Though a lot of Word Wench posts are related to history and historical novels, all of us read much more broadly. Which is why today’s special guest author is Laura Resnick, author of romance, fantasy, crossover, and interesting other things. A popular favorite with the Wenches, Laura has a November release: the mass market edition of her very funny Luna book, Disappearing Nightly, which was released last December in trade paperback. (See photo of Laura in Old Jerusalem below.)
Besides Disappearing Nightly, Laura’s fantasy novels include In Legend Born, The Destroyer Goddess, and The White Dragon, which made the "Year’s Best" lists of Publishers Weekly and Voya. Under the pseudonym Laura Leone, she is the award-winning author of more than a dozen romance novels, including Fallen From Grace, which was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s Rita Award. You can find her on the Web at www.LauraResnick.com.
MJP: Laura and I first met at a Romantic Times conference in San Antonio a lot of years ago. She was there to accept the RT award for best new category romance writer. There have been a lot of years and a lot of books since then! Laura, will you tell us something about Disappearing Nightly?
LR: This book combines a lot of my favorite things—in life as well as in fiction!—romance, comedy, mystery, action, cops, actors, ancient tomes, and ice cream. Set in contemporary New York City, it’s about an actress, Esther Diamond, working in an off-Broadway musical, who inadvertently gets wrapped up in a strange and wacky fantasy adventure in which she must find out why performers in disappearing acts all over Manhattan are really disappearing.
Along the way, she meets a sexy cop (who’d ask her out if he didn’t suspect she’s an insane felon), a 350-year-old wizard whose mission is to protect the city from Evil, a Texas condom king, a nervous society boy, and a bevy of drag queens. It’s a novel that I hope will appeal to romance readers as well as to fantasy fans.
MJP: For years, you wrote wildly popular columns on writing for Nink, the newsletter of the all-genre writing organization Novelists, Inc. I understand that the columns will be published as a collection soon. Can you tell us more about this?
LR: Yes! I’m delighted to report that my collected columns will be published by Jefferson Press in spring 2007 as a book called Rejection, Royalties, and Romance: The Wacky World of a Working Writer. It’s about how working writers wrestle with the demands and chaos of the long-term professional writing life, rather than being a "how to write" book. In addition to the audience of professional writers it addresses, I hope it will interest aspiring writers—and, indeed, anyone who just likes books and wonders how novelists live and work.
MJP: How long have you been writing?
LR: I think it’s been 18 years. (Ohmigod. It’s been eighteen years?)
MJP: You write both romance and fantasy—among other things! How do you feel about your different genres? >>
LR: What I like about writing romance is the focus on relationship and characterization; and I think that starting out my career in romance was a huge factor in shaping what kind of writer I am now: No matter how big the tale or how spectacular the fantasy premise, I’m still always fundamentally writing about characters and their relationships. What I like about writing fantasy is the traditional, classic, high-adventure kind of tale that has always strongly attracted me to fiction as a reader, whatever the genre.
There were numerous factors in my migration from romance to fantasy, but certainly a major one is that, while I love a good love story, I am at heart a huge adventure fan; and fantasy gives me the opportunity to write adventure tales that happen to include various kinds of love stories.
MJP: What was your first book, and how well do you think it characterizes your latest work?
LR: Talk about a trip down Memory Lane! My first-ever book was a Silhouette Desire called One Sultry Summer, published in 1989. When I started writing, my goal was to get published. So I sat down with the Silhouette guidelines in one hand and a notebook in the other (I wrote the book by hand and later typed it), and I did my best to write exactly the kind of novel I thought Silhouette Books was looking for in the late 1980s. And I would say that book is wholly UNcharacteristic of anything I’ve written in years!
MJP: Everyone I know who has read Disappearing Nightly adores it. How do you manage the humor?
LR: In the first lay-down of a comedy scene, I mostly let the characters do and say whatever they want to do or say. I find that if I’ve developed the characters right and I’ve put them in the right kind of scene, then they do a lot of the initial work for me. (So a lot of my work involves character development and figuring out what scenes to write.)
Then I do a lot of subsequent rewrites to keep sharpening what’s on the page. Prose and dialogue seem very musical to me; and I think of comedy, in particular, as percussion music. So taking a scene that’s potentially funny and making it actually funny is a question of revising, rewriting, polishing, and rearranging the prose and dialogue until I’ve found and hit all the right beats. This is organic, not a writing technique I can explain or teach in a workshop, but it probably originates in my years of studying acting (before I started writing). My acting training included tremendous emphasis on timing in comedy, and I think that’s translated to this percussion music that’s in my head when I write and revise comedy.
Additionally, comedy is about truth. It may be the too-honest thing someone says or does because of the heightened emotions of the moment, or because of the heightened stakes–or because of the catastrophically lowered stakes (by the time the heroine of Disappearing Nightly finds herself trapped underground with a hungry tiger, a stripper, and a demon, there’s not a lot left to lose)! And certainly one thing that I, at least, find indelibly true is that mundane concerns always intrude on life’s attempts to be grandiose. So someone saving the world still gets phone calls from her mother and can’t realistically afford to miss a half-price shoe sale.
