Friday, April 20, 2012

Feature Friday: Esther Friesner

Have you ever met someone who is just a unique diamond-in-the-rough kind of person?  I've decided that's the kind of person Esther Friesner is.  Esther has been getting published in the SciFi/Fantasy realm for years, but she only just recently started writing historic YA novels, most specifically the Princesses of Myth series.  I've seen Esther on panels at Lunacon for years and I've always thought she was interesting to listen to.  This year I had the pleasure of being on a panel with her and that was quite a great experience.  This year I learned that Esther is a fellow Connecticut author, a lover of anime, and that she loves hamsters; but I didn't get to know the true Esther until I asked her to become a Feature Friday author and I read her info page on her website.  Holy moly what a fun info page to read!  It's a little too long to copy and paste onto the blog, but I encourage you to take a look here.  Even if you don't get a chance to read her bio page, I hope that this interview is enough for you to get a taste of Esther's personality and creative vision as an author. 

INTERVIEW:

A.L.:
All your heroines tend to be strong roll models for the readers you set out to write for. How much of this is intentional and how much is just your own inclination for that kind of character?

Esther:
It just happens because I like that sort of character and that sort of person. I hope I never set out to use a character as a lecture platform or a pulpit! I don't like reading what I call A Valuable Lesson characters and I doubt most readers do either. I also think that strong characters are more interesting, especially female ones, because it's never been easy--and still isn't--to be a strong woman in any society.

A.L.:
Your new book, Spirit’s Princess, is about a Japanese historical figure named Himiko. Can you tell me why you chose her?

Esther:
I don't remember when or where I first heard of Himiko. I know she's one of the illustrations in an Osprey "Men at Arms" series book. I do recall being fascinated to learn that she--not a warrior-queen but a shaman--managed to unite the warring tribes of Yayoi-era Japan, and that this was not just a legend since her existence is attested in the Chinese chronicles of Wei. Foreign historians gain nothing by glorifying the leader of another nation, especially not if said leader were purely imaginary. She was real, all right, a unifier and a peace-bringer. (BTW, she exchanged tribute with China and archaeologists have found evidence of this exchange. Very interesting!)

A.L.:
When it comes to choosing which YA book you write next, do you decide to choose an area, time period, or a particular historic figure/event first?

Esther:
I choose my heroine first, not her era or country, though to be more accurate, I choose at least three young women whose lives and histories interest me enough to set me wondering about what their girlhoods might have been like. Then I take my ideas to my editor and we pick one. The good part is, I am equally interested in writing about any one of the three or I would not suggest them, so it's win-win-win for me no matter which one, er, wins. :)

A.L.:
What kind of research did you do to prepare to write Himiko’s story?

Esther:
Books and Our Friend the Internet. There aren't many books available about Himiko, but the one I chiefly used was excellent. I am very thankful for all the online resources available concerning daily life in Himiko's time, Yayoi-era Japan. I also owe thanks to the Japanese Tourism Office in New york for maps and beautifully illustrated brochures. Finally, I am happy to say that I've been lucky enough to visit Japan twice and on my second trip was able to travel beyond Tokyo. I would love to do so again, and hope that my next journey will allow me to visit a reconstructed Yayoi village, about which I have only read online. It looks wonderful!

A.L.:
I’m assuming you’ll go along with the two-book-standard for Himiko, so we should expect a second book in her series, but after her, who do you think will be your next heroine?

Esther:
There is definitely a second book about Himiko, Spirit's Chosen.

And for my next heroine in the Princesses of Myth series, I am hoping to take readers to Ireland of the Iron Age in order to share the adventures of the girl who grew up to be the redoubtable Queen Maeve. She was quite the kickbutt character, probably able to give young Helen of Sparta powerful competition, but trust me, I've got some powerful surprises and twists in store for her! [Cue Author's Gloating Laughter here.]

A.L.:
Do you see yourself writing in another YA genre anytime soon?

Esther:
I'm having too much fun writing my YA historicals right now to turn to another genre, but you never know.

A.L.:
If you walked into a Japanese restaurant, what would you order?

Esther:
YUM! I love Japanese food.

