A Super Short History (by Angel Adams)
One of the oft repeated cliches of writing tips is the phrase “Write what you know.” In countless workshops instructors often touch back on the theme of pulling from one’s experiences to bring a story to life. If we believe in the wisdom of the advice dished out by so many experts, then Todd McCaffrey has an embarrassing abundance of riches upon which to draw.
Never one to be hampered by the need to color inside the lines, Todd’s path has often been filled with interesting side trips. Therefore, it is no surprise that his writing reflects the bold splashes of color that have combined to create the history of an author with a very promising future.
Born to Anne McCaffrey on April 27th, 1956, the then named Todd Johnson came into the world as a rather precocious middle child. Anyone who questions the precocious part has only to read some of the anecdotes in “Dragonholder” to have any doubt removed. He spent most of his childhood on the East Coast of the USA until moving to Dublin, Ireland with his mother and sister in 1970.
Like most of the boys growing up in the ’60s, Todd became space mad. However, unlike most of the other young men running around their yards in pretend helmets and throwing toy rockets into the air, he was given a “complete” set of the actual Lunar Module Pilot Study Guides in 1968. The number of hours spent devouring them repeatedly from cover to cover is evident in the fact that he has been known to quote excerpts from them during convention panels.
When the time came for him to pursue higher education, Todd attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA for a year — and hated it. But he did discover one of the great loves of his life while he was there, computers.
He then proceeded to flunk out of college in Ireland, which led to him joining the US Army in 1978 as an armored Reconnaissance Specialist (Scout). He realized he’d made a mistake later that same year. He was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany from 1978-1982 with the 1st Infantry Division (Fwd) when a combat life expectancy measured in minutes. His time in the military afforded him the opportunity to turn down Officer Candidate School in 1981 as well as being awarded the US Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal and other minor jewels.
Upon leaving the US Army, he returned to college and graduated with Honors — or rather, “Honours” — in 1985 from Trinity College, Dublin.
Having never lost his love for space, he left Ireland for Los Angeles, California in the hopes of working in the aerospace industry. However, the computers got him first, and he began working in computer programming in 1986. He continued to develop his love of space and all mechanical things that fly by getting a private pilot’s license in 1988. One interesting side note is the collapse of the aerospace industry in 1989.
During this time, Todd’s interest in writing also took flight. The sale of some of his early short stories helped him log an impressive amount of air time. He flew across the continent solo in 1989, attending Oshkosh along the way. After quitting his day job in 1990 to write full time, he repeated his solo cross-continent flight and attended the 1990 Oshkosh as well.
His attendance at Clarion West in 1992, was yet another step toward becoming an accomplished writer who draws more fans to him every year through both his self-depreciating wit at conventions and the vibrant characters who live in his writing. With a future that is limited only by the imagination, Todd McCaffrey is definitely a rising star worth watching.
1) Where were you born? Montclair, New Jersey.
2) What did you want to be while you were growing up? An astronaut.
3) What are some of your favorite books/authors? Well, if I don’t say Anne McCaffrey, I’ll get hurt. 🙂 Robert Heinlein; Roger Zelazny, particular the Amber series and “Lord of Light”; Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series; Diane Duane, particularly her Wizardry series; David Weber’s Honor Harrington series; Anything by Andre Norton; Poul Anderson; Harry Harrison, particularly the Stainless Steel Rat; James White’s Hospital Station series; Lois Bujold’s Barrayar books; C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series; Winston Churchill’s history of WWII; Tamora Pierce’s Alanna (sp?) series… and that’s just off the top of my head.
4) Where did you go to college & what did you study? I went to two different colleges (long story). I did a freshmen year at Lehigh University studying Engineering Physics (bad choice) and discovering computers. Then I finished a Mechanical Engineering degree with Honours at the College of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin, Ireland — and got my degree from Trinity College Dublin (politics).
5) What is your favorite/least favorite job you ever had? My favorite job was re-writing a tool from scratch in Java using UML for a defunct software company called Oxelis. My least favorite job was working as a QA engineer for a Countrywide Home Loans.
