The Graphic Audio adaptation of Vamparazzi (Esther Diamond #4) goes on sale April 5! Available for pre-order now.
Meanwhile, here’s a 5-minute sample of the production.
While you’re waiting for the April 5 audio release of Vamparazzi (or for better news about the book publication of Goldzilla than, “I’m way behind schedule and still working on it”), check out the podcast interview that Colleen Delany and I recently did for Graphic Audio.
That’s the Graphic Audio site link. Here’s the iTunes link (and then look for my name; date of the interview is Feb 17, 2017).
Colleen is the actress who plays Esther in the audio versions, as well as directing the productions. We talked about audio, Esther Diamond, writing, my working relationship with my editor, Hugo Award winner Betsy Wollheim, my (fun!) part-time job as a historic walking tour guide, and other stuff.
If you haven’t explored the Graphic Audio adaptations of the Esther Diamond series yet, check out this series trailer to get an idea of how cool these full-cast audio productions are:
That’s (obviously) an audio sample from Graphic Audio’s adaptation of Unsympathetic Magic, which is now available in audio download and CD formats.
As explained in my previous post about this project, Graphic Audio’s format, which they describe as “a movie in your mind,” narrates the whole novel, as a standard solo-reader audiobook would, but they include sound effects and background music, and they have all the different dialogue roles read by a full cast of actors—as you can hear in the audio sample posted above, where Esther and Lopez, played respectively by Colleen Delany and Thomas Keegan, are talking.
I think Unsympathetic Magic is one of the more difficult of the Esther Diamond novels to adapt this way. For one thing, there’s a lengthy Vodou ceremony with singing, drums, dancing, prayers, and spirit possession. There’s also some Creole dialogue, a snake, a dog, zombies, baka, fire, storms, spirits entering this dimension, incineration, a romantic interlude (arrived at in Esther and Lopez’s habitually haphazard way), and various other story elements that aren’t necessarily a cakewalk to translate credibly from the written page to audio performance.
They did a great job with all of that, and I really enjoyed listening to it—so I think people who didn’t write the book, and therefore perhaps won’t listen to every moment of the audio adaptation quite as judgmentally as I do, are very likely to enjoy it.
Above all, I’m really pleased with the acting. Although these adaptations are well-directed (Colleen Delany, who plays Esther, is also the director), and the sound production and engineering are very good, I have always found that no amount of production quality or technical virtuosity (or Hollywood special effects) can make up for a bad script (and if you don’t like the writing here, that’s on me, obviously) or mediocre actors–or even a good actor who’s been badly mismatched with a role. (I’m having flashbacks to seeing a weary, stiff-limbed, hard-drinking, grey-haired Richard Burton in the twilight of his life reprise his early-career stage role as the young, energetic, idealistic King Arthur in Camelot.)
So I’m very excited about the quality of the acting in this project. I think Delany is delightful as Esther—which is crucial, since she’s the first-person narrator and the protagonist. If she weren’t engaging, convincing, and pleasant to listen to, this whole thing would flop, no matter who else was involved. Colleen has done some screen acting and a lot of voice acting and stage performance. She’s done a lot of work with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and she has been nominated multiple times for the Helen Hayes Award. (And here’s something for Star Trek fans: a few years ago, she played Othello’s Desdemona opposite Avery Brooks, who led the TV cast of Deep Space 9 in the 1990s. As recounted in Unsympathetic Magic, Esther and her now-ex, Jeff Clark, also once did this play together.)
I’m also delighted by the performance of Bob Payne as Dr. Maximillian Zadok, local representative of the Magnum Collegium. He brings together Max’s erudition, befuddled dignity, and bravery, he’s got a lovely light comedic touch, and he does an excellent job with Max’s expository dialogue—those long speeches where Max explains the nature or history of various strange and mystical phenomena to the other characters.
Two other performers who hurdled that obstacle very well in Unsympathetic Magic are Dawn Ursula as Puma and Julie-Ann Elliott as Dr. Livingston, both of whom have to do a lot of Vodou-splaining to Esther. Ursula is a two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient who does a lot of stage work, and Elliott has an impressive résumé of stage, screen, and audio work.
The men in Esther’s life also do a great job in these productions. Thomas Keegan as Detective Lopez has an attractive, no-nonsense voice… that inevitably winds up shifting many gears as he deals with his wacky love interest, his volatile family, and the bizarre cases he keeps wading into. Lopez has many scenes throughout the series where he gets pushed, pulled, and shoved through more conflicting emotions in 20 minutes than most of us have to deal with in a week, and Keegan pulls it all off seamlessly. Meanwhile, KenYatta Rogers, another cast member with a long list of credits and awards recognition, brings Jeff Clark to life wonderfully, finding little moments in the dialogue that I didn’t even hear in my head when writing the book. This actor makes me glad I’m planning to include this character in more of the upcoming books, because I’d love to hear him play Jeff again.
