After leaving the Tortall Realms to write her bestselling stand-alone novel, The Will of the Empress (Scholastic Press, 2005), Tamora Pierce returns to her old stomping grounds with a new series. Already the setting for the Song of the Lioness quartet, the Immortals quartet, the Protector of the Small quartet and two Trickster books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen), Pierce’s medieval fantasyland will now play host to the Beka Cooper books, beginning with Terrier. The twist? This story takes place two centuries before the time of Alanna, Kel and Aly.
Beka Cooper, the heroine of Terrier, is an orphan raised in a nobleman’s household, who is training to become a member of the Provost Guard. Assigned to patrol the slums of the Lower City, Beka must overcome hostility, corruption and murderous criminals to survive her first year on the job, but the biggest question hovering over her future may be about the author: can Pierce possibly tell Beka’s story in just three books?
Better start at the beginning. Where did the idea for Kingdom of Tortall stories originate?
A dream, which is unusual. I don’t write from dreams because I don’t remember mine, but I had a fragment of an image left about twins, whose father was telling them how their lives were going to go for the next eight years. I wrote a scene about that, and then another and then another and then another, and after five months I had 732 pages. That fragment became a book called The Song of the Lioness. This was 1976. It was an adult book, and it was turned down by four publishers. Then I moved to New York and went to work for a literary agent. She looked at it and said, ‘This is for teenage girls. Break it up into four books.’ So I thought, ‘What the heck. It’s not going anywhere as it is.’ And I knew girls would like it because I had been a house mother at a group home for girls and they would literally drag me to the dining room table and beg, ‘Tell us more about Alanna,’ which I did, leaving out the objectionable parts. So I broke it up and Jean Karl at Atheneum took it. The Song of the Lioness because a quartet.
And that begat another foursome—The Immortals Quartet.
After I recovered from Lioness, I wanted to write something about animals because I really like mythical creatures, especially dragons. At 12, I was one of those semi-recluses who did better with animals than people. Out of that, came the character, Daine, who could communicate with animals. I thought I would structure her story as a classic fantasy trilogy, but that wound up as a quartet, too. Then, because Scholastic had done book fair editions of some of the Tortall books, they wanted a series but I wanted to get away from white medieval Europe for a while. That was where the Circle books [Circle of Magic; The Circle Opens] came from.
Right. By the time I was done with that [my editor] Mallory Loehr had moved from Scholastic to Random House and I really wanted to get back to a girl knight, and I wanted her to be a big girl, really strong. I started to think about Kel [heroine of her Protector of the Small series] as a trilogy but Kel’s story was much more complicated than Alanna’s had been. I got to page 180 and I was still not at the end of the first year of her four years as a page. I was going to have to cut a lot of really great material, or I could have… another quartet.
Finally, when I started Trickster’s Choice, they let me off the 200-page manuscript leash, and I knew I could tell a whole story in one book. I want to thank J.K. Rowling for letting American publishers know that readers would, in fact, read thick books and buy them in droves. Otherwise I might still be writing quartets, since it takes me 800 pages to tell a full story.
But think of the poor reviewers who have to read all these 800-page books! I love a good long book, but you wind up reading a lot fewer books.
In other genres, it’s not as big a thing. Teen problem novels? I can go through them like a box of chocolates. And there are fantasy books out now that need a lot more editing. Fantasy got to be so popular that people began to think ‘We don’t need to be as diligent with the razor blade,’ but they do. My editors ride me with a whip and spurs. I do not get to put in any extra stuff. But fantasy readers are really fond of big, chunky books
Why choose to set this latest trilogy two centuries before the others?
Sometimes to see things clearly it helps to stand waaay back. And I thought it would be fun for me and everybody else to see what Tortall was like at that time. Alanna lives in a time when there are no more lady knights. So I wanted to show what it was like during the time when there were lady knights. We meet one in [the new book] and she is not quite what you might expect. She’s quietly getting drunk in a bar.
And there are connections, across the centuries, between the characters in this series and the others.
One of my fans’ favorite characters is George Cooper (the King of the Thieves in the Song of the Lioness quartet). Fans have always been interested in his lifestyle, his life in the slums of the Lower City. And I thought it would be interesting to learn that the King of the Thieves’ great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother was in law enforcement.
Readers will recognize Beka’s cat, too.
When I have mentioned at readings that a very familiar cat is a character in [Terrier] all the girls in the audience make a squealing noise.
Why did you decide to write this book in first person?
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I was scared out of my gourd to do this. I’ve written short stories in first person but you have so much more control writing in third person. Third person you know what everybody’s thinking. First person is very limiting and I could never sustain a first person novel before. But Mallory made a big push for me to try it on another project.
Did you enjoy it?
A. Yes and no. There were passages where I could hear readers asking, ‘How can she [Beka] possibly remember all of that?’, so I made sure I emphasized that the puppies [police trainees] are trained in memory. But it was also fun to write in her dialect and to use language the way she does. To write something and realize, ‘Beka would not use a colon, silly.’ She’s very shy, so the journal format was her way of talking.
Ferociously shy but with a lot to say—the first journal entry is 47 pages long!
It was her first day on the job!
Tell us about the next installment. Does it already have a title?
The second book is titled Bloodhound and fans may be disappointed that it is not nearly as long as the first. They are unhappy with literary diets.