Tag Archives: computers

Daily Discussion with BQB – Pride in Work is Dead

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

Not to get into specifics because you never know when the Yeti might be listening, but recently, I upgraded BQB HQ and that required the purchase of a number of new appliances.

You take them out of the box, set them up, everything is right as rain, right?

Wrong.  You have no idea how much time I’ve spent on the phone with tech support and customer assistance the past few months.

I got a vacuum cleaner that wouldn’t suck and ironically, its inability to suck made it suck.  It was cheap so I thought I got a bargain but apparently it was cheap for a reason.  After multiple go arounds with customer service, I junked it and forked out the cash for a Dyson.  The Dyson works great and ironically, had I just bought a Dyson in the first place I could have afforded a better Dyson.

I bought a desk.  It came in a box.  I had to screw all the parts together.  It was missing parts.  I consulted with others who looked at it just to make sure I wasn’t crazy.  I wasn’t.  It was missing parts.  After a long tango with customer service I, you guessed it, junked it.  It was 100 bucks, which I guess is cheap for a desk but that was all I needed.  I gave up and just got a 20 dollar folding card table.  That’s my desk now.  WTF.

Yeah, in hindsight had I not spent so much on book covers for books I’ll never get published I probably could have bought a really fabulous desk but anyway….the lesson seems to be don’t buy cheap things because they are cheap for a reason.  I’ll buy a top of the line desk when I can afford it.  Until then, I might as well have saved the 100 and gotten the 20 dollar card table up front.

Except the buy top of the line doesn’t work either.  I treated myself to a fantastic TV.  TV is my life so I might as well have a good one.  I take it out of the box and…WTF…there’s a base that screws into the television but the screw holes in the back of the TV are nowhere close to where the screw holes in the base are.

After an hour of having a physics and engineering discussion with tech support, the guy said he’d send me a new part and I told him up front please like actually work on this because I already know you’re just going to grab the same part and mail it to me and I’m going to have a meltdown, not an angry meltdown but just an utter collapse of hope in the overall abilities of society and mankind.

Seriously, if I get the wrong part in the mail, that will be it.  It will be a sign that we have turned a corner in the world, pride in work is dead, and I will retreat to a corner and rock back and forth in the fetal position until it is my time to go.

Also, I hear they don’t make blogs as good as they used to.  I wouldn’t know.  This blog is superior to all blogs.  You laugh, but you’ve never logged on here, found the wrong post, and had me be all like, “Oh sorry, I’ll send you the right post in 7-10 business days but it will probably still be the wrong post.”

By the way, did I mention that earlier this year, I got a new laptop?  It was great and still as laptops go it is fine, but occasionally it overheats to the point where it is hotter than the surface of the sun.  It got so hot that rubber pieces attached to it melted off.  After many tangos with customer service I finally decided that it only overheats once in awhile and a laptop that occasionally burns me that I can’t leave plugged in while I’m gone for fear it will burn down BQB HQ is, as the quality of most products go, a freaking win, because at least it is, more or less, operational, and somewhere there is a guy whose laptop grows a leg and kicks him in the balls who would love an occasionally hot laptop.

Do you have a customer service nightmare you’d like to share?  Discuss in the comments.

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How to Start a Podcast

Hey 3.5 readers.  Alas, my podcasting career was short lived, but I was so surprised that I was able to figure out how to get a podcast recorded and posted, that I’ll share the info with you:


#1 – What Is Your Podcast About?

That’s really up to you, but I’ve listened to good podcasts and lousy ones.  The good ones have a theme, a point, a structure.  If it’s just you and your musings, make it clear that’s what the listener will get.  If it’s about your love of ancient paintings of toucan beaks, be clear about that too.

You may not have professional experience, but you’ve listened to enough radio to wing it.  My biggest pet peeve is podcasts where there are multiple hosts and they giggle and laugh and tell inside jokes and then someone says something like, “Should we tell the audience what that means?” and the response is “No, tee hee hee.  Well, sorry, but eff you dummies.  You came to entertain me, so either do it or shut off the recorder and have your own private conversation.  Don’t make your audience feel like an unwanted third wheel.

I keep wondering if I was too hard on myself.  My voice sucks, there’s no way around it.  I sort of hope that with more practice I could at least work on diction, pronunciation, pacing, timing, getting rid of stuttering, stammering, lost train of thought and so on.

So practice does make perfect but at the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself.  While the little errors should be removed from your book, I just don’t think it is possible for even the most professional talker to get through a broadcast without an “Uhh” or an “umm.”  It’s when they come every five seconds then it becomes a problem.

