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Thought I’d share a bit of positive writing news here:

I got an email a couple days ago informing me that, although I didn’t win,  I was a semi-finalist for the 2019 KWLS Emerging Writer Award for a novel in progress. I’m pleased by this result, especially since this particular organization is fairly academic and literary in its focus, and I didn’t think they’d give much weight to a genre manuscript. Plus, it definitely *is* a novel in progress and I know I have some cleaning up to do, even on the sample I sent them. In the email, they passed along some of the comments from the judges, which is great since it’s rare to get actual feedback on these things!  

So, that was my yay moment for this weekend. Thanks for reading it!

Nebula Conference Schedule

I’m pleased to be at the Nebula Conference this week in Los Angeles, and will be speaking about fair use for writers, as well as participating on a panel about the effect of text-to-speech software on the audiobook market. I’ll also be available during office hours for individual questions. Here’s where to find me:


BIAFTA – The Bedroom-In-America Free Trade Agreement

A few months back I posted about an exchange with our 11-year old stemming from his objection to certain household rules. A mentor from my early entertainment law days replied, posturing as our son’s attorney. The back-and-forth that ensued was fairly entertaining. I’m sharing it here for posterity.

FACEBOOK POST – November 21, 2018

Our son informed us he intends to file an application at the UN to have his 11 x 12 foot bedroom recognized as an independent country within the borders of another country, like Vatican City.

His father and I are completely supportive.

We offered to provide access to our utilities, Internet, provisions, plumbed water, certain domestic services and passage through other rooms of the house for ingress and egress into the rest of the US, in exchange for fair-trade bartered labor services or hard cash.

*insert record scratch meme here*

*Child slouches toward his bedroom, dreams and ambitions defeated*

Poor kid. It’s not his fault his mom and dad both built their careers on negotiating skills.


WH: I have been retained by your son in connection with the aforementioned negotiations.  While you may continue to communicate directly with your son in connection with your parental duties and his obligations as a son, demand is hereby made that any and all correspondence in connection with the matter at hand be directed to my attention.  To the extent you fail to comply with this request and/or my client feels that his needs are not being properly addressed…..well just use your imagination to conjure up the grief and anxiety I can inflict.  In the meantime, demand is made for extended ‘stay awake at night hours’, double portions of desert and that you continue to provide him with no less than three meals a day.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I am confident we can reach an amicable solution as I would hate to see you cry in court.

ALEX:  Mr. H – Our original offer to your client still stands and we look forward to setting up BIAFTA (The Bedroom-In-America Free Trade Agreement) should he desire to do so. We will also seek to reclaim attorneys’ fees, if any, in this matter, which may be recompensed through additional household services in the form of toilet cleaning. Please advise your client to govern himself accordingly.

WH:  I do not appreciate the tone of your response.  Notwithstanding, my client intends to exhibit the highest degree of dignity and respect while forced to remain in a hostile country.  Nevertheless, I would appreciate your carrying your passport with you when you desire to enter his bedroom.  A metal detector/scanner is being delivered today and while your TSA/Global Entry may work when you leave his premises, rest assured you must take your shoes off and empty your pockets upon entry.  Thank you for your understanding during these difficult times.


WH: I am sorry that I disappeared but I was in meetings with Antonio Guterres today discussing my client’s situation.  I have submitted our application to join the United Nations.  Notwithstanding your stonewalling us, my client plans to move forward with this matter.  http://www.un.org/en/sections/member-states/about-un-membership/index.html

ALEX: Mr. H – I’m glad you reached out because a matter of urgency has arisen that you must discuss with your client. We live in a THREE-BEDROOM HOUSE (two now, actually, exempting the provisional status of your client’s territory). If your client insists on proceeding with constructing a BORDER WALL from the more than 10,000 Legos he has amassed during his childhood, then such wall must adhere to international conventions regarding territory disputes and reside entirely within the confines of what he is now referring to as “Bedroomlandia” AND NOT encroaching on our ability to traverse the hallway by placing it outside his door. This situation must be rectified immediately or I will be forced to escalate the matter. I will await your response in the sincere hope your client will see fit to act reasonably.

WH:  Ms. Tillson…..as the one who enabled, funded, encouraged and otherwise was the (dare I say) dealer who was responsible for my client’s obvious Lego-addiction, I must ask you to provide me with written evidence of any and all use restrictions that my client agreed to when you delivered same to him.  Until you deliver such a document that contains his signature, I prefer that our next communication take place either before the Security Council or The International Court of Justice.  I am not surprised that you take such a shallow, weak position…..obviously a reflection of your  working with a lawyer in the early stages of your career who misguided you in all facets of life.  I remain shocked by your disregard for my client’s welfare.  Good day to you m’lady…..good day indeed.

ALEX: Well, Mr. H, before we can even begin dealing with said “border wall” we have a new problem: immigration. There are two OTHER CHILDREN in Bedroomlandia at this moment that your client invited over who have requested asylum status to remain inside. Their parents—having arrived here to pick them up—are apoplectic that they must contact you instead of taking their kids home for dinner. Don’t you think this is getting a little out of hand? I mean, really, what’s next? CNN?!

Madam Counselor: Using Trademarks in Titles

Dearest Admirers,

On a recent evening while touching up my pedicure with the help of a holiday hot toddy—lo and behold!—a visitor to my site wrote in with a question. Shoving aside my hot toddy (without spilling any), I decided my toes could wait. It was late, the weather was unpleasantly cold (for Florida), but somebody out there needed me.

