Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Esther Friesner
by Darrell Schweitzer
Esther Friesner is undeniably a very funny lady and the Queen of Comedy in
contemporary fantasy. Her books include Mustapha and His Wise Dog, Harpy
High, Hooray for Hellywood, Gnome Man's Land, Majyk by Hook or Crook, The
Sherwood Game, and many others, including The Sword of Mary and The Psalms
of Herod which are not funny, all of which remind us that Friesner is actually a
writer of considerable range and versatility. She has won the Nebula Award twice,
for serious stories, not comedies. Recently she has been writing a series of Young
Adult fantasy novels on themes taken from Greek mythology. This interview was
done on at Lunacon on Sunday, March 16, 2008. That weekend Esther also
sponsored a decidedly mythological promotional event, in which several Greek
deities and the Oracle of Delphi were present.
SCHWEITZER: The earliest things of yours I can remember are a couple stories
in Amazing in the early '80s. One was called "A Game of Crola," and was eerie
and serious -- was that your first sale?
Q: -- and then there was "Dragonet," which was more the work of the Esther
Friesner we all know. So, where does it all begin?
FRIESNER: As far as selling stuff, the first thing I got published was in
Asimov's SF, when George Scithers was the editor. He had this wonderful,
wonderful, kind thing he did, which was to send you back checklists with "This is
what you did wrong" for very common mistakes. Then you would start getting
letters, which would say, "Okay, you have learned from the checklist and you are
making uncommon mistakes," and then finally you would stop getting letters and
you would get a check and a contract with no letter whatsoever, and that was great.
I believe my first sale through that route was called "The Stuff of Heroes." It was
about a romance writer who had no talent for writing, but she was scientifically
gifted, so she had created the first reading system where you got a palpable
hologram of the hero. You started the book, the hero appeared, and you were cast
in the role of the romance heroine. And of course he was extremely dishy, and
well, hijinks ensued.
That was obvious "go for the comedy" gold. The second one was more ironic
comedy. It was called "Write When You Get Work," also sold to Asimov's, about a
solution to overcrowded prisons, and what happens when you are dealing with the
results of that solution.
And from there, on we went. I've done funny stuff; I've done serious stuff; I've
done horrifying stuff. It's always a lot of fun for me, because, well, if it isn't fun,
why am I doing this? The glamour, the respect, the huge piles of rubies. . . .
[Laughs.] Yeah, I would, but nobody has been offering me huge piles of rubies.
What's the matter with this system?
But that is where my first sales of science fiction and fantasy started.
SCHWEITZER: You have to admit there are certain perks. There may not be
piles of rubies, but I doubt that many mainstream literary writers were ever carried
into a convention room on a palanquin borne by scantily-clad, muscular slave-boys.
FRIESNER: Well, you know, that's because they never asked. That's the
problem. Usually I ask for something -- see rubies, above -- and I get it. Plus, we
live in a frighteningly creative community and there is always someone who
thinks, Gee, that would be fun. Let's see if we can get together and do that.
So I was in a discussion, and we were talking about what's your fantasy, and I
mentioned being borne in triumph on a sedan chair by very nice looking young
gentlemen. Some friends of mine said, "Okay, we can do that for you at Balticon,"
and they did, but you know what the problem is? More people found out about it
and I couldn't turn around without someone saying, "Hi, we've got a sedan chair.
We've got a bunch of scantily-clad young men. Would you like us to do that
again?" I've had that done now three times. I think it's enough and it's time to
move on to the rubies.
Are you paying attention? That's rubies.
SCHWEITZER: I saw it done at a Phrolicon.
FRIESNER: Yes, that was the second time.
SCHWEITZER: I have always appreciated your ability to move on before the
gag goes stale. For example, we are beyond Cyberprep now. But it was great while
it lasted, a response to Cyberpunk, and a way to promote good manners and
niceness in science fiction in the 1980s.
FRIESNER: I am, I confess it, sometimes a curmudgeon. I now hear people
laughing and going, "Sometimes? Sometimes? she says. The sun sometimes rises
in the east."