#2 – Get a Mic

I’m no expert here, but I know at least enough to tell you that the mic built into your laptop will not do.  You’ll need an actual mic to connect to your computer.  What’s the best one?  You’ll have to search around for that information.  Best for me was what I was able to afford and until you’re raking in the big bucks, you might want to stick with that too.  Don’t shell out your life savings on a fancy microphone, record one podcast, decide it sucks and you’re done.  That will just lead to embarrassment in a few decades when you tell your grandkids the story of that dusty old microphone in the corner with cobwebs all over it.

#3 – Train on the Software

I used Garageband for Mac, though I hear Audacity is preferred for PC.  My advice will be geared toward Garageband as I never used Audacity.

I am a complete novice, but here are some things I was able to pick up that got me from, “I could never do this” to “this is hypothetically possible.

  • “When I click record the recording picks up me hitting buttons on my computer and breathing.”

Yup.  You’re not an idiot.  That happens.  Just keep talking.  Record what you want to say.  Your recording will look like a big long running graph of your voice.  Find the parts where you hit buttons, breathed too hard, burped, farted or whatever.  I’m not sure what the marker that you move around the screen is called so I’ll just call it, “the marker.”  Put the marker between what you want to keep and what you want to delete.  Press Command + T at the same time and voila!  Snippy snippy!  Just like taking a pair of scissors to a piece of tape.  (That’s how people edited sound back in the day, millennials.)

  • “How do I string sounds together?”

You should have a cool intro, maybe some music, some kind of lead in, maybe a prerecorded interview or some soundbites you want to play.  You’ll have to study it more than I am able to explain here, but the short version is Garageband allows you to load up all your sounds, then drag and drop them next to where you want them to be in your recording.

  • “How do I fade out music?”

Yes, you’ll want awesome music but you don’t want it to end abruptly and then start speaking.  But you don’t want it blaring over your voice either.  You want it to build up and then start going down so the listener’s ears transition from the song to the words coming out of your cake hole.  I hate to be lazy, but I’m lazy.  I’ll confirm it is possible and it is just a matter of bringing up a line that goes over the voice of your music, plotting out points where you want the music to decline, then recording your voice and dragging underneath where the music fades out.

I don’t know how Howard Stern does it when he’s talking live.  I assume Fred has a fader button.

#4 – YouTube Videos

I literally obtained my limited podcasting knowledge by watching YouTube videos.  There’s a YouTube video about how to do almost anything.  I was utterly confounded by Garageband until I found a good video that told me how to use it.

#5 – How Do I Get My Fabulous Podcast Onto iTunes?

Ah, iTunes.  It’s the place to be for podcasts.  But you can’t just start there.  Steve Jobs didn’t get super rich by offering free hosting space, you know.

You need another site to host your podcast and generate an RSS feed for you.  You might be able to do it on your own website, but don’t look to me to tell you how, for my name is not Bookshelf Q. Einstein.

Soundcloud and Podbean will both allow you a small amount of free space where you can upload your podcast file.  However, if you decide that you’re going to be a regular podcaster, you’ll need to dole out some cash to get more hosting space.  Your choice of site.  I went with Soundcloud because it looks hipper to me.

There may be completely free sites but I’m not smart enough to know about them.

Once you’ve got a site to host your podcast, you can log on to iTunes podcast connect and link up your RSS feed.  iTunes will review your podcast and assuming they don’t have any problems with it, it will appear in iTunes podcasts once they approve it.  I don’t know how long it will take them to approve.  I don’t work for Apple, so stop bugging me, nerd.

#6 – Is There Anything I Should Be Worried About?

Lots, probably.  Just off the top of my head, don’t hijack copyrighted material.  You might like a popular song, but you can’t just lift it and make it your intro, for example.  Just as there are stock photo sites for blogs, there are stock sounds/songs sites for podcasts.  Also, you might think you’re a nobody and no one’s listening but even so, nobodies can be sued for slander and defamation, so mind your p’s and q’s, buster.


Done well, it can probably be a great marketing tool and if you get enough subscribers, you might be able to sell some advertising in order to fund your nerdy empire.  My fear is that it isn’t something you roll out of bed being able to do and even if you master the tech, you, sigh, still have to be someone that people want to listen to and provide a show that people will want to listen to.

