Laura Resnick, the author of the incredibly funny and captivating Esther Diamond series, answered some questions for us about her writing, Esther Diamond and her fantastic sense of humor.
I recently read that you have also written romance novels under the pseudonym Laura Leone. What is the most difficult or perhaps the simplest thing about writing in either genre?
Yes, I started my career as a romance novelist, writing 14 romances for 4 publishers, before switching full-time to fantasy writing. And for me, the simplest and most difficult things about writing each genre happen to mirror each other.
I found that nailing the “sensibility” of the romance genre was the most difficult thing for me in romance, i.e. providing the tone and the core experience that a romance reader is looking for. It’s like hitting a sweet spot, and I had trouble with it as a romance writer. Whereas the fantasy genre’s sensibility is very accessible for me as a writer. Probably because I’m innately more interested in high adventure, sacrifice and redemption, the struggle between good and evil, and the fine line between heroism and villainy than I am in soulmates and pair-bonding.
Meanwhile, a romance novel is always about two people falling in love with each other, with a strong focus usually maintained on that core story; so I seldom found plot and structure backbreaking when writing romance. Whereas fantasy is about heroes and villains and vacillators and victims milling around in the chaotic and confusing struggle between good and evil, with multiple plot threads and red herrings, as well as supernatural premises that have to be comfortably assimilated into the story. So I always find plotting and structuring a fantasy novel backbreaking.
Is there any other genre you would like to write in and why?
Oh, I’d probably like to write half a dozen different genres. I’m an omnivoracious reader, not a fan of any particular genre or style. What I like is: a good story, well told. As long as those bases are covered, I’m not that concerned with what genre the book is in. I love writing fantasy; but if I got squeezed out of the genre, I’d move on to writing something else that interests me—and there’s a wide range of possibilities, in that respect.
Your father, Mike Resnick, is a science fiction writer, but you’ve said previously that you never wanted to be a professional writer, but here you are doing exactly that. Do you think writers are born? Or made? Why?
I have no idea. I know several people like me who are second or third generation writers. And I know writers who came from homes where reading was actively encouraged, and where that enthusiasm for reading gradually morphed into a desire to try writing. But I also know writers who came from homes where no one read, books were viewed with loathing and suspicion, and writing was treated as the devil’s handiwork.
What I can say for sure, after a lifetime of being around writers, is that they tend to have two factors in common. They’re almost all lifelong voracious readers (even in homes where that was discouraged), and they’ve got to write—most of them can’t stand not writing. So whenever I meet people who say they want to be writers, I don’t take them seriously at all unless (a) they read a lot, and (b) they’re already writing steadily.
One of things about your writing that has captured me is the humor in your writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading your books to and from work on a bus or a train and just collapsed in giggles at the humor in your books. Is this “you” or is there a trick to writing funny, snarky prose?
Well, first of all—so glad the books make you laugh! The Esther Diamond novels are comedies (as were a number of my romances), so it would be bad news if they didn’t tickle your funny bone; but even my blood-and-guts, death-or-glory epic fantasy novels had a fair bit of humor in them. I don’t like a day (or a book, or a movie, or a conversation) without laughter in it.
I have a natural tendency to see things as funny, which is why I’m drawn to writing comedy (and why I’m not necessarily popular at funerals). But I also work very hard at it, in terms of my writing. Comedy—and particularly farce—tends to rely a lot on technique; you’ve got to hit the right beats in the right rhythm, or it doesn’t work. The difference between using precisely the right word and an almost-right word is the difference between getting the laugh or not getting it. I think of comedy as being a lot like percussion, and I keep working on a scene until all the beats are in the right place. So it can be a laborious process at my end to ensure that the book (I hope) reads at your end like falling off a log—in a funny way.
How many more Esther Diamond novels will there be?
I don’t know. Many I hope. I’ve always pictured it as an ongoing, open-ended series. The characters have challenges to confront as long as Evil exists—which is pretty much always. I intend to write a satisfying final book in the series sometime before I die; but for the foreseeable future, I’m just thinking about the next book, and the next after that, and where the characters and their relationships are going.
When you began this series, did you have an idea of how you wanted Esther to grow, or is that something that is growing and developing as you write the books?
