Tell me one little known fact about Todd McCaffrey.
Okay, some people know that I was born Todd Johnson. Most people don’t know that I changed started using McCaffrey as my last name because I was asked to switch last names by my then fiancé. That was all right with me and I thought we could come up with a joint new last name but I was begged (literally on bended knee) by Scott MacMillan on behalf of future genealogists to choose a surname that was previously in the family tree. At that point, McCaffrey became pretty much the most logical choice.
Of course not everyone knows that I wanted to be an astronaut right up until I turned twelve and was told that I’d need glasses — and I knew enough to know that astronauts need perfect eyesight. As it is, I finally did get a pilot’s license and have a degree in mechanical engineering as well as several classes in spacecraft and propulsion design.
Did you write under your birth name?
As Todd Johnson, I’ve had published four short stories, a novel-length “Choose Your Own Adventure” type book, an animated screenplay and have designed or consulted on the design of several board games.
Here is the list of my works published as Todd Johnson:
“I got them Ol’ Reptilon Blues Again Mommasaur”, Dinosaucers, DIC, 1987
Short Stories – Novellas
The Archimedes Effect, The War Years #1: The Far Stars War, ed. Bill Fawcett, Penguin / Roc, 1990
Dasher, The War Years #3: The Jupiter War, ed. Bill Fawcett, Penguin / Roc, 1991
Threadfighting Tactics on Pern, The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern, Jody Lynn Nye, Anne McCaffrey, illustrated by Todd C.Hamilton, Del Rey, 1992
Ploughshare, Bolos: Honor of the Regiment, ed. Bill Fawcett, Baen, 1993
Legacy, Bolos 2: The Unconquerable, ed. Bill Fawcett, Baen, 1994
Force of Nature, Bolos: Last Stand, ed. Bill Fawcett, Baen, 1997 (March)
Slammers Down!, A Combat Command Book, Ace, 1988
Do you think the name change made any significant difference to you as a writer or as a person?
I think the changed name helped a lot when I started writing on Pern. People who looked at the name could make the connection between Mum and myself.
On the other hand, I nearly died of laughter when one fan who had only seen the out-of-date jacket photos of Mum politely asked, “Mr. McCaffrey, is Mrs. McCaffrey your wife?”
As for the name, I was planning on keeping McCaffrey for Pern-related books and Johnson for non-Pern stuff but it turns out that there are already several Todd Johnson’s who have been published.
Will you contimue writing books set on Pern?
As long as I can write a good story on Pern and the fans want to read them, I’ll write on Pern.
It won’t be the *only* place I write.
What have you got on the go, currently?
Currently, I’m waiting for the copy-edits on “Sky Dragons,” the last collaboration Mum and I did.
I’m working on something called “Walker,” an alternate history of Scotland; I’m re-working my very first novel — Kelly’s Fire — with the knowledge and skill of over 25 years in writing; I’m thinking about how to structure the sequel to “City of Angels”; I’m researching a possible new middle-grade Pern trilogy; I’m looking at revising an old idea I’d had from before; I’m working on a completely new idea that I’ll publish under a pseudonym (definitely *NOT* McCaffrey material); and I’m writing the odd short story.
Tell me about Sky Dragons and the collaboration process.
“Sky Dragons” is the sequel to “Dragon’s Time.”
Here’s the official blurb:
From the New York Times bestselling mother-and-son team of Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey comes the final installment in the riveting Pern saga that began with Todd’s solo novel, Dragonsblood. Now, with all of Pern imperiled by the aftereffects of a plague that killed scores of dragons and left the planet helpless against the fall of deadly Thread, the only hope for the future lies in the past.
There, on an unexplored island, a group of dragonriders led by Xhinna, a brave young woman who rides the blue dragon Tazith, must battle lethal Merows and voracious tunnel-snakes to build a safe home for themselves and the dragons, whose offspring will one day—if they survive—replenish Pern’s decimated dragon population. But as the first female rider of a blue dragon, and the first female Weyrleader in the history of Pern, Xhinna faces an uphill battle in winning the respect and loyalty of her peers . . . especially after an unforeseen tragedy leaves the struggling colony reeling from a shattering loss.
Amid the grieving, one girl, Jirana, blessed—or cursed—with the ability to foresee potential futures, will help Xhinna find a way forward. The answer lies in time . . . or, rather, in timing it: the awesome ability of the dragons to travel through time itself. But that power comes with risks, and by venturing further into the past, Xhinna may be jeopardizing the very future she has sworn to save.
The collaboration process has evolved over time. With Dragon’s Kin, we were able to spend a lot of time at Dragonhold-Underhill working together and Mum would hand me “the disk” at the end of the day and I’d integrate it into the master copy. We’d outlined the story — something she hates but is absolutely necessary for collaborating — so we could each choose which chapter we wanted to work on. We’d agree on the “ins and the outs” — what had happened before the chapter started and what would happen by the time it ended.
Mum let me handle all the editor’s and copy-editor’s notes. It got a lot easier when I discovered that some of *her* deathless prose was the subject of an editor’s red pen.
As time went on, things got more independent. Mum read “Sky Dragons” with a view to language — she always had such a great way of combining dialog and action — but she made only one change, telling me, “You’re doing fine on your own, dear.”
Writing collabs with Mum was supposed to be a sort of prolonged “bootcamp” and, apparently, it paid off.
Your alternate history of Scotland sounds intriguing. Can you tell me something about it?