But, long, long ago, when Cyberpunk first started, there were a number of its
advocates who being very vehement about the fact this was it. This was what
science fiction was going to be. This was the one, true science fiction. There could
be no other. Anyone who thinks there can be any other kind of science fiction --
insert rant here.
And I was just listening to this, and my curmudgeonly nature took over, which is
basically expressed in the mantra, "Well says you." I thought about it, and having
observed the way the world works, I concluded that things get accomplished --
whether it's the exploration of space or whatever -- when there is money to be
made for someone. So probably the conquest and exploration of space isn't going
to be accomplished so much by the people with the chips in their heads as by the
people who have the money to start with and want more of it. At the time,
"Preppie" was a kind of icon. It was the days of The Preppie Handbook. So,
instead of Cyberpunk, all this nitty-gritty, I thought we should start Cyberprep,
because if space will be conquered, it will be conquered by the trust fundees who
are terribly polite about it. But you don't want to get in their way. They can be
So, it was a very nice joke. I was in this with Susan Shwartz and Judith Tarr as
well. Once we had the core idea, we started riffing on it. I wrote the Cyberprep
SCHWEITZER: It wasn't --
FRIESNER: It wasn't a manifesto. Pronunciamento because a manifesto is ever
so Red and well, Communism is just so inconvenient to our interests. I went
around a convention getting people to sign it. I got Isaac Asimov's signature. I still
have that document, so it is probably now worth, oh, many rubies.
And we had a party to launch Cyberprep. From then on we started having other
parties to continue it. Pink and green were the Cyberprep colors. The alligator was
our symbol. We had very lovely tea parties. We had a butler at one. It was just a
good joke, and then after a while, as with after a good joke, we decided it was
funny enough and we stopped it. But it was fun while it lasted.
SCHWEITZER: I was one of the signers. My Cyberprep name was "DC." John
Betancourt was "Biff."
SCHWEITZER: Do you remember the Cyberprep blazer? There was going to be
a final Cyberprep blowout at, I think, the Atlanta Worldcon in 1986, or it might
have been New Orleans two years later. There was a power failure and the party
was not held.
FRIESNER: I wasn't even there.
SCHWEITZER: Then I can tell you a story. I had worked out the proper male
Cyberpreppie attire for this. I was wearing a green blazer with a pink alligator on
the pocket, which I had made by drawing it on an piece of pink cloth and cutting it
out, because I couldn't find a pink Izod alligator. The party was cancelled but I
decided to wear this getup anyway. I was wearing a pink shirt, green spaces, a
green tie, and penny-loafers, along with my Cyberprep button, and I got into an
elevator with Susan Shwartz, who just lost it . . . and missed her floor.
FRIESNER: [Laughs.] Oh . . . my . . . goodness. . . . Now I do remember that
when we had a Cyberprep party at a World Fantasy Convention, Susan brought a
bread in the shape of an alligator, and we gave Jane Yolen the first Lizzie Award.
It's a big lizard like the one on all those preppie shirts. But just before we served
the alligator-shaped bread, Susan raised a knife and yelled, "Think of the New Sun,
Alligator!" and chopped its head right off. It was grand.
SCHWEITZER: We almost reach a serious point here. The essence of comedy is
timing, and the essence of timing is knowing when to stop. This must be the
essence of comedy writing too.
FRIESNER: It depends on the type of comedy. But sometimes people get tired
of a joke. You can't tell the same joke over and over unless you're making that
movie, The Aristocrats, I suppose. But there is always something new to write
comedy about, because there is always something new that annoys me. Good
comedy, as many people have said, makes you think about things. I always wind
up citing Terry Pratchett, because he writes wonderful comedy, and it does make
you think about certain things you've just kind of sailed through unconsciously in
your day-to-day life. He actually makes you pay attention, and say, "Wait a
minute. Is that right? Is that good? Why are we doing this again?"
But before Terry Pratchett, what my father used to read to me for bedtime stories
was Walt Kelly's Pogo. And Pogo, some of it sailed right over my head, all of the
stuff he wrote during the McCarthy Era. He had a character, a wildcat who was a
caricature of Joseph McCarthy, known as Simple J. Malarkey who started a witch-hunt in the swamp. It was a blood-curdling thing if you knew what was going on in
politics. But I was six years old or something, and I just thought it was funny. And
then they had the Jack-Assed Society. I didn't know about the John Birch Society.