Thus, for me, the fear is I don’t want to do it until I’m able to provide something that doesn’t make me sound like a dope.  I’ve listened to podcasts that sound like they came from people who half-assed it and I was left with the impression that they are dopes.  Remember, people are less likely to buy your book, read your blog, partake of your content if you come across as a dope, so if you’re going to do it, do it well.

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Tech Review – Amazon’s $50 Fire Tablet

Happy Saturday, 3.5 readers.

BQB here. So I did it. Due to the exceptionally low $49.99 price, I caved and got myself this bad boy:

(*cough cough* SHAMELESS PLUG! Follow me on twitter @bookshelfbattle)


  • It’s cheap. Can’t go wrong for the price. Now even people without much scratch can waste as much time mindlessly streaming media as the one percent do.
  • For $50, it does have a pretty good display.  Obviously, it’s not as good as a suped up top of the line iPad but its decent for the price just the same.
  • It is good for watching Netflix and/or other movie apps.  I watched a few minutes of Brick Mansions, Paul Walker’s second to last film (RIP Paul, you are missed) and it came through crisp and clear.
  • It’s got a camera, so that means you have yet another camera in your life to take pictures of your lunch and post it on social media.
  • Obviously, it is set up so that you’ll make the most of it if you sign up for Amazon’s services like Amazon Prime.  Click on music and it’ll try to sign you up for Amazon’s music service.  Books will take you to Amazon’s infamous book service (and ask if you want to sign up for it.  Videos takes you to Prime and wants to know if you want Prime.
  • But then again, what tablet doesn’t try to sell you on the tablet company’s media? iPad wants you to buy stuff through iTunes, Android tablets want you to buy stuff through Google, etc.
  • I am debating whether or not to drop a hundred bucks on Amazon Prime.  Access to a lending library, more TV shows, free shipping all sound like they’d be nice.  Then again, it could just be Jeff Bezos’ ploy to grab me by my ankles, turn me upside down and shake all the spare change out of my pockets.
  • BUT if you don’t sign up and/or pay for any stuff, its still a great little spare tablet to have in a pinch.  I can tell you, my house is full of people who feel the constant need to borrow my computer, my tablet, my whatever device I’m working on and it doesn’t matter what I’m doing with it at the time.  I could be two seconds away from coming up with a solution for world peace or a cure for cancer and some jerkface will bellow in my ear that he needs to play Candy Crush and there goes my device.
  • So in theory, this is a good spare.  But in a day, I’ve noticed that means its a spare for me.  No one else around me wants to learn how to use an Amazon tablet so they steal all my shit and leave me to use the Amazon tab.  But at least it’s a spare someone’s using, even if it’s me, while everyone else uses my shit.
  • Please, the Yeti, stop swiping my laptop.  I’m trying to write a novel so the Mighty Potentate won’t conquer the planet.  Here, use this $50 Fire tablet instead.
  • Finally, its up to you really.  Do you need this?  Probably not. The low price is Amazon’s main selling point.  “You were never interested in Amazon’s stuff before?  Well what if we made the delivery system cheap…you know you nerds will throw your money away just for a chance to check out a new piece of tech…”




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#31ZombieAuthors – Day 21 Interview – Al K. Line – Zombie Botnets, Literally!



Amazon      Website


My guest today is Al K. Line.

3.5 readers, you might want to log off Twitter for a moment.

Al’s the author of the Zombie Botnet series. The mayhem begins when a devastating computer virus delivers subliminal data packets via social media, turning computer users the world over into murderous creatures.

A resident of rural England, when Al isn’t busy writing, he spends his time with his wife, sons, and dogs, the latter of which he notes he has too many.

Al, welcome.


51wVI4sSyfL._SX295_BO1,204,203,200_ Q.  You’re the twenty-first zombie author I’ve interviewed this month and I have to admit, I honestly thought I’d of heard it all by now, but people becoming zombies via a computer virus? For the less tech savvy among us, can you explain how this works in your books?

A.  Sure. Ven, the woman behind the “bit of bother,” lets loose a computer virus designed to infect millions of devices and allow her to get up to no good. Unfortunately, it all gets a little out of hand. The virus she unleashes has been compromised and the data packets go viral. An embedded subliminal message in the form of a video basically rewires the brain of anyone that views it and then it’s game over — welcome to zombieville.

Q. How did you come up with this idea?

A. The term zombie botnet is well known within the hacker community, it’s a way of describing a huge array of devices that have been infected and can be manipulated for all manner of nefarious naughtiness. What if the zombie botnet really could do as the name implies? It came from there.

