She owns a stack of baby name books and keeps files of people’s photos to help her develop the characters for her books.
She fashioned her first novel three decades ago with an eye to what was then missing in the fantasy genre: “girl sword slingers.” Even today, author Tamora Pierce thinks a lot of the heroines in recent paranormal stories spend too much time “waiting for Prince Charming or Vampire Charming.”
“I think women should go out and do stuff with their lives,” she said to an audience largely composed of young women.
You didn’t need to be familiar with protagonists Alanna, Beka or Daine to enjoy Pierce’s talk Thusrday night at Copperfield’s Books in Sebastopol.
Pierce, who turns 57 in December, has proven her staying power as a writer: 27 young adult fantasy books in 28 years. Her latest, “Mastiff,” was released this month. And she named several more that she plans to begin in the coming years.
She delighted the audience of more than 80 people with thoughts about her stories and the process of writing.
Where does she get her characters’ names? She suggested a breakthrough of sorts when she found a “New Age baby name book.” She now has all sorts of books of names for just about any world region and time period. She said she looks to specific world cultures on which to base her stories, and she will pore over books about that culture’s physical setting and learn the names of the region’s small towns, rivers, bays and other features. Some of those names will become the basis for the last names of her characters.
She keeps files of photos for possible characters. She also has based characters on family, friends and actors. She wants to know how each character looks, moves and speaks. “Then I know who they are,” she said.
She added that typically it’s a “really bad idea” to tell someone that he or she was the inspiration for a character in your novel. They may not appreciate it.
Ever since the publication of her first series, she has had more time to plan her books and now takes “at least six years” before she starts writing each work. By then, she knows the story’s arc and its big climax with what she said will feature a war, epidemic, earthquake, etc. Even so, she confided that typically after she writes the first four or five chapters, “I hit this vast stretch of wasteland” where it’s hard to see how the story will ever nicely link up with the planned conclusion.
A young person asked her advice for would-be authors, and she said, “Just keep after it.” Each time you write, you learn more about writing. Yes, you will get rejected, but stick to it and eventually you’ll make a sale.
“Being persistent is your best virtue as a writer,” she said.
And be willing to rewrite. Even after she sold her first book, “Alanna: The First Adventure,” she had to rewrite it two more times before publication.
“Revision,” she said, “is what you do to keep from looking goofy.”
— Robert Digitale