Interview with Jane Friedman

by guest on April 20, 2011

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

As the former publisher of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman is an industry authority on all forms of publishing. She has spoken at more than 200 writing events since 2001, and is known within the publishing industry as an innovator, cited by sources such as Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS online, and Mr. Media. She has been a speaker at BookExpo America, an adviser to Digital Book World, and recently served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, to review 2011 grants in literature. Jane currently serves as a visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati, and is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest. Since 2008, she’s offered advice for writers at her award-winning blog, .

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Jane Friedman: It’s all my mother’s fault. She gave me sips of her Pabst Blue Ribbon throughout my childhood, starting when I was a toddler. I found the drink totally repulsive but deliciously naughty. After PBR, I avoided beer entirely until I came to realize in 2008 that not all beers taste like PBR. Thank God.

How does your family treat drinking?

I am the only one who treats it as a joyful diversion. No one else is interested except a sister who enjoys wine.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

Most of my drinking is done at home, alone, where I’m least likely to embarrass myself. (Of course, I also have wifi at home, so there’s still potential to do something stupid.)

Alcohol is a reliable creative stimulant, which can segue into Insufferable Maudlin Dopeishness if not careful. And—of course, like others—I find it a useful social lubricant.

I recently met someone who knew me only from my online persona. When I confessed that I wasn’t interested in staying out late drinking, he expressed surprise. “I thought you were a total party girl.”

Not really. I’m an introvert who also drinks. Isn’t that the definition of most awkward writers?

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I didn’t drink in high school, and—with few exceptions—I didn’t drink in college. After I was married, I started drinking more (ha!), but it didn’t become something I considered as part of my identity, i.e., “a bourbon-drinking editor,” until after my divorce (double ha?).

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Bourbon mixed with Diet Sierra Mist. I’ve never gotten sick on bourbon. It’s a cheerful drink, and it works fast.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

You’ve also asked about the worst time I’ve ever had drinking, yet the best and worst times fit together like 2 sides of one coin, impossible to separate.

For many years, my best/worst time was a college road trip to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference. I drove in a van with 5 other editors of a literary journal. I didn’t drink a drop until the very last night of our stay. In our hotel suite, we played a drinking game that involved consecutive shots of Absolut Citron. You can guess what happened. In the morning, my friends deposited me in the back of the van, where I stayed for the 14-hour drive back to southern Indiana, supplied with a roll of paper towels in case I continued to get sick. For years afterward, I couldn’t eat oranges.

More recently, my best/worst time involved my karaoke debut, where I sang “Big Shot” by Billy Joel. Someone thought it’d be a terrific idea for everyone to have a really “big shot” of tequila after my rendition—which breaks my cardinal rule about mixing alcohols while in public.

Ultimately, after bogarting the restroom for at least 30 minutes, my friends had to drive me home and put me to bed, which I think they rather enjoyed. While I knew who my friends were after that experience, I shall never become totally incapacitated in public, due to alcohol, ever again.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

I can only think of the many ways it has benefited my relationships—close and distant, online and offline, professional and personal. People like to bond over a drink, and I’m sorry it took me until I was about 30 to appreciate this fact.

However, I do wonder if, unbeknownst to me, my drinking negatively affected a romantic relationship. I can always recall times when a stupid thing was said (by me!), or I went too far with a line of questioning. Sometimes the people who love you don’t tell you the whole truth about the ways you’ve unintentionally hurt them (whether you were sober at the time or not!).

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

I love Mason Jenning’s “Drinking As Religion” and “Ulysses,” the latter of which references going to the liquor store for Bombay gin, “the answer to my problems.” There’s also a wonderful poem, “We Need More Boozy Women Poets.” Click here to read.

Why do you choose to drink?

I more fully experience what’s happening around me. It allows me to focus and filter out the meaningless or self-critical mind chatter.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I can’t achieve this state of mind without my bourbon—that if I were more Zen or well-adjusted, then I would have no problem focusing! But I enjoy and am comfortable with the way I live, and I stopped wishing I could be someone different years ago.

For me, drinking is a component that’s adding ideas, and adding richness. I don’t feel like life is making me small, or reducing me, when I drink. Rather it feels as if everything I encounter (from a person to a billboard to an object) has the potential to make my heart bigger.