The Big Idea: Laura Resnick

Saving the world. Paying the rent. Are these mutually incompatible activities? Laura Resnick ponders this very subject as she discusses Unsympathetic Magic, the latest installment of her fantasy series featuring the quirky character Esther Diamond. And while it might seem at first blush that one have to prioritize these desires (after all, if one does not save the world, paying the rent becomes a moot point), Resnick makes a good argument why both are important in the end.

LAURA RESNICK:

I love juxtaposition. I love the salty-and-sweet flavor of peanut brittle, and the sinus-clearing heat of a spicy curry accompanied by the creamy coolness of raita. I love the close-to-laughter close-to-tears experience of a well-acted Chekhov play, and the mingling of today’s grief with yesterday’s joys that you get from a good funeral eulogy.

I also like a healthy dose of comedy with my drama, and a generous helping of life-and-death stakes with my farce.

Hence the ethos of my Esther Diamond urban fantasy series, of which Unsympathetic Magic is the newest release. When the brilliant cover artist for this series, the award-winning Daniel Dos Santos finished this cover, he told me that coming up with images that have the right combination of menace and comedy is the big challenge of illustrating these books. (And he keeps getting it just right. So hats off to Dan!)

Esther Diamond is a struggling actress in New York City who gets involved in supernatural adventures along with her friend Dr. Maximillian Zadok, a 350 year old mage whose day job is protecting the Big Apple from Evil. They are assisted in their activities by Nelli, Max’s inconveniently-large canine familiar; and they’re occasionally dogged, thwarted, or beaten to the punch by Detective Connor Lopez, a skeptical cop who would be Esther’s boyfriend if he weren’t so concerned about his growing conviction that she’s a deranged felon.

Esther’s vocation as an actress is similar to mine as a writer; she loves it, it’s the work she was meant to do, and she is fiercely dedicated to it. Like writing, acting is a highly competitive profession, a very unstable way to make a living, and often doesn’t pay that well. Consequently, while fighting Evil and confronting the forces of darkness, Esther is also always looking for work, making sure she can pay her bills (no mean feat in Manhattan!), and vexed about any circumstances that interfere with her ability to earn income or pursue her career.

And that’s an example of the sort of juxtaposition that I’ve enjoyed playing with in this series: While confronting supernaturally powerful adversaries and their rapaciously murderous plans, Esther Diamond has to give equal attention to holding down paying jobs, covering her rent, and watching her budget. These constant obligations characterize life as I have always known it, and since I don’t believe these responsibilities will disappear for me if I wake up tomorrow to discover I’m being menaced by zombies and a voodoo curse, I don’t make them magically vanish for Esther, either.

Thus, Esther is working at three jobs throughout Unsympathetic Magic. Her “real” job is acting in a guest slot on The Dirty Thirty, a TV show about corrupt cops which is widely loathed by the NYPD—including Lopez, as well as the cops who arrest Esther for prostitution one night in Harlem. (There is, as she assures Lopez when she asks for his help, a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she was assaulting strangers at midnight while dressed like a crack whore.) Her regular day job is working as a singing server at Bella Stella, a restaurant in Little Italy that featured prominently in her previous misadventure, Doppelgangster. And her other day job is teaching acting classes at the Livingston Foundation in Manhattan’s lovely old Mt. Morris Park neighborhood.

And while tracking down a mysterious sorcerer who’s using the dark side of voodoo magic to raise zombies, call up dark spirits, and terrorize Harlem by night, Esther makes sure she never misses a minute of work at any of her three jobs.

Pursuing her professional vocation, meeting her fiscal needs, and stomping Evil into the ground before it can swallow her city whole and cancel all auditions forever, in addition to trying to have a love life with her almost-would-be boyfriend (Detective Lopez), keeps Esther pretty busy.

Similarly, making sure that I find the comedy in stories about Evil, homicide, abduction, rapacious greed, and attempts to destroy the world as we know it keeps me pretty busy. The stakes in any story have to be high or there’s not much reason for a reader to get invested in it for 400+ pages; and in fantasy, the stakes are traditionally very high, i.e. the struggle between Good and Evil. So Esther Diamond’s action-packed adventures consist of fantasy drama with one more layer—the funny layer, the layer where absurdity is juxtaposed against menace, the mundane is juxtaposed against the earth-shattering, and the pettily irritating is juxtaposed against the truly terrifying.

Unsympathetic Magic attempts to bring together all of these elements and balance them against each other, while also adding a dash of sex appeal, some fun facts I’ll bet you never knew about traditional voodoo, and the dark stormy climax of a mid-August heat wave.

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Unsympathetic Magic: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel. Follow Laura Resnick’s news page. Laura Resnick on Facebook.

28 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Laura Resnick

  1. This sounded interesting enough that I went looking for the first book, Disappearing Nightly. It is not available outside the used book market. Is there a reissue being planed or is it included in a collection anywhere?

  2. The previous Esther Diamond novel, DOPPELGANGSTER, was released in January/10 and is readily available.

    Due to various events too complicated to go into here (see this page of my website for details: http://sff.net/people/laresnick/About%20Writing/Crazy%20Ideas.htm), I switched publishers after Esther’s first book, DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY, and that book is currently out-of-print and unavailable. There will be an electronic edition of DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY released later this year; and a new print edition will eventually be published—I just don’t have a date for that yet. (Not before 2012, at any rate.)

    Meanwhile, DN is, as far as I know, available second-hand (though the prices I’ve seen for it are startling–perhaps because its publisher printed so few copies and destroyed them so quickly). Just to clarify, I have no objection whatsoever to readers buying my work second-hand when a book is not otherwise available.

