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Don't Forget Your Fantasy, Dear

Photo: Jodi Lynn Nye
Jody Lynn Nye and friend.
(All photos courtesy of Jody Lynn Nye)

Author of 20 novels, four role-playing game-books and numerous short stories, Jody Lynn Nye makes the planet-hopping journeys of an outer space doctor and her medical menagerie read as easily as a sojourn in an ethereal world where everything is an illusion. 

Recently, this talented Illinois native took time from her busy schedule to talk to Crescent Blues about living with another writer (her spouse, Bill Fawcett), working with science fiction/fantasy grande dame Anne McCaffrey, and the ins and outs of surviving SF/Fantasy conventions. 

Crescent Blues: One of the main themes of School of Light is the effect of cliques on not only the students but on the college as a whole. What inspired you to address this particular issue?

Book: Jody Lynn Nye, School of LightJody Lynn Nye: School of Light really started from a kernel of an artists' atelier, but I decided it would be more fun to expand it into a full-throttle learning institution. That gave me more scope to play with characters who would be unlikely to turn up in a small, dedicated learning environment, such as the In Crowd. I like writing stories based in schools and colleges.

I love to explore the process of learning. People are there for a common purpose -- education instead of business -- and they aren't stuck at a desk or dedicated to a single task that would prevent them interacting.

Crescent Blues: How did the cliques in your college affect you? What do you think it is about schools -- primary schools, high schools, colleges -- that provides such fertile grounds for cliques?

Jody Lynn Nye: Not at all in college or high school, but in primary school I was picked on by the "cool girls," who were larger, meaner, and less moral than I was. I was a new kid in the neighborhood, and the social groups had been established before kindergarten. It's when a child moves with his/her group onto the next, normal transition (such as up to junior high school) that a stranger begins to fit in.

Crescent Blues: School of Light, features Juele, a young woman learning to master illusions. You mentioned that, physically, the school in your book is loosely based on the one of the colleges in Cambridge, England. Have you used "real" locations as a starting point for locales in other works?

Jody Lynn Nye: It was Oxford, not Cambridge. I was able to stay for two weeks at Pembroke College and use it as my base while I explored the University, including the Bodleian Library (!), lectures, performances, and places the students frequent. I am very grateful to them for the experience. I've visited dozens of colleges in the US, and there is nothing equivalent to the "Oxbridge" style of education.

I do like to "walk the walk" when I can. I often find that when I am in the place I'm writing about, or somewhere similar in feel, it changes the perception I have of the action going on, and always for the better.

Cities all have their own feel, and small places have details that you can miss. And the real thing is often more fun than anything I could make up. My contemporary fantasies are set almost entirely in Chicago and the midwestern U.S. (except for the one that went all over the U. K. and Ireland -- and therein lies a tale or two!). If the sites I mention aren't real, they're usually a combination of several that are.

Book: Jody Lynn Nye, Waking in DreamlandCrescent Blues: Waking in Dreamland and School of Light deal with a land where almost everything is an illusion, or a dream within a dream. Has one of your dreams ever provided you with the inspiration for a book?

Jody Lynn Nye: Not a whole book but scenes and sometimes characters or lines of dialogue. Once, long ago, I dreamed of a comedy routine with jokes that were still funny in the morning. Unconscious minds are much more clever than the conscious is aware of. Sounds odd, I know.

Crescent Blues: Meisha Merlin is issuing Mythology 101, Mythology Abroad and Higher Mythology as an omnibus called Applied Mythology. And in August 2001, Advanced Mythology, the fourth book in the series will be released. What new adventures face Keith, Holl and their friends?

Book: Jody Lynn Nye, Applied Mythology TrilogyJody Lynn Nye: Ah, well, you know that Keith has been trying for years to get all the magical folk to get together in one confabulation. Maybe this is the year that it happens. He's certainly going to try.

Crescent Blues: Speaking of the Mythology series, what was the inspiration for Keith finding a village of elves in a college library?

Jody Lynn Nye: This is one of those true but strange occurrences where the location came first before either character or plot, and it is based upon a real place. When I was in college, there was a gorgeous library on campus, almost exactly as I describe Midwestern's: marble entry way, nine levels of stacks (two-thirds-high floors stuffed with bookshelves and study carrels), quietly elegant reading rooms.

The stacks (like the rest of the library, I suppose) were heated by steam ducts. The heating system made odd noises. I would often be there until it closed. Late at night there would be few people there besides the librarians and me, yet I could almost swear I heard voices deep, down below. It wasn't until many years later that I thought, "What if someone was living down there?"

Book: Jody Lynn Nye, Dragonlover's Guide to PernCrescent Blues: You co-authored several books with Anne McCaffrey -- Crisis on Doona, Treaty at Doona, Sassinak, Planet Pirates, Death of Sleep, Generation Warriors, The Ship Who Won and The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern. How did your collaboration with one of the grand ladies of science fiction begin?

Jody Lynn Nye: My connection with her came through my husband, then fiancé, Bill Fawcett. In the late Seventies, early Eighties, he was one of the owners of Mayfair Games. They negotiated a license from Anne for The Dragonriders of Pern role-play board game. Anne's son Todd came on board during his summer break from college to intern with [Mayfair Games]. [Bill and Todd] became good friends.

