Laura Resnick has authored 8 horror-detective-comedy-fantasy novels (the Esther Diamond series from DAW), 3 fantasy novels (the Silerian trilogy from Tor), 15 romance novels (from Silhouette), many short stories (mostly in DAW anthologies), several essays on print and screen fiction, and Rejection, Romance, and Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer.
She won the Campbell award for best writer and was a finalist for the Rita award. She won the Romantic Times Magazine award 3 times. She writes “The Mad Scribbler,” a monthly opinion column for Nink. For the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s bulletin, she wrote a quarterly opinion column, “The Filthy Pro.” She wrote a monthly column, “The Comely Curmedgeon,” for Nink. She has served as member of the board of directors, president elect, and president of Novelists, Inc.
She has done extensive research on cover art. Her research includes interviews with authors and art directors on how cover art is developed and how it has a drastic affect on sales and careers. Her current artist, for the Esther Diamond series, is Dan Dos Santos, a 5 time Hugo nominee and Chesley winner.
Here, Laura Resnick explains to Carl Slaughter why paranormal investigator Esther Diamond is an unlikely and underestimated but successful heroine.
CARL SLAUGHTER: Is Esther Diamond an eager heroine or a reluctant heroine?
LAURA RESNICK: I’d say she’s a “good citizen” heroine. Esther believes we’re all in this together and all have a responsibility to each other, and so when she sees danger or trouble, she reacts by helping rather than by fleeing to safety or ignoring the problem. Because of the way she lives her life and sees the world, that’s just what a decent person does. It’s something she has in common with both Max and Lopez, and a big part of why both of those men, so different from each other, each become very attached to her.
CS: Why doesn’t Esther have superhero/magical powers/skills?
LR: Why would she? Why should she?
After these books started getting published, I became aware that there was surprise that Esther doesn’t have supernatural power. Sometimes the surprise was expressed as appreciation for a different approach, sometimes as puzzlement, sometimes as disbelief (i.e. readers who assume Esther will develop supernatural powers), and sometimes as criticism (readers who assert that I’m so ignorant of urban fantasy that I don’t know a heroine is “required” to have magical power, and therefore I’ve got no business writing this genre).
A fantasy novel is (more or less) required to have elements or aspects of the fantastic, and these should be embedded in or elemental to the story, rather than mere window dressing that could be lifted out of the tale without really affecting it. But there are no genre requirements about the nature of the fantastic which makes a novel a fantasy novel (magic? time travel? supernatural creatures? an imaginary world? psychic phenomena? paranormal activity?), and there are certainly no requirements about which characters in a story do or don’t have magical powers.
When people ask why Esther Diamond doesn’t have magical powers, my answer is the same as it is if people ask why she’s not a gentile or Asian or French, isn’t male, isn’t in business or government or interior design, and isn’t living in New Orleans or Colorado. She is this way, because this is how I saw the character and her life when I was creating her. This is the character; a person with magical power is some other character.
CS: Why does it make perfect sense for Esther to chase paranormal bad guys even though she has no distinct advantage over them?
LR: She encounters paranormal bad guys because she lives in an urban fantasy world. (I, for example, do not encounter paranormal bad guys, since I live in this world.) She confronts them in part because of her “good citizen” values (see above), and in part because, as often shown in the text, no one else will if she (and Max) do not–and thus New York would get eaten by demon, or a dark sorceress would kill a teenage girl, etc.–and Esther doesn’t want to be the sort of person who simply lets that kind of thing happen without trying to put a stop to it.
CS: What is it about Esther that those closest to her, those she investigates, and readers don’t immediately perceive about her, that they don’t realize until they read the whole story and think about her for a while? Because, correct me if I’m wrong, I see her as a character that everyone underestimates. Whether she underestimates herself, I’m not sure.