I didn't know why my father was laughing hysterically reading about that. But
there was enough for him to think about and appreciate, and for me to appreciate as
That's another thing about good comedy. Some things are "in" jokes. You can't do
something solely based on an "in" joke unless you know that your entire audience
is going to get the "in" joke. For instance, if you say "Red Shirts," from Star Trek,
more and more people know the joke about the red shirts. Whoever wears the red
shirt in classic Star Trek on an away mission, if he's not one of the main
characters, that guy's not coming back. If you wear the red shirt, you're gonna die.
This joke has gotten so accessible that on an episode of the cartoon show Kim
Possible -- it's always fun, though it is a repetitive gimmick where the characters
get sucked into a television and go through all the shows. She winds up in a Star
Trek type universe. She contacts the kid who is her anchorman. He is a prodigy at
the computer. His name is Wade. She says, "I'm in some kind of sci-fi show and I
am stuck in this shirt," and he says, "What color is it?" "Red." "Oh my God! I've
got to get you out of there in a hurry!" And, apparently enough people know the
red shirt joke. Years ago, there wouldn't have been enough people who did for it to
So you have to have something to make everyone laugh, those who know the "in"
jokes, and those who don't know the "in" jokes.
SCHWEITZER: As we edge into satire, it would seem that a lot of successful
comedy is complaint. Comedy is in effect the use of laughter to prevent things
from becoming too bitter. You're talking about your curmudgeonly side. So, have
you written a lot of comedy as a form of complaint?
FRIESNER: Oh, you bet. I am not particularly meek, but I am small and slow, so
my ability to effect any sort of change could result in my getting hurt by the people
I am complaining about. So, if I can't do anything else, I can at least point out
some of the things I find to be ridiculous and hurtful.
One of the stories I wrote was called "'White,' Said Fred." I was driving home,
listening to public radio, and they had a story about how in England skinheads
were now not merely targeting Pakistani immigrants; they were targeting the
children. These full grown men were harassing Pakistani schoolchildren.
I was livid. Now, obviously, even if I were in England, what could I do about it? I
am not exactly the sort to go over to a skinhead and say, "And you must stop that
now." So I just had to get rid of all the anger I felt about this, and I wrote "'White,'
Said Fred," in which three skinheads, who are definitely "We are the master race"
supremacists, find a genie in a bottle who turns out to be a skinhead as well, and he
gives them the requisite three wishes. Of course they try to change the world to fit
their prejudices, and hijinks ensue. I got to do dreadful things to them and that is
the closest I'll ever come, but gosh, it was fun.
SCHWEITZER: Lately you're been writing lots of fiction based on Greek
mythology. Would you say something about that?
FRIESNER: I don't know why, but I have lately been on quite the Helen of Troy
kick, and other Greek mythology aside from Helen too. I don't know why. I think
it might be, "Oh, I've got a new toy," or it might be that there is so little told about
her. In the stories of the Trojan War she is portrayed as not much more than "This
is the woman who started it all. She is so beautiful." Even at the end of the war her
husband doesn't kill her when he gets her back, because she exposes her breasts to
him, and he drops his sword. "Oh, ten years of war. You ran off with that guy. All
these other guys are dead, but -- wow!" He takes her back.
I wondered, first of all, is that all there is to her, just a pretty face and a pretty . . .
what she exposed? I wanted to explore the character in both historical directions. I
wrote a story called "Helen Remembers the Stork Club." I took Helen of Troy
because she's half divine. Well, she probably wouldn't have died so young. So I
said, "What happens to a woman whose whole identity is that of the most beautiful
woman in the world, but she continues to age?" She doesn't age at the normal rate,
but she does age. Now here she is in New York City where, if you are a woman of
a certain age, people tend to turn you invisible on the street. They bump into you.