Our heroine, Danielle “Danni” Walker, who is a whiz with all things metal and mechanical, in support of her blacksmith father’s bet against the rival blacksmith MacAllister, creates a steam walker — just at the time that Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives in Edinburgh. Charlie’s advisors see the value of a contraption that’s taller than a horse and rider yet able to “walk” over regular and rough terrain. And so the steam walkers begin a journey that ends with The Great Stomp of London and the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne.
But all does not work out well for Danni who is of “the weaker sex” and considered not able to have made such creations nor to manage them if she did. Her brother and father die in the fighting and she hears the Prince giving her hand in marriage to the evil MacAllister and so Danni flees the final battle and is, with the aid of accomplices, listed as among the dead. (Thus ending the first book.)
You mention a sequel to City of Angels – is the first book available yet – if not when?
As an eBook, it’s available in both Nook and Kindle formats while we’re looking for publishers. Once a publisher has signed, I’ll stop selling the eBooks.
Why would you stop selling the ebook when the hard copy becomes available?
Because the publisher will want those rights. They’ll certainly do a re-branding and probably there’ll be some editing changes.
Do you see ebooks as good or bad for the future of publishing?
I think we’ll see eBook sales increase, although I think the format and the displays are currently not quite there.
What’s the bigger question is what is the future of publishing. Publishers do three things for authors that they can’t do themselves (easily):
1. Provide a quality/commerciality filter. They buy what they hope will sell.
2. Provide marketing. Getting a book noticed is increasingly difficult in this day and age.
3. Provide sales. They get the sales channels filled and get the books on shelves.
Bookstores provide another level of quality control by deciding which books to stock.
All that’s by-passed these days with eBooks (and print on demand) and, because of that, the noise to signal ratio is increasing astronomically.
It’s getting harder to find interesting books (and Amazon’s recommendation algorithm is totally pathetic). *That* will impact sales even.
In the end, I think that new will have to arise to replace the traditional bookstore/publisher model but in the meantime I’m afraid that we might see a significant fall-off in book sales except amongst the superstars (King, Patterson, Evanovich) — the “tried and true” as it were.
So how do small and medium sized authors survive? Is there a way they can thrive?
I don’t know. I think that the usual route — become a *big* author — will still be open.
I suspect that those who are good at self-marketing will be able to make a living. I’m not quite sure that self-marketing and the qualities that make a good writer are orthogonal. That is, I worry that *good* writers are all too often self-effacing. Having said that, there’s clearly some niche for an agent or an agent/manager — someone who, for a percentage, will guide/manage the author and his/her books to greater sales. That would also imply a niche for the highly-regarded critiquer — a go-to person for good books.
I think that with the advent of eBooks, keeping a writer “in print” has become much easier. That will work to the advantage of small/medium authors in the long term. Mum always thanked Betty and Ian Ballantine for keeping Dragonflight in print when it was the only Pern book available.
At the end of the day, what will make a writer stand out is still going to be a good story, well-told. The problem, as it has always been, is to let people know that the story is out there.
Most authors I have spoken to regard self-publicity as essential. What do you do currently and are there things you would like to try?
Currently, I have my website: toddmccaffrey.org (aka pernhome.com/tjm, aka toddmccaffrey.us). I also produce a (semi-)monthly newsletter, maintain a twitter and Facebook presence.
For Christmas, I provided the link to a short-short story that I wrote in the window at the Redondo Beach Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, called “Stone the Crows.” You can read it at: pernhome.com/crows.html.
The reaction to that was so huge that it inspired me to collect it and five other shorts into a mini-anthology called, predictably, “Six” which is available for Nook and Kindle as well as in trade paperback format. “Six” has got Mum’s favourite story of mine, “Tree” as well as the sequel, “The One Tree of Luna”; “Tribute” which was the story I read to my Dad the week before he died; “Why I Shot My Car” which was published in Albedo One as “Best Evidence” some aeons ago; and a humourous short, “Men!”
I don’t know if self-marketing is essential. I certainly *do* know that for me, personally, there were many people whose books I read simply because I’d seen them on a panel at a convention and thought that I’d like their works.
I think it was in “Blink” that Malcolm Gladwell noted the different types of people responsible for the success of a viral marketing campaign. That is, there’s the Connector who’s always connecting people, there’s the Salesman who is interested in more than just the next sale and several other types who are responsible for ensuring that, by word of mouth alone, the world goes crazy for something (like “Cabbage Patch Dolls”). And I think that’s true in the realm of writing.
It was Jan Howard Finder who grabbed me, thrusting Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Warrior’s Apprentice” and said, “You’ve got to read this.”
It was SkyCon in ’71 where someone quoted me the first paragraph of “The Hobbit” and said I should try it.
So I think, more than anything, it’s about writing a good book and hoping that luck will out — that the right people (and enough of them) will try it, love it, and recommend it to all their friends.
After that, the self-marketing works to keep people in touch, to let them know what’s coming and so on.
I think that self-marketing can backfire also. I tend to shy away from free books. I was originally leery of “Triptych” because I was there at the launch and, after talking with the author, J.M. Frey, hesitantly asked if I could have a copy. In the end, however, I liked it so much that I gave one of my very rare blurbs for quotation:
“It’s a very impressive first novel and if Ms. Frey continues to do with science fiction what she’s done in this book she might single-handedly be credited with reviving the entire genre. Bravo! Encore, encore!”
If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film director etc.) other than a writer, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be?
Well if I wasn’t a writer, I’d much more likely be a space engineer. And my “one hit wonder” would be to establish a permanent, viable colony on the Moon.
No cheating, it needs to be a work of art.
Okay, then, I’d go with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.