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, Treadty at DoonaWhen in 1985 Bill came up with a concept for "follow-your-path" adventure books featuring Pern (and a dozen other fantasy or science fiction worlds), I stood up and waved my hand, yelling, "Me! Me!" I had already written modules for Mayfair, so he knew I knew gaming structure, and he knew I could write engaging fiction. Then, I had to present my plots to Anne. Nerve-wrack City.

We went to Norwescon to meet her. I've told this story before in other places, but it manages to prove an exception to (either Noel Coward's or George Bernard Shaw's) statement that God writes lousy theater. Bill set me in the queue to check in to the hotel while he went looking for Anne. At that time I didn't have the least idea what she looked like. The hotel wasn't very crowded yet, and I hadn't seen anyone else I knew. Two or three people ahead of me in the line was a woman about my height wearing a purple pantsuit and a purple slouch hat. When she turned her head, I could see that her shoulder-length white hair was streaked on one side with red, purple and blue. I didn't know who she was, but I knew she must have something to do with the convention.

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, Crisis on DoonaAt that moment, Bill came out of the side hall. He spread his arms wide and started walking over with a smile on his face. (I thought he was coming to me.) He shouted, "Anne!"

The lady in purple turned, spread out her arms and announced, "Bill!"

I just gulped quietly to myself.

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, Planet Pirates TriologyI have to say that she could not have been nicer, nor more patient with a patently nervous newbie writer who had the temerity to say, "I would like to mess in your most precious world, please." But I had done my homework, and I am a deep-rooted fan, anyway, so she was able to approve the story as I set it forth. I adored doing Dragonharper, since Master Robinton has always been my favorite. It's a measure of Anne's faith in me that she let me mess with such a pivotal character. I loved writing Dragonfire, too, because Mirrim was such a challenge. She's that rarity, a young female who goes into combat alongside the men, but she has her emotional troubles as well.

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, The Death of SleepIn fact, I did all the writing on the Dragonlover's Guide. The idea was NOT to have Anne have to do any new work on it. We (Bill, Todd, Cameron Hamilton and I) interviewed her for ten days at her home in Ireland. I went home with the tapes and my research, and put it together.

Crescent Blues: How difficult was collaborating on a novel versus writing solo?

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, Generation WarriorsJody Lynn Nye: Much more difficult. You don't have to do as much advance outlining when you are working alone (well, I don't, anyhow). Added to the tasks of plotting an intriguing story, furnishing it with characters and setting it in an appropriate location, you have to decide who in the collaboration is responsible for what: what sections, what characters, what chapters -- and where and how you can cross the lines in between them. What to do if one person drops the ball, for whatever reason. (Stuff happens, she said with a shrug.) What to do when the plot falls apart. And, in the end, someone has to be responsible for running an eye over the whole thing to make certain it reads smoothly and has internal continuity.

Book: Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye, The Ship Who WonCollaboration is a partnership, with both of you on equal footing (usually). You have to decide how you break the tie when you disagree fundamentally on an issue. With Anne there was never a question of who would have the final say. I never had a problem with that; I welcomed it. But other collaborations that I know of have broken up friendships and nearly one marriage.

I was glad to have a chance to work with someone who has such expertise and such a generous soul. I learned plenty from her. She's a good teacher as well as a fabulous writer.

Crescent Blues: While we're on the topic of collaborating -- or rather, of playing in someone else's pea patch -- how did the Crossroads game-books come about? (Dragonharper, Dragonfire [Adventures in Anne McCaffrey's Pern] and The Encyclopedia of Xanth and Ghost of a Chance [Piers Anthony's Xanth])

Jody Lynn Nye: As I mentioned, Bill Fawcett (then fiancé, now husband) is a book packager and designer. He comes up with innovative series or one-off books that he proposes to publishers. If they accept it, he finds writers, and -- if he needs them -- artists, whom he hires to produce the book(s). Then, he edits [the book or books], puts the pieces together, and turns the final manuscript, ready to go to production, over to the publisher.

Coming from a background in game design, Bill thought it was a natural to attract young readers to science fiction and fantasy through a series of game-books that used well-known "universes," in hopes of luring the ones who became interested into the larger world of the fiction at their source.

In 1985, TOR Books bought Crossroads (and Ace Books bought its military cousin, Combat Command, where you guided a fighting force instead of an individual adventurer). By the time the dust settled in 1988, there were 14 Crossroads books, of which I had written four (and 11 Combat Commands). There ought to have been more, but Nintendo debuted the same year. We lost the preponderance of readers to Game Boy.

Finding writers for the game-books was difficult. The pool of writers who understand the mechanics of role-play gaming is small, and of those, the ones who could reasonably emulate the style of the world they were borrowing smaller yet. The ones who were brought on board did excellent work. I thought a particular standout was Shines the Name by Mark Acres, based on Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The writers loved the opportunity -- getting to write fanfic in a world they admired and getting paid for it.

I'm one of those people from whom puns just erupt, so the Xanth license was perfect for me, and Xanth is perfect for chosen-path adventures. The best stories are personal quests where the protagonist has a set goal. Peppering the plot with putrid puns was a pleasure.

[Crescent Blues staff groans.]

Crescent Blues: Do you have any plans to write any more game-books -- perhaps in one of your own universes -- like the Mythology series?

Jody Lynn Nye: Not unless the market turns back toward game-books. Children are more sophisticated now. I'd have to put Keith and the Folk into a computer game. (Hmm…)

Crescent Blues: Fans of the Taylor's Ark series want to know -- will there be another book featuring Dr. Shona and her animal helpers?

Jody Lynn Nye - Continued