The rest of the cast was also excellent, and the whole story came across so well that, despite (obviously) knowing exactly what happens, I couldn’t stop listening—which I hope is the reaction every listener has.
They’ve released this, as well as Disappearing Nightly and Doppelgangster. The next four Esther Diamond novels are also in production at Graphic Audio: Vamparazzi (release date, April 3), Polterheist, The Misfortune Cookie, and Abracadaver. (And, yes, I am writing more Esther novels. I’m just behind schedule.)
This series trailer, using sound clips from Disappearing Nightly, gives you a good idea of the overall feel (multiple actors, sound effects, music) of these productions.
Graphic Audio is releasing audiobook adaptations of the first seven Esther Diamond novels!
Vamparazzi will be released in April, and the next three audiobooks in the series are planned for May, June, and July release. (And by then, I should have better news about my next regular ED book release, Goldzilla, than, “I’m still working on it.”)
Graphic Audio’s format involves multiple actors and sound effects. They describe their format as “a movie in your mind.” Click on the above links or images, and you can hear 5-minute samples of their productions of the first three books.
I was delighted when Graphic Audio approached us about producing the Esther Diamond series in audio. I was familiar with their format from having listened to some of their other productions, and I thought it would be an excellent way to present the Esther Diamond books in audio.
I’m a huge audiobook fan (I listen to audbiobooks while cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing chores, walking, driving, exercising, balancing my checkbook, medicating squirming cats, soaking in a hot tub, etc., etc.). It doubles the number of books I get to read (or “read”) in a year. And I’m an even bigger fan of radio plays. I have a huge personal library of BBC radio dramas, comedies, and adaptations, and I probably listen to those even more often than to audiobooks.
Graphic Audio combines those two formats. Instead of completely adapting the novel to script format, the way a radio play does, they still narrate the whole novel just as a standard audiobook would, but instead of the narrative telling you “Lopez said irritably,” you hear the actor playing Lopez say that line of dialogue irritably, and instead of Esther’s narrative just telling you there’s a lot of noise as she, Max, and Barclay tumble down the stairs at Magic Magnus’ shop, you hear the clatter as they tumble down. And so on.
It’s always a gamble when a writer’s story is transformed into another format, one that involves interpretations by lots of people (such as actors, directors, and sound engineers) who are not the original author. So I knew there was a possibility I would be disappointed with the result, and I braced myself for that. But I thought it was worth taking that chance, since this is such a good format for Esther Diamond. I figured in the worst case scenario (the adaptations were a big disappointment), I could always, at a later date, reclaim the rights and personally produce some standard single-reader audiobooks.
Fortunately, though, the best case scenario came to pass. Actress Colleen Delany, who plays Esther and who’s also directing the whole audio series, is doing a terrific job with these productions. The sound engineering, the other actors, the whole overall experience is very high quality and I’m genuinely thrilled with the results and love what they’re doing. (Seriously. I’d still need to promote these audiobooks even if I didn’t like them, but I am tediously honest and would never use such enthusiastic phrases if I didn’t mean them. I would say neutral things like “they’ve worked really hard” and “if you’re an Esther fan, give these a try,” etc.)
I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Disappearing Nightly in full, and I loved it. I actually forgot at times that I had written the book; in many places, I was just enjoying it as its audience. And keep in mind, it’s a book I’ve rewritten twice and subsequently re-read three times (to make sure I don’t start making continuity errors in later books), so I am heartily sick of this book. So a production has got to be good to get me to listen to that entire novel—which I did, over the course of two days, enjoying it the whole way.
Now I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Doppelgangster discs, so I can listen to that one, too.
* * *
Years ago, I was a recovering romance writer looking for a new genre, and I wrote a proposal for an urban fantasy series that I felt was exactly what I should be writing: A comedy series set in New York City and featuring Esther Diamond, a struggling actress (I was also a recovering aspiring actress) who gets involved in supernatural misadventures via her career. The proposal included a brief description of the series, synopses for the first three books, and the first three chapters of book one, Disappearing Nightly.
As readers of the series already know, in Disappearing Nightly, Esther is performing in an off-Broadway flop called Sorcerer! when the leading lady really vanishes during the disappearing act. After several more performers around the city mysteriously disappear during their magic acts, Esther joins forces with Dr. Maximillian Zadok, an elderly mage who specializes in unraveling mystical mayhem. She also butts heads with Detective Connor Lopez, a skeptical NYPD cop who finds Esther attractive in green body paint—or anything else.
Max and Esther would become partners in paranormal crime-solving as the series continued, and Esther’s relationship with Lopez would become more serious and more conflicted. Structured like a mystery series, the books would mostly (though not always) be stand-alone stories, and the series would be open-ended. That is, the characters confront Evil as a day-to-day job that someone’s always got to do; there is no specific entity or master-enemy who can ultimately be defeated or destroyed to remove all Evil from the world (or from New York City).