LR: Yes, you’re right–there is a frequent tendency among other characters to underestimate Esther. Like the sexism that Esther often encounters, being underestimated is a very common experience for women, and for attractive young women–and something that Esther can turn to her advantage when need be. Similarly, in her own world, because she is not a hot babe or a celebrity, she’s also underestimated by some of her co-workers (particularly a couple of her famous leading men who value fame and hot babes). Additionally, Esther has qualities that people–in the novels, and in reality–don’t necessarily associate with actors (she’s brave, honorable, resourceful, and intelligent), and they therefore tend to assume automatically that she wouldn’t have those qualities.
CS: What is Esther’s relationship with detective Lopez? Romantic? Sexual? Partner in justice? What’s the relationship from her perspective? What’s the relationship from his perspective? Have they expressed themselves adequately to one another? Do they even fully understand their feelings for and status with one another? What is it she wishes she could change about him? What is it he wishes he could change about her. Are they ever going to seal the relationship? Are they ever going to walk down the aisle? Is it too early for her/him/you to start talking about the pitter patter of little Diamond-Lopez feet?
LR: Well, I’m finishing book 8 of what will be a series of 14-20 books. (I have no fixed number in mind yet; I think it unlikely I’ll end the series before book 14, and also unlikely I’ll go beyond book 20.) So although I know the answers to all these questions, since I have a plan for the series arc, I won’t answer them all, since some of these answers are in books down the road.
The nature of Esther’s relationship with Lopez is romantic, sexual, and friendship. Whenever people in sf/f ask me how to write a convincing romance (since I used to be a romance writer), I always say that a crucial element is to convince the readers that these are characters who can enjoy spending time together, day after day, year after year. Short-lived affairs are based on hot sex; but sex (even if it’s really hot) is only one component in a relationship–especially if it lasts for years. So even when Esther and Lopez are on the outs with each other, there is a friendship between them by now which creates a bond, a sense of loyalty, and an impetus to protect each other even on occasions when they’re convinced their romantic relationship is over or can’t work out.
There is also a sort of (rocky) partnership there, since they are both heroic people who help others, and who usually have similar goals in the stories–though they approach the plots from very different perspectives and pursue story solutions through very different tactics.
What Esther would most like to change about Lopez is his mundane view of the world; she wants him to see the supernatural world they live in for what it really is (whereas Lopez thinks he’s living in the non-magical world that you and I inhabit). In opposition to that, Lopez doesn’t really mind that Esther believes a lot of bizarre stuff; but it drives him crazy that she regularly engages in dangerous, reckless, and even illegal actions because of those beliefs–and that’s what he would most like to change about her.
CS: What is Esther’s relationship with Dr. Zadok? Mentor? Consultant? Colleague? Father figure? Friend? Sidekick?
LR: Max is to some extent a father (or uncle) figure to Esther. Although she has a cordial relationship with her parents and other blood relations, it’s not close. Her friendship with Max has become familial, and he’s filling a gap that existed in her life in that sense–and vice versa. Esther also admires him a great deal. As someone who had dedicated his long life to fighting Evil, and retained his compassion and kindness while doing so, Max is the ultimate living example of Esther’s innate “good citizen” beliefs, and she looks up to him because of that. This aspect of their relationship is also reciprocal, because Max sees in her the ordinary-person-as-hero, the aspect of mundane humanity that saves the world over and over.
CS: Why does she persist in trying to make a career as an actress even though she’s yet to achieve a breakthrough? Is she ever going to make a career change?
LR: As Esther says in Vamparazzi, you don’t become an actor [or a writer] as a money-making pursuit or shrewd career plan. You do it because it’s a vocation, the work you love, and you can’t not do it. Also, Esther is still young–she’s only 27; people in many professions haven’t secured success at that age. Moreover, from a working actor’s perspective, she’s doing reasonably well–within the past year (in fictional/series time), she’s been in two off-Broadway shows with celebrity leads, and had a lead role herself in one of those shows; and she’s also had a recurring guest role on several episodes of a cult-hit TV series.
CS: How has Esther evolved over the series?
LR: She has experienced heartbreak and mortal danger, has faced terrifying foes, formed close friendships with unlikely people, and seen a lot of strange things she never would have imagined before. All of that has been maturing and mind-expanding for her. Mostly, though, I think she’s gone from being a standard young actress-in-New-York who, though a good person, led a self-absorbed life, to being a heroic person who regularly risks her safety, comfort, and life to help others or do the right thing.