Q. Everywhere I go, people are glued to technology. Phones. Laptops. Tablets. Everyone’s checking Facebook, Twitter, or some other site and usually the latest update is something as trivial as “I just blew my nose.” Do you think we might be zombies already?

A. I love technology, use it daily, and my career relies on it, but yeah, it can get out of hand. It’s the change it has caused to society that I find most interesting, making people slaves to the latest trend or social media platform — let’s face it, if we lose our internet connection for a few minutes we begin to panic, right? This is what the series plays on: our inability to look away. The first thing we do when we hear of a disaster is to check Twitter or Facebook, well, what if those platforms are the very ones causing the problem? People would still look, they can’t help it. It’s too ingrained into the fabric of our techno-reality now to ever go back.

Q. I notice this series is actually considered half-horror/half-comedy. I have to say, the idea of society being hoisted on its own technological petard seems rife with the ability to provide social commentary, not to mention a joke or two.  Personally, I’m so addicted to social media that if all I have to do not to become a zombie is not check Twitter, I’m not sure I could do it. How are you able to combine humor with horror, when the two normally don’t mix well?

A. You gotta see the funny side, right? It’s the whole premise. Yes, there is social commentary, but it isn’t judgmental. We all have our obsessions, our hangups and our needs, and the absurdity of how the infection is caused screams for a bit of a laugh at our own expense. Plus, to be honest I can’t help myself. Characters suddenly appear on the page (I mean computer screen really) and they often happen to be rather comical — there’s no stopping it once the words somehow jump from my brain to the developing book.

Q. Al, your book features people being turned into zombies via subliminal messages. Just now, a real live zombie actually just jumped out of my computer screen. Have you ever heard of such a thing happening in zombie lore and any ideas on how to defeat such a menace?

A. Oh, loads, it happens all the time. The best thing to do is to scream really loud and run really fast — only pausing to update Facebook and check if anyone has posted anything on Twitter that could help in 140 characters or less.

Q. Thanks for the interview, Al. Before I go, do you have any last minute advice that might help my friends and I survive the East Randomtown Zombie Apocalypse?

A. Nope. You’re going be dead any moment. Actually, should I even be answering this? Hello? I knew it, dead already, brains all over the floor. There’s probably some zombie granny chewing on your intestines at this very moment. Oh, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authoralkline

Yeah, I get the irony.

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Pop Culture Mysteries – Fan Dime Drops – For the 3.5 (Part 1)

By:  Jake Hatcher, Official Bookshelf Battle Blog Private Eye

BQB Editorial Note:  3.5 readers, as the Spanish might say, “mi private dick es su private dick.”  If you have questions about pop culture, put Hatcher on the case.  Drop a dime to @bookshelfbattle on twitter or in the comments below and I’ll engage Ms. Donnelly to deliver them to our resident gumshoe posthaste.

Because he’s a busy man, it might take Hatcher awhile to get to it, but sooner or later, he will.  Here’s his first Fan Dime Drop Report.

It was the answer to my prayers. The man upstairs had finally gotten tired of kicking me in the keister and dropped a big win in my lap.

Moolah was involved. Lots of moolah. And it was all about to be mine. All mine.

Dear Sir or Possibly Madam as the Case May Be,


Congratulations are in order, for you have been identified as the long lost distant cousin of my client, Prince Matombo of the Blessed Land Known as Nigeria.

Perhaps you have heard of the passing of our King and that he has bestowed all of his wealth, a sum of one hundred million American Dollars, upon the Prince.

Alas, banking laws in my country are so ruefully complicated that it is impossible to transfer this fortune to His Highness directly.

However, the Prince has stated to me, his advisor, that he trusts you, for you are his distant relative. If you provide me with your bank account number, I shall be happy to transfer the 100 million to your account.

It is then requested that you forward 90 million back to the Prince, but for your troubles, His Majesty has agreed to allow you to keep 10 million of your very own and hopes that you will enjoy it in good health.

Please provide me with your banking information right away so that this transfer may begin.


Jerome Jakande
Advisor to His Highness, the Most Regal and Just Prince Mutombo of Nigeria

“Hot digity damn!” I shouted.

Everyone in the computer class turned around. I put my head down and went about my business.

Best to remain on the down low when that much scratch is involved.

Imagine it. Ten million smackers. That’s a whole helluvalot of do re mi. My own mansion. A fleet of fancy cars. A yacht.

Agnes the Librarian.  She thinks Hatcher's a dick, but not the private kind.

Agnes the Librarian. She thinks Hatcher’s a dick, but not the private kind.

