- When is your next book coming out?
- What are you working on now/next?
- Will you sign my books if I send them to you?
- In some books, there are continuity mistakes. What’s up with this?
- Would you please put up some spoilers for what’s to come in the current series you’re working on?
- How do you come up with characters?
- How did you come up with the creatures in your books?
- Where do you get names for characters and places?
- Everyone thinks I am weird because I have read your books over and over. Do you think I’m weird?
- Why haven’t your books been made into movies?
- Do you like poetry? Will you read mine?
In some books, there are continuity mistakes. What’s up with this?
In one of the Protector of the Small books, King Jonathan is listed as “King Jonathan III.” In the next, he’s “Jonathan IV.” Also, in early Protector books, Mindelan is shown inside the Scanran border—it looks as if Mindelan is the Scanran capital. In both of these instances, I was in something of a hurry to get these materials back to Random House before the books were printed, and missed a couple of major items. They are being fixed: Jon is Jonathan IV, and the map will be redone so that Mindelan is a normal fief, well inside the Tortallan border.
Would you please put up some spoilers for what’s to come in the current series you’re working on?
At the risk of being branded as uncooperative and mean, I have to say no. After all, when I spend six months to a year picking each and every word to create a specific mood or effect, I cut the ground out from under myself by giving out spoilers.
This is not something I like to do. I love seeing people’s faces when they hear The Awful Truth of what’s coming next. At the same time, I want each book to be appreciated as a whole experience, just as my editors and I shaped it. I will continue to put up things that don’t relate to any books I’m working on and don’t think I’ll be able to mention, like the status of Daine’s and Numair’s relationship, and the disappearance of Princess Kalasin, but there won’t be any spoilers for actual, ongoing books. It’ll just have to be a surprise.
In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t apply to the basic descriptions I give for books or to the pieces I read at appearances, so you’ll have a little advance information.
How do you come up with characters?
I often start with a real person—if not someone I know, then an actor or actress I think would fit the part. It’s easiest for me to start with what someone looks and sounds like—if I know that, then I know about the character’s personality. As a result, I use a lot of photographs of people or performers. Of course, there always comes a point, as I’m working, when the character breaks away from the person I based them on to become their own self. That’s how I know I’m doing it right.
A word of warning: tell no one that you based a character on them. Even if you think you’ve written about that person perfectly, they may not like what you have to say. If the character you create starts doing things the person you based them on doesn’t do, they can get quite vexed. If they ask, lie. If you’re a bad liar, like me, practice in front of a mirror. Do not tell them.
How did you come up with the creatures in your books?
As a kid, I read a lot of Greek, Roman, and Norse myths. Nowadays, I have a large number of reference books on mythology at home, including Graves’s and Hamilton’s books on the Greek gods and the Dover coloring book of mythological creatures. When I saw how goofy the medieval ideas of “fabulous beasts” looked, I started looking for creatures of my own that would make some kind of sense. The basilisk of medieval times was made up of a rooster’s head, a goat’s head and a snake’s head, on a goat’s body, with a snake’s tail. Fortunately, I had heard of the Central American basilisk lizard—they just needed to be a bit larger.
Others, I made up. I’ve read so many scholarly books about myths and why they have the power they do that I could use those abstract ideas to help me shape the inhabitants of the Divine Realms. Here are some examples:
- Hurroks. I wanted winged horses, but the Daine books are so rooted in the real natural world that bat wings made so much more sense than the traditional bird wings. I also wanted both friendly and unfriendly winged horses, though every time I tried to put friendly ones in a book, I’ve had to cut them for space. I wanted to have a term for the nasty winged horses that would mean “nasty winged horses” only, and jammed horse and hawk together to get hurrok. Then I added the marks of a predator: claws, fangs, and forward-facing eyes.
- Dragons. I started with the Pena sculptures and dragons like the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The Pena sculptures are a bit too round and cute, so I thinned my dragons down, but I liked the rich colors and kept those. I also based some dragons’ coloring on animals I know (Scamp and Grizzle are my best friend’s Maltese and toy poodle).
