Using Brand Names and Pop Culture References

There are two different paths folks take in writing. Some folks use stand in brands, such as MyFace, while others will use the actual brand names, such as Facebook. I personally prefer when real names are used. There is a problem with this approach, however. Let’s look the the example I used earlier, but say that instead of Facebook, the writer used MySpace. If you’re reading it today, the book instantly feels dated.


I was actually reading a book that came out fairly recently. The book specifically mentioned Radio Shack a few times. Radio Shack closed all its stores in 2015, and thus the book itself becomes something of an oddity. Despite the fact that it is supposed to take place in contemporary times, the book is stuck taking place during or before 2015.

When mentioning brands and technology/websites, it is important to keep it vague. For example, using MyFace may sound fake and stupid, while using Facebook may make it dated once Facebook dies, which it inevitably will (though it looks like it’ll be around for the time being). The compromise would be to call it simply a social media site. That type of site will always be around and will not be outdated. (Then again,  if you think your book has a shelf life of ten years or so with relative certainly that Facebook or Google will still be around then, by all means just go for it.)


You’ve got to be careful using pop culture references. Never use a modern pop culture reference. You don’t know if it’ll stick in the public contentiousness, and it could make your book outdated within a year of its release (please don’t quote Borat). It’s best to stick with older ones that have stood the test of time, like Star Wars or Back to the Future (basically, the 80’s is pretty safe). In the book I mentioned above, with the Radio Shack reference, there’s actually a line that reads “[a]ll four Pirates of the Caribbean movies posters.” Which was accurate when it was written and accurate now. But with a fifth film coming out soon, its about to date the book. So when it comes to referencing a movie series, try to use something that’s been long finished.

Then again, who could’ve ever predicted there’d be more Star Wars? (Basically, unless you’re writing a period piece, you can follow all the rules and still get screwed.)

Indie Review – The First Ark

51rmnfzpodl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Ah, how to describe this one? Chris Fox’s The First Ark is an… interesting novella. It’s certainly creative. However, it makes a vital mistake. It isn’t a full story.

It takes place in a time before written history, during an ice age. The main character is Isis, a shaman of an ancient human tribe. It is implied that this is the same Isis as the Egyptian god, and the other characters from the story seem to share the same names as other Egyptian gods. It comes across essentially as an origin story for this pantheon, but with a sci-fi twist. It is, unfortunately, incomplete. I understand that it is a prequel novella, meant to lead into a series a books. But being a prequel novella is no excuse for being incomplete. If you’re offering something as a book, novella, or short story, it shouldn’t feel as though it stopped in the middle. Sure, Meta and Earthman Jack had small teases of what’s to come, but they felt like complete stories. This one did not.

It was well written and interesting. And at the end of the day, it was still good enough for me to ultimately decide to pick up the first book in the series, but only because it was free. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have picked it up. Let this be a note for aspiring writers: writing a short story or novella is a great idea to give folks a taste of what you have to offer, but please leave them satisfied with an ending.

Indie Review: Earthman Jack vs. The Ghost Planet

51gv9hmqcjl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Matthew Kadish’s Earthman Jack vs. The Ghost Planet is certainly an ambitious book. For a younger-skewing YA novel, its ridiculously long. Possibly too long, but I’ll get to that later. It follows Jack Finnegan, an average teenager, who stumbles into an interstellar adventure. While I won’t summarize the plot for risk of spoiling it, I will say that it has space battles, alien invasions, a princess to save, and ancient order of knights, Michael Chrichtonesque ‘science,’ pirates, robots, basically everything a young teenager would be into. And the book mixes all these diverse ideas excellently. Every one of the characters, and there are a whole lot of them, has a fully realized personality. The plot, while it has shades of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, still feels fresh. The narrator is also quite funny, and seems reminiscent of Lemony Snicket at times. Another thing I really liked about it was during a point where Jack loses something important to him, he actually morns, something you usually don’t see in a YA novel (which usually jump right to anger and revenge). It was a nice realistic touch. As a whole, this is a fun YA novel, with a lot going for it.

My biggest issue is probably the dialogue, specifically Jack’s dialogue. At times, it sounds very real and genuine. Other times, it sounds like an older person trying to write what he imagines kids sound like. It can be very unnerving, and took me out of the story more than once. Another thing I found a little annoying is that it seemed just a little too long, purely because of meandering description or pointless dialogue or detours. It could have been a good 10% shorter without losing anything important.

