Friday, November 17, 2017

0 Tamora Pierce, author of TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, on making a difference

We are delighted to have Tamora Pierce join us to share more about her latest novel, TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, which is a reference book applying to the Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, The Protector of the Small, and the Trickster books.

Tamora, what is your favorite thing about TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE?

The variety of voices and types of information about the realm, its people, and ongoing events; the way we tried to convey a vision of a living government and those who try to keep it going, from feast menus to dirty deeds!

What was your inspiration for writing TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE?

My chief editor's interest, and the many, many questions fans ask at appearances, online, and via correspondence about the inner workings of the realm and further information about beloved characters, particularly background material, and off-stage life and events in Tortall.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why?

The climactic scene of MASTIFF, the third Beka Cooper book. I can't say why because of spoilers. ::shrug::

Is that the one of which you are most proud?

No--it hurt too much. I'm deeply proud of Tris's welcome of the lightning on the roof in SHATTERGLASS, and the short story "Elder Brother," which has appeared here and there. The bad guys in MAGIC STEPS are also a point of pride for sheer crawliness.

Or is there another scene you particularly love?

I have plenty of those, mostly ones that make me laugh, like Arram waking with a strange bedfellow in TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER, or the fact that after years of being scolded for matching Alanna and Daine with older men, I presented them with Aly's love--who, technically, is two years old in his natural form and a few months old at his human introduction. (I behave myself mostly now.)

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

The fantasy novels of Barbara Hambly, Elizabeth Moon, Robin McKinley, Maggie Stiefvater, Sarah Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Rachel Hartmann, Daniel Abraham, Brian McCullough, Guy Gavriel Kay, Philip Pullman--and there are many, many more listed on my webpage! (

How long did you work on TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE?

>>rolls eyes<< Oy! We started out 8 years ago with a big sloppy idea for a reference book for the realm, following similar books that were coming out at the time. Then our editor left after we turned our first draft in; the project got lost for a while. My guardian angel and senior editor (at the time) Mallory Loehr found us a new editor in Chelsea Eberly and asked us to narrow the concept down. A lot. We all batted it around (the original team: my assistant and fellow writer Julie Holderman; my spouse creature and technical writer Tim Liebe; stage dance and combat choreographer, writer, and med student Megan Messinger, and I) and decided, due to the amount of applicable material, we would do a kind of spy's guide based on the office of a working spy chief--i.e. George, who everyone loves. My job was to supply material that wasn't there. Julie took on the added position of traffic director, or primary herder of cats, making sure we met deadlines. A friend from conventions, Judy Gerjuoy, who recently moved on to the great tournament in the sky, volunteered to cover feastday menus for royalty and their guests, while the wonderful Lisa Konst-Evans, who has handled the timeline for the Tortall universe for well over a decade, agreed to brush it up for the book. Random House supplied the map based on those in the books.

All told, it took about eight years. Give or take.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

Avoid group projects at all costs. ;-) Seriously, we hope to add material that was cut down the road, probably online. I learned how vital it is to have a showrunner for something that involves more than two people spread all over the country, and that showrunner has to be able to say "no" without being mean or hysterical. I learned that courtesy in the group means that things get done. And without deadlines, nothing gets done. Some of this I knew. Also, it really is like herding cats.

What do you hope readers will take away from TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE?

Bits and pieces of information that wasn't strictly needed in the current books, but are fun to know anyway; fuel for fantasies, party games, and fanfic; tips on how to create similar structures for books and stories of their own, and more than a little true information about the medieval period and spycraft.

How long or hard was your road to publication?

My personal road, if you count from my first novel, and not articles or stories, was--my gosh, was it only 7 years? it seemed like an eternity at the time! I didn't send my first book anywhere; it was there to assure me I could write a book-length ms., which I did. It took me 17 months to write and rewrite the single novel which became the Song of the Lioness quartet. I submitted that to three adult publishers, who turned it down. During that time I was a housemother in a group home for girls. They insisted that I tell them the story in my book; the director insisted that they couldn't read it for themselves because it had sex, drug and alcohol use, and swearing. I told the story to the girls because they wanted me to, editing along the way. When I moved to New York and went to work for a literary agency, I was urged to show my ms. to the agent who handled fantasy: she suggested that I turn it to four YA novels. Since I'd done so for the girls, I knew I could do it, and I would do just about anything to get published. Jean Karl at Atheneum took the series (after more rewrites), and my first book was published in Fall 1982. I ended up sticking with YA because the fan mail taught me I could make a difference there that I couldn't make anywhere else. (Former social worker with teenagers, remember.)
How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

Only that one, that never saw the light of day. I did three chapters and an outline for a project after the Alanna books were done. That didn't sell (it was a historical by and large), but I returned to Tortall, and have been happy writing fantasy ever since. That would lead to over thirty novels at present, plus one book of short stories.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

Not really, apart from "apply butt to chair," "follow my schedule," "keep writing," and "apply for help when necessary." Perhaps I had one such moment when I read a critic's comment on The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: he said he wished I had set the books in medieval Europe, because my research was so good. I was startled, believing I had done no research at that time. Then I remembered that I had been in love with the Robin Hood TV show when I was five or six. That led me to look him up in the family encyclopedia when I learned to read. His entry led me to that for Richard the Lionhearted, which led me to the entry for the Crusades, which led me to "medieval life and times." From then until I was in fifth grade I read everything, fiction and nonfiction, about medieval life and times, and I continued to read fiction with medieval backgrounds. I thought that I had done no research for the Alanna books, when in fact I had done it all those years ago, starting with Robin Hood. I was working then on Lioness Rampant and needed a different culture for Saraine. Using this new idea, that my frequent obsessions could give me ideas, I considered mine and lit on the American War in Vietnam. I had a map of southeast Asia on my wall at the time: looking at it, I realized I could take names of less-known places (rivers, bays, islands, mountains, towns, peninsulas), change the spelling a little or break them up if I thought they were too recognizable, and have last names and place names for a nation. Going further, I would also have cuisine, clothes, first names (from my growing collection of baby name books), customs, architecture--anything I needed to flesh out my culture. That insight has been useful throughout my career!

