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Interview: Esther Friesner on “The Wrong Badger”

Tell us a bit about “The Wrong Badger.”

The first is the most difficult to answer as I’ve always been one for letting a story speak for itself. “The Wrong Badger” is more than ready to do so! I have been referring to it as the reason I might no longer be persona grata in England. Fortunately, having had some of my British friends read it before I submitted it, their reactions reassured me that All Would Be Forgiven.

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

It was one of these selfsame Beta readers whose Facebook feed provided the initial–albeit inadvertent–inspiration for the story. Liz Williams is herself a brilliant writer and a good friend. (I recommend her novel, Snake Agent, for starters. It’s a marvelous gateway to her work!) As I recall the thread, several people were posting about same-but-different things on our respective sides of the Atlantic. Authors from Side A writing stories set in Side B sometimes fail to do enough research, make assumptions, and consequently make mistakes. One such error noted in the discussion concerned the difference between European and American badgers. 

A European badger being described as if it were an American badger is–drum roll, please–the Wrong Badger!

There are times when the strangest things set me off down the path to Story. I wrote an entire YA novel, Temping Fate, thanks to a typo for the well-known phrase “tempting fate.” This was another one of those times. My Muse is a weirdo.

Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

In addition to the above–and my ongoing Anglophilia–the only personal links to the story would be a delight and fascination with the incredible scope of actual theme parks, here and abroad. If you’re ever in France, visit Parc Asterix, based on the long-running and hilarious series of graphic novels. I took my non-French-speaking kids there once when they were small and they had a wonderful time anyway, thus proving that Theme Park is a universal language.

Why do you write?

Why do I write? I love it. I always have, even when it’s difficult. At those times a story becomes a puzzle to be solved to my satisfaction. If I don’t love the story, who else will? I enjoy writing in many voices, to many purposes, everything from light-and-silly to dark and serious. Bear in mind that just because a piece is funny, it can’t be dismissed as a wad of cotton candy for the mind. Humor can make plenty of socially relevant observations and raise some serious questions. Humor can make you think. No wonder tyrants fear laughter.

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My influences are myriad and widely varied. There’s no way I can honor them all. Maybe the best thing to do is speak about the two people who gave me so much inspiration and encouragement from the very beginning that. . .here we are. My mother was an English teacher, so when she told me stories, they were often from American literature. She motivated me to read, and before I learned how to write she would let me dictate to her the original stories I had to tell. My father taught me about comedy. He was a survivor of the Holocaust who lost his entire family but who still held onto a marvelous sense of humor. He would read Walt Kelly’s Pogo to me, and together we’d watch Rocky and Bullwinkle as well as–wait for it–the Three Stooges. Both of my parents loved watching Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Victor Borge, just to name a few. Our home welcomed laughter.

Dad also initiated trips to the local sundries shop so that he could buy me–GASP!–comic books. No wonder I turned out this way, though humor writers like Will Cuppy (The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody), Richard Armour (Twisted Tales From Shakespeare), and a host of others are likewise culpable.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I’m busy with another YA novel and a scad of short stories. I like multitasking when I write. If I hit a snag in one project I give it a time-out and switch to another. It’s working! So am I.

“The Wrong Badger” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

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