- Stormwings. I began with harpies, but I did not like the fact that harpies are only female—I wanted something for both sexes. I took the Stormwings’ mission to despoil battlefield dead from an image in Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts. The harpies who ruin the king’s dinner are so creepy and alien that the image of their attack stayed with me. (Knowing that they mess with bodies also gave me the idea for their smell.) I also wanted my Stormwings to be clearly unnatural and therefore frightening, which is where the steel feathers and claws came in. It was my husband’s idea to make them not entirely hateful. I would have just gone on writing them as Evil as Zhaneh Bitterclaws was, but he pointed out that I’m not very good at portraying characters that way, and that they’d be more interesting if they weren’t. Then, of course, I had to find a way to make creatures so terrifying in the first book into mixed ones for the others. I’m so glad I ran into Rikash—he really helped me to shift my point of view.
- Darkings. Years ago, when the movie Roger Rabbit came out, my best friend couldn’t stop talking about the brilliance behind the idea of the shoe that Christopher Lloyd’s character destroys in Dip. Clearly, the animators couldn’t bear the thought of using a human- or animal-like Toon to show how bad Dip was, but the sacrifice had to have some lifelike quality, or we simply wouldn’t care. They made Shoe cute and bouncy, and everyone hated the Judge for putting it in Dip. Then, when Aladdin came out, Raquel told me about how the animators had decided to go entirely with computer, non-human, animation for non-human characters, particularly Carpet and the sand lion/sphinx which appears in the desert. That, added to my thoughts on Shoe, led me to try to create my own creatures which were not anything living in the terms we normally use. From my knowledge of folklore, I’m always aware that blood is a powerful image in people’s minds, and of course Ozorne’s blood creations had to be small and close to invisible to be able to get close to Daine. When I dipped my ladle into the stew of all these thinks, I came up with darkings.
Where do you get names for characters and places?
I get character names from all kinds of sources. One warning: avoid names from telephone books. If someone discovers their name in something you’ve written, they can sue. With that in mind:
- Baby name books. I own ten, each with its own blank paper jacket. (You do not want people to see you reading a baby name book. They get all doofie—or snide.) Since I write fantasy, most of my books are world culture names, starting with The New Age Baby Name Book. This gives you a ready supply of names that are unusual to start with. You can find plenty of baby name books in any bookstore, usually under the parenting/child care section, often near the kids’ book section. There’s a lot to choose from, so leaf through and see if the book will be of use– the first book I got was one of ordinary American names, and it frustrated me almost to tears.
- Maps. When I’m really stuck, and I want a lot of names that sound like they all come from the same part of the world as the culture I based mine on, I get very detailed place maps. For example, I based the culture of the Saren and K’miri people in my Tortall books on Southeast Asia, so I found detailed maps of Laos and Cambodia. I don’t use all of a place name, but part of it, and I make lists of possible names for future use.
- Language books. When I’m basing a culture on part of our world, I pick up phrase books and dictionaries for the cultures which are dominant in that part of the world. In my Circle series, the Traders have traveled all over those parts of their world which are most like those covered by the historical Silk Road. I picked up Thai Hill Tribe, Tibetan, Nepalese, and Arabic phrase books, and Swahili, Hindi, and Chinese dictionaries, and looked up words which resembled the ones I wanted to turn into Tradertalk. I then tugged here and rearranged there, to get a word which felt like a real Tradertalk word to me.
- Ye Olde Notebook Trick. If you want to write anything, the notebook that fits in your bag or backpack and rests on your nightstand is your best friend. Mostly you’ll use it for ideas, sentences and descriptions, but they are also good storehouses for the names you like when you stumble across them in everyday life (like Old Dutch and Puritan names in the tax records I had to research for one job). Just remember, never use the complete name of a real person. Write it down, though, so you won’t accidentally use that person’s real first or last name when you are composing.
You’ve probably noticed that many names and words do not pass through my hands unscathed—I am always tinkering with them, dropping out syllables or rearranging them. One of the things I dislike in fantasy is reading along and being jolted out of the mood by a phrase or a name which sounds too much like my real world. You may not feel this strongly about it—or your work may be based on some aspect, modern or historical, of that real world. I just wanted to mention this, for what it’s worth.
Everyone thinks I am weird because I have read your books over and over. Do you think I’m weird?
