Sunday, December 23, 2012

Looooonnnnng-ass Titles

Harlan Ellison once titled a story, "The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat."  In a collected appearance of it, the author explained that long titles had been "in" that year.  Further, that he had originally wished to title it, "Out Near the Funicular Center of the Universe, the Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat." 

For some darn reason, the editor demurred.

I have just made my second appearance in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  I knew I had a good story going that day I sat down on the train (where I do much of my writing) and wrote: "Donny Smirlek decided to kill his wife when he realized she wasn't cheating on him."

Love that opening line.

The title of the story, however, is longer than the opening line.  Is there any kind of rule about that?

It is, "One of Those Plans-the-Perfect-Crime-but-then-Something-Goes-Teddibly-Teddibly-Wrong Stories."

It's available on the newsstands right now.  Looks like this:

EQMM February 2013

Be the first one on your block, etcetera.

And before I go forth with the musings on this specific blog post, which is about long-ass titles (hence, the short-keistered title of the post itself), let me further plug it by inviting all of you who use electronic devices to go to the following links for purchase:

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble's Nook

Apple iTunes store




So, long titles.

Why did I do it?

It kills me to write the damn title out.

When the contract from Dell magazines (publishers of EQMM) arrived (by PDF; that's the way the world roles these days), they gave the title as: "ONE OF THOSE PLANS-THE-PERFECT-CRIME-BUT-THEN-SOMETHING-GOES-TERRIBLY WRONG STORIES".

When I read that, I thought they had arbitrarily changed the title on me.  Since they were paying, I didn't kick up a fuss.  But the contract came from their business offices in Norwalk, Connecticut.  The editorial offices in New York either changed it back or had never altered it in the first place.

The EQMM site (shared with its brother publication, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine) says this:

 Tradition is acknowledged in a different way in a darkly humorous story by returning author Eric Cline that plays with some common mystery motifs (“One-of-Those-Plans-the-Perfect-Crime-Then-Something-Goes-Teddibly,-Teddibly-Wrong Stories”) . . .

Very flattering.  Although I'm noticing the dashes start a couple of words early.  That many dashes, you lose control.

What can a long title do?  There's not a one in the modern world that's not ironic. In previous eras, they were deployed without a second thought.  You may not have heard of the book:

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships

But you've heard of the shorter title that we all insist on calling it by:

Gulliver's Travels

But by the time the 20th century rolled around, long titles were a very self-conscious device.  The terrible 1964 B-movie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies tried to generate interest from its title, because no other facet of the production was capable of that.

Indeed, the modern world may be in need of some long titles, at least to distinguish unrelated works.  As he neared the end of his career as a headlining actor, Burt Reynolds appeared in a lousy 1986 film called Heat.  Then, in 1995, writer-director Michael Mann released an excellent ensemble film called Heat, no relation.

And far too many autobiographies have been entitled My Life, including ones by Bill Clinton and Leon Trotsky (no, Fox News viewers, they're not the same person), and . . . hey! . . . Burt Reynolds!

Occasionally, some acclaimed works still use long titles.  The 2004 novel (which I have not read) No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain't Never Coming Home Again by Edgardo Vega Yunque, was well-reviewed.

Personally, I generate my own titles on instinct, from what I feel would be best for the story.  Two of my recently published stories are called simply Native and Moonbubble.

But I do have one that is making the rounds called "A Three-Pipe Problem in a No-Smoking Building."  It won't be appearing in Ellery Queen; I offered, they passed.  But I'm sending it out to others, and hopefully it will be published somewhere. . .

Hey, wait a minute.

Can we see that magazine cover again?

EQMM February 2013


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine -- My Second Appearance


Now I know how new fathers of triplets felt in the days before ultrasounds took the surprise out of everything.

One came out.  You were expecting that.  ("Moonbubble," Stupefying Stories, December 2012)

A second one, just after the first?  Oh, okay.  Amazing.  Precious little gift from God and all of that.  ("The Last Listener,", December 2012).

