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Todd McCaffrey

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Todd McCaffrey   Todd McCaffrey is the New York Times bestselling author of several Dragonriders of Pern novels, including Dragoonsblood and Dragonheart. A few years ago he began collaborating with his mother, Anne McCaffrey, and has since continued the Dragonriders of Pern novels, which have sold over 18 million copies worldwide.

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This episode originally aired on 01/21/2010 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Todd McCaffrey

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Matthew Peterson: Hey, welcome back The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at I’m your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero.

My next guest is Todd McCaffrey, the New York Times bestselling author of Dragonsblood and Dragonheart. A few years ago he began collaborating with his mother, Anne McCaffrey, and has since continued the Dragonriders of Pern novels, which have sold over 18 million copies. Thanks for being on the show today, Todd.

Todd McCaffrey: Thank you!

Matthew Peterson: Now, before we get into the books, I wanted to ask you what it was like growing up with Anne McCaffrey.

Todd McCaffrey: [laughs] Well, you know, she’s not shot out of a cannon every morning and falls into her trousers both legs at once. You know, for the longest time, she was just Mom. And I will say a great cook.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh!

Todd McCaffrey: And sometime opera singer and very scary off, off, off, off Broadway actress. I remember once, when I was nine, she played, oh gosh, it was Once Upon a Mattress, and she played the evil queen.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Todd McCaffrey: And it was a dinner theater, so you know, the actors are like five feet away from you, and it was just terrifying. And since then it’s been quite interesting. I think the White Dragon and Dragonsong were the books that really put . . . sort of punched out of the park and got in everybody’s head space, as it were. And people began to really notice Pern in particular, but a lot of her other works. Prior to that, there was a lot of writing, writing, writing, struggling, struggling, struggling going on.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: It was pretty interesting.

Matthew Peterson: Did she ever let you read some of what she was writing?

Todd McCaffrey: Oh, I got to the point where I was reading the White Dragon literally as the pages were coming out of the IBM’s electric typewriter.

Matthew Peterson: Ah! Fun

Todd McCaffrey: Myself and my little sister, Georgeanne--or GiGi, as we called her--we were both as mom said jokingly at the time, we were galley slaves. That is, in the old days they used to send out the page proofs as three pages on one long galley. And we’d go through and look for typos and all. So we did that a lot. Yeah, it was a family act in some respects, early on.

Matthew Peterson: I have a couple ten-year-old boys, and they’re my beta readers. [laughs]

Todd McCaffrey: Oh, wow. Yeah.[laughs]

Matthew Peterson: They’re my target audience. But problem is, is they can’t shut their mouths . . . . so they tell their friends about what I’m writing, which hasn’t been published yet. [laughs]

Todd McCaffrey: Yeah, yeah. And that happened.

Matthew Peterson: So how did you get involved in writing the Dragonriders of Pern novels?

Todd McCaffrey: Well, way back when in, I guess it was about 1984, I swore I’d never write on Pern. I had a couple of reasons for that: 1. I had stories of my own that I wanted to [write] and have told some of and want to tell more of. But the other was that I thought that Pern was speaking to a particular time when women were much under-represented and, you know, really repressed.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: And it had strong women being able to stand on their own and all, and I was kind of hoping by about now that would just be common place and people’d be going like, “Who needs to read about this?” And you know, “we live that.” And unfortunately we don’t live that yet.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: But what really started it was, oh, ‘round about ‘96, Mom’s U.S. editor met with me at WorldCon--it was the LosCon at the time--and said... This is 1996, remember. 14 years ago... “Now, your mom is not going to live forever.”

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] What?

Todd McCaffrey: [laughs] Yeah, it’s like, okay, 14 years on--still looking at this. But she said, you know, “It’s been my experience that when an author passes on, their books fade away unless there’s somebody there to keep them alive. So I’d wish you’d really consider writing just some juveniles.” And my first response was, “Well, I don’t think so, and I don’t have any ideas.” And then finally I was speaking to some writer friends of mine, and at this point I said, “Oh, you know, she wants me to do this.” And one of my more pragmatic writer friends said, “Why not? You’ve got a kid to put through college.”

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: And I said, “Hmm, hadn’t thought of it that way. But I don’t have any good ideas. And there’s no point writing, I don’t know, Pern greeting cards, you know.”

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: The plot, you know, take plot A, insert character B and see what happens. I wasn’t going to do that; that wasn’t fair. And then I woke up in the middle of the night with a really cool poem and a really cool idea, which became Dragonsblood.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, really?

