The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of the Beka Cooper Series – Terrier, Bloodhound and the forthcoming Mastiff and many, many more,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in southwestern Pennsylvania in the U.S., in a very small town called South Connellsville. I spent roughly twelve years of my life there in different spots of Fayette County, which included that town. When I was eight, my parents moved to the San Francisco Bay area in California, where I lived for six years. My parents divorced then, and my mother took us back to Fayette County, where I lived until I went to university. As for schooling, that would be a very long list, because my parents moved a great deal. I went to eleven schools before I got to university.
The longest time I spent at any one school was three years at Dunbar Elementary in Dunbar, Pennsylvania, a town even smaller than South Connellsville. In fourth grade I went to two schools in one year, one on the bay side of the San Francisco peninsula and one on the Pacific Ocean side, and in 1968 I went to 8th grade at Burlingame Intermediate School and Burlingame Senior High School in California, South Laurel Intermediate in Uniontown, Pennsylvania for 2 weeks until we found a house, and Benjamin Franklin Junior High School for the rest of my 9th grade year. (No, I didn’t get sent back—Ben Franklin had 9th grade in the junior high.)
When I was 12 I wanted to be a writer. My dad had got me to try it a year before, and I loved it. When I was 18 I was in university studying to be a counseling psychologist with a plan to work with teenagers. At that time I’d been unable to write original fiction for several years, so psychology was my second choice. (A block that long is not normal, by the way.) My writer’s block ended the summer before my third year at university and I began to write again. When I was 30, I took secretarial work to pay my rent, and I wrote. That’s all I wanted to do. I knew my chances of making a living at it were very small, but I wrote when I could fit it in.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would never marry. I would not be married now if I had not met a very unique, intelligent, funny man who likes having a strong woman who is also intelligent, doesn’t want children, spends a lot of her time in a small room with a keyboard, hates parties, and has a very bad temper. (You can see why I might not be considered a catch!)
My mother became an alcoholic. It led to my parents’ divorce, my mother separating us (by 2000 miles) from our father, our poverty when I was a teenager, and her abuse, physical and emotional, of my sisters and me.
My father urged me to write a book. He gave me an idea I would like, because he shared books with me and knew what I liked, and he told me I could use his typewriter. Until that moment the typewriter was forbidden to us kids. I knew then it was really important to my dad that I try this, and when I did, I loved it. It became the center of my intellectual and imaginative world, even when I couldn’t do original work.
My English teacher lent me her copy of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING by J.R.R. Tolkein. I fell in love with fantasy instantly, and devoured all of it I could find, while analyzing what I wrote for what I would have liked to see.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
Books obsolete? Is this why people debate hotly in the magazines and newspapers and online about TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES and the latest thrillers? Is this why the first thing family and friends do when they know someone has had a baby is go out and buy all of their childhood favorites to share with the new baby? (I have friends whose babies have lists of what they already have on LibraryThing so people won’t get them books they already own!) Is this why Mem Fox is a cultural icon, and J.K. Rowling?
Movies are limited. I like to know what’s going on inside a character’s mind, and movies, even television series, can’t provide that. I’ve never liked Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes because we don’t see him as we do in the books, filtered through Watson’s friendly gaze. Seen dead on, Brett’s Holmes is accurate, and dislikeable. And a movie or a TV series can’t capture every part of a book—look at “Fellowship of the Ring.” Peter Jackson did his very best to capture the spirit of the book, and did, but he still had to take large parts out to make a marketable movie.
E-books can’t do what big picture books, big photo books, atlases, and art books can. I use photo books a great deal for my research and I have a collection of children’s books, old and new, that I like. They just can’t be duplicated on an e-reader (and I have an e-reader; they’re very helpful when I’m going somewhere and need to bring a lot of books!).