CS: What about the dog, where does she fit in this fictional universe?
LR: She was a surprise to me when she entered the series. I was writing a scene in book 2 by the seat of my pants, the dog–Nelli, who is Max’s mystical familiar from another dimension–emerged… and I decided to keep her. Obviously, Nelli is often just comic relief, since she’s high-strung, badly behaved, and enormous. But whereas Esther represents the mundane side of combating Evil, being a regular person who faces mystical foes, Nelli is the wholly magical aspect of Max’s world, being a creature of mysterious supernatural connections–who can’t speak, and whose being has peculiar properties in the mundane world (ex. her allergic reaction to vampires, her instant recognition of doppelgangers, the ability of her “dejectamenta” to cure a victim of mystical poisoning, etc.). She’s also an emotional anchor for Max, who is as attached to Nelli as he is to Esther
CS: Any other significant characters in the series, past, present, or future?
LR: Alberto “Lucky Bastard” Battistuzzi is a character whom a lot of readers seem to like. A semi-retired capo in the Gambello crime family, he recognizes the mystical nature of the world and often teams up with Max and Esther to fight Evil. He’s in about half the books so far. There are aspects of Lucky’s life that Esther is aware of and doesn’t want to get closer to (he’s killed a number of people as a matter of “business” over the years, and he’s involved in various illegal activities), but he’s also very loyal to his friends and family, is accustomed to facing danger, and willingly battles Evil to prevent chaos from taking over his city.
CS: What did Betsy Wollheim see in the series that other people in the publishing industry did not?
LR: I think Betsy “got it” (and when you’re writing humor, which this series is, not everyone does), and she enjoyed it and appreciated it–and Betsy publishes books she likes and authors whose writing she likes. DAW Books is still a house where the acquisitions process is (1) read a project, (2) really like it, and (3) make an offer to acquire it. That has become increasingly unusual in New York publishing in our era, where submissions are often buried somewhere in endless maze of corporate hierarchy in which no one actually seems to have authority to acquire a book.
CS: In book #20 or #25 or whatever, will Esther be carrying a badge, accompanied by detective Lopez, and working for a secret anti evil magic organization? Or globetrotting and rescuing various major cities from the clutches of nefarious magic? Or enrolled in a magic academy? Or some such thing?
LR: I want to do a few settings beyond New York City, but otherwise, no, none of this. Which is as much as I’ll say to anyone other than my editor about books not yet written!
See also: Free fiction by Laura Resnick.
An Excerpt from The Misfortune Cookie by Laura Resnick
He was peering into a small black cauldron that was full of newly measured and mixed ingredients, which he was simmering over a Bunsen burner on his workbench.
“It’s possible,” he said absently, and I realized this theory had already occurred to him. “I am not inclined to think so, since the fortune cookie has been closely associated with the Chinese in America since before Mr. Yee’s birth. But one should nonetheless keep an open mind about—Ah! It’s boiling.”
He reached for a jar with some golden-yellow powder in it, carefully measured a small scoop of the stuff, then tossed it into the boiling brew. A few moments later, the mixture emitted a deep vocal moan, so human-sounding that I hopped off my stool and gaped in alarm, ready to bolt.
“I’m sorry, Esther. I should have warned you,” Max said, noticing my anxiety. “Don’t worry. This is perfectly normal.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I muttered, climbing back onto my stool. As a cloud of yellow smoke wafted through the room, I gagged. “Blegh! What is that stench?”
“It’s the sign that the potion is ready.” Max turned off the flame beneath the cauldron. Then he pulled Benny’s fortune out of his pocket and unsealed the plastic bag. Using a pair of tweezers, he extracted the black piece of paper and then held it over the smoking, stinking cauldron.
“This is the part of the experiment I’m a little concerned about.”
“The replicas I tested in Sicily were always made of solid materials, not paper.”
“Oh! You’re afraid that…”
“If this process doesn’t work, I may damage the fortune so much by immersing it in liquid that I will be unable to perform further experiments on it.”
