Tamora Pierce was born in Pennsylvania in 1954, and grew up with 'plenty of books'. Her family lived in California in the 60s. There, during her parents' divorce, she began to write about 'teenaged girl warriors ... the fearless, bold, athletic creatures that I was not, but wanted so badly to be.' She studied psychology at university in Philadelphia, planning for a career in social work with teenagers. In 1983 her first book, Alanna: The First Adventure, was published in hardcover by Atheneum, and she hasn't stopped since.
While working for a radio production company, Tamora met her spouse of eighteen years, Tim Liebe. Her books (she has over 20 published) won huge popularity through the 90s, continuing into the new millennium. She and Tim lived in Manhattan but recently moved - with their four cats and two budgies - to Syracuse, New York. The author has just released the first book in an exciting, magical new Tortall trilogy: Terrier: Beka Cooper Book 1 begins the story (in first-person narrative) of a legendary Provost's Guardswoman, who lived two centuries before Alanna's time.
Q: In Beka Cooper, you've gone back in time from Alanna's Song of the Lionness. When did you first consider writing about this Provost's Guard legend, and has her story been simmering for a while?
A: In many ways, it has. I've wondered for a long time (nearly two decades, in fact!) about the vexed relationship between the Provost's Guards and the Court of the Rogue that we only glimpsed in the Alanna books. I began to ask myself what if pigeons carried the souls of the murdered dead when I began to find myself among flocks of them when I researched the Daine books back in the early 1990s. And my fans have been asking for books from the time of the lady knights in the last ten years. I also knew George just had to have a law dog in the family tree, because irony seems to be his middle name.
Q: In your website biography, you call your teen self a geek - did you share Beka's shyness when you were younger? Do you write about isolated young people from personal experience?
A: Oh, yes. The more we moved when I was a kid, the shyer I got, until most of my friends were books, teachers, and librarians. I was good at school work, writing, and reading, but not good at making friends, being popular, attracting boys, or talking to strangers. Teachers and librarians would talk to me because they saw how much I loved to read or how well I could write. They would make the effort with me. And if I got the chance to act, I came out of my shell then. Something about performing made me bold, which really helped when I began to make public appearances as a writer! But for a long time the only time I could be forward and brave was on paper.
Q: I love the opinionated feline Pounce, who's clearly not an ordinary cat. Will we find out more about his origins, and is one of your own cats the model for Pounce?
A: Pounce's--he's Faithful in the Alanna books--origins may become somewhat clearer, but they've been spelled out nearly as much as I think necessary in the Lioness quartet and here. He isn't the male cat god, but he is a god of sorts, a constellation known as the Cat, a wandering constellation who periodically disappears when he pursues his hobby, which is grooming heroes. He is a companion by choice of the Great Mother Goddess, which means he often sits on her throne when she wants to sit there, and he expresses himself frankly at every opportunity, to gods, humans, and anyone else.
He's actually based on two of my cats. Faithful was my college cat, Fido, my long and much-loved companion, who supervised the writing of the original Lioness manuscript and noted those pages of which he particularly approved by sitting and shedding on them. Years after he died I would be left in tears by the discovery of a Fido-approved page. When I began Terrier, my youngest cat, Scooter (his picture is on my website in the description of the book) gallantly stepped into the breach. In fact, when I began to read the manuscript over the phone to my friend Bruce Coville (we read our books-in-progress to one another), Scooter got so excited when he realized that we were talking about his character that he climbed into my lap and began talking to Bruce!
Q: Along with non-stop action, Terrier includes the seeds of a romance between Beka and the shady Rosto; will this continue to complicate her life as a Guardswoman?
A: But that would be telling!
I can say, don't get your hopes up. After her mother's experience, Beka will never settle for a man who lives by criminal violence. She doesn't find them romantic--she would jail all of them if she could, including Rosto if she catches him. She knows that someone must restore order to the Court of the Rogue, and she believes Rosto is that man, but that won't stop her if she finds him committing violence against innocents.
Q: The way you surround your main character with a quirky extended family of friends and supporters reminds me of another of my favorite YA authors, Anne McCaffrey (especially in her Dragonriders of Pern series); will Rosto, Aniki, Kora and Sabine continue as major players in the Beka Cooper books?
A: Of course!