A bit of both. Writing a book (or a series) is like setting off on an overland journey from one end of Africa to the other (which I’ve done). You’ve got a map, a goal, and a plan, and some specific places you definitely intend to go… but a lot happens along the way that you never expected, you encounter challenges and rewards you never imagined when you set out, and so you keep adjusting your plans and your route in accordingly.
So I started out with some core ideas about how Esther would grow, but I also spend a lot of time adjusting my plans and my route according to the surprises I encounter regularly in my writing process.
Esther is a normal woman caught up in a very supernatural world in your books, but still manages to hold her own without ever making me feel like she should get her own set of powers/abilities in order to fit better in the world you’ve created for her. How do you approach writing this aspect of her character?
I’ve been surprised (in fact, very surprised) at how remarked-on that aspect of the series is, i.e. that Esther doesn’t have supernatural powers or a paranormal destiny/mission. Some people enthuse about this as making the series refreshingly different; others have condemned it as proof that I don’t know anything about writing urban fantasy and shouldn’t be published, etc.
So one thing I want to get off my chest is: A supernaturally-empowered protagonist is not a “requirement” of fantasy; it’s just a popular trope—particularly in the subgenre of urban fantasy (where I’d say it is by now not just a trope, but a cliché). Examples of other popular tropes in fantasy include: prophecies, quests, sword-wielding protagonists, wise-cracking sidekicks, ghosts, magical weapons, and sexy vampires. None of these things are required in a fantasy novel; they’re just choices or devices that happen to be popular and get used a lot.
Esther Diamond, an urban fantasy protagonist, doesn’t have supernatural powers for much the same reason that she doesn’t have a talking sword or a vampire lover; that’s not at all how I saw this character and wasn’t at all the sort of story I was interested in telling. Luckily for me, the fantasy genre offers a lot of scope for a lot of different kinds of characters and stories, rather than insisting that every book in the genre must rigidly follow one popular trope or device.
(Okay. That’s off my chest. I can move on now.)
What Esther is, however, is heroic. Not because it’s her mission or her assigned duty or because she’s been chosen, but because that’s who she is. Esther’s a winner in the sense that she always wants the ball; it’s not her nature to sit on the sidelines hoping that someone else can win the game (or take the blame) for her. When she sees someone being mugged, she doesn’t run in the other direction; she enters the fray to help that person (as in Unsympathetic Magic), without expectation of kudos; in her mind, that’s just what you do. This is also her behavior when confronting mystical Evil, which she faces without having super-powers of her own, and with her only back-up plan usually being a befuddled old man and a neurotic dog—now that’s courage.
Do you regularly attend fandom events and conventions? Can you tell us a little about your experiences with these events and with your fans in general?
I’m usually at 2-3 cons/events per year. I post upcoming appearances on my website.
In general, whether in person or online, I find my readers very pleasant and friendly. I know writers who’ve had bad experiences (especially online), but I’ve so far been very fortunate. By and large, I just receive pleasant, friendly, much-appreciated comments from readers along the lines of, “I really enjoyed the last book—when is the next one coming out?” Or: “Are you ever going to write [fill in the blank]?”
What is the one piece of advice that has influenced your career and your writing?
Well, it’s hard to single out just one thing, but I suppose it’s: Persist.
Persistence is unquestionably the single most under-rated virtue by people who think they want to be writers (luck is far and away the most over-rated), and I wouldn’t have made the majority of my book sales (or, indeed, have a writing career at all) if I weren’t extremely persistent.
What can fans expect from you in 2012?
A reissue of the first Esther Diamond novel, Disappearing Nightly, will be released in June, followed by Esther Diamond’s fifth misadventure, Polterheist, in November. In 2013, Esther #6, The Misfortune Cookie, will be published.
Meanwhile, most of my pre-Esther backlist (including my Laura Leone romance novels) is now available in ebook format, and the rest of my out-of-print books will be e-published by the end of the year.
Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series, whose releases include Disappearing Nightly, Doppelgangster, Unsympathetic Magic, Vamparazzi, and the upcoming Polterheist. She has also written traditional fantasy novels such as In Legend Born, The Destroyer Goddess, and The White Dragon, which made multiple “Year’s Best” lists. She began her career as the award-winning author of fourteen romance novels, written under the pseudonym Laura Leone. An opinion columnist, frequent public speaker, and the Campbell Award-winning author of many short stories, she is on the web at LauraResnick.com.