Also, I think comedy has to be smart. A comedy protagonist who’s too stupid or inept to get smoothly through a day that I could get through smoothly, isn’t funny to me; she’s just tedious and silly.
MJP: What was the biggest mistake you made when you first began writing?>>
LR: I made so many, I can’t even recall them all, let alone figure out which was the biggest! More importantly, though, I know the one thing I did RIGHT: I just kept writing. When rejected, when told the market was dead, when told I had no talent, after losing a contract, after losing an agent or being unable to find an agent, after having multiple projects rejected, after losing an editor, etc., etc. I kept writing. It’s the only reason I had a career, and it’s the only reason I still have one. You have to keep writing. That’s the one thing I’m positive I did right, amidst many, many, many mistakes.
MJP: Which of your characters is your favorite, and why?
LR: Well, I’m very partial to Esther Diamond, the heroine of Disappearing Nightly, because she’s a character I wanted to write for years, so it’s like finally getting to meet someone you’ve always wanted to meet. She’s funny, she’s ethical, she’s got guts, she’s impatient, she’s a trifle tactless, she’s eccentric without realizing it, and she never loses faith in herself, her friends, or her talent.
MJP: Which book, if any, was the most difficult for you to write, and why?
LR: Most of them were "the most difficult" at the time I was writing them, no joke. But I’d have to say that The White Dragon and The Destroyer Goddess count as the most difficult. This is a massive two-volume fantasy epic with a dozen point-of-view characters and half a dozen major plotlines that weave together into a series of interrelated climaxes. So, in terms of craft and commitment, it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever written. Happily, it’s also the work for which I get the most letters from readers who say I destroyed their personal and professional lives for days or weeks because they couldn’t put this story down until they got to the end!
MJP: What do you consider key elements of a great story?
LR: The single most important thing: Absorb me, make me care. If I don’t care about the characters and feel absorbed in their story, then it doesn’t matter how clever the plot is, how well-researched the setting, how unique the premise, etc. I have to care and be absorbed, or the book is a waste of paper, as far as I’m concerned. Note that I say "care about" a character rather than "like" them. While it’s usually easier to care about someone we like, I think (in fiction) it’s a question of making characters compelling—they may or may not be "likeable," but they must be someone I can’t "look away from," in effect. Fiction can have anti-heroes—even villains—who are deeply compelling, though not necessarily someone I "like" or want to invite over to dinner.
MJP: What is the best part about being a writer?
MJP: The most frustrating?
LR: Dealing with the publishing world.
MJP: Laura, though you’re not considered a historical author, in fact your epic fantasy novels take place in a medieval world—Sileria just happens to be invented rather than taking place on this planet. What kind of research did you do? Do you like writing in historical settings?
LR: I tend to do quite a lot of research on traditional weapons and combat for my fantasy novels, particularly exotic weapons and fighting styles. These are high adventure novels in which I’m writing about characters for whom deadly combat is a way of life and weapons are daily tools, so I like to learn enough myself for this to become second-skin knowledge and skill for such characters—without, I hope, clobbering innocent readers over the head with all my brilliant research. (I want the reader to feel the character is a combat expert, not that I’m trying to turn the reader into one.)
I’m currently working on a fantasy novel called Arena, set in a tribal horse culture, so I’ve done a lot of research on horses and on ancient and medieval cultures that were built around the horse, such as Scythians, Huns, and Mongols. Physically, psychologically, religiously, and even gastronomically, this is a very different setting from various other "historical" lifestyles I’ve researched for my fantasy novels. But such research is an element of characterization, like the combat research. Because the point isn’t to show the reader how much I know now about living as a nomad with a herd of horses. It’s to give a sturdy foundation to characters who are part of this culture, to find all of the points of strangeness and discord for characters who are merely visitors to this culture—and, of course, to figure out how someone who is part of this culture nonetheless comes to be at odds with it (since protagonists are usually people who rise above or sink below the current water level of their communities).
MJP: As a result of your Master’s in Journalism program, you ended up earning an internship in Jerusalem. Have those four months in a conflicted part of the world influenced your writing? Given you new story ideas?
LR: Pretty much everything that happens to a writer influences her writing and gives her story ideas. And a place as strange and intense as Jerusalem is bound to have a strong effect. Certainly a city that’s been inhabited by so many gods, religions, prophets, warriors, and dynasties over a period of more than four thousand years is a treasure trove of ideas and research for a fantasy writer. (Jerusalem has been completely sacked seven times, and conquered more than 30 times.) For anyone interested in reading more about what I did in Jerusalem, there’s a "Dispatches from Israel" page on my website at www.LauraResnick.com .
But it’s only over time that we see precisely how such influences and experiences unfold in a writer’s work. For the time being, what those four months have mostly done is make me late on my existing fiction obligations!