Tamora Pierce is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 28 fantasy novels for teenagers. She’s the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature, the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction.
Her latest work includes Tortall: A Spy’s Guide (2017) and 2018’s Tempests and Slaughter, the first in a three-book Tortall series.
She answered some questions about her work and the upcoming Writers Day, where she will be a keynote speaker and faculty.
ERLINA VASCONCELLOS: You’re on several social media sites and have a robust website with the most thorough author bio I’ve ever seen. What motivates you to be so visible and open with the public? Do you have personal guidelines or a philosophy for social media?
TAMORA PIERCE: Let me address that word “thorough!” Yes, my bio is horrifyingly complete, and it’s that way for a reason. I hadn’t been an author very long when I began to get the homework letters: You know, I’m writing a paper about you for school. I reached the point where I was getting so many that I couldn’t reply to them all, so I fell upon the idea of covering as much of the material that readers asked for on my bio. That way the report writers didn’t risk having to wait forever for my reply, and I didn’t risk getting homework letters forwarded between publishers (foreign to American, paperback to hardcover) that were out of date. It made me feel much better!
I like answering questions from readers, in person or via social media. Often I get questions I haven’t been asked before, which gives me something to think about. Many times, readers will tell me about problems they have with their own projects and I can make suggestions, which is very satisfying. And sometimes, when I get stuck or when I need something and I can’t think of it, I go to my fan sites and ask what they think. They’re always great with suggestions, and that way I don’t make myself crazy trying to think of something different!
EV: You have a full schedule with appearances, conventions, and conferences. How do balance that with your writing?
TP: With great difficulty, but it has to be done! I can do rewrites when I travel, to an extent, and I can read other people’s books to give quotes, but that’s about it. I write at home, usually in my office, but sometimes at the downstairs table. I have all my reference books, maps, and pictures here, as well as artifacts—swords, daggers, stuffies, incense, models, pictures—things that give me ideas, like my jars full of stones.
It’s an uneasy mix, particularly after last year, when I did far more traveling than writing. I’m trying to get back into my beats again now, with less travel.
EV: At Writers Day, you’ll be giving a keynote speech and a will lead a breakout session about how elements of the everyday world appear in fantasy. Can you give us a sneak peek? What should attendees expect from your talks?
Irreverence and wickedness. A firm grounding in the real world, and the uses of theft in the acquisition of ideas and characters. The need for realism, particularly in fantastic fiction. Expect plenty to think about.
EV: Events like Writers Day can be so full of information and people they can be overwhelming. What are your tips for making the most of conferences and conventions? How do you process everything and come away with the things that will help you the most?
TP: Breaks between things and frequent retreats to places I can sit and talk quietly or relax. Regular meals and a decent hour for bedtime. I do my best to talk with everyone who wants to talk with me, particular people who are younger and writers who are just starting out.
Oh, I do have a slight tendency toward potty mouth. (Bruce Coville keeps threatening to title a bio about me “Tammy Pierce Is a Potty Mouth,” and after all our audio books together, he oughta know.)
EV: It’s been written that you created the character of Alanna partly because of the lack of strong female fictional characters at the time. Since then you’ve become a leader in creating feminist characters. How are we doing as an industry today? Where is there room for improvement?
TP: True, there are a great many more female heroes in YA and YR today, which makes me incredibly happy, and even better, more characters of color, more LBGTY characters—it’s amazing and I love it. It seems small of me to complain even a little bit, but . . . So many of the heroes are wealthy/noble. Which, I know, is where I started, but in the next series the hero is common-born, as are most of the people she deals with. I wish there were more middle class, poor, and working-class heroes in fantasy and science fiction. I like a mix of groups—races, beliefs, sexual orientations—and I try to fit them in where it’s reasonable that they would be present. It didn’t happen right away—I had to think and learn. And I’m very, very careful not to say anything unless I have made my best effort not to offend. I have friends to double-check for me, and I don’t send anything out unless I’m sure of it. But I come from what people call “poor white trash.” I’ve been insulted and treated badly. People laughed at my speech and the only clothes I could afford. I never want a reader of mine to think I might be doing the writer equivalent to them. I want readers—any readers—to find possibility and encouragement in my work, and to go out and try their dreams.
To learn more about WD2019 and register (while tickets last!), check out the events page.
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Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she writes pictures books and middle grade. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda
Author photo courtesy of Tamora Pierce.