Q: Most of your series (Protector of the Small, The Circle of Magic, The Circle Opens, Daughter of the Lioness) come in quartets, yet Beka's is to be a trilogy. Is this primarily the publisher's decision or your own?
A: It's mine. It's time to be making a change--the Trickster books were a duet because I could tell the whole story in two books (okay, they were longer books), and my Will of the Empress, in my Circle of Magic universe, is a stand-alone. I did quartets primarily because I was limited to much shorter books in the past. But times and writers change. After Beka, the books I have contracted for between now and 2010 are all stand-alones.
Q: You often write coming of age stories of brave young women learning their trades in roles that aren't traditional ones in our society; is this a product of 60s feminism?
A: I suppose so. I was told so often, growing up, that there were lists and lists of things that girls could not do, and I didn't believe that for a second. My mother was on the fringes of the feminist movement, and I was part of it as well; my feeling, even as a child, was that our limitations were physical and they were the mental ones we set on ourselves. I was also raised on adventure books by my father, but everyone in the adventure books was male. I knew curst well girls wanted to have adventures, too, and couldn't see why the writers forgot us (until I was older)--so I began to write adventures for girls. *Real* adventures, with swords, knights, pirates, perilous journeys, frightful battles against great odds, magnificent discoveries--that's what my brand of feminism brought me to!
Q: These young women also typically deal with some degree of familial misunderstanding - as in Beka's differences with her sisters and Aly's conflict with her mother. Do you see this as an inevitable part of growing up?
A: Isn't it for everyone? I deal in reality, believe it or not. Everyone has some kind of family struggle, even if it's slight. I try to give them something to recognize about their own lives in my characters.
Q: Your young heroines (and heroes) think for themselves and fight for what they believe in. Like you, I grew up in the 60s when critical thinking seemed more common in teens. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think this has changed?
A: I don't think so at all. For five years my husband and I kept and helped to run a message board called SheroesCentral, which is still going, along with affiliated boards like Sheroes Fans (which my husband still helps to administrate). There teenagers, mostly girls, talk about all manners of issues, from entertainment to politics and social issues. They are definitely thinking critically! Also, if you visit some of the live journals teens keep on www.livejournal.com, you'll see intense discussion of social, emotional, psychological, political, and entertainment issues. Teens just don't readily show the things that engage them to adults. They think that if we catch them being serious, their peers will perceive them as having sold out. And, just as in the adult population, there is a majority of slackers--couch potatoes who will sit in front of the television and imbibe whatever is sold to them. The idealists of the Sixties were a vocal minority, with the Silent Majority in the background. But the teen idealists today are just as many, just as fierce and dedicated, and they are out there, campaigning for their causes, debating every topic under the sun, instigating environmental movements, volunteering for the elderly and the poor. They went in the thousands to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina to volunteer and are still going ...
Okay. I'll climb off my soapbox now. I know so very many passionate teenagers, from Sheroes and elsewhere, so I tend to get VERY enthusiastic!
Q: As a fantasy/SF fan for decades, I appreciate the unusual magical abilities and artifacts that you write into your stories - like Beka's communication with dust spinners and Aly's spying darkings in the Daughter of the Lioness series. Where do these ideas come from?
A: I got the dust spinners from the semi-permanent dust devils you often find on some street corners--I couldn't help but wonder what conversations they must pick up in the course of their days. The darkings (who first appear in The Realms of the Gods) were a result of my best friend talking about an animated shoe in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the all-computer-animated Carpet in the movie Aladdin. The idea from pagan religions that something we normally consider to be inanimate might have a spirit or a god in it makes perfect sense to me, as does the idea that "people" might not necessarily hold a human form. After all, it's not such a big step from telling your secrets to your favorite stuffed animal, is it?
Q: My father and niece (also an Alanna) were fans of your books long before I discovered them. Do you have many multi-generational fans?
A: They particularly began to show up when I went on tour for the Trickster books. Either the kid got the whole family reading the books, or the grandparent, or the parent, or a neighbor. I think it's absolutely wonderful that so many families and group of people of different ages share my books and talk about them!
Q: What's next for Beka Cooper?
A: Counterfeiters! They'll come to call her "Bloodhound," because they can't shake her off a scent!Tamora Pierce lives in Syracuse, New York, with her husband Tim, four cats and two budgies. Find out more about the author, her published and forthcoming books, and her opinions at Tamora-Pierce.com.
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