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.