A third?  Oh crap.  ("One of Those Plans-the-Perfect-Crime-but-Then-Something-Goes-Teddibly-Teddibly-Wrong Stories," Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the February 2013 issue, which is not yet on the newsstands, but whose sample copies arrived in my mailbox on December 8, 2012).

I had long since sold "Moonbubble" and "One of Those Plans...." to the respective magazines.  But due to a miscommunication ( had planned to buy and publish "The Last Listener" but I only understood it to be that it was still under consideration), the final contract with was only signed (electronically) a month before publication online.

I had been told ahead of time that "Moonbubble" would be in the Stupefying Stories out in December.  I learned of "The Last Listener" a month ahead of time, and I learned of the exact publication date of "One of those Plans..." when I opened my mailbox.  (When the issue officially goes on sale, I'll post online links to it).

Don't get me wrong.  I did a fist pump right out there on the street (thank God it was a lazy Saturday afternoon).  I did a mild Howard-Dean-scream: "Yeahhh!"

But still, right now, it's like I'm sitting in the hospital waiting room.  I've got my collar open and I'm running my hands through my hair, trying to figure out how I'm gonna pay for their college.

Other fathers are offering me cigars.

And I don't even smoke.


Monday, December 3, 2012

"The Last Listener" has been published at

My goodness, what an embarrassment of riches.

I have had two stories published this week.

My story of mind-reading (and mind-numbing bureaucracy), "The Last Listener," was published in Issue 21 of  It is available for free at the site. does not have separate URLs for each individual story.  So go there, wander around.  Editor Scott T. Barnes (a fellow Writers of the Future winner) celebrated the fifth anniversary of publishing the free magazine online with this issue.  You'll find a lot of great content, both fiction and non-fiction.

And once you've sampled some of the other delights, you can click on the tab that currently says "Issue 21," on which page you'll find my story linked.  (Once Issue 22 has been published, as I understand it, Issue 21 will then be archived in the "Past Issues" tab.)


Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Moonbubble" has been published in Stupefying Stories. Plus, an untold story related to Stephen King

This blog contains an attempt to promote my story "Moonbubble" ... followed by an unexpected and amazing sidenote!

My novella "Moonbubble," (about 10,000 words of pure excitement) has been published in Bruce Bethke's Stupefying Stories.

It's a milestone for me for a couple of reasons.  First, my name is on the cover, which is a first for my print publications. 

Stupefying Stories: December 2012

Second milestone: it was artistic growth for me. 

I did an inferior early version of this story in which the milieu was the star, and the characters were just afterthoughts.  It got several form rejections.  Then, I decided to do a redraft. 

I am grateful to author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose blog dispenses excellent advice to writers.  One of her points that she has made several times is that rewriting from an existing electronic copy of a story is often a bad idea.  Rather, redraft, writing a new version from scratch using the old idea.  I did so, and the results were (to my mind) spectacular.

Stupefying Stories' Editor/publisher Bruce Bethke is an interesting character in his own right.  He is a science fiction writer who, like William Gibson, managed to put a word (and therefore, his own name in citation) into the dictionaries.  Just as Gibson coined "cyberspace" in Neuromancer, Bethke coined the term which became the name of the genre, "cyberpunk," in a story of the same name.  His experience in writing, editing, and production shows in the utterly professional way he (and several associates and friends he names) have managed to roll out a 21st century e-publication. 

(If you think an e-publication is not difficult, have a look at the roll-call of "Fiction markets that have been declared defunct" that gets refreshed weekly at

Bethke's introduction to this issue describes the contents as "great tales of the end of the world. From ecological catastrophes to alien invasions; from tyrannical central governments to unfettered cowboy capitalists."  (The unfettered cowboy capitalists are mine.)

If you have enjoyed my writing in the past, I hope you will consider getting "Moonbubble" in the current issue of Stupefying Stories.  It is available on Amazon's Kindle stores in various countries:

US -
UK -
Germany -
France -
Spain -
Italy -
Japan -
And on Barnes & Noble's Nook

Other e-reader markets (such as Apple's iTunes store) are going to be going live soon as well.