Todd McCaffrey: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: And Dragonsblood was the first one that you wrote without collaborating.

Todd McCaffrey: Yeah. It was the start of everything. What happened along the way... Actually, before that the same editor in 1996 said, “Well look, if you’re not going to write these YA’s then at least write some sort of scrapbook or something, a biography of your mother, because she’s writing her own autobiography now and that keeps her from writing Pern books.” So I went ahead and said, “Okay, I’ll do that.”

And while I was interviewing Mum for what became Dragonholder, which is non-fiction--it’s, you know, The Life and Times So Far of Anne McCaffrey--among other things, I learned things about her that I never knew before. What happened then was while I was working with Mum and interviewing her, I said, “You know we should really collaborate on something.” And we came up with some ideas and we batted them about. This was after she’d done all the Weyrs of Pern. And I said to her, “You know, I’d love to see what happens if we arranged it so we had two riders and one dragon. If something happened where, you know, a dragon gave its life to save another dragon and you had the rider of the original dragon also bond with the surviving dragon. I thought that’d be a really interesting thing and we hadn’t done it on Pern before. And so about six months later, while I’m still struggling with Dragonholder, I get this call from Mum saying, “I can’t do it!”

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Ohhh.

Todd McCaffrey: “What?”

“I can’t kill the dragon!” [in a crying voice]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Todd McCaffrey: “Well, dear, if you can’t kill the dragon, then don’t kill the dragon.”

“Okay” [in a crying voice]

And that was the first I knew that she was writing what was supposed to be our collaboration together... by herself.

Matthew Peterson: Oh! [laughs]

Todd McCaffrey: And that went on to become The Skies of Pern. So we had started to collaborate, but then we didn’t.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

Todd McCaffrey: The lesson I learned was, you know, do not try and play with Mum’s characters.

Matthew Peterson: The thing that I thought was so fascinating when I really got into these novels was that this is science fiction. You’ve got dragons, and this is not a fantasy. There’s no magic. This is a science fiction. There’s technology. There’s spaceships on occasion. This is quite an interesting thing. I think I was, I don’t know, half way through the series, when all of a sudden it dawned on me, this is science fiction... [laughs] with dragons.

Todd McCaffrey: Yeah, as I say, Analog is still in print. The magazine, it’s science fiction, science fact. They don’t publish fantasy. And John Campbell, bless his heart, he spent a lot of time, because Mom’s major was in Cartography and Slavonic Languages Literature--not exactly high up in the sciences level. But John Campbell spent a lot of time telling mom, “Okay, now, this is how your dragons can be made to work. They have a boron-crystalline structure which makes them super light and they chew a phosphine-bearing gas which explodes on contact with air, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah.” And I remember at one point, he stared at me--I was all of 13 at the time--while he’s talking this over, like I was supposed to make a note of it.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. [laughs]

Todd McCaffrey: And I’ve actually later on used it in Dragonsfire and started looking at it. You know, it really worked out well. But there’s a lot of science in it, and it’s a cool thing. I mean, it’s a regressed society, you know. We have craft masters and lord holders and all the trappings of a medieval society, and yet the dragons themselves were genetically created by the original colonists. It’s really quite interesting.

Matthew Peterson: And the interesting aspect of this, which has been done since, but I think this is the first time where I read this, where they’re telepathic. They actually talk to the dragons.

Todd McCaffrey: We’ve had telepathy in and out for a long while. Robert Heinlein did it with Time for the Stars back in, somewhere in the ‘50s. But yeah, this is the first time that I know of, that we had a telepathic link between a non-human [i.e. dragon] and a human.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, for someone who at one time didn’t have any ideas for this universe... [laughs] I’m glad to see that you have lots of ideas now... and along with your mom.

Todd McCaffrey: I do. I do.

Matthew Peterson: It’s been really great talking with you, Todd. I’ve been speaking with Todd McCaffrey, New York Times bestselling author who is continuing the Dragonriders of Pern novels with his mom. Thank you for being on the show today, Todd.

Todd McCaffrey: Thank you.

Matthew Peterson: Okay, that's all the time we've got for today. Make sure you visit to listen to the great bonus material. There's a ton of extras for this episode. Next week on the show I've got Brandon Mull, Maria V. Snyder, Obert Skye, and Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket. It’s going to be a great episode. See you next week!

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