In the recent wave of young adult fantasy fiction dominating well…everything, I’d like to think that those effected most by the literary tsunami will take interest in some of the best work that the genre has to offer. At Lunacon, New York’s oldest Scifi and Fantasy convention, I was able to talk to Tamora Pierce, author of several beloved and celebrated series including Song of the Lionness, The Immortals, Circle of Magic, and Protector of the Small quartets. Her next book, Battle Magic, is slated to come out later this year. Read on to find out Ms. Pierce’s past influences and future plans (including a graphic novel adaptation of one my favorite series) as well as my total success in not bursting into tears while meetings one of my heroes!
Ihogeek: A bit of what we wanted to focus on was why you got into young adult fiction as opposed to other kinds of fantasy. What was your inspiration for that?
TP: Actually it wasn’t my idea; it was my agent’s. I had a single adult novel that took my main character Alanna* from the time she was ten starting as a page, to the time she was twenty. Claire read half of the manuscript and said that I should redo this as four books for teenagers. At that point I had tried the adult novel on four publishers, they had all turned it down, so I knew that Claire had a point. When I was a housemother at a group home for girls the year before that, I had told the story out loud to the girls because I wasn’t allowed to let them read it because there was adult material in it. From their response, which was very enthusiastic, I knew it would work. So I sat down and basically revised it, not a heck of a lot, but I cleaned it up and rewrote it into four books for teenagers. I found that I had a niche and that it wasn’t a stretch for me to write for teenagers.
*Alanna is the main heroine of the Song of the Lioness Quartet, the first book in the Tortal universe. She also makes appearances in the other books in the same universe. I love her, she is awesome.
Ihogeek: Is that why you stuck with it?
TP: Yeah. I had thought that I would go back to writing for adults once I had gotten my foot in the door, but I started to get the fan mail. By that time I had been working for the literary agency long enough that I knew my chances of making a living at it were very small. I figured that if I was going to do this and not make a living at it, then maybe what I should be doing was the kind of writing that made me feel like I was making a contribution. After reading the fan mail that I was starting to get, it was obvious that I making a big difference in the lives of the kids that were reading my books, so I decided to stay with writing for teenagers.
Ihogeek: We are really glad that you did! The Circle of Magic Series has more teenage male characters but many of your main female characters in the Tortall books, from Alanna to Beka Cooper, have very different powers and backgrounds. Is their any characteristic that you like all of your female characters to have?
TP: Just determination. Actually in the Tortall books there are lots of male characters too, they just tend to be more secondary as compared to Briar, who is one of the original four group heroes. But for the girls, since they are generally trying to make their place in a world that is primarily governed by men, if they are to make it they have to be determined. They have to really want what they are going for and they have to have to have decided that they aren’t going to let anything stand in their way. Beyond that, their characters are simply whatever I feel will speak to a particular fan audience. I don’t want to repeat characters. So some of the heroes are girly and some are more jocks that like to dress up on occasion. Some are clueless and some are mathematicians and so on.
Ihogeek: Your most similar story lines are Keladry and Alanna, both being knights, but both are so different. The twenty or thirty year gap between when Alanna went for her knighthood and when Keladry did produced two very different environments for the girls. Do you have any interest in doing another lady knight story line?
TP: Yes. I will be going back to do at least one more knight. We’ll see another squire in the Kel books when she takes one of the girls she meets in Squire* as her own. She may take on Neil’s daughter, who will probably be my last girl knight, when she comes into a very different milieu with more girls going for their knighthood. She’ll have to deal with rivalries among girls as well as with boys.
*Squire is the third book in the Protector of the Small Quartet, which follows Kel on her quest to become a knight. This is probably my favorite series by Pierce. Go read. Now.
Ihogeek: Would you be interested in doing a full quartet?
TP: If it comes to that. I keep saying that it should really be a trilogy: page, squire, knight. But I always seem to run into something that makes me turn it into a quartet again. I’d like not to, and I don’t think I should have to because I can write longer books now.
Ihogeek: It was really surprising to read the second book in the Trickster Series and have there not be a another two books to look forward to!
TP: At that point I needed about 800 pages just to tell a story. Originally they kept YA writers to 200 manuscript pages, so that was quartets. Now with the Beka Cooper series, I needed a lot more to tell the story. With Will of the Empress I needed 550 pages and Battle Magic will be chunky as a stand-alone book like “Melting Stones.” It just depends now how much room I need to tell the story.
Ihogeek: Have you noticed a difference in readership? Are more readers interested in longer books?
TP: Well it has always been that if a reader picks up one book, if they can’t put it down before they finish they will go back and read all of them. This has been true at least with the Tortall books and Circle books, if you get hooked into one universe you generally read all of them in that universe and stay there. It’s a minority that read them both. People stay devoted and come back in their twenties, even if college really eats into your reading time. They pretty much stay. My readership at this point is literally 8 to 80. People will turn to their parents and their big sisters and cousins and next-door neighbors on to the book. They will thrust them on to people they know. Readership continues to spread and spread, and at this point it’s spreading upwards in age. However, my editor would like me to try a girl knight for a younger audience, a beginning chapter book audience.
Ihogeek: We’re so glad that the publishing of young adult books have caught up to the interests of the readers. We’re willing to read longer books.
TP: I am too! I could never figure it out. I would have thought Brian Jacques and the Redwall books, would have taught them because the primary audience of them for years was teenagers. But Harry Potter did it finally. Took long enough.
Ihogeek: Back when you started writing, young adult fiction was new. But now it’s become a cash cow and YA writers pop up all the time. Have ever had any interest in expanding the series to graphic novels, television or movies?
TP: The TV and movie thing- I’ve been given to understand that since I have characters showing up over the course of say a 14-book universe; they’re reluctant to take it on. And so I haven’t had a lot of interest there. Graphic novels- Next year Random House will be publishing graphic novel rendition of the Kel’s Protector of the Small books*. We’ll see how those work. I won’t be writing those, thank heavens. The thought of having to boil down Kel’s story into that form, which I love, just drives me berserk. I’m just happy to tell the basic book story.
*it was at this point that I think I feinted for about half a second.
Ihogeek: Is this your first time at Lunacon?
TP: No, I came here a number of years in the “Naughties” but this is our first time in a while. I moved to Syracuse in 2006 and this is the first time I’ve been back.
Ihogeek: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience here or at other cons? Why do you like doing them?
TP: It’s a good way to meet fans and to expose your self to different writers and ideas about things and different books. It’s just a good way for fans to meet each other and great each other outside of bookstore appearances. It’s a lot of fun. Plus, I get to see friends of mine from the industry like Esther Friesner(Chronicles of the Twelve Kingdoms) and Sara Beth Durst (Eat, Slay, Love) are here and their both friends of mine that I don’t get to see all that often. I’ve got two or three more panels as well as a reading an autographing session.
Ihogeek: Just to wrap up, we always like to ask a silly question at the end of all of our interviews: If aliens came from Mars today and offered to take you back to their home planet, what job would you like to do.
TP: A librarian to see what kind of books they have, if I could get through the language difficulty.
We’re super happy Ms. Pierce took the time to sit down with us and ignore my girlish squeals. Let us know what you think, are you excited for her future projects as much as I am? Check out Tamora Pierce’s website here for her list of completed works and schedule!