6) What do you like to do when you’re really supposed to be doing something else? Hmm, I suppose you want the printable answer? My favorite thing on the whole world (emphasis on “whole world”) is flying an airplane upside-down. When you talk LEO (Low-Earth-Orbit), my favorite thing is flying my private plane from a regular airfield up into orbit.
7) What three people, past or present, would you most like to invite to dinner? John W. Campbell, Judy-Lynn Del Rey, Isaac Asimov. Because I knew them all when I was much younger and would dearly love to thank them for their kindness.
8) What is your favorite quote? Nah, there are just too many good ones. “I drank what?” — Socrates, as quoted in “Real Genius” with Val Kilmer. “Heavier-than-aircraft will never fly.” Practically anything by Benjamin Franklin, but particularly for these times, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”
9) If you could have any super power, what would it be? The power to remove and neatly package electronics from anything. Like the electrical system of the car whose driver hasn’t learned how not to use the horn to vent his anger.
10) Name something you’d like to do before you die. I want to visit another solar system, find intelligent life and develop an alien friendship.
11) Who is your hero or heroine? I don’t have one hero or heroine. I continually am amazed at how my mother managed to feed the family and put all of us through college.
12) What was the first thing you ever wrote? My name. 🙂 I wrote some really bad poetry and an article on riding motorcycles for the college magazine, the “Bolton Bolt.” The first thing I got paid for was an animated screenplay, “I got them ol’ Reptilon Blues Again Mommasaur.” No, wait! That might have been the second thing I got paid for. I also wrote “Slammers Down!” a sort of choose your own adventure based on David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series for Ace. Both were in 1988. I got a lot of flying done that year. 🙂
13) What events led to you getting published the first time? When we were working on the Mayfair Games boardgame, “The Dragonriders of Pern”, I was asked to write a short something on Threadfighting. This was later included in the “Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern” as “Threadfighting Tactics on Pern” by Todd Johnson. The first short story that was published was commissioned by Bill Fawcett, whom I’d met through Mayfair Games (he was one of the founders) Prior to that, Bill had asked me to do a novel-length “Combat Command” — a sort of choose your own adventure book — based on David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers. That was in 1988.
14) What was it like the first time you ever flew solo? Scary. And pretty interesting.
15) How did you first become interested in screen writing? Someone offered me some money. 🙂 Also, it’s a great way to approve telling a story differently. With screen writing you have to be more concenred with externals than internals — you have to do more showing and less telling. It makes for crisper writing.
16) If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be? Okay, we’ll just take all the XXX answers as given and move on to the interesting stuff, shall we? I’d love to be on the set of “Dragonflight”, just about ready to wrap the film and go into post-production.
17) Tell us about some of your most memorable critiques, both giving and receiving. I don’t remember critiques. I tend to see patterns, rather than individual events. I had a truly marvelous time at Clarion West in 1992 — I tried every sort of story I could think of and learned a lot. I certainly had a lot of fun at this year’s “WeyrWriter’s conference” (I just invented that name, by the way). It’s good to get the feedback and, more importantly, to hear points that I missed in other people’s writing being expressed.
18) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Probably when I realized that I had characters within me that would not be heard unless I gave them voice.
19) Which of your characters do you most identify with? I don’t identify with characters. There’s not a character that I would point to and say, “That’s me.” What I have is characters who are real to me, who having meaning for me. I do really like Kindan, not just for what he’s done in “Dragon’s Kin” and what he’s doing in Dragonsblood but for all the other things that he will do.
I am extremely proud of Nuella. I knew she was cool when I started writing “Dragon’s Kin” but she really surprised me at the end! I suppose my favorite characters are Eric and Kelly in “Kelly’s Fire” — a book which I completed in 1990 and which one day I may actually re-write. Oh, the list is just endless.
20) What is the one question you would most like to have answered? How does one go faster than the speed of light and return to the same temporal frame of reference?
21) Is there one talent that you do not possess that you wish you had?
Yes… but I’m not telling 🙂