What if you are that woman of a certain age, and you have been so beautiful that
no one would dare overlook you? How does she cope with this new identity? It's
almost like Gloria Swanson's role [Norma Desmond] in Sunset Boulevard. She
used to be this gorgeous movie-star, glamorous, and now all she's got are her
memories and her delusions. I did not turn Helen of Troy into Norma Desmond,
but I had fun exploring how the character would deal with being there and being
who she was and who she had been.
I am also doing the backstory of Helen of Troy, which hasn't been told. What we
have of Helen's story, Troy aside, is her conception -- Leda and the swan -- her
birth, coming out of an egg, and her twin, Clytemnestra, who was the only half
divine. There were four children born of the union of Leda, Zeus, and Tyndareos of
Sparta. Two of the children were Tyndareos's children. Two were Zeus's. So two
of the twins were mortal: Helen's sister Clytemnestra, and I forget whether Castor
of Polydeuces was the mortal of those two. But the other boy was, like Helen, half-divine.
Helen in the myths is abducted at a very young age by Theseus. She is about
twelve years old, and in studying this I learned some kind of creepy (to modern
sensibilities) facts. In one of the stories, by the time Helen has been rescued by her
brothers from Theseus, she has borne Theseus a child, and that child is Iphigenia,
who was sacrificed on the altar by Agamemnon, because Clytemnestra,
Agamemnon's wife, adopted Iphigenia and raised her as her own daughter.
So I am sitting there saying, "Twelve years old. May have been all right then.
SCHWEITZER: A little early even then. They could have waited a couple more
FRIESNER: Yeah, still pretty creepy. So I wrote a story about Helen of Troy as
a girl being abducted to Athens. I thought, well, you know, she's not a classical
Spartan. She's not of the era of the Three Hundred. She is pre-classical. She is a
Minoan-Mycenaean era Spartan. But I thought that maybe the whole thing of
educating the daughters in throwing the javelin, the whole physical fitness thing,
training them almost as much as they trained the boys -- almost; the boys had it
much harder. Maybe that didn't come out of nowhere. Maybe there was a tradition
of giving the girls some kind of physical training. So I had Helen be beautiful, but
why can you not be beautiful and smart? She's smart. She's got some idea of how
to take care of herself physically. So instead of waiting for her brothers to rescue
her from Theseus, she rescues herself.
This story was in the Young Warriors anthology from Random House, and I got a
letter back saying, "We really liked the story. We'd love to see a novel." And now
I have two novels about young Helen of Troy's backstory. One is called Nobody's
Princess and the other is called Nobody's Prize. That's coming out this April.
[2008 -- DS] And I've just had so much fun playing in the field of Greek
mythology with Helen, giving her something more to do than just sitting around
being beautiful and a pawn. She is an intelligent young girl and she has adventures.
SCHWEITZER: Are you going to take her into adulthood and retell the classical
FRIESNER: These are YA books, so nope, we stop it before she becomes an
adult, before she gets married to Menelaus. But we did have Clytemnestra's first
marriage, because I found, reading deeper into mythology, that Agamemnon was
not Clytemnestra's first husband. She was first married . . . this gets into a very
complicated thing. Let's just leave it at that before I tell the whole darn myth about
the House of Atreus, which is definitely not YA material, a lot of that. It's bloody,
SCHWEITZER: There's the spike through the head --
FRIESNER: Not even that. There is the killing, cooking, and serving the sons of
one of the two brothers [Thyestes and Atreus, who was the father of Menelaus and
Agamenon] to their father. Thyestes is fed his own children and he doesn't know it
until his brother tells him, "Oh, guess what you just ate." Not exactly your
functional family. I think even Jerry Springer would be hard-pressed to deal with
the House of Atreus.
SCHWEITZER: You could do another series, unless you're becoming typecast.
I could see it happening that, from another publisher, you did an adult, bloody
account of the House of Atreus, but there might be concern that the readers of the
YA books or the librarians of the YA books might find the adult version and put it
on the same shelf. Is this an actual concern when you become a YA author? You
are known as "the Queen of Silly," I'll have you know. [Friesner laughs.] So, if
you made such a departure, would you have to use another byline?
