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About Dennis L. McKiernan
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Author, Dennis L. McKiernan

Dennis L. McKiernan

About Dennis L. McKiernan

An Interview with Dennis L. McKiernan

More About Dennis L. McKiernan

Dennis L. McKiernan was born April 4, 1932, in Moberly, Missouri, where he lived until age eighteen, when he joined the U.S. Air Force and served four years spanning the Korean War. He received a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri in 1958 and an M.S. in the same field from Duke University in 1964. He spent thirty-one years as one of the AT&T Bell Laboratories whiz kids in research and development before changing careers to be a full-time writer.

Currently living in Tucson, Arizona, Dennis began writing novels in 1977 while recuperating from a close encounter of the crunch kind with a 1967 red and black Plymouth Fury (Dennis lost: it ran over him: Plymouth 1, Dennis 0). Among other hobbies, Dennis enjoys scuba diving, dirt-bike riding, and motorcycle touringall enthusiasms shared by his wife.

A bestselling author, his novels include Once Upon a Winter's Night; Silver Wolf, Black Falcon; the Hèl's Crucible duology (book 1: Into the Forge; book 2: Into the Fire), The Dragonstone, Caverns of Socrates, Voyage of the Fox Rider, The Eye of the Hunter, Dragondoom, The Silver Call (book 1: Trek to Kraggen-cor; book 2: The Brega Path), The Iron Tower (book 1: The Dark Tide; book 2: Shadows of Doom; book 3: The Darkest Day), and the story collection Tales of Mithgar.

Never one to sit too long idle, Dennis has also written The Vulgmaster (a graphic novel) and several short stories and novelettes which have appeared in various anthologies.

About himself, Dennis says:

A middle child, I was born in the depths of the Great Depression. My dad and mom were factory workers, struggling to make ends meet. Yet my (older) brother and (younger) sister and I didn't feel any neglect, for both of our parents loved to read, and to read aloud, both loved to play many games: word games, card games, board games, yard games, and the like. And they included us in these pastimes.

When I was nine, my dad gave me a pulp magazineit featured Captain Future, the quintessential science fiction pulp hero; I devoured the tale. This magazine more than anything else launched me into omnivorous reading: science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, Oz books, and whatever else I could lay my hands on: westerns, mysteries, romances, the classics, and more: I read them all, and all was triggered by a magazine my dad gave me back when I was but nine.

I do believe that I was generally unconscious (schoolwise) when I went through elementary school and junior high and then high school. Oh, I made good grades, but what I was primarily interested in was reading, science, and running about in the woods.

Upon graduation from high school, following my brother by a couple of years, I joined the U.S. Air Force. You see, the Korean war had begun, and since I was too poor to go to college, I knew that I could have a career in the armed services, and so I chose to become a radar mechanic, and trained on all manner of airborne radar sets: gun-laying, navigation, bombing, identification friend or foe, altimeters, drop-zone radar, and the like.

Eventually the war came to an end (actually, a truce), and by that time I had the GI bill and a yen to get a degree in electrical engineering, and so, four years after I had joined, I received an honorable discharge and entered college and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (in electrical engineering) from the U. of Missouri and took a job with Bell Telephone Laboratories. They sent me to Duke for a Master's Degree. At the Labs, I worked on many exciting projects, perhaps none more thrilling than anti-ballistic missile defense systemsdesigning them, building them, testing themNike Zeus, Nike-X, Safeguard, and a couple of others.

As I worked in that field, the Labs sent me (along with my family and many other engineers and scientists and their families) to Kwajalein, a small island in the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean. "They" shot ICBMs at us from Vandenburg Air Force Base (in California) and we (usually) intercepted them. In addition to my engineering work, I took up SCUBA diving while there. The Kwajalein waters are incredibly lucid, vision typically up to three hundred feet. And the diving is spectacularfrom wreck-diving to spear fishing to sea shell collecting to photography to collecting jewelry coral to whatever other diving one wishes, though no cave diving, and no ice diving. Regardless, with warm waters and nearly unlimited visibility, it's an ideal place to dive, and in the two and a half years I was there, I logged over six hundred dives and my wife over two hundred. (An interesting side note: my wife Martha Lee arrived at Kwajalein as a nonswimmer, and she left there as a divemaster.)

Anyhow, after the risk-action of SCUBA, when I returned to the States, golf was simply too tame, and so I took up dirt-bike (motorcycle) racing. Bell Labs eventually got out of the Defense Activities business, and so I transferred to telephone workhardware and softwaresupervising various groups on various projects. But after some years of that, I transferred into think-tank activities. Meanwhile, I had kept up my motorcycle racing, and in 1977 during one of the events, I got run over by a car.

It shattered my left femur into at least fifty pieces. They couldn't pin it, plate it, and they didn't at that time have any "bone glue," and so they put me in traction for three months and then in a hip-spica cast for three more months (the cast went from my armpits to over my toes).

It was while living flat on my back in this "cement block" that I wrote my first novel. I just did it for my own amusement, something to stay sane, you see. And so, for fifteen or sixteen hours a day, I swam, climbed mountains, rode horses and ponies across grassy plains, battled Rûcks and Hlôks and Trolls and other Foul Folk, and saved the world . . . all while living in a cement block.

After I escaped that imprisonment and was put in a long-leg cast, which I also eventually escaped, as well as escaping the attendant wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes and the like, I decided the story I had written was fairly good, and so I sent it over the transom to various editors, and eventually The Silver Call was published, but after the publication of my second story, The Iron Tower (I wrote Iron as a prequel to Silver and I wanted them published in the right order, and so the first novel I wrote was published second, while the second I wrote was published first). Thus, with a crunch and a shatter and a term of cement blockerry, I began my career as a fantasy novelist (by the way, I do not recommend getting run over by a car as a way of starting any career).

In 1989 I retired from Bell Laboratories to become a full-time writer. Not that I didn't enjoy my engineering career, but rather I liked being a novelist just a bit better. Of course, by now I have written quite a number of fantasiesnovels and novelettes and short storiesand they seem well received by readers here and overseas. But you know, I think my becoming a writer all began long before my encounter of a crunch kind. It's roots extend back to word and dictionary games and story telling and magazines and books my parents entertained me with, gave to me, and encouraged me to read. They repeatedly hauled me to and from the library whenever I had exhausted my previous journey's pile of tomes. There was never a time they didn't wholly support me in my thirst for entertainment and knowledge from books. I mean, we were poor, but libraries were free, and whole worlds could be found therein (still can, in fact).

So, thank you, Mom; I really appreciate what you did. And thank you as well, Dad, wherever you are in that great beyond; that magazine you gave me when I was nine was a priceless gift. Thank you, Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett, as well as a myriad others; you helped launch me into my engineering career, and the literary career which followed. Thank you, too, Captain Future . . . and Grag and Otho and the Brain, and Eek and Oog and all the others who helped that remarkable man. Without all of you and the Comet flying across vast reaches of space and doing in evil throughout the whole universe, perhaps this biography would never have been… It is all connected, you know.

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