Author Spotlight: Interview with Tamora Pierce

Back in October Ruby and I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with and interview world-renowned (some say legendary) author Tamora Pierce! Known for her young-adult epic fantasy books with strong female protagonists, Tamora Pierce has published nearly 30 books in the worlds she has created, including the popular Alanna books (Song of the Lioness quartet), The Immortals quartet, The Circle of Magic quartet, the Beka Cooper series, and more. Her most recent book, Mastiff, is the third and final installment in the world of Beka Cooper, a rookie being trained in the Provost’s guard as a law-enforcer in the lower city. It was published just before our interview (and the event that followed). Tamora was a hoot to chat with and gave quite the fun performance after. The long delay between October and now is over, and the interview is posted below–enjoy!


Jenny: According to the Frequently Asked Questions on your website, you get your ideas from everywhere. Do you ever have too many ideas—do they ever cramp up in your brain? How do you release them?

Yes, I have too many ideas for books, but I’ve just learned to schedule them rather than let them overtake me all at once. It used to be that I’d have pages and pages of notes of ideas for different projects, and my first agents actually told me I had too many ideas. I didn’t see that as being a problem, but she seemed to think it might be. What I do now is if I get an idea for something, I’ll put it into my brain and let it cook, and if I can’t remember it–and this isn’t something I recommend for most people, ‘cause it doesn’t work always, but for me, I’ve been at this long enough, I know my own processes enough–and I know if I can’t remember it again (and this is for longer-term projects), then it wasn’t meant to be, but if it’s something that I’m meant to work on, then it will come back. And then I will work on it some more, I’ll take it out when I’m doing dishes or showering… There’s something about writers and water and ideas. ‘Cause Bruce Coville, who is my writing buddy and my best writer friend, says that when he’s working on a book there isn’t a dirty dish in the house. […] But I will keep doing that. I’ll put [the idea] back and then take it out and work on it when I’m driving–although that’s not always a good idea–or when I’m feeding the wildlife in back or feeding the cats, and eventually I’ll reach the point where I’ll feel up to saying it aloud to my husband. Sometimes I’ll open my mouth and the idea will come out and it will die right there. But if it survives the conversation with my husband, then I’ll put it back in and let it cook some more. So I’ll repeat the process until I’m feeling confident enough that I’ll go to whichever of my editors is appropriate and I’ll mention, “I’ve been thinking about this.” And we’ll talk about it, […] and eventually, when I’m reaching the end of a contract with that publisher, my editor will say, “Contract?” And I’ll say, “Yes, I think so.”

Jenny: How do you organize your ideas and writing?

It used to be when I started I’d have to do the whole book, and then it was three chapters and an outline and sample outlines for other books in the series, and then it got to be a three page outline for four books, and now it’s four books and a one-page outline, except I can’t even keep it that short, so I had to write three pages of outline for four books. And we’ll draw up a contract on that, and eventually by the time I reach the point of working on the first book, I will have the main character and the main secondary characters. If it’s a series, I’ll have the story arc for each book–because each has to have an enclosed story–and the overarching series arc as well. And I’ll have the ending for each. I’m not so good on middles. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Tamora Pierce

A Home for Every Creature on Earth

Even an Octopus Needs a Home by Irene Kelly

In this charming picture book, Irene Kelly offers diverse coverage of the habitats of animals and insects world-wide. How do bees build the honeycombs they live in? What does a parakeet nest look like? How many paper wasps can live in one hive? Where does a polar bear raise its cubs? Kelly’s colorful and detailed picture book will answer these questions and more. Describing the homes and their rationale for everything from termites and badgers to coral reefs and chimpanzees, Kelly covers a lot of ground.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home is loosely organized into house types to offer clear transitions between very different animals. (Categories include tree houses, towers, lodges, burrows, floating homes, mobile homes, and bubbles.) At times the paragraphs themselves aren’t visually linear, which might confuse some kids, but the integration of the text in the illustrations—including some close-up pictures with labels—will help to keep the books’ subject matter interesting for most. The illustrations are a mix of ink and watercolor, and best of all, they’re accurate depictions of the animals she describes. Continue reading A Home for Every Creature on Earth

Surviving Stormy Seas & Family Alike

The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong

When their mom is killed in a car accident, fifteen-year-old Ben Byron and his younger brothers Dylan and Gerry are devastated, struggling to put the pieces of their family back together even as their own father becomes distant. Unable to cope with the pain of memory, their father packs them off to Florida where he buys a 30-foot sailboat and insists that the family–broken as it is–sail around the Bahamas for one year. Ben is beyond angry at the loss of first his mother and now his familiar everyday life. Not only must he take care of Dylan and Gerry as his dad remains emotionally absent, but now he must follow the “captain’s” orders, maintaining the boat day in and day out in the middle of nowhere. Things are shaky at best between Ben and his father, and in these close quarters, tension and frustration flare. When the three brothers discover their father missing one morning in the middle of the ocean, they work together to try to find him until a storm carries them off course, shipwrecking them on a small, deserted island with little for food our resources. It becomes up to Ben and his brothers to survive the elements while piecing together their lives and relationships with one another, all the while hoping for a rescue.

The Great Wide Sea is a book of survival and force of will, but it is also a book of emotional frailty and relationships, focusing on a fractured family of boys and men, a husband who has lost his wife and children who have lost their mother and, for a time, any connection to their father. Herlong creates a compelling narrative on multiple levels in this coming-of-age story about resilience, love, and hope.

Continue reading Surviving Stormy Seas & Family Alike

French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin, book one)

Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae has had a harsh life: born the daughter of death, her “mortal” father fears and hates her, and after years of beatings and abuse, she is sold into an arranged marriage. When strangers help her to escape, she finds herself taken to the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that she is not only Death’s daughter but also a tool of Death’s revenge. At the convent Ismae becomes strong, learning everything from poisons and hand-to-hand combat to societal etiquette and effective spying techniques. Over the years, she develops friendships, new skills, and a place she calls home. (All of this takes place in 15th-Century Brittany.)

Several years later and in the midst of her first assassination assignment–her job is to find a man “marked” with Death’s fingerprint and perform His will–she encounters a handsome but frustrating nobleman, Duval, and he becomes a complication that follows her into her next trip and provides riddles as to the protection of the Duchess of Brittany, Death’s true intent, and the way the world truly functions. As the political intrigue grows, Duval and Ismae grow closer, supposedly working together while struggling to trust one another. When the convent determines it is Death’s will that Duval be assassinated, Ismae finds herself in an emotionally tumultuous position, unsure of her loyalties and her developing feelings. All the while Brittany is threatened by attack from France and the young Duchess is in ever-growing danger and in need of Ismae’s protection. Without giving away too much of the plot or romance, let’s just say it’s a really good page-turner! Continue reading French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

A Multi-Cultural Cinderella

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman; illustrated by Julie Paschkis

In Fleischman’s book, stories from countries world-wide are pieced together to create the single story of Cinderella, told from beginning to end despite the sometimes incongruous pieces. A sweet, beautiful girl who is mistreated but makes her way to meet the prince, falls in love, and lives happily ever after, albeit sometimes with golden sandals and sometimes with diamond anklets.

Paschkis’ illustrations are reminiscent of wood block prints alternating between descriptive narrative illustrations and background images of ethnic food, clothing, and creatures. Bright, bold pictures pop off the page, and each ethnic section is stacked on others, appearing almost quilt-like in its narrative arc. Paschkis did a good job of keeping images relevant to the text and bringing up cultural differences that children will delight in pointing out. Continue reading A Multi-Cultural Cinderella