FRIESNER: My reputation seems to still be very much about the comedy. And
yet I have almost a shadow-reputation of being able to write very dark things, or
certainly serious, if not dark things. Both of my Nebula Award stories were dark
stories, especially "A Birthday." That was super-dark. It was also about dealing
with a social issue. I think that the whole worry about librarians putting a dark,
scary, inappropriate book next to the rest comes down to the individual librarian. If
the librarian is paying attention -- I know they don't have time to read every single
book that comes in -- but if they just take the time to look at the precis of the plot
that comes with the material, they'll make the right decision. I know they can do
that. I trust the librarians.
Also, I don't think I'm getting typecast because I am doing another YA series
about Nefertiti. Helen of Troy, I have written a story for YA. I have written a story
for the general populace. I have written two YA novels. Now I want to do
something else. I am moving on. No one can typecast me but me.
SCHWEITZER: All writers should agonize over the terrible nightmare that
begins when somebody says, "Here's a half a million bucks. I want another one
just like the last one, and another, and another." [Friesner laughs.] And it keeps
going on. It is possible to be trapped by success. Perhaps both Edgar Rice
Burroughs and Frank Herbert were.
FRIESNER: True, but you mention the nightmare of being trapped in the
millions of dollars . . . well, look at J.K. Rowling. She said, "I'm going to be done
at number 7." Now, granted, we don't know what will happen within the next ten
years, but, so far, she seems to be sticking to her guns.
SCHWEITZER: She can't be tempted by a mere half million the way many of
us could be.
FRIESNER: It really comes down to the personality and also the financial
necessity of the author. One of my favorite things about D.H. Lawrence, and
perhaps my only favorite thing about D.H. Lawrence was a little poem he wrote:
He found the formula for drawing comic rabbits.
The formula for drawing comic rabbits paid.
So in the end he could not shake the tragic habits
the formula for drawing comic rabbits made.
I think I'd get bored if I had to do the same thing. Yes, I'd like to have a half a
million dollars. I'd like to have a million dollars. I could have an awful lot of fun
with that kind of money. But if I am not enjoying what I am doing, it will show in
what I am writing. If I am not having a good time, the reader will not have a good
time. The reader will not buy the book and the next time they come around they're
not going to say, "Here's a half a million dollars, or a million dollars. Do it again."
Readers should be given credit for being smart. They know what's good. They
know what's bad. People do not really want junk food. Sometimes they want a
little candy, just a totally relaxing thing to read, no need to put in any critical input,
but they don't want to be talked down to. They can tell when the author is just
phoning it in, like "Here's the slop, give me my check." I don't want that done to
me and I don't want it done to the readers. I'm a reader too.
SCHWEITZER: I am sure you would never never allow your books to be
franchised out. That's when the tired hacks show up.
FRIESNER: Oh my gosh, I never even thought of that.
SCHWEITZER: In the World of Esther Friesner . . .
FRIESNER: Or even worse, can you imagine I'm dead and I'm V.C. Andrews.
I'm dead and still the books come out. When you said being franchised, I was
sitting there thinking, "Oh I'd love to have McDonald's toys and happy meals from
one of my books," which probably wouldn't happen if I wrote the Dark House of
Atreus. You wouldn't want to be eating any hamburger that came with the House
SCHWEITZER: I think a certain number of twelve or thirteen year old boys
might go for that.
FRIESNER: And you're going to be wanting to watch those boys. Really watch
them. But I think it would be great fun to see what they would do with a book of
mine if they translated it to the screen. When Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came
out, I went to see it. I bought the book. The book was quite different from the
movie, and the author said he was really pleased with how they changed it. It was a
good movie, different from the book but still good. I like happy surprises. I realize
I might sit there and see one of my books up on the screen and it's just "What did
they do to that?" or it could be, "Wow, that's pretty cool. I didn't know Johnny
Depp could do that."
SCHWEITZER: Have you ever had any Hollywood interest, with or without
FRIESNER: I have had a couple of books optioned, but so far nothing has
happened. But that's how it works. You get someone who says, "Hey, let's put on
a show. My uncle has a barn," and then the uncle doesn't let them have the barn. I
don't know all about how it works, but it's nice to think somebody thinks one of
my books might make a good movie sometime.
