waters, and what sacrifices had to be made.

I knew what it was like to live alone, and I didn‘t like it.
But I knew.
I knew he wasn’t coming back.

I read a good chunk of Live Alone and Like It, cross-legged on the carpet, surrounded by books. I kept having to remember that when Marjorie referred to the “nineties,” she meant the 1890s. My favorite line was from the chapter on liquor, and what every single woman should have in order to make the basic, most common drinks. “Only worse than a woman who puts marshmallows in her salad,” says Marjorie, “is the woman who messes around with fancy cocktails.”

After about an hour, I was consumed by the desire to share the knowledge my good fortune, my treasure, my talisman. I wanted my friends to experience this feeling of discovery and symbolic importance. I went directly to Codex and posted on the boards there. Everyone was excited and awed and happy for me. I called my mother, who laughed and said that Murphy and Miss Andre had sent me a sign, and that I should pay attention. I should remember that I was destined for great things…and I had better start acting like it.

The next day, Jenny added to the thread on Codex with a link to Publisher’s Lunch. It had just been announced that the rights to Marjorie Hillis’s classic Live Alone and Like It had been reacquired by Little Brown.

The very day after I found the book.
There’s coincidence, and there are signs.
Gotta say, I’m with Mom on this one.

Fast forward to yesterday. Nicole came by my office with a small pink galley in her hand. “You are going to love this book,” she said.

I took it from her, glanced at the title, and smiled. I had been living alone for almost a year now, and thanks to my family and friends I was finally, truly learning to love it. “I already have this,” I said. “Did I not tell you the story?”

Nicole sat down, because she knew it would be a good story. And it is a good story, a story about some very special women that deserves retelling on this very special day. I’m so glad she reminded me.

I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence.

Happy birthday, Miss Anne.
Thank you.
For everything.

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Genre Chick Interview: Anne McCaffrey

The reigning Grand Dame of Science Fiction, Anne McCaffrey is known to many as “The Dragonlady.” To me, she is the permanent resident of at least two entire bookshelves crammed full of cherished (and often re-read) titles. I leapt at the chance to interview this fascinating woman who has done more in her 81 amazing years on this planet than most folks could hope to accomplish in several lifetimes.


Alethea Kontis: The bio on your Web site says you wrote your first novel in Latin class. Was that a Pern novel?

Anne McCaffrey: No, I did not write Eleutheria the Dancing Girl in Latin while in class. If I had, I might have done better, though I still got a B in the course. I must say that Latin has been an ineffable assistance to me all my writer’s life.

AK: Your first in-print publication was a response to the portrayal of women in a male-dominated science fiction genre. How did you feel when you got the acceptance for your first book?

AM: I felt totally euphoric when I got the message from Betty Ballantine that she was going to publish Restoree. I really had got tired of the dreary way in which romance was handled in SF. John Campbell explained that Astounding published more science-oriented stories because that was the readership he had to satisfy. Fortunately, those readers grew up and wanted more rounded stories, inclusive of romance. There are now ever so many more women writing SF&F and making a living out of it.

AK: What worlds do we have left to conquer?

AM: We still have to conquer war, or maybe conquer peace and make it stay.

AK: If you could go back in time and meet a young Anne McCaffrey, what would you tell her?

AM: I’d tell my younger self to go out and get more sex while I was young enough and pretty enough to attract guys.

AK: What one piece of advice do you most often give to new writers?

AM: For wannabe writers, READ.

AK: Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?

AM: The most interesting person I have met through SF is Koolness, the slurper. First appearing on my chatline.

AK: If you could meet one of your characters, who would it be?

AM: Robinton, probably, as I had an intense crush on the man I used as his model.

AK: Which was your most difficult book to write? The easiest?

AM: The most difficult was, I think, Dragonsdawn, as I had to lay the ground work for any future novels. Dr. Jack Cohen came to stay with me, he is a generalist scientist (knows enough about the other ‘ologies’ to give you a basic understanding.)

The easiest was Dragonsong because I had it all worked out in my head before I started to write. I actually knew several girls, and fellows, whose families did not appreciate their innate talents nor would they help them.

AK: What took you to Ireland?

AM: What took me to Ireland were the 3,000 wet miles between me and my ex-husband, and a good school system for my two younger children. Alec, the eldest, was already heading for college. And Charlies Haughey had set up an artist’s tax exemption scheme which, when I was not earning much, was invaluable.

AK: How do you think your background as a character actress helped in your writing process?

AM: Well, I also did a lot of stage directions, as well as acting, and being able to see from behind different eyes was a substantial asset in writing scenes.

AK: Based on what you’ve seen and what you know now, what do you wish for the world to come?

AM: Peace is what I wish for. I’ve been writing through I don’t know how many wars, little or big–doesn’t matter. People get killed and wounded and lives are torn apart, as well as real estate.

AK: What’s most difficult: riding a horse, riding a dragon, or riding a Rio3 [mobility] scooter?

AM: Riding the Rio scooter, of course. I have no brakes; you just lift your finger off the go-plate. But it has already dumped me three times because I didn’t get a smooth enough pavement in changing directions.

AK: What’s your favorite ice cream?

AM: ANY of the sherberts.

AK: If you could be any comic book superhero, which would you be?

AM: I wasn’t allowed to read comic books as a child, though I’d sneak a look at the Phantom when I was in the stationery shop. So I don’t know. “Dragonlady” has been a label put on me, but Lordy, what wouldn’t I give to look, and maybe even act, like Milton Caniff’s Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates.

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