Esther M. Friesner (1951–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1951, in New York, NY; Education: Vassar College, B.A. (cum laude; Spanish and drama), 1972; Yale University, M.A. (Spanish), 1975, Ph.D. (Spanish), 1977.
Agent—Richard Curtis Literary Agency, 171 E. 74th St., New York, NY 10021.
Writer. Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor in Spanish, 1977–79, 1983.
Science Fiction Writers of America.
Named Outstanding New Fantasy Writer by Romantic Times, 1986; Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Titles citation, Voice of Youth Advocates, 1988, for New York by Knight; Nebula Award finalist for Best Novelette, 1995, for Jesus at the Bat; Nebula Award for Best Short Story, 1995, for "Death and the Librarian," and 1996, for "A Birthday."
Harlot's Ruse, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1986.
The Silver Mountain, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1986.
Druid's Blood, New American Library (New York, NY), 1988.
Yesterday We Saw Mermaids, Tor (New York, NY), 1992.
Wishing Season (young adult), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Laurence Watt-Evans) Split Heirs, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Blood Muse: Timeless Tales of Vampires in the Arts, Donald I. Fine, 1995.
The Psalms of Herod, White Wolf, 1995.
The Sherwood Game, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Child of the Eagle: A Myth of Rome, Baen (New York, NY), 1996.
The Sword of Mary, White Wolf, 1996.
(With Robert Asprin) E. Godz, Baen (New York, NY), 2003.
"CHRONICLES OF THE TWELVE KINGDOMS" FANTASY SERIES
Mustapha and His Wise Dog, Avon (New York, NY), 1985.
Spells of Mortal Weaving, Avon (New York, NY), 1986.
The Witchwood Cradle, Avon (New York, NY), 1987.
The Water King's Laughter, Avon (New York, NY), 1989.
"DEMONS" SERIES; FANTASY NOVELS
Here Be Demons, Ace (New York, NY), 1988.
Demon Blues, Ace (New York, NY), 1989.
Hooray for Hellywood, Ace (New York, NY), 1990.
"NEW YORK BY KNIGHT" FANTASY SERIES
New York by Knight, New American Library (New York, NY), 1986.
Elf Defense, New American Library (New York, NY), 1988.
Sphynxes Wild, New American Library (New York, NY), 1989.
"GNOME MAN'S LAND"FANTASY SERIES
Gnome Man's Land (first volume in trilogy), Ace (New York, NY), 1991.
Harpy High (second volume in trilogy), Ace (New York, NY), 1991.
Unicorn U (third volume in trilogy), Ace (New York, NY), 1992.
"MAJYK" FANTASY SERIES
Majyk by Accident, Ace (New York, NY), 1993.
Majyk by Hook or Crook, Ace (New York, NY), 1994.
Majyk by Design, Ace (New York, NY), 1994.
"CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL" SERIES; EDITOR AND CONTRIBUTOR
Chicks in Chainmail, Baen (New York, NY), 1995.
Did You Say "Chicks"?!, Baen (New York, NY), 1998.
Chicks 'n' Chained Males, Baen (New York, NY), 1999.
The Chick Is in the Mail, Baen (New York, NY), 2000.
Turn the Other Chick, Baen (New York, NY), 2004.
Warchild ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" series), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
To Storm Heaven ("Star Trek: The Next Generation" series) Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor with Martin H. Greenberg) Alien Pregnant by Elvis, DAW (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor with Martin H. Greenberg) Blood Muse, Donald I. Fine, 1995.
Men in Black II (based on the screenplay by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro), Del Rey (New York, NY), 2002.
Death and the Librarian, and Other Stories (anthology), Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
Fiction published in anthologies, including: Elsewhere III, Ace, 1984; Afterwar, Baen Books, 1985; Werewolves, Harper & Row, 1988; Arabesques II, Avon, 1989; Carmen Miranda's Ghost Is Haunting Space Station Three, Baen Books, 1990; Cthluthu 2000, edited by Jim Turner; Arkham House, 1995; Newer York, ROC, 1991; The Ultimate Frankenstein, Dell, 1991; What Might Have Been, Bantam, 1992; Snow White, Blood Red, Morrow, 1993; Alternate Warriors, Tor, 1993; Bet You Can't Read Just One, edited by Alan Dean Foster, Ace, 1993; Weird Shakespeare, edited by Kitt Kerr, DAW Books, 1994; Excalibur, edited by Richard Gilliam, Ed Kramer, and Martin H. Greenberg, Warner Books, 1995; Fantastic Alice, edited by Margaret Weis, Ace, 1995; Gothic Ghosts, edited by Charles Grant and Wendy Webb, Tor Books, 1997; The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy, edited by Mike Ashley, Carroll & Graf, 1998; Black Cats and Broken Mirrors, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW Books, 1998; and Streets of Blood: Vampire Stories from New York City, edited by Lawrence Schimel and Martin H. Greenberg, Cumberland House, 1998. Contributor to short fiction and poetry to periodicals, including Isaac Asimov's Science-Fiction Magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Amazing Stories, Fantasy Book, and Pulphouse.
Called by Fred Lerner in Voice of Youth Advocates "one of the most prolific writers of fantasy fiction, and one of the funniest," Esther M. Friesner overturns many of the conventions of the fantasy genre in works that include her "New York by Knight" novel series, in which a dragon and his armored pursuer bring their ages-old battle to the streets of modern-day New York, and the "Gnome Man's Land" trilogy, which finds high schooler Tim Desmond forced to cope not only with adolescence, but also with everything from a plague of "little people" to exotic monsters and gods. According to Lerner, Friesner "has made a specialty of ferreting out obscure creatures from the mythologies and demonologies of the world and turning them loose on unsuspecting places like Brooklyn, New Haven, and Hollywood." In addition to her many novels and award-winning short stories, Friesner has also flaunted fantasy tradition by editing the multi-volume "Chicks in Chainmail" series of penned-by-invitation short stories in which amazons co-opt the hero role reserved for macho men in traditional fantasy. Praising the editor's "acerbic feminist introduction to the series installment Turn the Other Chick, Booklist critic Roland Green noted that "the book is a romp for the humor-unimpaired and must reading for Xena fans."
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Friesner later attended Vassar College, studying Spanish and drama, and Yale University, where she earned her master's and doctoral degrees in classical Spanish literature, specializing in the works of playwright Lope de Vega. "I always knew that I wanted to write," she once told an interviewer. "I was trying to get published while I was in college, but it wasn't until I was in grad school that I got very serious about it…. The first time I got an encouraging rejection slip (saying 'We are not buying this, but this is why') was from George Scithers of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I continued to send to him and he continued to send me back rejection slips, but always telling me what was wrong. Finally I made my first sale to his magazine as a result of his encouragement. That was a short story, but I got into writing full-length fantasy thanks to a group at Yale."
While attending Yale, Friesner got to know Shariann Lewitt, a published science-fiction author who was then at work on a fantasy novel. "We saw her building a whole world," Friesner recalled, "working out all the details on a big legal pad she had. This was quite different from writing a short story. I thought, 'Oh, building a world. I get to be God! How nice. I'm going to try that.' And that was how I got started on fantasy novels." Friesner's first world-building book became Spells of Mortal Weaving, in her "Chronicles of the Twelve Kingdoms" series.
Spells of Mortal Weaving would be the second book in Friesner's "Chronicles of the Twelve Kingdoms"; the series actually begins with the Arabian Nights-styled adventure novel Mustapha and His Wise Dog, which is "enlivened by an exotic and evocative fantasy setting, and a pair of captivating characters," according to Don D'Ammassa writing in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers. The series, which also includes The Witchwood Cradle and The Water King's Laughter, follows the struggles of various mortals through several generations as they attempt to overthrow Morgeld, an evil demigod. "Although Friesner followed traditional forms for the most part in this series," D'Ammassa concluded, "her wry humor and gift for characterization marked her early as someone to watch."
Friesner originally conceived the "Chronicles of the Twelve Kingdoms" as a twelve-volume high-fantasy series. But, she explained, she also wanted to play with some ideas about characterization that were not traditional in the high-fantasy genre. "I wanted to have characters that were not just good and evil …," she told an interviewer. "Most people, unless they are really unbalanced mentally, do not do evil things without a reason. Their reasons seems perfectly good and perfectly justified to them, and they go ahead and do atrocious things in the belief that they are doing the right thing. In The Witchwood Cradle, the villain shows up as something other than villainish, while you actually get to see a hero that is not always perfectly sterling silver pure. There can be a lot of mercilessness behind be-ing a hero, and by the end of that book I had pretty well established the point that you can't just accept this guy is the good guy in the white hat. I think that comes out of the real world too. A lot of people want to believe that so-and-so is our flawless leader, and if our flawless leader all of a sudden decides to do something that isn't right, they will follow it anyway: our leader is good, therefore everything our leader does must be good, and we must do it; we must not question."
Although even at the beginning of her writing career Friesner seemed intent on "pushing the envelope" and challenging fantasy conventions, her intent has not been to advance any particular cause. "I just try to make it interesting," she explained in an interview, "and also to say a few things that I feel need to be said. For instance, in Gnome Man's Land … I was speaking about the suppression of people's ethnic heritage. In fact, I pointed out how this could get a little dangerous, because every culture has its own domestic spirits. Now, America is a melting pot of ethnicity, so while you can have an American who is predominantly Irish, you often have people who really aren't predominantly anything, and then all the little spirits from their different ethnic backgrounds will fight over them. In America the only little domestic spirits kids ever learn about are in the story 'The Shoemaker and the Elves,' which draws on a British tradition. The kids don't realize that there are the hinzelmänner, little-people myths from Germany, and they don't know about the duende in the Hispanic culture. The little people of Hawaii are quite active even today—it's still an active belief."
In addition to confronting warring ethnic spirits, teen protagonist Tim Desmond has to deal with his own personal problems in Friesner's "Gnome Man's Land" trilogy: getting through high school, living in a single-parent family—his father disappeared one evening on his way to buy a newspaper—and stabilizing his roller-coaster relationship with his girlfriend. Tim also has to fend off the lusty attentions of his own personal spirit, the Desmond family banshee. "A lot of the modern American perception of the elfin community in general is very sanitized—you know, Santa's little helpers happily making toys and shoes and whatever—but traditionally most otherworldly sprites were incredibly sexy creatures," Friesner explained. "They did not invite the ladies to come and join them just to have a cup of tea. In addition, there's a whole history of changelings and elfin babies with mortal mothers, and on the other side, the women of Elfhame stealing men. I think the Irish hero Oisin was taken away to the Land of Youth by a woman, a female elf. The ballad of Tam Lyn tells of a mortal man who has been stolen away by the Queen of Elves. He takes a mortal lover who winds up pregnant by him and she saves him from becoming Elfland's tithe to hell, from being sacrificed by the elves to hell. These are not nice elves, so having an amorous banshee is pretty much in keeping with the spirit of the other-worldly creatures."
In addition to her series fantasy, Friesner has penned several standalone novels, among them a novelization of the feature film Men in Black II, about which School Library Journal reviewer Pam Johnson noted: "fast-paced scenes and … entertaining one-liners" make the novel "fun" and also "attract[ive to] reluctant readers." She teams up with fellow writer Robert Asprin on E. Godz, which follows a successful business woman's efforts to make her children worthy of inheriting her business empire. Edwina Godz is CEO of E.GODZ, which supports nonprofit efforts of magic-related organizations. Because the Godz offspring, Peez and Dov, are more concerned with battling each other than advancing the family business, Edwina feigns a fatal illness and devises a contest through which the siblings learn to deal with each other. Reviewing the novel, Kliatt contributor Sherry Hoy dubbed Friesner's work "light fun with a touch of Carlos Castaneda."
Friesner's original short fiction, which has won several awards, is collected in the anthology Death and the Librarian, and Other Stories. The dozen tales include the Nebula-winning title story as well as a haunting response to 9/11 titled "Ilion," the poignant "All Vows," and the humorous stories "True Believer" and "Jesus at the Bat." Praising the title story as "darkly humorous," Jackie Cassada noted in Library Journal that the collection as a whole "illustrate[s] the author's acutely sensitive vision of wonder in the everyday world," while Booklist critic Paula Luedtke wrote that Friesner's short stories "fearlessly explore the depths and breadths of feeling and experience exquisitely well." Noting the range of emotions that the author skillfully calls forth with her tales, Luedtke added that Friesner "writes boldly, and her wit is sharp, funny, and often wry."
Friesner views humor as an important ingredient in her works, but not necessarily the defining one. "Humor can make you think, and therefore can be very, very dangerous," she warned. "There is a long tradition of humorists being regarded as very dangerous people. I think that a country that can stand humorists has got an open mind and is willing to take chances, because humor can be devastating—it can make you stop and question things that you accepted before. But if the humor doesn't arise naturally out of the plot, the story's going to resemble one of the really bad sitcoms. Good humor, and good writing in general, should seem to be pretty natural. There is a lot of humor that does arise out of day to day situations; in fact, humor shows up in places that you wouldn't believe, in some of the most ghastly situations. In times like those laughter could be the saving of us."
Ideas for her fiction can come from overheard conversations, family vacations, newspaper accounts, favorite comics such as Walt Kelly's "Pogo"—just about anywhere, in fact. As she commented on her home page, "Ex-boyfriends provide wonderful sources for the Wrong Sort of People who wind up devoured by dragons, skewered by barbarian swords, zapped by rayguns, forced to eat white chocolate, and other hideous fates. Close study of my cats also provides a usable scenario for an ongoing World Domination plot."
Several of Friesner's works incorporate historical figures and settings, and these books showcase her personal knowledge of and interest in the past. "I have always loved history," she once told an interviewer. "History is full of incredible trashy gossip that has been legitimized, because it is history: great stories, the things that people did and how they got around to doing them, how they justified them, and some of the things that they actually said. I have learned from some of this…. In Sphynxes Wild I used the Roman emperors from my old reading of Suetonius. With Druid's Blood … I had a perfectly justified way of getting some of my favorite characters from English history together.
"I finally got to use Spanish history for my first hardback, Yesterday We Saw Mermaids. The title is a direct quote from the diary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. He wrote, 'Yesterday we saw mermaids. They are not as beautiful as we have been led to believe.' And you know what he saw—manatees (adorable animals but they have got a face that would make a train take a dirt road). I thought 'Well, what would happen if indeed they saw mermaids but it's not Christopher Columbus who sees it, it's the ship that got there ahead of him.' Now in history when Columbus got to the New World and discovered the native Americans, a whole chunk of years passed during which the Europeans were debating whether the natives were human or not. 'Do they have souls or not? Because if we decide they are not human and do not have souls, then we can do whatever we want to them without any fear.' Well, finally the Europeans published the Dialogue of the Dignity of Man, in which they decided 'Oh, well, I guess they do have souls.' They kept on being pretty awful to the natives anyway, in spite of the excellent work of a number of churchmen who kept saying, 'What are you doing? These are human beings, they have souls and we must save their souls.' (If they didn't have their souls saved, they were still semi-fair game.) So that was my little ax to grind with Columbus and the are they human people."
"When I write," Friesner once explained, "I try to make the story so interesting that I wouldn't mind rereading it myself. This is actually a very good thing. It's important to interest your readers because if you don't you won't have readers anymore. But if you don't interest yourself in what you're writing…. Well, the process of going from the first draft to the published book takes an awfully long time. You will have to look at that story and those characters a lot—you'll have to do another draft, perhaps even a third, then the editor will go over it, then the copy editor. Every time you're going to be reading the same words. If they aren't good words, you're going to get the feeling of being trapped at a party with people you don't like."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors & Artists for Young Adults, Volume 10, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Analog, December, 1989, pp. 184-185; September, 1991, pp. 166-167; March, 1993, p. 162; April, 1994, p. 169; October, 1994, p. 161; December, 1994, p. 161; February, 1997, p. 145.
Booklist, December 1, 2002, Paula Luedtke, review of Death and the Librarian, and Other Stories, p. 651; November 1, 2004, Roland Green, review of Turn the Other Chick, p. 472.
Kliatt, September, 2005, Sherry Hoy, review of E. Godz, p. 23.
Library Journal, December, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of Death and the Librarian, and Other Stories, p. 185.
Locus, April, 1989, pp. 25-27; January, 1990, p. 25; September, 1992, p. 33; September, 1993, p. 31.
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July, 1995, p. 32.
School Library Journal, September, 2002, Pam Johnson, review of Men in Black II, p. 256.
Science Fiction Chronicles, June, 1990, p. 37; October, 1991, p. 41.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1991, p. 42; December, 1991, p. 294.
Washington Post Book World, November 29, 1992, p. 11.
Esther Friesner Home Page, http://www.sff.net/people/e.friesner (March 5, 2006).
FMWriters.com, http://fmwriters.com (March 5, 2006), Lazette Gifford, interview with Friesner.