SCHWEITZER: If you were to radically change direction again, have you any
guesses as to where you might go? I can just imagine you as a hard-science writer.
It would be interesting. [Friesner laughs.] How do you think Esther Friesner the
Analog writer would be?
FRIESNER: Pretty much impossible. I'm not saying this because I'm a girl and
I'm a blonde and as blonde Barbie girl says, "Math is hard," but I have so many
things in my background that I already know about, and I never did very well in
school in the hard sciences. I could see myself writing an Analog story in one of
the so-called "soft" sciences, and I have done books using biology. But chemistry
and physics . . . I never took physics and in chemistry I managed to blow up the
impossible-to-explode oxygen-making setup experiment.
SCHWEITZER: I saw somebody do that when I was in high school.
FRIESNER: Oh really? This was great . . .
SCHWEITZER: The guy I saw do it brought down the overhead lights with the
force of the blast and hurt himself.
FRIESNER: Wow. I didn't do that, but we did have flames shooting out of the
mouth of the test tube and the teacher came over and said, "It appears you've had
an accident here." That was when I thought, you know, I don't think I'm going to
like chemistry very much. And I never took physics. My husband has despaired of
me. He is very much into the hard sciences. "But . . . physics is fun! Physics is so
cool!" You know, he said the same thing about calculus. I don't believe him very
SCHWEITZER: Maybe the approach to writing about science, and the way into
Analog, would be satire.
SCHWEITZER: Analog has always run funny stories, particularly in the
Probability Zero department.
FRIESNER: I have found funny stuff in science before. Some of it is pseudo-science. When I get my hands on it I can get that science to pseudo up so fast it
would make your head spin, as in the first thing I ever sold. Well, there's a device
here. That's the core of the story. Granted, someone will never be able to come up
with this technology, but you can't say we never will, can you? And it was a funny
I never know where I am going to go next, so maybe I would do a science story,
although right now my latest reading for pleasure project, which is usually where I
wind up getting my ideas from, is alternating between reading Marcel Proust's
Remembrance of Things Past in English translation -- my French is good but not
that good -- and finally reading through the entire Bible. I have decided to read a
chapter a day and really pay attention to some of the things that are said. Since I've
never done it. I've read spottily through the Old Testament and very spottily
through the New Testament. Now I am going to read the whole thing, including all
of those "And so-and-so begat so-and-so . . ."
So far I have actually come up with the idea that if they can calculate the date of
creation, as Bishop Usher did, then they can certainly calculate the date on which
the Ark finally landed. Why don't we celebrate Ark Landing Day? And somebody
said, "Yes, that would be May 5th." So happy Ark Landing Day, everybody. It's
just full of ideas. It's wonderful. So, I'm not reading anything in science that is
inspiring me at the moment. Marcel Proust and the Bible.
SCHWEITZER: Which is funnier?
FRIESNER: I'm the girl who found a comedy moment in Moby Dick. And it was
supposed to be a comedy moment too. I wasn't just pulling it out of thin air. The
chowder scene. It's pretty funny. In Moby Dick it is all by itself and very sad and
lonesome, but it is a comedy moment. So I really don't know. I am going through
them both very, very slowly. But it's rich reading. I'm enjoying it. I think that's the
key to what I do. I enjoy what I do. I like writing even when it's hard. It's like
solving a puzzle. I don't consider it to be a chore. I don't consider it to be a stern
duty. It's fun.
SCHWEITZER: What are your actual writing methods like. [Friesner laughs.] I
collect them as a hobby . . .
FRIESNER: Not particularly anything fancy. I will sometimes get an idea out of
a weird title. A title will pop into my head or present itself to me by the strangest
means. The first time I won a Nebula Award it was for "Death and the Librarian." I
got the idea for the title because Terry Pratchett gave me two little pewter
figurines. They were about an inch and a half high, from Diskworld. One was of
Death and one was of the orangutan who is the Librarian. And I go, "Ooh! Death
and the Librarian! Thank you!" And then I sat there and the words just echoed. I
thought, that's a good title, "Death and the Librarian."