I could fill it up with buxom broads, head out to sea, and finally put my trash heap of a life behind me.

Agnes’ shrill cake hole horned in on my fun. Blast her incessant yammering.

“Class, last week we learned how to set up e-mail accounts,”  the old librarian said from the front of the library’s computer classroom.  “This week we’re going to learn how to write a short, concise e-mail and how to send it out.”

“Agnes!” I whispered

“Now the e-mail you write doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a few words…”

“Psst! Agnes!”

“Maybe you can write about what you did today, what you had for breakfast this morning, or just write a bunch of gibberish, it really doesn’t matter because we’re just getting a feel for what all the different functions do….”


“Oh for the love of…”

Agnes marched over to my beep boop station and looked at me like I’d just stuck my finger in her pudding.

“What is it?!”

“Keep your voice down,” I said quietly.

I looked around to see if anyone was looking.  Agnes’ “Intro to Computing” course was full of a bunch of geriatric fogies who could barely contain their drool, let alone work a beep boop machine.

Not that I was any better at it than they were

“Do you see this?” I whispered as I pointed at the screen.

“Huh,” Agnes said as she grabbed the pair of spectacles dangling around her neck on a chain and lifted them up to her eyes.

“I didn’t even know I was part-Nigerian,” I said. “Think it’s a mistake? God, I hope not. I sure could use an extra family member right about now.”

“Jake,” Agnes said. “This is a scam.”


“A trick,” the old gal said. “This person doesn’t know a Nigerian prince. Whoever this is, he just wants you to send him your bank account number so he can withdraw all your money and keep it for himself.”

Boy, talk about letting the wind out of my sails.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can usually spot a grift from fifty paces and this Prince Matombo character doesn’t seem like such a bad fella.”

“It’s the biggest scam going on the Internet,” Agnes said. “Just click the X button at the top of the window and close it out.”

“Joke’s on him then,”  I said.  “I haven’t got two plug nickels to rub together.”

“I know dear,”  Agnes said as she patted me on the back.  “I keep telling you that you really need to work on that.”

Agnes returned to her podium and left me high and dry.

A con job. A bamboozle. A flim flam.

And to think I, Jake Hatcher, infamous investigator extraordinaire, came dangerously close to getting caught up in it like a fat tuna trapped in a fisherman’s net.

I clicked the X.

I wasn’t sure what depressed me more.  Losing the ten million or learning I had a relative only to have the rug pulled out from under me.

Maybe that was a sign I was lonelier than a weasel trapped in a burlap sack.

But not for long.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Someone was rapping on the glass window near my work station.  I was too engrossed with the Matombo fiasco to pay attention.

“Now class, maybe you’ll want to add an attachment to your e-mail.  Maybe it could be a nice photo of your family that you want to send to your friends.  All you do is…”

Tap.  Tap. Tap.

“…click on the paper clip button and…”

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Agnes grew visibly annoyed.  For some reason, she always looked that way whenever I was around.  I don’t know why.  Maybe she was just one of those people with a bad attitude.

“Jake,”  Agnes said.  “That blonde woman at the window is trying to get your attention.”

I turned around to find an angel in my presence.  It was the woman of my dreams, Delilah K. Donnelly, no doubt arrived to deliver yet another missive from our mutual client, Mr. Bookshelf Q. Battler.

“Yes,”  I said.

I stood up and put my hands up.

“Carry on, geezers,”  I said.  “No one go dying on me while I’m gone.”

From the looks of Agnes’ students, that was probably too much to ask for.

I stepped out onto the main floor and greeted my visitor.

“Ms. Donnelly,”  I said.  “So wonderful to see you.”

“The pleasure is all yours, Mr. Hatcher.  Is there somewhere we can talk?”

Copyright 2015 Bookshelf Q. Battler.

All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy of a shutterstock.com license.

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Apple Watch

Is anyone going to get one?

If you there’s a phone in your hand that does everything a smart phone can do, why do I need a watch on my wrist that provides a smaller version of the smart phone?

Am I missing something?

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Bookshelf Q. Battler’s Ridiculous Technology

By:  The Siberian Yeti, Newly Self-Appointed Ruler of the Bookshelf Battle Blog

A question for you, 3.5 readers.

Is Bookshelf Q. Battler some type of wizard?  Is he a mage?  Does he dabble in the black arts?  Surely you, his trusted 3.5 readers, could shed some light on the subject.

I ask because I once assumed that with our Commodore 64, which allows us to play Tapper all the live long day, we Yetis were ripe with technological prowess.


