Bestselling and critically acclaimed fantasy author Tamora Pierce is known for creating teen novels with strong female characters—and for having a particularly devoted fan base. Here the author discusses her “shero” Beka’s final adventure in Mastiff, book three in the Beka Cooper Trilogy set in the universe of Tortall. This series closer finds Beka, a cop (known as a Dog) in the city of Corus, on a high-stakes Hunt for villains who threaten the integrity of the entire country of Tortall.

Find more police investigations in teen literature.

Can you comment on the satisfaction you get from creating “sheroes” like Beka Cooper?

There still aren’t enough strong females in fiction, especially for teens, we’re still coming up short. So I still like to write them, and I like to read them. And the feedback I get from readers who really enjoy these different sorts of strong female characters would keep me going in any event.

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Mastiff is well over 500 pages. How do you like having the room to write longer books?  

You may notice a progression in my trilogy titles. Terrier—when she grabs you, she won’t let go. Bloodhound: You can’t shake her off the scent. And Mastiff: She brings down the really big game. I needed the length in this book because the trek to bring down the really big game is so intricate.

That said, I’d have given anything to keep it shorter. I am trying to go shorter on the book I’m writing now. I was let off the 200-page manuscript leash with Squire. And I just said, Thank you, J.K. Rowling. I’ve been off the leash ever since.

In Mastiff, Beka’s Hunt covers a lot of territory. Is it hard for you to keep this territory straight in your head? Do you use a map to help?

I love maps. I’ve got drawers and books full of them. I do get lost within my own books if I don’t start following maps right away. Once I start a book, I have to start the map as well. I’ve got one in pieces up on my light box right now, and I cannot continue until I figure out what my map looks like. First, I draw them, and then I hand them over to somebody who knows what they’re doing in terms in scale to complete the artwork for the book. 

Is that the same for the languages you invent? Do you have a sort of dictionary you keep going?

If I am working in a foreign language, I usually base it on a real language. For the slang in the Beka Cooper books, I relied on a couple of books on slang from historical periods—I used those words directly. I got lucky and found a book called Slang Through the Ages—which goes as far back as the 1100s. I always say this, and no one believes me—I’m not good at making stuff up.  So I steal, and it’s really better that way. The critic Lionel Trilling said the immature artist imitates, the mature artist steals.

You are impressively prolific. Do you keep an ideas file?

I don’t really have a file, it’s just in my head. I take the ideas out every now and then, and if they’re all sort of burnt black and scrunched up on the bottom of the pot, then I just clean out the pot and put it back. If an idea lives from examination to examination—I develop it a little more each time I take it out…and pretty soon I get to the point where I bounce it off my husband before I put it back and let it cook some more. Tinker with it. So by the time I actually sit down to work on the writing, I’ve been thinking about it for four to six years at least.

Given that kind of long acquaintanceship, was it hard to say goodbye to Beka? And where—in space, time or character—should readers expect to go next?

No, it wasn’t hard to say goodbye because I always know when the end is coming…And it wasn’t hard for her to say goodbye to me either, she just sort of waved over her shoulder and headed off to her next case.

Next up is a two-book series about Numair, Daine’s friend. That should be interesting, because apart from Briar in the Circle of Magic, he’ll be my first male hero. At 17, he’s not very adept. He’s been in the university for six years and doesn’t exactly know when to be politic. That will give us a look at Tortall between the years after the ending of The Song of the Lioness and before Wild Magic.