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


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