Esther Diamond #8: We Have A Title!

Esther-DiamondThe next Esther Diamond novel–in which Esther, Max, & friends confront Evil in its natural habitat, Wall Street–finally has a title: Goldzilla.

Quick refresher, the previous series titles are, in order: Disappearing Nightly; Doppelgangster; Unsympathetic Magic; Vamparazzi; Polterheist; The Misfortune Cookie; and Abracadaver.

And frankly, coming up with a fantasy pun for every Esther Diamond title is a bitch. There are times I could hit myself with a brick for having started this pattern in the first place. But by the time I realized around book #4, Vamparazzi (and I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to come up with that one), that this was going to be hard to sustain, it was too late. The pattern was already established, and my publisher-and-editor Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim of DAW Books was by then adamant and exacting about it.

I spent weeks (maybe months) flinging titles at Betsy for books #5 and #6, all of which she kept rejecting as not clever enough (and sometimes deplorably lacking in even the faintest glimmer of cleverness). At one point, frustrated by how long the work was getting stalled by this problem (because the ED plots arise from the premise implied in the titles), I blurted, “I can’t be clever all the time!” To which She Who Must Be Obeyed replied, “Yes, you can. We pay you to be clever all the time.”

(And, well, speaking from experience, that’s still easier than being paid to clean kennels, wait tables, clean houses, make cold calls, take orders from martinets, or deal with the public during the holidays.)

I finally thought up Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie during the World Fantasy Convention one year, which Betsy and co-publisher Sheila Gilbert were also attending. So I hunted them down, said each of these titles, and got the right reaction–a quick laugh. (And, finally–thanks be to Fortune!–got title approval.)

That’s how I know an Esther title works, or at least has potential to pass muster with La Wollheim: When I say it to someone, they laugh. (The real challenge, then, is to make my editor laugh.) If I get a puzzled frown or a politely wan smile from my test case, then I know I have to keep searching for a title.

That’s also how I know if someone is a potential Esther Diamond reader: When they ask the title of something I’ve written recently and I tell them, they laugh. That’s someone who might go look for the books now.

In contrast, there are people–including a few dear friends of mine, so this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” people or dumb or anything like that–who look puzzled and say, “What?” And I say, “Doppelgangster” or “Vamparazzi,”  or whatever. And they again say, “It’s… what?” And I repeat the title, and they say, “It’s what?” And when I explain (ex. “it’s the word doppelgänger combined with ‘gangster,’ so the story is about mobsters who are dying mysteriously soon after seeing their own perfect doubles–which is what a doppelgänger is”)… they look at me with pity and doubt. Experience has taught me that that’s someone who’s not likely to become an Esther Diamond reader. (Humor is very individualistic, and the author’s own notion of what’s funny isn’t ever going to hit everyone’s sweet spot–not even the sweet spot of every person she counts as a true friend.)

Anyhow, Abracadaver proved to be an even steeper hill for me. I spent weeks sending titles to Betsy, who never cracked a smile (phosphorically speaking). And after a few weeks, I kept hearing this title in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant, and it had nothing at all to do with the plot I’d been working on, so I ignored it and ignored it and ignored it… Until eventually, in weary desperation, I sent it to her–and got a prompt response indicating, That’s it! That’s your title!!

Which was great, except that… I had no plot idea for the phrase “Abracadaver,” and I had a plot started that didn’t go with it. Arrrggghh!!

However… the exact same thing had happened with The Misfortune Cookie, and I actually wound up with a much better story, as well as a better title, by going along with Betsy’s exhausting standards. Which is why she’s the editor and I listen to her. Every time she has insisted a title wasn’t good enough, then after we finally settle on a title… I look back and see that, yep, she was right, my previous suggestions weren’t very good, and this is the right result. I also don’t even really remember the story ideas I was working on for Misfortune Cookie and Abracadaver before getting final titles, so probably those story ideas weren’t that good, either.

But when it came to Esther Diamond #8, I was really stuck. Even I hated all the titles I was coming up with, most of which I never even showed to Betsy. Finally, since I had to get a move on, I started sending her a few titles, none of which worked. Aware of my ill-concealed desperation, she asked me for details about the story, in which Esther and Max get involved in a Wall Street caper and encounter greed, riches beyond the dreams of avarice, greed, bankers and traders and brokers, greed, corruption, greed, gold and loot and money, greed…

And it was Betsy, praise be upon her name, who came up with Goldzilla, which perfectly fit the still-vague vision I had for this book which is pretty much about (in case you didn’t catch it) rapacious greed–and where it leads. So this, too, is an example of why it’s good to have an editor who really gets what you’re doing. (Compared to some publishing houses I’ve dealt with, where I worked with editors who didn’t even know who I was or why I was bothering them when I tried to discuss my contracted projects with them.)

So that’s where we are–we have a title! And I’m working on the book. I hope that the brilliant Dan Dos Santos will again do the cover (he’s done all but one of the previous Esther covers), but I don’t have information about that yet. I also don’t have a firm release date yet–will post it when I do.

Meanwhile, in related news, I’m very happy to say that Abracadaver made SciFiChick’s Best of 2014 list! Sci-Fi Chick is a reviewer who reads an extraordinary number of books each year, in addition to interviewing authors and maintaining a cool website.

The 7th book in the Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver was released in November. I’m grateful to DAW Books for acquiring the series from me after it was dumped by its previous publisher after one badly-published book (DAW subsequently reissued Disappearing Nightly, the first Esther novel), believing in this series, and doing such a great job with it. And I’m so happy that readers enjoy the books–which I love writing!

So, my thanks to everyone who has been enthusiastic about Esther Diamond!