Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guest Post: Author Esther M. Friesner

Some lies lead to true adventure...

Maeve, princess of Connacht, was born with her fists clenched. And it's her spirit and courage that make Maeve her father's favorite daughter. But once he becomes the High King, powerful men begin to circle—it's easy to love the girl who brings her husband a kingdom.

Yet Maeve is more than a prize to be won, and she's determined to win the right to decide her own fate. In the court's deadly game of intrigue, she uses her wits to keep her father's friends and enemies close—but not too close. When she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the son of a visiting druid, Maeve faces a brutal decision between her loyalty to her family and to her own heart.

Award-winning author Esther Friesner has a remarkable gift for combining exciting myth and richly researched history. This fiery heroine's fight for independence in first-century Ireland is truly worthy of a bard's tale. Hand Deception's Princess to fans of Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, and Malinda Lo.

Oh, the Places I Haven’t Been!
I’ve just flown back from Ireland, and boy, is that old joke tired.  (If you don’t know which old joke I mean, See Below *)  It was a business trip.  The heroine of Deception’s Princess (and its sequel, Deception’s Pawn) is the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht, so I had to check out her home turf in order to write about it.

Except I didn’t do that. 

One of the most Frequent of the FAQs I encounter as an author is “Have you ever been to the places you write about?”  It’s second only to “Where do you get your ideas?”  Whenever someone asks me that question about the Princesses of Myth books, I must say “No.” 

Young Helen of Troy’s exploits in Nobody’s Princess and Nobody’s Prize carry her from Sparta, through greater Greece, to the wild lands bordering the Black Sea and home again.  Nefertiti’s adventures in Sphinx’s Princess and Sphinx’s Queen are set in Egypt.  Have I traveled to Greece or Egypt?  No.   (I have visited Japan, the setting for Himiko’s story in Spirit’s Princess and Spirit’s Chosen. I’d love to return, and I’m pleased beyond belief that I was able to write about such a lovely country, but that still leaves me two-to-one on the side of Haven’t been there, haven’t done that.)

Wait a minute.  How dare I?  Behold, one of the first lessons for aspiring writers, namely: Write about what you know.  How can I know a place if I haven’t been there? Should I add this to my Guilt-of-the-day list?

Again. . .No.  If you’re going to have a happy go at writing, you need to understand that Write about what you know does not mean Write about only those things you have experienced firsthand.   (Wow.  Italics and boldface and underlining?  I must really mean this!)  To quote a great Western philosopher, “Well, d’uh!”  If it weren’t so—if we could only write about our firsthand experiences—a huge number of my fellow fiction-mongers would be in deep, deep trouble.  Or dead.  Or undead.  Or--a fate worse than undeath—they’d be the perpetrators of some very dull books indeed.

If we could only write about our firsthand experiences, a lot of fantasy and science fiction could never see the light.  We’d never be taken along on journeys through Middle Earth, never matriculate at Hogwarts, never have it out with Lord Vader aboard the Death Star, never chill to the knowledge that “Winter is coming.” 

And I’d never be able to write about a single character who’s carrying a Y chromosome.

Here’s another thing to bear in mind:  Even if I had been to Ireland, I still could not say I’d seen Maeve’s Ireland.  The same goes for Helen’s Greece, Nefertiti’s Egypt and Himiko’s Japan. To do that, I’d need more than a plane ticket; I’d need a time machine.  (TSA would not approve.) 

Okay, so how do I visit the places I haven’t been and—due to lack of time-traveling abilities—I could never go anyway?  Here’s the short list:  

1. Books.  That’s a given and--since I love ferreting around in libraries—it’s also a pleasure. Heavily illustrated books are research jackpots, particularly those where the artist looks at relics, ruins, grave-goods and monuments, then uses her imagination to create a picture of what all of these things must have looked like when they were new, in use, and part of my characters’ everyday lives.  Funny thing:  Children’s books are among my favorite resources because they are more picture-enriched tend to be more enriched with pictures.

2. Websites.  Long live the Internet!  Sometimes I feel as if I can find anything about any culture at any point in history at the click of a mouse.  But I always double check what I learn from one website against what several others have to say. On the Internet there are facts and then there are “facts.” 

