Titles are a never-ending source of curiosity, inspiration, and befuddlement, to authors as well as to readers. Sometimes one hits you, and it is the unmistakable, gold-plated moniker by which that book should be forever known. I like the title “The Brass Ring” because it captures a piece of emotional mentality in every one of the major characters. Alex Corlett, Samantha Bergman, Gilbért, Kudelka, Modrzewski, Tito — all are pursuing an obsession, a quest, a just-out-of-reach desire or plateau or reward that they will go to great effort, great risk, to achieve or conquer or resolve. Every one of them is reaching for “the brass ring.” It is also part of a conversation Kudelka has with himself about his early experience in America. Brass Rings was the first working title, but I think the slight change made it better.
The China Contract was the third or fourth, maybe fifth, title rewrite. I started with Pacific Rim but, after leaving New Zealand, Bates turned left at Singapore, turning it into a global manhunt. That brought up Full Circle, but I decided it was clichéd (ditto Pacific Rim). I tried a few variants of The China (fill-in-the-blank), but I’m happy with the final title. Bates had a contract and, if he had fulfilled it, the world as we know it wouldn’t be the world as we know it.
For me, Beachtown Blues is still a very fitting title for that book, for that story, and for the narrator Eddie’s mood through most of the narrative. When I grew up there, it was a “beachtown.” Yet, as George Cawood, D.G., and I were developing the screenplay, the scene in which Chuy Muro is shot and then framed by the police emerged as the pivotal story element in its effects on Eddie and Gene. The event is dramatic, critical, and irreversible, and it puts Eddie and Gene on a path that leads, circuitously but inevitably, to the climax. Because of that, the book is available under both titles, Beachtown Blues and The Killing of Chuy Muro. If we get funding for the film, either title could work.
As I began The Eunuch of Shanghai, picking up Hawkins and Benelli after the conclusion of China wasn’t an unpleasant task. There is plenty to be told about their lives as cops and as people. As the new story (and plot) developed around Vietnam, the new China, a currency war, the Pacific Rim cartel, internecine conflict, love and vengeance, but still before I had a title, I was looking for a “signature” element to mark either one of the characters or a critical plot line. I came across the research paper I would describe later in a scene with Li Tian Wu, as he is screening literature for Cy Kennedy’s Shanghai medical school. It is a genuine, if dated, study by Chinese doctors on Chinese subjects, and it opened a door. I then found Mary Anderson’s text on the multilayered roles of eunuchs in Imperial China. Next turned up references on Leonard Marks, a highly regarded urologist at UCLA, who had also studied the Chinese research. Somehow, I had created a monster, and that became Li Tian Wu in The Eunuch of Shanghai.
Loan Star grew entirely out of the prospective title. I thought it was cute and catchy, and a good pun, and topical when it came to me in 2014 or 2015, looking back over the US’s Great Recession, or GFC, as the rest the world knows it (Global Financial Crisis). It took me a couple years finishing other work before I could get to it, but I wrote 40,000 words while on a month’s holiday in NZ, then another 50K over 6 months. I‘ve done two re-writes and am now closing in on the climax. The title idea has worked out well as the main seed for the story; the actors are on stage, and the plot/story are rolling. Still, the characters haven’t told me yet how they will end it.