Ending this review on a positive note, this is probably the first book since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where I actually bought the second book before I even finished reading the first. To put it simply, it is just a good, fun, enjoyable book. If you like science fiction or young adult fiction, check it out.


Short Story Review – The Bottle Imp

Robert Louis Stevenson is probably best known for Treasure Island  (which gave us a fantastic Muppet movie) and  Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which was a brilliant mystery that’s marred by the twist ending undoubtedly being spoiled before you read it). However, my favorite work of his is a short story, The Bottle Imp.

The Bottle Imp follows Keawe, a Hawaiian (not an American, as it was written before Hawaii became a state, and was still called the Kingdom of Hawaii), who buys a bottle from an old man, who tells him the bottle can grant any desire. There’s a catch, of course. If the bottle is in someone’s possession when that person dies, then that person’s soul will spend eternity in hell. There are also rules surrounding the bottle, such as how exactly it can be sold (it must be sold at a loss, which means inevitably, someone will be stuck with it) and the way the wishes are granted are reminiscent of the Monkey’s Paw. It is an unholy object, after all.

The story is written almost like a fairy tale, and has  all these great twists and turns. They even tie in historical events and figures. The best way to describe it would be clever. It’s just a fun, clever story. Not to mention it has a fantastic ending, which probably ranks as one of my favorite ending to a short story ever. If you have the time, you really should check this one out.

Indie Review – Meta

51r3irvpbol-_sx311_bo1204203200_Meta is the debut novel of Tom Reynolds. Like my previous review, it too is a superhero novel, although this one skews much closer to its comic book roots. Keeping in the comic book tradition of alliterative names, it follows Connor Connelly, an orphan who gains a device that grants him superpowers. He’s the first person to have superpowers in years. But while trying to gain control of his powers, a new supervillain, the Controller, has been wreaking havoc. Inevitably, Connor has to stop him.

It is a quick, fun read. It is very much a young adult book, but that isn’t a bad thing. Some of my favorite books are YA.  Like most YA (thank you, Harry Potter), the main character is an average Joe who discovers that he’s ‘the superspecial person’ for an unexplained reason, but that’s nearly every superhero story. Heck, that’s Superman. The point of the story is how one deals with it (in addition to overcoming other challenges). There’s some great world building here, and you can tell the author is a big DC Comics fan, as there are numerous elements sprinkled throughout that comic book fans will recognize, but they’re thankfully not such blatant references that would leave those unfamiliar with them scratching their head. Speaking of DC Comic references, Midnight, a supporting character, is essentially an ersatz Batman, but it should be noted that he’s written like a good ersatz Batman. The main character comes across as a very green Robin, but that helps make him relatable. The main character here seems overpowered, but it is due to the strength of the writing that he is still challenged. It comes across, at times, like a story about what if Robin had superman’s powers (which interestingly was an actual story arc published by DC Comics last year). There’s some great wish-fulfillment stuff in there, and not since Robert Luis Stevenson’s Bottle Imp had I read about a fictional object that I wished I could have. I found my mind wandering, thinking about how I would handle it. Another fantastic aspect to the book, is that it doesn’t answer all the questions. It knows just which ones to answer to give you a satisfying ending, but leaves open just enough to make you want to come back for more. As for the writing, while not the best, it was clear and concise. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it wasn’t trying to be. It got the point, story, and emotion across, and that’s what’s important.

The book is not without its flaws. Conner seems a little underdeveloped, but that seems to be done with the intention of allowing the audience to see themselves as the main character. Being a story about a high school aged superhero, it seems like a missed opportunity not to have the story actually take place in high school. Rather than on summer vacation. The average teenager’s life revolves around high school, and it just seems strange not to have it take place there. As a result, the best friend and love interest seems to come and go, not seeming as constant as they would be in a teenager’s life. It seems the only reason for not taking place during the school year was to set up action pieces, some of which don’t make sense, particularly a scene at the beach that just feels so small time, it feels unbelievable that it would be a target, or that anyone else would consider it to be a target. The thing that annoyed me most of all, however, was the ending, which seems as though it is trying to come across as a clever twist, but due to the readers not having the information prior to that, or even a hint to it, the ending comes across as a deus ex machina type ending.

Ultimately, despite the books flaws, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. It isn’t the greatest novel, but it is a fun one. It took me back to when I was a kid, and it is exactly the kind of book I’d have eaten up then. I can see some adults not enjoying it, but if you’re a kid (or teen) at heart, it might pay to give it a shot. There are apparently two sequels, and I plan on picking them up sometime. I’m curious to see where it goes.