It's a bargain at $1.99 (US edition) and the equivalent price in other editions.  (Someday, I'll reprint it alone for direct e-sale, and I'll be charging you $2.99, minimum.  And that's without the 10 other stories!)

I just got my sample copy (that is, a PDF) this morning, and I'm already smiling over some of my fellow authors' contributions.  For instance, "The Relic," by Lou Antonelli, shows the trivial, incidental creation of the title object and the unsubstantiated interpretations heaped on it later.  I suspect that famed archaeologist Eric Cline (the other Eric Cline, whom I mentioned in a previous post and who kindly commented on this blog earlier) would nod ruefully at the events that unfold.


And now, for an unexpected and amazing sidenote.

When I was composing this blog post, I got an idea -- always a dangerous thing for me.

I looked in The Stephen King Illustrated Companion and discovered that when King's first professional sale, "The Glass Floor" was published in something called Startling Mystery Stories in 1967, his name was not put on the cover, as he was a complete unknown; but Arthur J. Burks, Seabury Quinn, Sterling S. Cramer, Beverly Haaf, and Anna Hunger were on the cover.  Through the miracle of Google, I discovered that most of those folks were dead and two of them (Burks and Quinn) were once pulp authors of some note.  Sic transit gloria mundi, eh? 

I had originally planned some snarky comment about how prominent placement on the cover did not guarantee career success; you know, to segue into the fact that my name is now on a magazine cover.

Something sneering and dismissive.

Then, the second-to-last name I Googled came up with current results.

Beverly Haaf, who published a horror story in the same issue of the same magazine that inaugurated Stephen King's career, is still publishing. 

Not only is she still publishing, she's serving her community.  The title of the May 22, 2012 story says it all: "Local publisher wins historic preservation award."

Mrs. Haaf, former fiction writer, age 75, is publishing the Beverly Bee, a free community newspaper that serves four small towns in her area.

Snarky, sneering, and dismissive all fled back to their junior high school classroom and laid low.

My internet search continued, and yielded contact information.  Within a few minutes, I was on the phone with Beverly Haaf, whose laughing voice and self-deprecating manner were a tonic.

"Magazines like Startling Mystery Stories were the only ones publishing what I was interested in writing at that time," she told me.  She was one of the founders of the Garden State Horror Writers (now called Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers).

She is well-aware that the future publishing behemoth King crossed paths with her, so to speak, in the pages of that now-defunct pulp (cover price for the Fall 1967 issue: 50 cents).  But, to my surprise, she told me no one outside her family and friends had ever asked her about it before.

Her contributor's copy of that issue has long since disappeared.  "Maybe somebody snatched it as a collector's item," she said with a laugh free of bitterness.  (No joke: I found the issue online priced -- because of King's story -- at $600).

The issue's loss complicated her ability to know exactly which of her horror stories appeared in that issue: "Gee what was it," she said. "Perhaps, 'The Perfect Child.' Child in jeopardy, haunted house, that kind of thing. No, wait, that might have been in the Winter 1968 issue ..."

In a long publishing career, being in the same issue with the then-unknown King was far from the most bizarre incident.  "My son once found a British anthology that one of my stories had appeared in, without my knowledge!  I never got paid, but oh well, it would have just been in pounds anyway!"

One thing's for certain; Stephen King can rest easy knowing that he won't be getting further competition from her on the fiction front.  She's strictly a reporter now: "I've given up telling lies, and now I'm trying to stick to the truth!"

I had contacted Beverly Haaf wondering what it had been like to pass, like a ship in the night, the legendary Stephen King.  Considering how full a life Beverly Haaf has had, and her continuing productivity, great attitude, and service to her community, perhaps Stephen King had been the lucky one to have once been in proximity to her.

(Addendum:  Beverly Haaf contacted me after consulting her records; she determined that the story she published alongside the young Stephen King's "The Glass Ceiling" in Startling Mystery Stories was entitled "Aim for Perfection.")