Saturday, October 9, 2010

Guest blogger: Reed Farrel Coleman on Titles

Today I have the pleasure of having my good friend Reed Farrel Coleman guest blogging. Reed, who's won the Shamus Award three times and the Anthony and Barry awards, writes the amazing Moe Prager series. The sixth, INNOCENT MONSTER, is just out now from Tyrus Books. Reed and I became good friends during Sleuthfest in Florida in 2006, and when I picked up my first Moe book, I was totally hooked. Moe is a complex character, and Reed takes him to the edge and back again in every book.

Reed is talking titles today, something I know he's really good at, since he came up with title for my third book, DEAD OF THE DAY. So here's Reed:

Innocent Monster: What’s With That?

Titles are important to me. They always have been. Even before I studied poetry at Brooklyn College, titles mattered. The first editorial conflict I ever had was over the title of my first published poem. I was a sophomore in high school and submitted a poem for publication in the school literary magazine. Of course the poem was what most high school poems are about—unrequited love. The original title of the poem was “Monopoly—Maybe Not To You, But To Me.” Man, I thought that was about the cleverest title ever. Problem was when I got my contributor’s copy later that year, the title had been changed to “Monopoly.” Talk about mixed feelings. There I was delighted to see my name in print for the first time and fuming because the cleverest title ever had been changed without my permission. Now that was an abject lesson about publishing that I should have paid attention to, but I never believed writing would be my career. I got my revenge, because by the time I was a senior I was named the editor of the school literary magazine.

When I got to Brooklyn College, I studied writing poetry with Professor David Lehman. He taught me two of the most important lessons I would ever learn. First lesson: If you want to be a writer, you have to think of yourself as a writer. It seems so obvious, but it isn’t. He actually made us raise our right hands and take a pledge to think of ourselves as writers from that day forward. You know what? Since that day I raised my hand, I have never stopped thinking of myself as a writer. That pledge got me through a lot of miserable, hateful jobs. Second lesson: If it’s worth writing, it’s worth a title. I drank the Kool-Aid on that one. The two poems I got published while in college were titled “Commentary, Sorry” and “They Don’t Play Stickball in Milwaukee.” Yes, I stole my own title for the title of my third novel. Something else Professor Lehman did was tell anecdotes. One of my favorites was about the poet WH Auden. Auden was approached by a woman who was sure her son could be a great writer. When she asked for the great man’s sage advice on behalf of her son, Auden said that if the son loved playing with words, he had a chance.

Okay, let’s fast forward a couple of decades. I still love titles. I have helped several authors with titling their novels. I consider that a great honor. They don’t always take my suggestions, but my methods usually un-stick them. Sometimes, they actually use the titles I suggest. For me, I couldn’t write a novel without having a title for it first. What I found in poetry was that a good title could help you eliminate a first stanza. For a novel, the title can perform several functions. As I don’t outline, the title helps set the tone and helps me focus on where I should be going. Rarely, the title suggests the plot of the book. Innocent Monster is a case in point. The phrase just popped into my head one day and it forced me to conceive a plot that would deliver what the title promised. So although the juxtapostion of the words innocent and monster might strike you like the oxymorons jumbo shrimp or elevated subway, they are so much more.

I hope you agree when you read the book.


It is not a comfortable feeling, being manipulated like a knight in a game of chess,

Everyone one close seeing the masterful movements with the exception of you

A late model vehicle; her new mode of transit.

Strange though, my need ran out before the guarantee.

There is an emotional cavity in my ego now—as though I’ve been cheated.

The pain or embarrassment does not plague me,

Rather the unoriginality of the bait and the ease of the capture and canning.

Sealed and vacuum packed, ready for female consumption.

The question is raised,

How can one allow himself to tread on such a web?

This once, love is neither answer nor excuse

For there was no truth in her and no real affection in me.

— Reed F. Coleman (at 15 years old)

Check out Reed's website at NPR’s Maureen Corrigan has called Reed a "hard-boiled poet," and the Huffington Post calls him "the noir poet laureate." In addition to the Moe Prager books, he's published two under his pen name Tony Spinosa and the stand-alone Tower co-written with award-winning Irish author Ken Bruen.

No comments: