Edges and Islands All The Way Down

Kage Baker prided herself on giving her stories good names and endings. An evocative title and a snappy last lineshe prided herself on those, and would labour over them for hours. She especially detested stories with lying titles and no last lines: the sort that reference some trope and then never deal with it, or just stop with no sonorous ending line.

She had read a lot of science fiction short stories in adolescence, mostly because they were all over the house. Momma read them avidly, as did I; and for a glorious while, sister Anne worked in a bookstore and brought home scads of cover-less rejects and returns. We didn’t see any cover art for Ursula K. LeGuin or Zenna Henderson for years, but Kage loved their stories; not least because they opened and closed with grace and beauty.

Sometimes a title was not accepted by a publisher, and she’d get an urgent  request for a new name ASAP. That could get both desperate and hilarious, as we sat and brainstormed over possible titles. The longer it took, the weirder they got; after primly discarding the scatological and profane, Kage would usually submit a list of possibles. The editor was just as likely, though, to use one of his own … This is how a story called “Hendrick Karremans” became “The Applesauce Monster” – a title Kage loathed, but which was felt to be catchier on the editorial level.

Dark Mondays was named after a storefront sign that used to fascinate and puzzle Kage in her childhood: what could it mean? She was disappointed to learn it meant the restaurant was closed on Mondays; so she gave that evocative and haunted title to a collection of very strange stories. They were stories that were out of the ordinary for her, stories on an edge or in some numinous limbo …

“Calimari Curls” was originally the name of the sailor-suited summoner of cthonic gods, rather than a luncheon special. “Pueblo, CO Has The Answers” got its title from a late night commercial about government DIY pamphlets. The Life of the World To Come was The Square-rigged Time Machine until the day Kage printed it out to send to Tor.

The Garden of Iden was, for the 3 years it took to write and sell, simply Mendoza – that one drove Kage nearly insane, because Mendoza was just the working title and no editor nor agent  liked it. The punnish nature of the final title never really appealed to her, but it finally came down to really needing something to put on the cover … In contrast, a novel we wrote together, back in the Pleistocene, has never had any other title but a deliberate pun: Knight & Dei. (It may yet see the light of some Dei, too, or at least a day.)

Sometimes there was even a lightning bolt, straight from the hands of All-Seeing Zeus.. We were sitting in a seaside cafe eating Sunday breakfast one day, as Kage pondered what she could possibly write about Mars and I complained about trying to run a bar under a narrow-minded bureaucracy. Suddenly Kage pointed her finger at me and proclaimed: “YOU are the Empress of Mars!” People eyed us sideways as Kage went into full-on storyline mode, but by the time we walked home she had the entire plot in her head.

They never got easier for her, titles and last lines – which heartens me somewhat, in those moments where I found myself with what seems like a never-ending final paragraph unravelling my hands. If even Kage had trouble positioning the bookends just right, I simply need to take it carefully and all will be revealed to me.

To which end – this story I’ve been piecing out under your enthusiastic watch, Dear Readers, really needs a name. I keep overlooking the reading copy because I haven’t given it a name I can remember. It’s in my files as “Aussie Story”, which is not really accurate and certainly gives the impression of a tale of beer and barbecues. Maybe drunken, venomous hamburgers … but certainly not my pretty, thoughtful Charlotte.

So!  It is now officially named “Edges and Islands”. Thus it will remain until some editor decides it needs to be named “Growing Up On Diprotodon Station”.

Though I must admit, wombats always sell …

Diprotodon optatum – the Giant Wombat