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

Since the early 2000's I've had a home office (before that, my desk in our small office) where I keep my research books, the photos I use for characters and settings, various bits and pieces--stones, animal figurines, stuffies, and boxes with old manuscripts. Formerly I would also provide a temporary nest for any new cat or kitten rescue we were waiting to re-home or until they were ready to be introduced to the house cats, but since the summer before last I've had a permanent resident: a long-haired tortoiseshell rescue named Autumn, who has no interest in entering general population. She demands regular pets and observes the work in progress.

At first I couldn't have any music with words in a language I could understand even a little, so it was all instrumental or in languages I really, really didn't know, like Arabic or Mongolian. No pop, no jazz, etc.--classical, movie scores, classical Chinese or Japanese, African drums, Tuvan throat singing, Indonesian . . . I listened to that. Then I couldn't listen to any music at all for a while--I think that was shortly after we moved to upstate New York, and I wasn't used to it. Now I can listen to almost anything and work. It's strange.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

It's always the same: just keep writing. The more you do, the better you get, so the more you do. It's like exercise or learning an instrument: you have to build your muscles and your brain up to keep the habit of writing regularly, even if you hate it. (And you will.) But you get better as you practice. You won't finish things at first, either, but with practice you'll learn to build on ideas, until finally you start finishing things.

The other piece of advice I give is that as long as you're growing as a writer, you'll hate what you do. The better you get, the less you'll hate it, but if you're any good, you'll always see something you know you could do better. That's normal; worse, it's good. It means you're still learning; you're still growing. It's when you look at something you just finished and you think it's perfect in every way that you're in trouble, particularly if that continues. It means you've gone stagnant. You've stopped growing. Either you'll continue to write the same kind of thing over and over until you're gone, or you'll receive such a massive shakeup in your life that you become a completely different person. Nobody wants that because those things are painful. Better to keep learning and trying new things.

What are you working on now?

The second volume of Arram's adventures as a magic student in Carthak. The first book, Tempests and Slaughter, comes out in February.


Tortall: A Spy's Guide
by Tamora Pierce
Random House Books for Young Readers
Released 10/31/2017

The secrets of Tortall are revealed. . . .

As Tortall’s spymaster, George Cooper has sensitive documents from all corners of the realm. When Alanna sends him a surprising letter, he cleans out his office and discovers letters from when King Jonathan and Queen Thayet first ascended the throne, notes on creating the Shadow Service of spies, threat-level profiles on favorite characters, Daine’s notes on immortals, as well as family papers, such as Aly’s first report as a young spy and Neal’s lessons with the Lioness.

This rich guide also includes the first official timeline of Tortallan events from when it became a sovereign nation to the year Aly gives birth to triplets. Part history, part spy training manual, and entirely fascinating, this beautiful guide makes a perfect gift and is ideal for anyone who loves Alanna, King Jonathan, Queen Thayet, Kel, Neal, Aly, Thom, Daine, Numair, and the unforgettable world of Tortall!

Purchase Tortall: A Spy's Guide at Amazon
Purchase Tortall: A Spy's Guide at IndieBound
View Tortall: A Spy's Guide on Goodreads


 I was born in South Connellsville, PA. My mother wanted to name me "Tamara" but the nurse who filled out my birth certificate misspelled it as "Tamora". When I was 8 my family moved to California, where we lived for 6 years on both sides of the San Francisco peninsula.

I started writing stories in 6th grade. My interest in fantasy and science fiction began when I was introduced to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien and so I started to write the kind of books that I was reading. After my parents divorced, my mother took my sisters and me back to Pennsylvania in 1969. There I went to Albert Gallatin Senior High for 2 years and Uniontown Area Senior High School for my senior year.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I wrote the book that became The Song of the Lioness fantasy quartet. I sold some articles and 2 short stories and wrote reviews for a martial arts movie magazine. At last the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure was published by Atheneum Books in 1983.

Tim Liebe, who became my Spouse-Creature, and I lived in New York City with assorted cats and two parakeets from 1982 - 2006. In 2006 we moved to Syracuse, New York, where we live now with assorted cats, a number of squirrels, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and woodchucks visiting our very small yard. As of 2011, I have 27 novels in print, one short story collection, one comic book arc ("White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion") co-written with Tim, and a short story anthology co-editing credit. There's more to come, including a companion book to the Tortall `verse. So stay tuned!


Have you had a chance to read TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE yet? Do you shape worlds based on what you loved learning about as a kid? Do you continue to build your writing muscles? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Jocelyn, Anisaa, Erin, Martina, Charlotte, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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