    However, precisely because of that DN publishing glitch, I wrote DOPPELGANGSTER with the assumption that it would be many readers’ first introduction to this series. Moreover, since I always just want to enjoy whichever book I pick up in a series, without “having to” hunt down the first volume and read the books in rigidly chronological order, the Esther Diamond novels are all structured (and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be structured) so that a new reader can enjoy and understand what’s going on in any of the books, regardless of which one she picks up first. So even if you’re unfamiliar with this series, go ahead and try UNSYMPATHETIC MAGIC as your first installment; after all, I wrote this book, too, with the expectation that it might indeed be your first exposure to Esther Diamond, her friends, and her nemeses.

  3. After I read the description of the novel I can assure Mr. Dos Santos that he certainly got the eyes right for such a character. They absolutely drew me to the book.

  4. Ben, not only THAT but… (I don’t think this is exactly a spoiler, because I’ve seen it discussed a lot online, but just in case, this is a sort of SEMI-spoiler alert about a basic premise of the series)…. this is an urban fantasy heroine who doesn’t have any supernatural qualities, features, or abilities.

    I’ve even seen myself accused online of Not Understanding urban fantasy, Not Knowing What It Is, and not being qualified to write it, because EVERYONE (except me, it seems) knows that it is a REQUIREMENT of urban fantasy that your heroine have supernatural powers.

    So sue me.

  5. It’s also a requirement to have your heroine on the cover, clad in leather and tatoos, giving most sexy, smoldering look, or a close up on her butt.

    I appreciate the subversion of cliche on this cover.

  6. Tattoos! Oh, not! I FORGOT to give Esther Diamond tattoosssss…..

    (P.S. Absolutely no disrespect intended to anyone, living or dead, who writes characters with tattoos. I don’t need more enemies.)

  7. The cover’s kind of a send up of female-heroine-in-jeopardy circumstances, too. That highly bemused look while in the clutches of an Evil Snake is kinda attention grabbing…

  8. Bah a 4 page prologue only makes me want to read the whole thing. I’ll have to get a used copy of the first book now.

  9. Oh, thank god for your explanation, Laura! For some reason I missed out on the first two books, but this third sounds right up my alley. I was getting a mite cranky when trying to find the first in the series, but this clears it up. I’ll put all of them on my wishlist and hopefully have more fun stuff on the nook for my impending long-ass flights.

  10. I’m way too disorganized a reader to buy or read all the books in a series chronologically. I can manage a stand-alone trilogy, but beyond that, it’s just too big a challenge for me to cope with! And I don’t ask anything of readers (such as: Read This Multi-Book Series In Chronological Order) that I couldn’t do myself as a reader.

  11. Hey you beating on characters with tat…oh no forget it :)

    Just out of wonder – Is there anywhere I can buy (BUY! Not ‘find’) Doppleganger as an e-book?

    I’m currently working my last three weeks before film school, and my employers have decided to lock me in my office and ignore me for that time. These plain walls are driving me kerazy! Google, is of no help today.

    If not, well they’ll just have to go on my wishlist/cart :)

  12. “Just out of wonder – Is there anywhere I can buy (BUY! Not ‘find’) Doppleganger as an e-book?”

    Whereever e-books are sold. DOPPELGANGSTER is a DAW/Penguin release and is available in all the usual e-formats and e-markets.

    “Which other series in the field does this remind you of?”

    None! :)

  13. Ahem – thank you and DoppelGANGSTER…got it. Did I mention I’m ill? I’m ill. Brains not working, mumble mumble.

    Thanks Laura.

  14. The two available ones are both at Amazon in paperback (sorry if that reduces or even eliminates your share of royalties, but definitely my preferred format, MMPB if available) and went into my save-for-later Amazon cart immediately after reading your post and the ensuing comments. Definitely fall into the must-read category.

  15. It’s lovely to see readers feeling so conscientious about my income, viz second-hand books and royalties rates, etc.–but, really, folks, there’s no need.

    I speak only for myself, not anyone else. But pretty much the only way a reader can get my knickers in a knot about my income viz sales format, etc., is to say directly to me (saying this to someone else and assuming, albeit mistakenly, that it won’t be repeated to me is okay; saying it DIRECTLY TO ME is what bugs me), “I’m not going to buy your current release until it’s available second-hand.”

    And what really bothers me about THAT is not the fiscal implication, it’s the sheer bad manners of saying something like that to my face. I deplore bad manners.

    (Meanwhile, Serraphin, I wasn’t correcting you. I always type titles in caps. Fairly common practice in the murky underbelly of the writing biz… because it saves us the tremendous EFFORT of breaking out the italics font.)

  16. If she’s an actress, then tattoos are contra-indicated. Unless they’re in a place that is covered up by the costume, which, if you’re young and hot, doesn’t leave a whole lot of places.

    Add that odd bit of tattoo trivia to the one where you don’t want a “tramp stamp” if you ever want an epidural.

    Also— did he work both “Tor” and “Daw into the cover, along with “Und Liv In Hiz Na—” (and now I’m hearing Jaegermonsters a lá Girl Genius…)

  17. Brick and mortar bookstore for the win!
    I got the preceeding novel and will get to it in a while. Currently fourth in priority so depending on how much time I spend reading “Island of Blood” maybe week 36-37.

  18. I suppose there’s always the hope that good word-of-mouth from us “other format” buyers will stimulate, at least a little, the purchase of hardcovers by others.

  19. Those looking for Disappearing Nightly might want to check their local libraries (especially inter-library loan) I was able to order it through Link+, which connects various California university and public libraries.

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