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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Post by Esther Friesner

Good morning everyone! I have the opportunity today to introduce you to Esther Friesner, the author of a couple wonderful books about Helen of Troy and Nefertiti. So take it away Esther!

A Few Wandering Ideas About...Ideas

Guest Post by Esther Friesner, Author of
Sphinx Princess

As you might expect, I'm often asked the old reliable question, "Where do you get your ideas?" I'm willing to bet that this happens to all writers, and if somehow, somewhere, a writer lives who has -not- been asked this question, please call the office and pick up your prize. This question is asked so often and so widely that my colleagues in the Science Fiction Writers of America usually trot out the stock answer coined by one of our number (whose name, alas, is eluding me), said answer being: "Schenectady." (I'm sure that when someone asked Homer the same thing, he probably answered, "Troy," followed by the ancient Greek equivalent of: "D'uh!")

Anyone who has ever spent a terrifying hour or two (or day, or week, or--but enough) staring at the blank piece of paper/blank screen, desperately seeking inspiration, will find what follows hard to believe. Nonetheless it's true: It's just as scary to find too much inspiration as it is to find too little. It's one thing for writers to have the Muses play a cruel game of Can't-Catch-Me with us, but it's just as bad when they surround us in a dark alleyway and gang up. When you are starved for ideas, as soon as one comes along you pounce on it and are grateful. Simple. Ah, but when you are overwhelmed by ideas, it's almost the same as having none at all. You run the very real risk of dithering about which one to work on first, meanwhile working on none of them. You are also prey to grievous attacks of doubt: What if I'm working on a -stupid- idea? What if I'm spending valuable time writing a story that's not going to sell, while if I'd chosen to work on a different idea, it would've been my ticket to Bestsellerdom? What if I'm horribly, horribly WRONG?

It's the difference between having a dinner where you've already seen the menu and know beforehand what you'll be eating versus sitting down to a mystery meal where you don't know what's going to be coming out of the kitchen. Do you gorge on the first plate set before you just in case you won't like any of the yet-to-appear dishes? But what if the next dish (or the next, or the next) turns out to be so awesomely delectable that if you live to be a hundred, you'll never again taste anything that good, except. . .you already filled up on the first dish.


Now as you also know (unless someone's not doing their job) I write YA historical novels. This means that my feast of potential inspiration is as big as all of human existence. This also means that the Muses have loaded up a mega-sized moving van full of possibilities and they are trying to unload it dump-truck style on my front lawn. What do I choose? HOW do I choose? And how do I know I've chosen the right historical character to write about?

To answer that, indulge me in a side-note:

As long as we're talking about stock phrases concerning writing, let's turn to another one: Write about what you know. And -as- you know, this does not mean you are limited to writing about only those things which you have experienced directly, up-close-and-personal, or literature would be nothing more than a slew of fictionalized diaries and nobody would be able to write about the protagonist's death until it was too late. We know more than we experience. We know what we read. We know what we observe happening to others. We know what we gather from talking to others.

We know--and thus can write about--what we LEARN. And if you are like me, one of the first things you learn is how you learn best. In my case, that happens when the subject is interesting enough to make me want to learn more about it.

Which brings us back to dealing with those overly-generous Muses.

When I look at history, seeking the next idea for one of my books, I find that there are some events and people that have been in the spotlight for so long that they're starting to go a little crisp around the edges. I find that writing about an already-popular and much-novelized historical person or event is like going to a new restaurant and filling up on bread. Now I have done that myself--not the fill-up-on-bread thing, but the writing about an already-poplar historical or quasi-historical character. For instance, I've written stories set in Arthurian times (most of them collected in UP THE WALL), and you know how many other novels and stories have been written about those Camelot shenanigans.

However, what I prefer to do is write about someone whose story hasn't been over-told quite yet. These are the historical characters who interest me the most because there is so much more to be learned (and written) about them! Cleopatra has been given more than her due by many fiction writers (including Shakespeare, and I'm not about to compete with that!), so I decided to give Nefertiti her turn. As for Helen of Troy, while her adventures as an adult have been told and re-told from ancient Greek days to the present, her girlhood was just sitting there, waiting for me. Right now, I am in the middle of working on a pair of YA historical novels about Himiko, who was a 3rd century shaman-queen of Japan. Ever heard of her? Do you know who she is? No? Well, after Spirit’s Princess and Spirit’s Bride, you will! (And I assure you, she was a real person, mentioned in the Chinese chronicles of her day.)

I'm writing about what I know, which is what I've learned about Nefertiti and Helen and Himiko, and I've learned about them because so much of their stories is not well-known. History (and in Helen's case, myth) is keeping some mighty enticing secrets about them, and if History isn't going to tell me what they are, I'll get to come up with my own answers.

Which is fun!

So there you have it: I get my ideas from the quieter, less-frequented, most interesting (to me) borderlands of history, and I then set myself to making them interesting to you. I hope I succeed, because I do so love a challenge! It's rather like the joy some folks--myself included--get from discovering a wonderful new recipe served solely in one small bistro that hardly anyone knows is there. I think it's delicious, but can I tempt you to try it? I know it's something that you're not used to, but come on, here, taste this! You'll like it.

And even if you don't, try something else. But whatever you do, don't just fill up on bread.

You can visit Esther at her website for more information about her and her books.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

1 comment:

  1. Nobody's Princess has been hanging out on my TBR Shelf. Maybe its time. It has been calling me lately.


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