Life Among Giants

categories: Cocktail Hour


Forthcoming from Algonquin November 13, 2012


It’s a great day when your next book cover turns up.  If you like it, and I like this one.  (It’s not a great day when a bad cover turns up…)  I’ve had this image in hand a while, and an image appears in my post about Book Expo America, but let this be the official unveiling!  Not only of the cover, come to think of it, but the title.  My pen name was a foregone conclusion, as I’ve used Bill Roorbach a long time, though I did contemplate using my real name for a change: Roxford Lumpenworth (numerous high-school friends still call me Roxy, college friends Lumpy). 

For several years of drafting, the working title of the book itself was The High Side.  But that didn’t grab even me.  The one thing it had going for it was that it pointed to a place–a key mansion in the book–and had a few meanings possible, didn’t focus too much on any one aspect of the story.  Which is that a high-school football star lives across the way from that mansion.  Famous people live in it.  His life gets tangled with theirs permanently, tragically.  In the course of the book, I mean.  And this takes decades to play out, and several career changes for our hero, also love stories.  How do you get one title to hold all of that and still leave room for interpretation?  You could use the protagonist’s name (a la Garp), but this guy’s name is David.  Not Gessner.  Hochmeyer.  His nickname is Lizard.  But can you call a book with sweeping attention to time and many sex scenes Lizard?  Many agreed not.

The new title took some months to come up with, but at a time when we actually had months, wonderful.  I made lists.  My editor made lists.  My agent made lists.  My friends made lists.  My lists made lists.  The story covers so much ground that it was hard to come up with a title capacious enough.  You’d think of a great one, but realize it really left out two-thirds of the book.  The word giants came into play early on, but how to use it?  Land of Giants was one big idea.  But my agent shot it down: “Everyone will think it’s about San Francisco.”  So that meant I couldn’t call it Big Apple, either, though New York has a role.  I thought if I could just rename the mansion, I’d have a title!  But that’s harder than it sounds, too.  Because great mansion names (think “Elsinore”) aren’t great novel names, or not for this novel, anyway.  Titles like REVENGE have already been used by others, and sucked the first ten times around.   Content pointing titles are good, of course.  So SENSITIVE LITERARY THRILLER ABOUT A KID WHO LIVES ACROSS FROM FAMOUS PEOPLE AND HIS LIFE GETS TANGLED WITH THEIRS was very, very close.

I spent a half hour on the phone with Gessner batting titles around like shuttlecocks.  Giants this and Giants that.  On an index card on my desk, the title Life Among Giants languished a while among other titles with the key word: GIANT DAYS.  GIANTS IN THE MIST.  FOR WHOM THE GIANT TOLLS.  It was on a Giants list my editor had seen, too.  Then one day, time getting shorter, she revisited all my 221,000 emails about titles and happened across that one, kinda liked it, had overlooked its humanity-saving properties the first time around.  She tried it in-house and got very strong positive reactions.  And as for me, I’d thought of it, so was inclined to like it.  And overnight its hooks got in me.  It’s got scale, it covers my pages.

So here it is.  Cover, title, and all.  The rest, the writing part, you have to wait till November 13.  A very good idea is to pre-order it at your favorite bookstore.  A good idea for me, I mean. Because then your favorite bookstore will be aware of it!  Be the first on your block, that kind of thing.  It’s also going to be on CD.  I will come to your house to sign copies wherever you live!  Transportation not included!

Life Among Giants.


  1. john lane writes:

    Species of mushroom?

  2. Kathy Springmeyer writes:

    Thanks for sharing the story…having gone through many tussles on titles and looks for covers, its fun to hear what others go through. This one has a classic beauty with its type treatment and art…which I am personally fond of anyway. Intrigued about the insides now…and isn’t that what its really all about?

    • Bill writes:

      It does have a classic look, very elegant, can’t quite put my finger on it. At first, I wasn’t sure. I’d had a dream in which I’d seen the cover–it was black and pink and very contemporary. And that’s unconsciously what I expected! I had to re-set my meters but this one quickly superseded the dream vision.

  3. Richard Gilbert writes:

    It is a great title! And I’m really enjoying the book itself . . .

    • Bill writes:

      Thanks, Richard! And i guess time to point out that there are a few (500+) advance reading copies floating around out there.

  4. malcolm bates writes:

    Let me join the chorus of “Yes, we love it, really love it, really love it…” Sorry, I went all Handel on you there. The title works on so many different levels. And the cover is so subtle, it’s almost not there, which is perfect and in the end I realized what I had been looking at each evening I opened the book, and I whispered, “Well, played, Mr. Roorbach, well played.” Okay, so that part is a fiblet, but it’s what I thoughts to myself. And, I loved the book and I will write more later. Thanks for thinking of me. I am fiddling around with a playlist for the novel. It will have to include “Sympathy for the Devil.”

  5. Bill writes:

    A wonderful older student just asked me if I designed this myself. The answer is no. What generally happens is that the publisher’s art director assigns the book to a designer. With luck (and certainly at Algonquin!) this designer reads the book, listens to the art director’s ideas (which may or may not have developed with input from editor, author, marketing, etc.), and gets to work. Ideas circulate, mock ups, adjustments, suggestions, until a cover is ready. I like to have consultation on design in my contracts, just so I can see what a publisher is coming up with. Often in the past I’ve been shown a series of dismal covers and painfully, respectfully, miserably, have to say why I don’t like them. Eventually the great cover turns up, usually. Though sometimes time runs out and you have to settle. All this is by email, these days. In this case, this is the only image I was shown and the only one I needed to see! I forwarded it to my agent and she wrote back immediately: Home Run.

  6. Dori writes:

    I love the mushroom – a much, much better choice than a bean stalk, given the title. Congratulations on a wonderful cover and title! ( I’m going down to my neighborhood book seller to pre-order right now…)

  7. Nancey writes:

    well… I really like it. I like it a lot. For some reason even before I read the post I thought the book would be a big story.. epic.. the title seems to suggest that somehow. Looking forward to November, which is good because that month is sort of that weird in between – nothing to look forward to month. Not anymore..

    • Bill writes:

      Thank you, Nancey. Algonquin has been wise in many ways, but one is in dropping the book in after the election, when everyone will need something to read! Let’s hope it’s not Life Among Mitt