Behold!  The Commodore 64 in all of its glory.  It allows us to play Zork, Galaga, and Tapper.  So much Tapper.  We cannot get enough of Tapper.

But as I survey the Bookshelf Battle Compound, I notice many devices that make the Commodore 64 look like a pile of Yeti droppings.

Did Bookshelf Q. Battler create these using magic?  Or, do you all have these devices and we Yetis just did not get the memo?  Perhaps you did not share news of this technology with us because you lousy Americans wish to conquer Siberia and put a Hooters restaurant on every street corner.  You would probably even build street corners.

Bookshelf Q. Battler has a device not much larger than standard pad of paper.  It is a single piece of glass with a few buttons and when I press them I am able to watch movies.  Movies and television shows all day long.  Does anyone in America work?  Is everyone in your country an actor?

This magic glass device has a picture of an apple.  I don’t get it.  Is it supposed to tell you where you keep the apples?  In Siberia, we are only allowed three apples per year.  I usually barter mine for more toilet paper squares.

Plus, Bookshelf Q. Battler’s computer has a game on it called Skyrim.  Apparently, Mr. Battler was pretending to fight dragons and marry peasant wenches all day.  And yet he whines about having no time to write.  Typical American cry baby.

I must procure a copy of this game to bring back to Siberia.  All other Commodore 64 games pale in comparison, except Topper.  Nothing can beat Topper.

We Siberian Yetis do not appreciate being kept in the dark about your technology, America.  You will be hearing from our Yeti lawyers.

I must go now and check on Bookshelf Q. Battler.  I am forcing to watch Olga’s Stew-stravaganza Part II: Electric Stewgaloo.

Commodore 64 Image Courtesy of Flickr User Pete Brown via a Creative Commons License

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Apple Spellchecker

Apple has the most ridiculously aggressive spellchecker in the world, to the point where I feel like it is the equivalent of an eighty-year old nun whacking my knuckles with a ruler every time I intentionally write a misspelled or made up word – which, as an aspiring sci-fi author, I NEED TO DO!

Anyone ever experience this?  Any advice?

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Questions – Use of Copyrighted and/or Trademarked Products in Your Works

We all know that copyright and/or trademark infringement is a big no-no.  If you take a copy of The Hunger Games, rip off the cover, replace with a new cover with your name on it, and print a bunch of copies and sell them, Suzanne Collins will own you.  But we’re not talking about the obvious here.

We’re talking about the fact that, outside of sci-fi or fantasy worlds, your characters will most likely live on Planet Earth.  As such, they’re humans just like the rest of us, and they will encounter all sorts of copyrighted and trademarked materials throughout the course of their travels.  I have questions about this.  I can’t say I have any specific answers.  I hope that one of you will, or at the very least, this will generate a fun discussion.

So, I’ve whipped up a little murder mystery to illustrate my questions.  Behold – The Case of the Bay Area Strangler

QUESTION 1 – Can you use a movie quote?

Ann was the toughest detective in the precinct.  She’d seen it all and had developed deep underlying psychological problems because of it.  But soon she could put that behind her.  To her great surprise, she bought a winning lottery ticket the day before and now had ten million dollars coming her way.  Because, you know, something like that could totally happen.  Shut up.

She was rich and she no longer had to put up with this crap.  She walked into the precinct and began cleaning out her desk.

“Ann,”  the Captain said, dropping a folder full of photos of a recently strangled victim.  “The Bay Area Strangler is back at it!  You and John are on this one!”

Ann opened up the file and screamed, “OH MY GOD!  THAT’S MY SISTER!”

“Oh yeah,” the Captain said.  “I forgot to tell you.  Your sister was strangled.  I probably should have told you that before I just handed you a folder full of photos of her horribly strangled corpse.  My bad.”

Ann’s mind was racing.  “Should I just tell the Captain I won the lottery and I’m quitting?  Or should I stay on to avenge my sister and capture her murderer?”  She felt like the Godfather.  “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” she said.

NOTES:  So, is that cool?  I made an attribution.  I didn’t pass the line off as my own.  If anything, it is free advertising for The Godfather, not that it needs any, but still.  

QUESTION 2 – Can you mention and/or discuss trademarked products?

The Captain assigned John to work with Ann.  Ann and John hated each other.  They were married years ago, but John cheated on Ann with her now strangled sister.  You should now totally wonder in the back of your mind if John is a suspect, because, you know, John and Ann’s sister used to totally knock boots.