However, neither urban fantasy nor comedy was popular in the fantasy genre when I wrote the Esther Diamond proposal. This meant that selling the series would take some persistence. But, alas, I was letting my work be represented by literary agents at the time, and too many agents (including all four of my former agents) approach selling books with all the enthusiasm and commitment that I bring to thinking about cleaning my oven. In a pattern that typifies my experiences with literary agents, my then-agent sent the Esther Diamond proposal to three editors, they all rejected it, and the agent promptly declared the series unsaleable, refused to send it out ever again, and thereafter bit my head off whenever I raised the subject.
A few years later I fired the agent, and then I sent out Esther Diamond on my own. Within weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.
Unfortunately, though, that publisher did a poor job of publishing the first book, including a terrible cover, bad pricing decisions, and no marketing. This happens a lot. (And lest you think, “Ah! A literary agent would have known not to sell there!” Actually, the agent I’d recently fired placed other writers with that same publisher while refusing to send Esther Diamond anywhere.) As you’d expect, the book sank like a stone (which also happens a lot). Responding exactly the way most publishers usually respond to their own publishing mistakes, the publisher canceled my contract. So this series, which it had taken me years to get aloft, was shot down and lying dead in the water once again.
Meanwhile, in a fit of “conventional wisdom” idiocy, I had hired my new/fourth literary agent to “represent” me after I got that book deal on the table by myself. This was a very expensive mistake on my part. She collected 15% of that deal and never took the slightest interest in my career again. From then on, it became progressively harder to get my calls returned or my emails answered. And now that I had been dumped by the publisher and my career was in trouble, she made it clear that I was as welcome at that agency as a corpse at a vegan banquet.
Technically, I fired that agent; but that’s a lot like saying, “I filed for divorce after discovering my spouse had left me.” Then I (foolishly) queried some other agents. They were all negative about my plan to find a new publisher for Esther Diamond and even more negative about my writing. (If you were thinking that 20 book sales protects you from agents telling you that you can’t write–hah!–then think again.) Before long, I realized that it was well past time to give up on agents and concentrate on getting another publishing contract. So I once again researched the market and submitted Esther on my own… And, once again, within a few weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.
(Sidebar: Giving up on literary agents proved to be one of the very best business decisions I’ve ever made. I’ll talk about this more in future posts (and I’ve talked about it often in my Nink column and on other people’s blogs), but my career has improved so much since I quit working with agents that I regret not making the decision years before I did, and it’s difficult to think of a scenario in which I’d choose to go back to working with one.)
The editor who took a chance on this canceled series was the inimitable Betsy Wollheim, publisher of DAW Books—who won a well-deserved Hugo Award for Best Editor in sf/f in 2012. (Her co-publisher, Sheila Gilbert, got a long-overdue nomination for the same award in 2014.) DAW Books, which is a small independently owned house (distributed by the Random Penguin empire), is very different from any other publishing house I’ve ever worked with, in that they treat me like a respected professional associate and treat my work as a valued asset. My experience with other publishers for many years was consistently that I was typically treated as something between a necessary nuisance and a crack whore, and my work was treated as anything from filler for holes in the schedule to street garbage. So, needless to say, I have been very happy at DAW Books and hope to keep writing for them for a long time.
I could tell I was finally at the right house with this book early on, when DAW (in an example of how differently they work than all my previous publishers) asked me what cover artists I was thinking of for this series–and it turned out we both had the same top pick: the brilliant Dan Dos Santos, who has done all but one of the the DAW Esther Diamond releases to date. (Dan was not available to do the reissue of Disappearing Nightly, which dropped into the schedule on short notice after I got the rights back. The DAW cover for DN was done by the talented David Palumbo, who was very professional and great to work with.) I also worked well together with DAW editorially and on production, and this is a better series as a result of being at that house instead of any other. So things have really worked out for the best, despite the long hard road that Esther Diamond traveled to get here.
The first book we did together was Doppelgangster, Esther #2, followed by Unsympathetic Magic and Vamparazzi. By then, I had rights back to Disappearing Nightly and the original, doomed edition was no longer in print; so I did a few minor revisions to the manuscript (it’s a luxury to be able to do some continuity fixes on book #1 of a series after you’ve written book #4). DAW repackaged it with the Palumbo cover and released this reissue the same year it released Esther #5, Polterheist, which was followed by The Misfortune Cookie a year later, and then Abracadaver in November 2014.
I’m now working on Esther Diamond #8, Goldzilla, set on Wall Street, and ED #9 & #10 are under contract with DAW. (That doesn’t mean the series ends with #10; it just means that’s how far we’re contracted at this time.)
Deep into writing this series now, after years of trying to get it off the ground, I still feel that this is exactly what I should be writing (though not the only thing that’s exactly what I should be writing), so I’m in this for the long haul. And I hope that readers will be, too!
The 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!