I would order the following: miso soup; assorted sushi (I prefer roll style and my preferred kinds include, but are not limited to: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, any combinations of the above featuring avocado, scallions, other veggies, and roe, but I am open to sampling new and untried varieties); rice balls, especially stuffed with ume (pickled plum); oshinko (assorted pickled vegetables); seaweed salad; udon (a specific type of noodle); green tea; sake.

Please note that I would not order all of these for one meal. I just don't want to leave out any of my favorite dishes. (Except I fear I might have done so anyway. There are so many good things! When shall we go?)

A.L.:
If you could give one piece of advice to budding authors, what would it be?

Esther:
May I give more than one?

Don't give up.

Recognize that your work is valuable and that you deserve to be paid for your talent and effort.

Don't take rejection personally. You are not being rejected, it's just that one piece of your writing was not a good "fit" for that particular editor/publication. Try submitting it elsewhere. Write more. If your submission receives a criticism from one editor, it might be no more than a matter of that person's taste, but if your submission receives similar criticisms from more than one editor, you might want to consider rewriting it.

Don't fall for any of the "We want to publish your book/be your agent!" scams out there. Reputable agents do not charge fees for trying to sell your work to a publisher; they receive a percentage of the money you receive once they do make that sale for you.

Beware of "contests" that charge entry fees.

If you aspire to become a professionally published author, remember the wise words of James Macdonald: "Money flows toward the writer."

A.L.:
What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a historical novel?

Esther:
The hardest part is making sure that I don't let my heroines act like 21st century young women who are playing dress-up. This means that sometimes they may accept as normal certain parts of their culture that we would find horrible.

Case in point: All three of the cultures about which I have written so far--ancient Egypt, Minoan-Mycenaean Greece, and 3rd century Japan--were slave-owning societies. It would be artificial for my heroines to declare "Slavery is wrong!" unless they first had the opportunity to think about it and the personal experiences that would bring them to this realization naturally.

And I get to give them those experiences. :)

A.L.:
Out of your three YA heroines (Helen, Nefertiti, and Himiko) which is your favorite? Likewise, whose story was the most interesting/fun to write?

Esther:
No contest: All of the Above, for all different reasons.

Never ask a mother to name her favorite child. :)

A.L.:
Some of your best baddies have been women; do you like writing female baddies more than male? Or is this just a coincidence?

Esther:
It's coincidence. I am an Equal Opportunity Baddie-Employer! I will admit, it can be a great deal of fun to write a really juicy villain's part. (Dracula is so much more interesting than Van Helsing!)

If you delve into history, you'll find plenty of examples of notorious baddies both male and female. Unfortunately, when they're a part of history rather than historical novels, they do real damage.

A.L.:
If you could be a particular female character (mythical/real) who would you be? Why?

Esther:
Off the top of my head, I'd pick Eleanore of Aquitaine. She was an independent ruler, she had the most marvelous real-life adventures, she traveled widely, and she lived into her eighties or nineties.

She could have had better luck with her husbands, though. Can I be Eleanore without that part of her life where her second husband, Henry II of England, imprisons her for years and years? Yes, it was a very comfortable imprisonment, but still--!

But she did get out eventually, and went on to make her own happy ending.

Or so I like to imagine, and for me, imagination's what it's all about!

Esther Friesner
THE GIVEAWAY!
For this Feature Friday giveaway we have a real treat!  Esther has provided two advanced reading copies of her new book, Spirit's Princess, as well as some autographed book plates.  The giveaway will run from April 20th to the 25th as part of my Showers of Books Giveaway Hop.

Spirit's Princess: Himiko the beloved daughter of a chieftain in third century Japan has always been special. The day she was born there was a devastating earthquake, and the tribe's shamaness had an amazing vision revealing the young girl's future—one day this privileged child will be the spiritual and tribal leader over all of the tribes. Book One revolves around the events of Himiko's early teen years—her shaman lessons, friendships, contact with other tribes, and journey to save her family after a series of tragic events. Once again, Esther Friesner masterfully weaves together history, myth, and mysticism in a tale of a princess whose path is far from traditional.

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