It wasn’t easy, but Ann and John agreed to set aside their differences in the name of bringing justice to Ann’s sister’s murderer.  Ann’s sister was never loved enough by her parents to receive an actual name.  In fact, “Ann’s Sister” is what the county put on her birth certificate.

Ann and John spent twelve hours looking over case files – photos of twelve strangled victims were strewn all over Ann’s apartment.  They were exhausted and hungry.

“We need a break,”  John said.  “I’m exhausted and hungry.  Let’s go to Burger King.  I’m Jonesing for one of their flame broiled Whoppers.  I love Burger King, because you can have it your way.”

“Yeah, just like you had your way with my sister,”  Ann said.  “Burgers are too fattening.  I need to keep my figure so I can get back at you by sleeping with every dude in the precinct, and twice with the ones you hate.  Let’s go to Subway, home of the five dollar footlong.  Their mascot Jared lost a million pounds by eating their sandwiches, you know.”

“Damn it, Ann!”  John said, slamming his fist down on the table.  “When will you ever forgive me for my transgression?  If we can’t agree on where to eat, how will we ever agree on a theory as to who strangled your overly promiscuous sister, who by the way, seduced me with her feminine wiles, so technically, it wasn’t even my fault?!”

The duo went their separate ways, and returned twenty minutes later.  They ate their separate meals, but John smiled when he realized they were sharing a 2-Liter Bottle of Diet Coke.

“At least we agree on one thing,” John said.

“Not really,”  Ann said.  “I wanted Dr. Pepper, but they were all out.  Your judgement vis a vis soda products is akin to the level of judgment you displayed with decisions regarding our marriage.”

After dinner, John popped a mint into his mouth, and offered one to Ann.  “Care for a Mentos?  They are, after all, the freshmaker.”

“No, I’m just going to brush my teeth,”  Ann said.  “I use Crest toothpaste, which 99 out of 100 dentists recommend, and if you can’t trust a paid-off dentist, who can you trust?”

NOTES:  Okay, so maybe that exchange was outlandish, but I meant it that way for emphasis.  Your characters won’t be that obvious, but in passing, it might seem totally normal to say something like: 

Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct.  “I’m going to need a Red Bull if I’m going to make it through this day,”  Ann said.

NOTES:  I mean, your characters live in the real world, and will have real world problems that get solved by real world products, right?  Do I have to create a make-believe energy drink company, just to make the people at Red Bull happy?

Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct.  “I’m going to need a Zappy Brand Energy Drink  if I’m going to make it through this day,”  Ann said.

NOTES:  Should I just take the brand out altogether?

Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct.  “I’m going to need an energy drink  if I’m going to make it through this day,”  Ann said.

NOTES:  Me, personally, I just feel in a story like this, Ann lives in the same world as we do, and if she’s exhausted but needs to keep going, she’s going to have a Red Bull or a Monster.  I mean, you shouldn’t have any of those drinks, because they’re basically carbonated poison, but in this case, Ann needed one.  It’s not my job to criticize Ann.  It’s my job to develop Ann as a character, and in my mind, she’s a woman who puts her health second to finding her sister’s killer, and to do so requires her to stay up all nights and drink RED BULL in the morning.

QUESTION 3 – What if a product is referred to negatively?

“You shouldn’t drink that,”  John said as he spied the Red Bull in Ann’s hand.  “It’s basically carbonated poison.”

“What do you care?”  Ann asked, as she guzzled her beverage.  “You turned our marriage into a pile of garbage that smelled worse than an Arby’s roast beef sandwich.”

“I don’t have to listen to this!”  John said as he popped on a pair of flashy looking earphones.

“Are those Beats by Dre headphones?”  Ann asked.  “What, you have so little confidence in yourself that you wasted a bunch of money on a status symbol that probably isn’t even better than a pair of regular headphones?”

“What?”  asked John.  “I can’t hear you!  I’m wearing my Beats by Dre headphones!  They’re way overpriced and don’t sound any better than regular headphones, but the chicks dig them!  Your sister totally jumped my bones when she saw me wearing these things!”

The Captain walked in.  “Ann, John.  The Bay Area Strangler struck again last night. I sent the latest photos of the victims to your e-mail, Ann. The Strangler was out there running around town, strangling up a storm while you two were busy screwing up this case worse than Apple did with the latest iOs update!”

Ann checked her e-mail to review the latest victim photos.  “Oh my God!”  Ann exclaimed.  “This Microsoft Surface Pro 3 sucks great big…”

“I can’t hear, you Ann,”  John said.  “Still on my ridiculously overpriced headphones.”