If you’ve read the story or have a suggestion of another book you’d want me to review, please mention it in the comments below.

Continuity Errors

As a comic book fan, I’m no stranger to continuity errors. It’s something that’s inevitable when a product is made by numerous people, writers and artists alike, over a period of decades.  I accept that. But what really bugs me are continuity errors in books. I’m not talking about plot holes or the like, as those can always be explained away if you’re creative enough. No, I mean “wow, that totally contradicts what you just said” type of errors. Now, people are under the misconception that a book series is always written by one author. More often than not, however, that isn’t the case. Even going back to The Hardy Boys, most long-running book series are ghostwritten. And in such cases, book-to-book continuity errors can be excusable, if they were written by different authors.

In elementary school, Animorphs was one of my favorite book series. I simply couldn’t get enough of it. I even had the videogames. Even at that young age, I noticed continuity errors within the world of the books. It’s no secret that about half of the Animorphs book series was written by various different ghostwriters. However the first twenty-something were written by K.A. Applegate. She introduced a concept in the first book called “thought-speak,” however violated and rewrote the rules several times during the first few books. The last fifty or so books were consistent with one another, but you get the impression reading the first few books that they’re earlier drafts, as though the author herself wasn’t entirely sure of all the concepts yet, or how they worked. From what I heard though, when they rereleased the first few books a few years back, they fixed the continuity errors. So at least they acknowledged their mistake.

It’s one thing to have inconsistencies from book to book, because at least then, if you read only a single book, it will still make sense. The gravest of continuity errors is when same book contradicts itself later on. Years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death. It was not a very good book. What bugged me the most, however, was when the book contradicted its own rules. At one point in the book, Bobby, the main character, travels to another dimension. The people in that dimension speak a language he cannot understand. While there, he meets “travelers” from yet another dimension, who explain to him that at the moment his brain can only comprehend the language of other travelers, but it will take time for the magic to fully take affect and allow him to understand the natural inhabitants. Later on in the book he confronts the villain, another traveler, who reveals that he was disguised as a natural inhabitant the whole time. Which would be fine, if Bobby hadn’t tried talking to the man earlier in the book and couldn’t understand him, while the other travelers he was with were able to. This wouldn’t be hard to explain away, of course, if the author explained that the villain had killed the original person after Bobby had met him and was impersonated him (he had shapeshifting powers). But now, the villain explicitly said that the original person who he was impersonating had died years ago. If that was the case, Bobby should have understood him right away, as he was a traveler, but he didn’t. (Like the continuity error in Animorphs, this was apparently also fixed later, in the graphic novel adaptation.) Now, perhaps this is a nitpick. Continuity errors often are. But they always take me out of the story.  If you’re going to publish a book, please have someone read it over specifically looking for continuity errors. It’s embarrassing.

Let me know of any book continuity errors you’ve noticed in the comments below. How much did it bother you?

Indie Review – Micro God

Micro God 51smbuqgxxl-_sx332_bo1204203200_is the debut novel of K.R. Martin. Honestly, calling it a novel is actually kind of misleading. It’s more of a short story or novella. It follows a man, Richard Clarke, who has the ability to control the reality directly around himself. Essentially, at least within his few surrounding feet, he is a god. A character like that is vastly overpowered, and it poses a challenge to write a character like that, at least if it went the typical superhero route. Thankfully it does not.

The story begins with Clarke finding himself disillusioned with humanity and life itself. It is a story of the pain and anguish immortality can bring. The horror of outliving everyone you’ve ever loved. Where he goes from there is something I won’t ruin for you, as I do not want to give anything away, but it isn’t exactly what you expect.

This story has a surprisingly original premise, with shades of Hancock and Lucifer. It asks what it would be like to be a god, and really explores the concept well, giving the reader a feeling of what it would be like to be an immortal with (nearly) limitless power. The execution is fantastic, for the most part (there are a few gang members who act and talk in a cliché manner that clashes with the otherworldly tone somewhat, and took me out of the story). There’s a romance element that can be a bit eye-rolling at times, but then again, most romance usually is. The writing was impressive for a first time author, and although there are a few minor mistakes, like a missing comma here and there (I’ve seen worse violations in traditionally published books), it doesn’t take away from the story. I’d be very interested in seeing more from this author at some point down the line. The book is currently only available in digital format, which given its size is not surprising. I would say it certainly worth picking up, especially considering it’s less than a dollar.

If you’ve read the story or have a suggestion of another book you’d want me to review, please mention it in the comments below.