Where do you get your ideas?

Picture by Roger RobinsonSchenectady.

Okay, okay sorry, I had to say that, it's in my contract. You'd be disappointed if I didn't say it, admit it.

The real answer: Where don't I? Ideas are everywhere. In fact, only recently have I been able to go on vacations without turning everything I encounter into a story idea that must be used at once. That's just no way to relax, and at today's hotel prices, I want more sloth for the buck, believe me.

Overhead snatches of conversation spark ideas. 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 always provides a usable scenario for an ongoing World Domination plot.

I get my best ideas from news items that anger or annoy me. My Nebula Award-winning story, "A Birthday" came from such sources, as did the to-be-published "In the Realm of the Dragons," among others. On the other hand, "Death and the Librarian," also a Nebula winner, was a serious story that somehow sprang from a very silly source of inspiration. Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame gave me two small metal figurines from the RPG based on his very funny and successful novels. The characters were Death (the usual robed and scythe-bearing skeleton) and the Librarian (an orangutan. Don't ask.)

Of the books you've written, which is your favorite?

Nuh-uh. Would you ask a mother to pick out her favorite child? I don't think so. Same here. No sibling rivalry allowed. However, if pressed, I will confess to a lingering fondness for Druid's Blood because I'm the consummate Anglophile, plus my husband and I had lots of fun playing The Movie Game with this one.

(The Movie Game, played by authors everywhere, is when you mentally cast the perfect ensemble of actors for the blockbuster movie to be made from a particular one of your books.)

I am also very pleased with The Psalms of Herod because for once I got to show people that despite having a reputation for writing funny fantasy, I can write darker books as well.

And then again there's Yesterday We Saw Mermaids, which I like because it was a serious-without-being-dark novel, plus I got to use my training in Spanish culture.

Oh, and Demon Blues, if only for what I did to the PBS Telethon.

And Wishing Season, because it's one book I know can be read and enjoyed by children and adults.


Now see what you've started?

So where's the big blockbuster movie deal?

You tell me. I've got time. I think that there are several of my books that would be great movies, but so far I guess I haven't blown up enough stuff in them or something. Hmmm. So how d'you think Sly Stallone would look in that darlin' little pointed wizard hat?

Whose work has influenced yours the most?

Cartoonists. Yup, this isn't going to be yet another homage to great SF writers who have gone before; I'm placing the blame/credit strictly where it belongs: Pogo. The late, great Walt Kelly is the Perfect Spiritual Master.

There is also much to be said for Larry Gonick, creator of the do-not-dare-miss-it Cartoon History of the Universe (Two volumes and, I hope, counting). The man's not only a genius, he can draw real purty too. And he makes you think while you're laughing. Dangerous stuff, that.

I also enjoy foreign comics like Footrot Flats (Published in Australia, set in New Zealand), Mr. Kiasu (Singapore), Ranma 1/2 and Urusei Yatsura (Japan) and of course Asterix of Gaul (France).

Aw, c'mon, you mean to say no great SF writer of the past ever influenced you?

Fine, fine, I give: Asimov for starters. I refused to read SF in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth because I had somehow been infused with the notion that "Girls don't read That Stuff because boys don't like girls who read That Stuff and you will never get a date if you read That Stuff." Then a friend of mine twisted my arm a tad and made me read The Caves of Steel. (Well, what the hey, I wasn't reading That Stuff and I wasn't getting dates anyway, so what did I have to lose?)

Of course I promptly developed a huge crush on the robot detective, R. Daneel Olivaw. I was young. I was in an all-girls school. It is not entirely unknown for teen and pre-teen girls to develop tenderesses for inaccessible love-objects. Or don't you read Tiger Beat?

Tolkien came next. Seventeen ran a book review of The Hobbit, and I figured that if the Ultimate Authority on All Things Girlie said it was okay to read That Stuff, I'd chance it. I loved The Hobbit and went on to devour The Lord of the Rings.

This time I developed a crush on Legolas, the elf.