Books are also a sensory experience. It’s not just words. It’s illustrations, sometimes, but mainly it’s the cover and its weight, the texture of the pages, the smell, the sound the pages make as you turn them. Old books smell, feel, and weigh differently from new ones. Right now I’m reading VIXEN, a book about flappers from the 1920s. The last time I read a book about flappers, it was printed in the 1920s. The paper was rough-surfaced and smelled old; the cover was sloth and loose on the thread-and-glue binding; the typeface was smaller, a little blotchy, and spaced differently. I never would have thought it would make a difference, but just as the way the book VIXEN is written differently from those flapper novels (not better or worse, just differently), the feel of it constantly reminds it of the different feel.
And there are people who can’t read e-formats all of the time: people with seizure disorders and people subject to severe eyestrain. I get migraines and I have eyestrain from writing and reading all of the time. I couldn’t even get a reader until the color Nook came out, because the flicker on the Kindle and the black-and-white Nook triggered my migraines.
Obsolete? Never! What happens if the electricity goes out, gang?!
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Oh, must I? It’s 660 pages long, Beka’s biggest case! Her Hunt takes her—and Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and a new mage—on a trail that leads them into a nest of murderers, slave traders, powerful mages, and traitors. She’ll risk death, alone and with her companions, over and over, against an enemy who seems not to care how many innocents they kill if they can just stop her and her companions! (BBGuru: Mastiff, the third in the Beka Cooper series will be out in November. Can’t wait till then? Whet your appetite with Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales – Collected here for the first time are all of the tales from the land of Tortall, featuring both previously unknown characters as well as old friends. Filling some gaps of time and interest, these stories, some of which have been published before, will lead Tammy’s fans, and new readers into one of the most intricately constructed worlds of modern fantasy.)
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
It would be to make women and girls everywhere feel strong, independent, and self-confident, able to deal with any trial and fight any wrong that comes their way. I think if our girls and women were raised with the same entitledness and strong egos as our men and boys, we’d see a sharp reduction in women’s and child abuse, in human trafficking, in bullying, and in poverty, because women and girls would strike out for themselves and each other.
There are two female senators here in the U.S. who are fighting hard for causes I believe in, too: they face a lot of bullying, condescension, and threats with courage and humor: Barbara Boxer and Kristin Gellibrand. And those who work in programs like Women for Afghan Women, Free the Slaves, Doctors and Nurses Without Frontiers, Amnesty International, OxFam—they go to places where very often their lives are in danger to help people. I also admire my younger sister Kimberly, who is one of those people in her home state of South Dakota: she is a paramedic, emergency room nurse, and search and rescue operative. She’s saved literally hundreds of lives. I based my first girl hero on her—she knows it, but you can tell she doesn’t really believe it.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To keep writing books that keep getting better, to build a sanctuary for the cats we keep rescuing, and someday to set up a scholarship for people who want to write fantasy and science fiction. And maybe visit Petra, Malta, Spain, and the feudal castles and temples of Japan before I get too rickety to walk around. (And return to Oz and New Zealand for proper, cross-country visits!)
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Be determined. Keep writing. We all think we’re terrible and our writing is too much like someone else’s when we start. That’s normal. The more you do, the better you get and the more you write, so you do more, and get better still, and write more . . . This is true of all the arts, not just writing. No one plays a concerto when s/he first sits down at the piano. First there are scales, and baby songs, and lots of practice, and your parents say “I paid for the lessons, so you’re practicing,” and you get better, and play a real song, and practice more, and eventually you can tackle that concerto. Writing is the same. You have to keep at it. You’re always going to think that what you do is terrible, so learn to believe that the thing inside you that makes you want to write knows better than you that you’re good—and keep after it. Learn how many rewrites you need before you have to send something out, and then start something new. Keep writing.
Check out my website for other writing advice. I put up a lot of what I know, because I can’t answer every mail I get, and I want people to be able to use some of what I learned. I had no access to a working writer when I started out, so I try to help people with the easy questions. I struggled for years with things like names, things a working writer could have helped me with in a couple of minutes. So here it is: www.tamorapierce.com
Tamora, thank you for playing.
Books by Tamora Pierce
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.