Put it this way—if you’re weird, so am I. I think I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy at least twice a year from the time I discovered them in seventh grade until I went to college, and at least once a year until I was 22 or 23. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read my favorite Barbara Hambly and Robin McKinley books, not to mention Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, Ross Thomas’s political thrillers, Robert Heinlein’s science fiction books for teenagers, and a long, long list of historical novels. I know there are people who read a book once and put it aside for life. I can’t do that. I love plunging into a loved world, encountering the characters I like, and living with them as they work through serious problems. Now, weird is my husband: he discovered J. D. Robb’s (Nora Roberts’s pen name) …in Death series and read all of them (I think there were six at that point) three times after he first got them. He re-reads the whole series each time a new book comes out. He seems to think this is perfectly normal, so maybe “weird” really is one of those things that’s in the mind of the beholder!
Why haven’t your books been made into movies?
First of all, until it comes to the point where an offer is made which I can take or turn down, I have no control over this. Most authors don’t. Movies happen not when the author deigns to allow people to make their books into movies, but when movie companies or producers decide that a particular book would make a good movie. My agent always sends books to companies and producers to be considered for movie projects, but offers are rare. So far two companies have bought the option (a set time period in which they can own the rights to develop books for a movie) to the Alanna books, but they haven’t taken the next step to making a movie from them. For one reason or another, they decided it wasn’t profitable to spend more money in developing a movie project.
My books operate under a double whammy: they are costume movies set in a historical period (translation: much $$ for costumes, the transportation of cast and crew to a location which looks historical, and the purchase of a license to film there), and they involve a great many special effects (translation: much $$ for computer, marionette, and makeup effects). Animated movies could get around some of these problems, but they are expensive to make, and most animation producers prefer not to have to pay an author for rights in addition to their writers and animators. It may be that the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies may change studios’ minds about how profitable fantasy can be, but we won’t know that for a while, yet.
To be honest, I’m not really sure that I want the books to be made into movies. I certainly wouldn’t complain: it means a lot of money, and more book sales once the movie appears. At the same time, no matter what the final result is, it won’t match the vision in my mind. Also, movie people are notorious for rewriting your material. (Think about it—how many movies resemble the books they’re based on? Little Women with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder and The Silence of the Lambs with Jodie Foster stayed close to the books, but those are the exception rather than the rule.)
I know this is an annoying practical answer to a question that involves the most romantic area of the arts, but that’s me—annoyingly practical. What other kind of person would go from Red Sonja comic books, in which Red Sonja always wears a chain mail bikini, to write of a hero who bundles up in multiple clothing layers because she hates the cold?
Do you like poetry? Will you read mine?
Okay, you were bound to find out this flaw in me sooner or later: I am poesie-impaired. With a scant handful of exceptions (W. H. Auden, Langston Hughes, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Li Po, story poems like “The Highwayman,” haiku, A. A. Milne, e e cummings), I wouldn’t know good poetry if it swam up behind me and—well, I would be hard put to know good poetry. I think it was those forced readings of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Robert Burns, and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that did it to me. Something snapped; a circuit fried; whatever, I have neither eye nor ear for poetry. You’re better off by asking the opinion of your English teacher, if you can trust them to be objective and not step all over your self-esteem, or by sending work to poetry magazines.
When is your next book coming out?
The Spy’s Guide to Tortall will be out in September of 2017. After that, Tammy’s next published works will be about the childhood and young adulthood of Numair Salmalín, known in his youth as Arram Draper. Don’t know who that is? Take a look at Tammy’s Immortals series.
What are you working on now/next?
Tammy is currently polishing the first book in a new series about Numair/Arram Draper. Her next commitments are to books two and three, after which she will start work on a book in the Circle universe following Tris as she attempts to get her ordinary mage’s credentials at Lightsbridge.
These are Tammy’s only currently planned and scheduled projects. While she would love to revisit more of her characters and their stories, there is a lot in her worlds that still hasn’t been explored! We hope you’ll be as excited to meet new characters as Tammy is to share them with you.
Will you sign my books if I send them to you?
We are not currently accepting mail-in signing requests. Just like the amount of fanmail received has grown past Tammy’s ability to reply consistently, the number of signing requests sent would take up too much time to fulfill. We’re really sorry about this!