All In The Family

- by Laura Resnick

I’m a second generation writer, my father being Nebula and Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Mike Resnick. As a result of my family background, over the years, I have seen and heard the following claims:

I am my father, writing under a female pseudonym; my father tells me what to write;  my father edits my manuscripts before I deliver them to editors; being a Resnick got me out of the slushpile and opened doors for me; editors and agents work with me in hopes that this will attract my father to working with them;  publishers sign and publish me as a favor to my father; I am married to my father. And so on.

The truth, alas, is much less suitable fodder for tabloid headlines:

I started my writing career by targeting the category-romance market because I thought that writing a short novel about two likeable people who fall in love was something I might be able to do. At Silhouette Books, there was a newly-hired editorial assistant who wanted to get promoted into an editing position; the best way to do was that was to find a new writer whom the house could acquire. She discovered me in the slushpile, and she championed my manuscript through the various readings which a new writer’s book typically has to go through, up the in-house hierarchy, to be approved for first-time acquisition. From submission to sale, the process took about 11 months. (And, yes, that editorial assistant got her promotion. Years later, she’s no longer in publishing, but we are still in touch.)

My surname was not a factor in this process. A prolific midlist writer, my father was unknown outside science fiction (and certainly unknown in romance, which was a separate world); and in terms of prominence within his own genre, his first Hugo Award nomination occurred more than a year later. The first time anyone in the business ever remarked on my surname was sometime after my third book sale: One day my Silhouette editor said that another editor’s assistant had recently mentioned there was a male science fiction writer with the same last name as me, and did I know him? And that’s the only time in my romance career (which covered 14 book sales at 4 houses) that the subject ever came up.

Then around the time I made my eighth book sale, my dad and Martin H. Greenberg were co-editing a science fiction/fantasy short fiction anthology (Alternate Presidents). They were offering some of the slots to new writers, and they offered one to me. I was certainly no novice by then, but I was completely unknown in sf/f, and I had also never written any short fiction. So I told them that unless they thought my story was in the better half of the ones delivered, I didn’t want to be in the book at all and there’d be no need to pay me. I would much rather just eat the work than feel I was, due to familial connection, in a book where I didn’t belong.

As it happens, they liked the story, I liked writing it, and they each invited me into more anthologies after that. Then other editors also started inviting me into anthologies. By the time my twelfth romance novel was in production, I had sold about twenty sf/f short stories, and I won the John W. Campbell Award as Best New SF/F Writer—at which point, people started asking when I was going to write a novel in the genre. I was by then realizing that romance was the wrong genre for me in the long-run, and so I thought, “Hey, maybe I should write a fantasy novel.” (I also continued writing short fiction and have by now sold a total of about 60 short stories to a few dozen editors.)

Following a common pattern, my first couple of fantasy book proposals were rejected after sitting in sf/f slushpiles for months, despite having the supposedly door-opening surname of “Resnick” on them. (The dreary non-tabloid truth is that unless your family is so famous that your filial status alone will probably guarantee sales (ex. Mandela, Gambino, Springstein), no one in publishing cares who your dad is.) My first sf/f  book deal (In Legend Born) was based on my submitting a strong proposal for material which the publisher believed would generate profits. That’s the only reason any publisher buys a book: They think it will earn money. And in this case, they were right. In Legend Born was well reviewed and earned well, which enabled me to keep selling more fantasy novels, as long as I kept up the good work.

My father and I sometimes talk about the publishing business, but we almost never talk about writing or the craft. We have very different interests and tastes (for one thing, I’ve never learned to like science fiction!), so we seldom read each other’s published work; and (apart from those specific instances where he was the acquiring editor), we never see each other’s manuscripts. As a short fiction editor, he has consistently used a very light hand with me; and he accepted my refusal (which I explained to him) to do the only revision he ever asked me to make on a story.

Meanwhile, although I have seen and heard many erroneous suppositions over the years about what professional advantages I enjoy due to being my father’s daughter… I have rarely seen or heard people identify the actual advantage I have always had: Because I grew up in a writer’s house, I knew from the start what I was getting into when I started writing, I was familiar with the disadvantages and sacrifices of this lifestyle, and I understood the level of hard work, perseverance, and commitment I would have to bring to this profession if I wanted to succeed in it.

One comments

  1. Laura, thanks so for writing what you did about your relationship with your father. What a rare experience you have. My grandfather and uncle were both writers (as am I) and one of my great disappointments is that my grandfather died long before I was born. I have his published and unpublished stories and over 100 letters he’d written, but its not the same thing. I write fiction while my uncle had several nonfiction books, which I helped edit, published. In some regards I feel as if I had a closer relationship with my uncle than his own children did.
    Give your dad a hug for me. I’d give anything to have been able to talk writing with my grandfather.