The story that I wrote couldn't have anything to do with Diskworld; but it was not
dark, but an emotional piece. It was the sort of story where when I stop reading it
in public and look up, there are people weeping. So it does what it is intended to
do. But my method is that sometimes I start with a title, and decide, "Well, what
can I hang off this title?"
Sometimes I start with an idea and I flesh the idea out, and if it doesn't work, you
can throw it out. I bless the day they made word-processors, because in the old
days I would write something on a typewriter and being pretty lazy I'd say, "Yeah,
that'll do," even though it could have stood a rewrite. I think I am writing much
better now that I can rewrite easily.
SCHWEITZER: That may depend on how you do your rewrites. I actually had
to learn to rewrite on a computer.
FRIESNER: Oh . . .
SCHWEITZER: My method involved typing one draft, and then marking it up
and the retyping the entire thing, to gain a certain creative momentum. It is the
difference between saying, "Remember that joke I told last night? The punchline
should have been this ____" and telling the joke again, with all the timing and
gestures in place. I went through a transitional stage where I would write the first
draft on a typewriter, and then do this creative rewrite on the computer. So did you
find that your actual methods changed when you switched to computer?
FRIESNER: I don't think so. I always was a child of the keyboard. I never wrote
in longhand. My parents always let me near the family typewriter and didn't care
what I did. So my handwriting stinks and it is slow, so I don't think writing has
changed that much, except that it's so much easier to move the block of text here
where it should be, or take things out. But sometimes I'll miss something when I
am rereading on the screen. You can't do the riffle through the pages. But if that
were really to adversely affect the writing, I will just have a printout and riffle
through the pages and say, "Okay, this should have gone there." I've just gotten
used to it. I haven't noticed a change. I haven't had a problem. The only change I
have noticed is that it is so much easier.
SCHWEITZER: Always tell new writers that if you can't write a novel with a
pencil, you can't write one with a computer, but if you can the computer's output
will be a whole lot neater. What would be your sage advice for beginners.
FRIESNER: Okay . . . there is a lot of sage advice, but it is not the advice of
absolutes. When you are a writer you have to be very sensitive and observant,
because if you are not you won't be able to create characters except for walking
yourself through things. You will not be able to think, how would someone who is
not at all like me act? I have had some characters in my stories who are just
monstrous beings doing things I would never do in my life, but I can imagine how
they would do it. But you also have to have something of a tough skin, because
writing, especially if you want to have it published professionally, brings rejection.
I have been writing since I was about three years old, telling stories, having my
mom write them down. But when I started sending stories out, I'd get a rejection
and I'd stop writing for months, because I thought "They hate me." No they didn't.
They just didn't like the story. So you have to get over that. You have to be
persistent, but you shouldn't be pig-headed. You can stand there and say, "Oh, they
don't like me because they're stupid and horrible and evil," or you can sit there and
reread what you have written and say, "You know, this could have been better. Let
me try a different way."
So it's a balancing act. You have to know yourself, and you have to be willing to
face truths about yourself. You also have to pay attention to the fact that writing is
an art, but it's also a craft. You may have written the most beautiful thing, but if
you are sending it out to an editor, well, do you know how many manuscripts most
editors have to go through? You had better know how to make a professional-looking manuscript. You have to be able to know that your writing may be special
and you may be a special human being, but there is no special treatment for you
when it comes to submitting. If they say "No e-mail submissions," yes, they mean
you. No e-mail submissions. They're not going to make an exception. They're
very, very busy. Writing is an art, writing is a craft, and writing is a business.
Sometimes very fine writing does not get published because the people who are in
charge of publication don't consider it to be commercially viable. How are you
going to get paid if they're not earning money selling stuff people want to buy?
I always used to love the idea of being just the writer as artist, but the reality is that
you have to be artist, craftsman, and business person. You have to be able to hear
no, and you have to be able to say, "No this time, but maybe next time yes. What
can I do to get to that yes." I think you have to like what you are doing, because if
you are only writing so you will be rich and famous, and you don't like writing, if
you don't enjoy it, it's going to show. People have their own troubles. They are not
going to want to be not entertained by what you have set in front of them.
SCHWEITZER: Thank you, Esther.