Abracadaver, the seventh Esther Diamond novel is out (as of Tuesday, 25)!
As readers may remember, at the end of Esther Diamond #6, The Misfortune Cookie, Esther and her friend Alberto “Lucky Bastard” Battistuzzi suddenly suspect something is mystically suspicious about Quinn, the new police partner of Esther’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, Detective Lopez. They’re alerted to this by the peculiar reaction that contact with Quinn sets off in Dr. Maximillian Zadok’s trusty familiar, Nelli (a dog who is the size of a small moving van).
Confession: When I wrote that scene, I had no idea what was strange about Quinn or what Nelli had sensed. I delivered The Misfortune Cookie to Betsy Wollheim at DAW Books and started pitching titles for the next book, still not knowing what was “wrong” about Quinn.
In writing him as a minor character in The Misfortune Cookie, Quinn had come across to me as a quintessentially regular, ordinary, standard-issue guy. So I wound up feeling his very ordinariness meant he must be really out of the ordinary in some way. Nelli can sense what the rest of the characters can’t, so she would be the obvious candidate to notice something “off” in a seemingly ordinary guy about whom Esther has no suspicions whatsoever. And since Nelli can’t talk, Max, Esther, and Lucky can’t simply ask Nelli what’s worrying her about this person. So they’ve got to determine how to find out on their own—and to do so without arousing Quinn’s (or Lopez’s) suspicion, since it’s possible that whatever Nelli has sensed about him makes him very dangerous.
So that was as much as I knew about Esther Diamond #7 (ED7) when I started pitching titles to La Wollheim.
Although the way I usually write most books (and short stories) is to start working on a story and wait for the title to emerge from that process, the ED titles are all paranormal puns, and these are such a bitch to think up (made all the harder by a monstrously cruel demonic demanding editor who keeps turning down proposed ED titles until we come up with one that’s good enough), I usually start an Esther Diamond novel by trying to find the title first, then I plot the book.
Before I have a title, I already know certain things about the next book, such as the main events that will occur in Esther’s personal and professional life, probably which of the series’ regular or semi-regular characters will be in it, and probably what sort of setting the book will have (ex. Chinatown, or an Off-Broadway theatre in the Village, or Harlem, etc.). But I usually figure out the story’s specific supernatural menace and the storyline based on the title that’s finally approved.
However, since it can take weeks to come up with a title that She Who Must Be Obeyed approves, I often start thinking about a plotline before I have a final title. And this usually goes badly. I had to throw out my plot ideas for both Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie after I finally got title approval—because those titles had absolutely nothing to do with the ideas I was working on. (This was meant to be, obviously; the final stories I came up with are better than what I was working on, which stuff I barely even remember now. And this is an example of why, even when I want to drum my heels, I let Betsy have the last word on my Esther Diamond titles.)
Well, we went so long without a workable title for ED7 that, behind the scenes, the book was becoming known as Erectile Dysfunction #7. And then after a while, this word—abracadaver—kept popping into my head. It had nothing to do with the story idea I was working on for Erec… Esther Diamond #7, and I had no idea why it kept coming to me. But since it did, and since I was getting desperate, I emailed it to Betsy one night around 2AM—and got an immediate reply indicating THAT’S IT! THAT’S YOUR TITLE!
Cool! So now I had a title! At long last!…
And absolutely no freakin’ idea how the hell I was going to get a story out of the word “abracadaver” that would explain why Nelli thought something was alarming about Quinn.
I finally figured it out about two weeks later. And when I did, it was one of those forehead-slapping moments. It seemed so obvious to me, I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t seen it instantly.
But as my friend Mary Jo Putney often reminds me, if this job were easy, everyone would do it.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy Abracadaver!