NOTES: I feel like, in cases such as these, you’re probably inviting trouble.  You’re basically libeling a product. (I’m not doing that here, Red Bull, Beats, Apple, and Microsoft, your products are the bee’s knees and everyone should buy them!  I’m just teaching other people how to not falsely malign your wonderful products that make our lives better!)  In cases like these, I’d probably leave the brand names off or make up a fake brand:

“This tablet/computer hybrid sucks great big…”

“I can’t hear you Ann,”  John said.  “I’m on my non-descript, overpriced headphones, the brand name of which escapes me at the moment, because I’ve been having memory loss problems due to the fact that I’m depressed over not being able to sleep with your sister anymore!  Oh, and you too!  I miss you too!”

QUESTION 4 – What about song lyrics?

Ann and John agreed on something else.  The photos weren’t enough.  They needed to see the scene of the crime, and they were horrible cops, because they hadn’t done that yet.  Ann’s apartment complex was an hour away, so they carpooled together.  Ann dozed off while John navigated his way down the freeway.

He was bored, so he turned on the radio, flipped the dial around until he found a song he liked.  It was “Area Codes” by Ludacris.  John turned up the volume and sang along.  “You thought I was just 7-7-0 and 4-0-4, I’m worldwide bitch, act like y’all don’t know, It’s the abominable O-man, Globe-trottin international post-man…”

John’s horrible singing skills crept through Ann’s ears like fingernails on a chalk board, waking her up instantly.  She was about to yell at John, when she realized what song he was singing and joined in.  “Is it cuz the like my gangsta walk?  Is it cuz they like my gangsta talk?”

John smiled.  They were now performing a duet together, and for a brief moment, all the bitter resentments and petty, angry feelings they’d held against one another for so long flew out the window.

“Whatever it is, they love me and they just won’t let be me.  I handle my biz, don’t rush me, just relax and let me be free…”

They finished the song together and John turned the volume down.  Ann smiled for the first time in years.

“I can’t believe you remembered, John,”  Ann said.

“Of course I remembered,”  John said.  “You think I’d forget our wedding song?”

NOTES:  Alright.  So, in that instance, I probably would not use that song.  But, take out “Area Codes” and swap in something romantic, like, oh, I don’t know, “You’re Once, Twice, Three Times the Lady.”  or “You are So Beautiful.”  In that case, a divorced couple sharing a happy moment by singing a romantic song could indicate to the reader that there’s still some love between those too, right?  It would make for a nice scene.  But the question is, can the singers of those songs come after me?

QUESTION 5 – What if something is on the TV in the background?

It wasn’t easy for Ann.  She worked full time.  She still had feelings for her lousy, two-timing ex-husband, and hated herself for having those feelings.  Plus, she was a single parent and bore all the responsibility of raising Andy, the son she had with John during their brief marriage.

Ann was trying to focus her attention on the case file, but that was hard.  All should could hear was the obnoxious rantings of Spongebob Squarepants coming from the television.

“Andy, can you turn that off and do your homework?”  Ann asked.  “Mommy is trying to get some work done.”

“I hate you!”  Andy said.  “I’m sick of all your infernal rules, woman!  I want to live with Dad!  He lets me wear Beats by Dre headphones and drink Red Bull with reckless abandon!”

FINAL THOUGHTS:  I made this post because after doing a lot of research, I wasn’t really able to find a definitive answer.  I don’t want to advise any others what to do or not to do, in fact, it’s not my intent to advise anyone but rather, ask if any of you have any advice for me.  Have any thoughts?  Can you think of some situations that might arise that aren’t mentioned here?  Let’s discuss in the comments!

Oh, and the ending – it looked like John did it, but in fact, Ann’s sister framed him.  John was being carted off in cuffs when Ann realized that all the victims had something in common – they’d all gotten busy with Ann’s sister, then dumped her like yesterday’s donuts.  Ann didn’t really think that common thread was a big deal at first, because so didn’t three-quarters of the Bay Area population.  Through her investigations, she determined that Ann’s sister sought revenge because all of these men – so she strangled a bunch of them, strangled herself, but also arranged for an accomplice to strangle more of her lovers after she died, so that explains why the Captain had sent additional photos to Ann’s Surface Pro 3, the King of the Computer/Tablet hybrids, and a fine Microsoft Product.  Ann and John remarried and were happy for many years, until the sequel, in which Ann cheats on John with John’s brother, who dies, and then Ann is totally a suspect.

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