3.  Tourism resources.  I’m lucky enough to live within commuting distance of New York City, the location of many nations’ tourism offices.  They’ve always provided me with materials about countless aspects of the countries I’ve researched, including some containing priceless information about historical sites.  More pictures!

If I didn’t live close to NYC, I’d look up the tourism office I needed online and send a request for information.  Failing that, I’d ask to a local travel agent to give me a hand.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how helpful people can be when you tell them you’re trying to write a book!  And speaking of people. . .

4. People.  Some people have been to the places I haven’t and are eager to share their experiences.  Sometimes their stories go outside of the cities and give me a sense of the land that I would not have been able to get from my other research. (A friend of mine who has been to Ireland tells of how his camera—in perfect working order before and after—refused to take photos at one isolated, prehistoric site.  Apparently something didn’t want its picture taken.  I never got chills like that off the Internet!)

5. Pause for Thought.  This is essential.  This is where I take all of the hard facts and pretty pictures that tell me about Ireland, Greece, Egypt or Japan now and think about how they differed then.  I think about how living in a particular place and culture would affect my heroine.  Most of all, I think about how her society’s values would not be the same as today’s.  Slavery was a fact of life in ancient Egypt, so Nefertiti would not be raised to think of it as wrong.  She’d have to reach that conclusion on her own.  There were no coins in Helen’s Greece.  If she wanted to travel, she’d have to come up with a way to pay for her needs on the road.  Celtic warriors of Maeve’s time decorated the entryways to their houses with the preserved heads of their enemies.  She wouldn’t look at them and say, “Ew!”; she’d be proud to see how many trophies her father had brought home. 

And the most important thing I must think about on my travels to lands and times I’ve never been is this:  Helen and Himiko and Nefertiti and Maeve are not modern girls playing dress-up.  They don’t enjoy the rights we take for granted.  Even though they are princesses, they are still subject to the commands of their fathers and considered less important, less valuable than their brothers.  If they want the freedom to be themselves and make their own choices in life, they have to fight for it. 

I get to go along on their journeys, and I wouldn’t trade these travels for any all-expense-paid real trip in the world.

About the Author:
Esther M. Friesner was educated at Vassar College, where she completed B.A's in both Spanish and Drama. She went to on to Yale University; within five years she was awarded an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish. She taught Spanish at Yale for a number of years before going on to become a full-time author of fantasy and science fiction. She has published twenty-seven novels so far; her most recent titles include Temping Fate from Penguin-Puffin and Nobody's Princess from Random House.

Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aboriginal SF, Pulphouse Magazine, Amazing, and Fantasy Book, as well as in numerous anthologies. Her story, "Love's Eldritch Ichor," was featured in the 1990 World Fantasy Convention book.

Her first stint as an anthology editor was Alien Pregnant By Elvis, a collection of truly gonzo original tabloid SF for DAW books. Wisely, she undertook this project with the able collaboration of Martin H. Greenberg. Not having learned their lesson, they have also co-edited the Chicks In Chainmail Amazon comedy anthology series for Baen Books, as well as Blood Muse, an anthology of vampire stories for Donald I Fine, Inc.

"Ask Auntie Esther" was her regular etiquette and advice column to the SFlorn in Pulphouse Magazine. Being paid for telling other people how to run their lives sounds like a pretty good deal to her.

Ms. Friesner won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story of 1995 for her work, "Death and the Librarian," and the Nebula for Best Short Story of 1996 for "A Birth Day." (A Birth Day" was also a 1996 Hugo Award finalist.) Her novelette, "Jesus at the Bat" was on the final Nebula ballot in the same year that "Death and the Librarian" won the award. In addition, she has won the Romantic Times award for Best New Fantasy Writer in 1986 and the Skylark Award in 1994. Her short story, "All Vows," took second place in the Asimov's SF Magazine Readers' Poll for 1993 and was a finalist for the Nebula in 1994. Her Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel, Warchild, made the USA TODAY bestseller list.

She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, two rambunctious cats, and a fluctuating population of hamsters.



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