Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on teen and young adult science fiction and fantasy author Tamora Pierce. She wanted us to say for her introduction, that “Officially I’m Tamora (TAM-er-ah) Pierce; I prefer Tammy.”
Tammy, where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
Random House Children’s Books publishes the books and series set in the Tortall (Alanna/Daine/Kel/Aly/Numair) universe, as well as a couple of collections of short stories I’ve done in the past and TORTALL: A Spy’s Guide, a collection of information, maps, and a timeline for the Tortall universe), so they can be found with online booksellers and major rl bookstores.
Scholastic Children’s Books publishes the Circle of Magic books: The Circle of Magic quartet, The Circle Opens quartet, The Circle Reforged (only 3 books so far). Like the Random House books, they can be found with online and rl booksellers.
Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio also offers the Daine books and the Circle books in audio production with characters voiced by individual actors, and often with me as a narrator.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I am on Facebook, with a couple of gatherings of fans as well as my personal website.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your latest book?
Primarily I’m known for what I describe as “girls who kick butt.” Boys also get to kick butt in my books, and the occasional adult as well, but it all started with my need to write the books I wanted to read as a kid, and rarely found. Beyond that I have two stages: in the Tortall universe, the basic settings are fantasy variations of medieval Britain, Europe, the western Mediterranean, and northeastern Africa, with some influences from medieval Japan. Magic is book learned, for the most part, with the exception of the less strong practitioners, who learned from local mages to practice things like healing for those who are common-born.
The other world I use is based more on the medieval/Renaissance Mediterranean/Middle East/Central Asia. Here the magic is two-fold: one is based on book education, with assorted universities and religious centers offering formula teaching. There are other teachers, but they begin with power that comes through some aspect of the real world: cooking, plants (growing and medicines), metal- or wood-working, sewing, music, the weather. The books revolve around four youngsters who were homeless until they were discovered by a mage whose power helps him to find youngsters with magic. He brings them to a community that is part religious, part educational for safety and two dedicates (religious personnel) who specialize in handling damaged magical children. The first trilogy is about their discovering who they are; the second is their first venture into the world as teenagers, and the next three books are about world-changing events and their involvement.
My last book is set in the first (called Tortall) universe. I backtracked a character from the Daine books, her teacher in magic, Numair. The book is about Numair when he was Arram, a teen student at one of the great schools of learning and magic in the realm of Carthak. He had been sent there at a very young age when his home mages said they couldn’t teach him anymore (he’s a genius, but mage geniuses can be very dangerous when they’re young). When he is promoted to the higher school after an epic disaster with a water spell, he becomes friends with Ozorne, an imperial heir to the throne, and Varice, who are both also young for their classes. The book is about their friendships and learning, their discoveries in the natural world, school politics, epidemics, and the magical creatures they meet along the way.
I am working on the sequel now. Wish me well—the disease threw me for a loop, and it’s taken me a lot of writing short pieces to get back on track!
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
This is always a trick question for me. The truth is that, unless a character is only one or two sentences and we never see them again, I love all of my characters, or I never would have created one (this includes the animals). This holds true even for the villains—sometimes especially villains, because I like them to be as real as possible.
To create a secondary or main character, I have to start with someone real. When I started writing as a six-grader, all of my characters thought and talked the same way. I had a brain-flash in class one day, looking at one of my friends. He would make a good character—I knew how he talked (different from me), how he moved (different from me), and how he thought (different). From then on I based important characters on people I knew (never tell them, in case they don’t like what you do with their character), or on people I saw in tv/movies or people like professional wrestlers and poker players. Even though I was writing fantasy, I still had a person and that person’s speech and habits to draw on. And the characters always grow away from the people I pick as a base.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Just keep at it. The more you do, the better you get, so the more you do, and so on. If you’re stuck and have tried everything you can think of to get one story going (NEVER throw it out—it might give you ideas for something new, or you’ll look at it one day and see where you can keep going), set it aside and start something else. Sooner or later you’ll be carrying things all the way through to the end.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
SF writer/editor Shawn Speakman asked if there was anything I might like to do for his projected collection (now two collections!) that isn’t what I am known for writing. I have been studying for forty years on a series of stories set in the part of the Appalachians where I grew up and where my ancestors settled in the 1700s. I had begun thinking since the 1980s about an extended family who brought psychic talents to the New World with them, and how as the family grew and reproduced, those talents spread. I mentioned that to him, and he said “great!” I sent it off to Shawn just this morning—it isn’t even due till July!
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I read. A great deal, particularly since the advance of Covid. Mostly I read fantasy of all kinds, but I also read true crime if the case interests me. I’ve been watching a great many tv programs about The Plantagenets and the House of York; why, I do not know, except that when I get a passion for some area of knowledge, I know it will end up contributing to my writing.
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
History, fantasy, certain parts of the world, zoos and animal rescue (you learn more about animal characters that way), myths and legends, female heroes and people of a different sexuality, cats.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
As I mentioned, I often base characters on real people and animals. Since I am not at all good at envisioning either, I have bulletin boards of pictures of animals and people I base characters on, as well as physical settings I use as a base. I have three multi-level sets of shelves for my research books: crafts for kinds of thread, sewing and weaving (European, African, Native American, Asian); historical texts and books about costumes for the areas I am interested in, including a large amount of books on arms, weapons, and warfare; at least two shelves of dictionaries and language books in various languages (for building cultures on); three shelves of travel books (must have photos); books of different societies and cultures worldwide, two shelves of cookbooks for different cultures (I don’t cook but people eat and cook in my books!), and books on houses and buildings.
And I have shelves loaded with stones, gemstones, statuettes, edged weapons, and presents from fans!
What is one thing that most people don’t realize about you?
That I’m shy. When I’m meeting people in my function as a writer, I’ve learned how to express myself in an outgoing, amusing way. Then, when I return to wherever I’m staying, I collapse. I did acting in high school, then audio acting for radio programs that aired in New York, LA, and on NPR. I also did the narration for most of the Full Cast Audio productions of my books. The trick was in learning how to combine my love of acting into a way to speak in public about my work.
Tammy, thanks so much for answering our questions for this author spotlight. I look forward to speaking with you more in an interview with you coming up in May on Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester’s YouTube channel!