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Tamora Pierce: Girls Who Kick Butt May 2002

Tamora Pierce began writing while studying psychology at the University of Pennsylvania; unable to find much fiction with women she could relate to, she wrote her own. Her first novel about the female warrior Alanna, Alanna: The First Adventure, appeared in 1983 and was the first in a series of related ''Alanna'' quartets. Her novels to date are marketed to YA readers, and appear in series of quartets with installments of more than one series sometimes appearing at a time. In 1997 she introduced a new series of quartets set in her ''Circle'' universe, about four children with special powers. Her latest "Circle" title is Cold Fire (2002), and the next "Alanna" title is Lady Knight, due in August 2002. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, and pets.

Tamora Pierce's Web Page

Photo by Charles N. Brown

Excerpts from the interview:

I got into this to write about girls who kick butt. In the mid-'70s, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sheri Tepper, C.J. Cherryh, that crowd particularly, started to change the field. For me, there was a problem that a number of these characters were gay or celibate female warriors, and I was neither. So I wrote fantasy with female warrior heroes who like guys. Robin McKinley and Barbara Hambly both started to publish their fantasy at the same time, so I wasn't the only one who felt that way. My female warriors are not muscle-bound tanks who go one-for-one. Alanna, my first hero, is five-foot-four and stocky. She puts her strength in her stamina, her speed, the ability to go the distance.

...For years, I'd been watching the plight of tall broad girls who are not necessarily fat but they're big. People are always on them to lose weight, and the guys are looking at them and saying, 'Well, she's a good bud, but she's a moose.' I wanted a book for that kind of girl, to show her, 'Yes, you can be beautiful and strong.' These are not girls who can come in and kick butt in every way, but they make up for their deficiencies the same way small men make up for their deficiencies in combat by developing their speed and stamina, and developing different techniques. For me, the key for any of this, the thing that has to make it work, is it has to feel real. If I get a woman who comes in there and biff bam boom, she can knock over any guy in boot leather, that's not real, not something real people can aspire to. My heroes have to work at what they want.


I had thought, 'OK, I'm doing this kid-lit thing now because I want to get published and I want to get my foot in the door, but once I'm done with this quartet, I'm going to go on to adult books.' Then in 1985, I started getting fan mail. And when a kid tells you you've changed her life, or his, you know it's true because a single book changed your life forever. When you get mail saying, 'you helped me get through my dad's death,' 'you helped me get through my parents' divorce,' 'you helped me get past a broken back,' 'you helped me get past physical abuse and sexual abuse' that's pretty powerful stuff. People ask me, 'When are you going to write real books?' This is as real as it gets.


I was at a book fair where a mother was showing my books to her son, and he could have had 'It's a girl book' tattooed on his forehead. She says to me, 'Which would you recommend.' I said, 'Well, in this one she and her friends end up fighting four-foot-tall furry spiders with human heads.' And he said 'Coool!' 'In this one, they end up fighting a bunch of mountain bandits' his eyes just got bigger 'and in this one she's doing tournament jousting and she fights a centaur.' His mother took one look at him and said, 'We'll buy all three.' You just have to know how to talk to them. The boys respond to the action element, but I think they also respond to the strange, really radical and subversive idea that girls are people too. And the girls read it and see the boys, and they go, 'You know, they're people.' That's one of the things I want to get across. The divide is not the humongous thing we are taught it is.

The full interview and biographical profile is published in the May 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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