Under the influence of elf-lust, I was innocently channel-surfing one night when I could've sworn I saw my beloved on the tube. Well, by the time I figured out that the pointy-eared guy was not an elf (and William Shatner was not a hobbit), it was too late: I was hooked on Star Trek.

Yeah, major crush on Mr. Spock, check. You were expecting something else, maybe?

I also read everything James Branch Cabell ever wrote that Yale's Sterling Memorial Library ever stocked. I loved his way of playing with words and his tendency to show off his knowledge of many mythologies. It didn't hurt that he was heavily into the nudge-nudge-wink-wink school of writing, either. I mean, the man's work was banned in New York, for heaven's sake!

If I've forgotten to mention the influence of anyone else on my writing, I'm sure they're grateful.

What's with the hamsters?

Gentle Reader, it may be that you have seen me referred to elsewhere as Esther Friesner, Queen of Hamsters. Perhaps you have also heard of CheebleCon. I think I'd better explain this.

When my son was much younger, he wanted a pet of his own as opposed to doing a time-share with the family cat. He wanted a lizard, but when we reached the pet store I plea-bargained him into taking a hamster instead. If two small animals costs  the same and have similar life spans, I say take the one with the fur!

The hamster is question was Huey (named after the apocryphal children's book Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes). Huey was a very nice hammie and could be trusted to run about on the computer keyboard without doing something Nasty, so we used to give her the freedom of the keys during RTCs on GEnie. I then Sent the resulting gibberish just for grins.

Next thing I knew, here's a bunch of intelligent adults studying Huey's Pronouncements and declaring, "This means something." (Well, I can tell you what it meant when Huey sent a message reading "ssssssss." It meant Huey had gotten her paw caught in the "s" key. Or that she'd sprung a slow leak.) Huey was thereat named the Oracular Hamster.

This was followed by Certain Rowdy Elements threatening Huey online, recipes included. (Green eggs and hamster, for one.) Huey in turn took to replying "deth 2 huminz" (with a little help from her friends) and the feud was on!

Huey was also named in a paternity suit with a fellow Genie-ite's pet rat gave birth to a litter of suspiciously short-tailed pups. Mind you, the two rodents were of different species, living in different states, and both were female.

We were conferring on the possibility of running the world's first Virtual SF Convention with Huey as Author GoH, Daisy the rat (Plaintiff in the paternity suit mentioned above, btw) as Artist GoH, and a star-studded cast of whoever the heck had a name we could parody (L. Ron Hamster, anyone?) when Huey went to the great Habitrail in the sky. Saddened though we were, Huey lived on, for soon after that I was asked whether it would be all right to have the convention anyway, only not in VR, but in real reality, as a don't-look-and-maybe-it-will-go-away part of the respected and respectable ReaderCon.

Thus was CheebleCon I born.

Cheeble: This handy-dandy all-purpose word was coined by my son and is his, Pat. Pend., and all like that there, Hands Off! It can be used (with proper permission) as a noun or verb, but the most commonly agreed-upon definition is that it is the cry of the enraged bull hamster. Now you know.

CheebleCon I was a great success and there have been subsequent CheebleCons all over the country. In fact, the phenomenon has acquired a hideous life of its own. The purpose of CheebleCons is to celebrate the rodent in SF, should anyone need a justification to pass along. CheebleCons are always held during more — dare I say it — reputable SF conventions.

I have reached the conclusion that it is a darn good thing that I use my powers for Good and not for Evil, because I have single-handedly become the vector for widespread Hamstermania throughout fandom.

Since Huey's demise we have hosted Boris, Woody, Lady Morgana de Willoughy Cheeblesdottir, and are currently the happy owners of Betram.

You can entertain yourself for hours by riffling through my books and short stories seeking hamster-and-cheeble references, but maybe there's something good on TV instead.

If you have any Qs of your own for me that you suspect may be FA, don't hesitate to post them. I'll do my best — with the help of my webmistress, Melanie — to reply.

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