Tamora Pierce grew up poor, but her father’s guidance gave her a zest for life. “When I was in sixth grade, my Dad caught me telling stories to myself while I did the dishes. He suggested I write a book. I didn’t know it was supposed to be hard, which helped, but the thing that made it stick was he said I could use his typewriter. Until that moment, if I had touched it, I would be missing that finger today!”
Stories flowed from Pierce like water over a cliff. She wrote about whatever she read, escaping poverty into the worlds of her stories. She continued writing through high school and college—mostly nonfiction, and according to Pierce, “bad poetry”.
Her first book for teens, Alanna: The First Adventure (Atheneum, 1983), started out as a lengthy novel for adults complete with sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol. In the ‘70s when Pierce wrote Alanna, she was a housemother in a group home for teenage girls. The girls asked Pierce to read her story to the, but Pierce’s boss didn’t feel it was appropriate. Instead of denying the girls completely, however, Pierce told an abridged version of Alannawhich evolved into Pierce’s first four book series called The Song of the Lioness.
Once Pierce finished editing Alanna, she planned to leave children’s fiction to write “real” books. That changed with the arrival of her first fan mail. One reader wrote that Pierce’s book changed her life. Others said Alanna helped them get thru their parents’ divorce, the death of a family member, or a long illness. Now, Pierce knows that teen fantasy is her home, and has no plans to leave, but many adults unfamiliar with children’s literature still ask her if she’s going to write real books. According to Pierce, “I’m in a position to affect people that are going to run the future. It doesn’t get more real than that.”
Pierce writes fantasy and incorporates the magic of everyday life into her books. The idea for The Circle of Magic series began with a quiet evening around the fire watching her mother and sister turn plain yarn into blankets. Craft magic—weaving, metalworking, weather, and gardening—became Pierce’s unifying theme in another series of books called The Circle of Magic.
All of Pierce’s characters are based on real people. Keladry of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small quartet is based on one of Pierce’s oldest fans. “She was a big, energetic, muscular girl who always got, ‘If only you could lose weight. You have such a pretty face.’ I wanted to write for big girls and this was a perfect chance.” Ozzy Osborne, at his most decadent, became evil Emperor Ozorne. Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York became a prince, and her best friend’s dogs became dragons. According to Pierce, “If I’m not really familiar with a character, I have a hard time describing him/her. I need lots of pictures. I pick out a face that grabs me, and if I know how the person speaks or moves, it helps even more.” Of course, readers don’t identify Ozzy Osborne or former governor Cuomo in Pierce’s books. By the third or fourth chapter, Pierce’s springboard has served its purpose. Her characters take on lives and characteristics of their own, and even Pierce ceases to think of them as famous names.
Pierce writes from her Manhattan apartment, which she shares with her husband, four cats, and two parakeets. When she’s writing a new book, she tries to create five new pages a day and polish the previous day’s work. Pierce has contracted with Random House and Scholastic for an average of a book a year. With Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Bet(Random House, 2003 and 2004, respectively) Pierce quips that she is “taking a big leap forward by writing a story told in two volumes.” Assuming she accomplishes that goal, she plans to complete Circle Reforged (Scholastic, 2005) in only one volume. Pierce has made a living from writing since 1992, a rare feat for most writers. Everything she has she earned through writing. “It’s a very powerful kind of magic for me.”