Interview with Janet Frishberg

Janet Frishberg

Emma Bailey: I love the confessional tone in your writing, Janet. Do people ever assume your fiction is actually memoir?

Janet Frishberg: This is definitely a thing that’s coming up in my life right now. A lot of what I’ve been publishing lately has been fictional, simply made up stories. But because I write both fiction and non-fiction, I don’t really know how to stop people from assuming that the narrator is me sometimes. When I share a piece of writing on Facebook or with people in my life, inevitably at least a few people will assume that it’s non-fiction, and it’s resulted in some weird situations with people giving me condolences for something that never happened to me.


Emma Bailey: Where and when do you write?

Janet Frishberg: I write most of my pieces while riding the bus, using my phone. (My thumbs have gotten very fast.) I love going to a cafe and writing, but if I only wrote this way I’d create way less.

I wrote this particular piece, “Benefits of Anticipatory Grief,” on paper, while sitting in a car waiting for my friend Sonia to get done with yoga so we could go eat dinner. I was kind of bored and kind of upset and didn’t really know why, so I jotted down some stuff. After many, many more drafts, and a brief life as a poem, it turned into this piece.


Emma Bailey: What do you do with all the pieces you write? How do you organize them on your computer?

Janet Frishberg: I don’t have great organizational tactics right now–this is definitely an area where I could improve. I have a list of the pieces I’m currently actively working on in my submissions spreadsheet, and they’re present in my head as well. As I start to work on something, I’ll move it out of its chronological folder and into the “In Progress” folder, where it gets its own folder so I can save drafts separately. (It helps me be a better editor knowing that nothing I delete is ever truly lost.)

I write probably 4 pieces a week (short ones, less than 1000 words), but I almost never do anything with them within six months of writing them. I like getting some temporal and emotional distance so I can more easily see which parts have energy and which parts need to be cut when it comes time to shape it more.


Emma Bailey: How does age influence your experience in writing communities and submitting your work?

Janet Frishberg: My age is very double-sided. I’m sometimes the youngest person in a workshop or a writing community, and there are definitely perks or privileges that come along with that. At the same time, there are some challenges, of not being taken seriously, or other writers not trusting my feedback initially because of my age or appearance. But I try not to worry about it too much because it’s not within my control.

In Silicon Valley there’s a whole culture that’s in love with youth and people doing big things young. I grew up here so I’ve totally bought into that ambition and the fear that comes along with it. I’m also aware that I’m going to change my mind and who I am so many more times in my life, even in just the next 5 years, so there’s some real discomfort about doing things like interviews (ahem) where I’m claiming my opinions and experience.

When I write anything autobiographical, there’s a part of me that’s imagining future-me reading this (on the internet, presumably FOREVER), cringing and being totally horrified. But…should I just not write or not say anything until I feel old enough to be justified in having an opinion or perspective? And when, exactly, will that happen?


Emma Bailey: Do your parents read your pieces? Do you think about how they’ll respond when you’re writing?

Janet Frishberg: My parents do read most of my pieces, and sometimes I think about how they’ll respond, especially when there’s something in the pieces that I haven’t already shared with them.

For instance, the piece I wrote for the anthology, “Get Out of My Crotch: Twenty-One Writers Respond to America’s War on Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health,” definitely had me naked in a bathtub with my boyfriend at the time, and they both heard me read that one out loud to a roomful of people.

Sometimes I think about it when I’m writing, like what will they think about this, or what will people in general think about this, but it’s really important to me not to confuse the part where I’m creating with the part where I’m publishing. I try to remind myself that publishing work is a choice, and I can decide on that later. I don’t want to censor myself in my creating. That feels like a really dangerous thing to do, the self-censorship.


Emma Bailey: I know that you’re a fast reader, what do you read? How much do you read?

Janet Frishberg: I freaking love reading. Right now, I read a book a week on average. My rate usually depends on how long my commute is (I read on the bus in the mornings) and how busy work is. When I’m really into a book, I get greedy with my time and very protective until I finish it. I’ve always been this way–when I was little I used to go the entire day without eating because I didn’t want to stop reading.

One thing that’s really important to me is I try to read two books written by women to every one by a man, because a few years ago I realized I was reading almost exclusively books written by men. People recommended books written by men to me, they were the classics that I thought I should read, etc. I got a lot of joy from changing my ratio. This year and moving forward, I also want to pay attention to how many writers of color I’m reading.


Emma Bailey: Are there any specific books that have changed your life? In what ways?

Janet Frishberg: The one that I haven’t been able to stop talking about for more than a year is Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water.” It gave me so much permission in my writing and being. Her fierceness, the poetry of her work, the sparseness of it, the structure. When I read it, I realized how much I’d allowed one specific philosophy behind storytelling to shape my ideas of what I was allowed to do in my work. The philosophy I’d bought into was logical, linear, and very American. Lidia’s book rocked my perspective in a wonderful way.



Emma Bailey is an artist in San Francisco and started drawing as a way to document the awkward and sweet moments of the day. Emma and Janet have been collaborating for the last year. You can find one of their collaborative pieces here.