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Tamora Pierce (December 13, 1954) is an author of fantasy literature for young adults. She is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania. Best known for writing stories involving young heroines, she made a name for herself with her first quartet The Song of the Lioness, which followed the main character Alanna through the trials and triumphs of training as a knight. Pierce is also the co-founder of the forum Sheroes Central.
Pierce was born in South Connellsville, Pennsylvania in Fayette County, on December 13, 1954. Her mother wanted to name her "Tamara" but the nurse who filled out her birth certificate misspelled it as "Tamora". When she was five her sister Kimberly (on whom she based Alanna) was born and a year later her second sister, Melanie, was born. From the time she was five until she was eight, she lived in Dunbar. In June of 1963 she and her family moved to California. They first lived in San Mateo on El Camino Real and then moved to the other side of the San Francisco Peninsula, in Miramar. They lived there for half a year, in El Granada a full year, and then three years in Burlingame.
She began reading when she was very young and started writing in 6th grade, when her father heard her telling one of her stories to herself. Her interest in fantasy and science fiction began when she was introduced to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and so she started to write the kind of books that she was reading. After her parents divorced, her mother moved her and her sisters back to Fayette County in 1969, where she spent two years at Albert Gallatin Senior High. When her family moved again, she spent her senior year at Uniontown Area Senior High School, acting, singing, and writing for the school paper.
While at the University of Pennsylvania she wrote the books that became the The Song of the Lioness quartet. The first book of this quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure was published by Atheneum Books in 1983. The quartet was originally one big book, but the publisher decided to split the story into four parts. Later on, as a result of the fame of the Harry Potter series, showing that kids do read, Pierce was able to lessen the number of books a series would have. For example, the Daughter of the Lioness series have been published in two books.
On her homepage, Pierce states she gets most ideas from things she stumbles upon. Her concept of magic as a tapestry of threads comes from her experiences in crocheting, and in her world, all mages are somehow based on British naturalist Sir David Attenborough after watching his nature documentaries. Fantasy novels and Arthurian legend were the base of the worlds she thought up as a girl, and later she added contemporary issues like youth crime, cholera outbreaks in Africa and mistreatment of females by the Taliban. In general, Pierce states: "The best way to prepare to have ideas when you need them is to listen to and encourage your obsessions."
For aspiring writers, Pierce also tells you can circumvent a feared writer's block by introducing a new character who is bold and different from the rest, adding something dramatic to shake things up (i.e. an accident, a storm, an elopement), changing the point of view, writing something else while your main story is seemingly impossible to write or talking to friends about your book. Finally, if none of the above techniques work, Pierce suggests mercy-killing your story if you know it won't become anything worthwhile, and taking comfort in the notion you will avoid some errors the next time.
Pierce is also known for bringing in an unusual amount of sex and violence into her teenager books. She explains that it sticks close to historical past, in which people were married at 14 and had children soon after. In regards to premarital teenager sex, which also happens in her books, she states that all her heroines who engage in sexual relations do so only with contraception (i.e. some magic charm which prevents pregnancy). Finally, Pierce states that violence sadly has been a bane in all times, and even today there are social hot spots in big cities, people are exploited in sweatshops, and the slave trade remains active. She thinks that smugly ignoring these facts is irresponsible, and is quoted saying: "We need to face it [cruelty and violence], even in books. Even in fantasy."
Pierce draws on elements of people and animals around her to inspire her characters. She has also said that she needs a real person as a rough base to know "how they [characters] move, what they sound like, and what colors look good on them". The character of Alanna is loosely based on Pierce's sister, and the villain Duke Roger is based on an ex-boyfriend. Thayet's appearance is based on a friend of Pierce's. Beka's pigeon friends in Provost's Dog are all based on actual pigeons of Pierce's acquaintance. Dove is loosely based on Elizabeth I of England, while Empress Berenene has more of Catherine the Great.
Female role models
Tamora Pierce admires many historical women for their work, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, Margaret Sanger, Mother Jones, Bella Abzug, Germaine Greer, who are all well-known for their political work and fight for women's rights.
However, when asked about this topic, Pierce also named several other women, who weren't directly associated with women's rights, like Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Mary Bicker. Those women were more active in medical and social issues, e.g. making improvements to battlefield medecine or--in the case of Barton--setting up the Red Cross.
Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia were both famous rulers of powerful countries, who weren't dependent of men and Queen Elizabeth has been a hero of Pierce's ever since she was in grade school. She based characters on both figures: Dovasary Balitang was based on Elizabeth I, Berenene dor Ocmore was very much like Catherine the Great.
As a writer Pierce also idolizes--or at least idolized in the past--Louisa May Alcott, who also wrote thrillers for money, like Pierce did with romances in her early days as a writer.