“Hmm. I see your point, but I’m afraid I don’t have any alternative suggestions, Max.”
“Nor do I. So here we go.” He took a steadying breath, then dropped the fortune into the small cauldron.
There was a long moment of silence. Max’s face fell, and I feared the experiment had been a failure.
“Now what?” I asked. “Can we—Whoa!”
The pot suddenly shuddered with life and shrieked with such ear-splitting horror that I fell off my stool in surprise.
I could tell from Max’s pleased reaction that this was the result he’d been looking for. As the cauldron continued screaming and shaking, he said to me, shouting to be heard above the din, “We have our answer! It was a mystical curse!”
“Yeah, I think I got that!” I shouted back, standing well away from the workbench and not inclined to come any closer.
A moment later, the pot went still and the room went silent.
“Oh, thank God that’s stopped.” I put a shaking a hand over my pounding heart.
“What a satisfyingly clear result!” Max said.
“Sometimes I’m not always so sure.”
“Yes, I’d say that was unmistakably…”
I took another step back as a throaty growling emerged from the cauldron. “What’s happening now?”
“I’m not sure.” Max leaned over the pot to peer into it—then flinched and fell off his stool, too, when its contents exploded in a fiery burst of pure white flames.
White, the color of death.
High-pitched maniacal laughter emerged from the little cauldron now, rising with the flames.
At the top of the stairs, I heard Nelli start barking hysterically. I didn’t know if she was summoning us for help, trying to warn us about what was down here with us, or just panicking.
As the sinister laughter got louder and the white flames grew fatter and higher, I was backing away from this frightening phenomenon, stumbling clumsily in the direction of the stairs.
“Max, let’s get out of here!” When he didn’t respond, just kept staring intently at the flames, I said, “Max!”
“Yes,” he said, taking a few steps in my direction as the high-pitched laughter turned to a deep-throated, gravelly roar. “Yes, perhaps we should…” He paused again. “Wait, there’s something…”
“Max!” I shouted insistently. “Come on!”
Nelli’s barking got more ferocious, and then I heard her thudding footsteps as she thundered down the stairs toward us, evidently having decided to give her life to protect us from whatever this thing was that we had summoned.
As she reached the bottom steps, Max shouted, “Nelli, no! Esther, stop her!”
Obeying him blindly, I grabbed Nelli’s collar as she rushed past me, intent on attacking… the cauldron, I supposed. I threw my whole body weight in the reverse direction, trying to halt her. But Nelli outweighed me, as well as being more muscular than I, so this only had the effect of making her stumble sideways—which, in turn, offset my balance. I fell down on the concrete floor, banging my knees and elbows painfully, while Nelli lunged at the table, barking aggressively, her fangs bared.
“Stay back, Nelli!” Max commanded. “Look!”
Dazed, terrified, and in pain, I lay sprawled on the cellar floor as I looked up to see… a black piece of paper float up out of the cauldron, rising to the top of the wildly undulating white flames. As the walls of the laboratory reverberated with the throaty, menacing laughter coming from the pot, which was by now at deafening volume, the piece of paper—which I recognized as Benny’s death curse—exploded into flames and went up in smoke.
A second later, the ear-splitting, growling laughter ceased and the white flames vanished, disappearing into the cauldron, which now sat still and silent on the table, just an ordinary little black pot again. Nelli stopped barking and, for a merciful moment, the room was quiet, except for everyone’s frantic breathing. Then our favorite familiar started whining loudly. I didn’t blame her.
I sat up slowly, my chest heaving, my heart thudding. Still whining, Nelli skittered over to me and tried to crawl into my lap. I clung to her, scarcely noticing the discomfort of having a dog the size of a small car sitting on top of me and panting anxiously into my face. As I watched, Max tentatively approached his workbench, gingerly poked the inert cauldron, then leaned over to peer into its contents.
Apparently satisfied that the danger was over, he breathed a little sigh of relief. Then he met my eyes and said with certainty, “Mystical.”
I nodded. “Evil.”