Stretching my fingers wide to ready them for typing, I shrugged back my shoulders and dove right in:

Hi Alex,

My editor referred me to your Twitter page, which led me here. My question is regarding the use of a copyright name in a title.

I, like most writers, use trademarked names throughout my novels. My protagonist loves Honey Nut Cheerios, his sister drinks Rolling Rock Beer, etc. In my upcoming novel, however, I want something different. I want to use a product name in the title. In this case, it’s Buick.

Is it necessary to get permission from Chrysler to use the Buick name in the title of fiction work?

Thank you.

Now, we all know the basic logic behind trademarks: it’s the recognizable brand of a product or service, the owner of which may pursue legal action for its infringement by a third party. Said legal action can take the form of a cease and desist letter, an injunction, and/or a lawsuit for money damages. There are a lot of facets to defending a claim of trademark infringement, but this dear reader was not asking whether a lawsuit could be won or not. The question was simply: “Will I get into trouble?” And in the case of a writer, “trouble” is defined by having to change the title of the book after it’s been released.

So, that requires Madam Counselor to dispense a different version of wisdom than the question of whether one could win a lawsuit:


The answer to whether you can get away with using a trademark in your title is going to depend on the context of the use and whether a secondary meaning can be ascribed to the term. For example, “Murder at Cadillac Ranch” wouldn’t be an issue because Cadillac Ranch is a place. “The Murder in my Cadillac” however might get you a cease and desist letter, even if you had a defensible claim for your use because big companies get cranky when they’ve paid a lot of money to build up a brand and then someone tries to capitalize on that recognizability and tag it with something unsavory, like death.

I’m guessing the threshold you are shooting for here is to avoid getting the cease and desist letter in the first place, and not whether you could win the case if sued, which means there’s a certain matter of practicality to be factored in to the decision aside from a purely legal analysis since cranky plaintiffs with a lot of money don’t have to be right to sue.

PS – If you’d like to share the title you are considering, I can give you a gut check on what I think (but I won’t post it on the site).


My dear reader wrote back as follows:

Thank you for the quick response, Alex. It is for a murder mystery. The title I’m hoping to use is

A Body in a Buick

I found a request form on Chrysler’s website, but it seemed like it was for much bigger projects, such as films and such, so I was hoping I could avoid it. Your response makes it sounds like I will need to get permission first, but I’m hoping you tell me otherwise.


Well, I had to be honest. I slugged back another sip of my hot toddy and broke the bad news:


Shoot. Gotta tell you, that didn’t pass my gut check. I think you’d be inviting unwelcome attention from Chrysler’s in-house lawyers if they found your title during one of their routine IP checks on the Internet. An unhappy letter at the least. You could try asking permission, but I don’t think it’s likely you’ll get it. Frustrating, I know. And, yes, it would be a different story if James Patterson wanted to put out a novel with the exact same title—Chrysler would be all over helping to promote the book then. Sorry, I do wish I could give you the answer you wanted!


My gracious reader wrote back quickly, and I was relieved to know I’d managed to help him, without obliterating his dream:

Thank you, Alex.

You didn’t give me the answer I wanted, but you gave me the answer I expected. Since I’m not going to use it, feel free to post the title on your website if you’d like.

All in a day’s work for this dainty Internet superhero, my friend. And now, with my work done, I picked up my little bottle of nail enamel and finished painting my toes “Coca-Cola Red®.”

Yours in law,

Madam Counselor™


I just finished listening to the Audible version of THE CALCULATING STARS by Mary Robinette Kowal, narrated by the author herself, and—let me tell you—her performance is MASTERFUL.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and MRK’s fluid transitions between well-developed and nuanced character voices—many with distinctive ethnicities and accents—is among the best of the best. Her performance really enhances the experience of this well-researched alternative history set at the dawn of the space program in the 1950’s, when a devastating meteorite impact triggers an extinction event that catapults humankind into a space race to colonize Mars. This novel is as much a tribute to the unsung heroes of our own nascent space program, many of whom happened to be women, as it is a solid and entertaining story.

https://amzn.to/2BYNywP – My Amazon review

https://amzn.to/2POQYFi  – Amazon page for THE CALCULATING STARS




One thing nobody tells you about eclipses

Among the sensory experiences I will remember related to being in the path of totality, most of which have been written about beautifully by others—the sudden acceleration of darkness, a rush of wind from the temperature drop (which in our case caused thunder just as the corona made its appearance in the sky)—there’s one that stands out for me that hasn’t really been talked about so much.

At our moment of totality, a sea of insects rose up from beneath us in the mistaken belief night was falling. This was not a gradual thing, as usually happens at dusk. Swarms of tiny flying critters teemed upward all around us, pinging off our arms and legs along the way—a few less fortunate ones meeting their end and they tried to shelter inside my nostrils. These were, fortunately, not a biting kind of insect, as none of us came away with any welts.

So there you have it. The unspoken underbelly of eclipse chasing.

To End, or Not to End.

Love this quote from Kristopher Jasma’s opinion piece about the art of writing endings:

“The last hundred yards up the mountain are the steepest. The air is very thin and you cannot share it with your characters anymore. You have to leave them, along with everything you’ve written to that point. It is the last thing you want to do, but as you go higher you’ll get your first look at them from above. They become smaller somehow, as from the summit you can finally see the mountain in its entirety.”

Here’s his essay in it’s entirety:


‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Hulu Redux

This week I watched the season finale of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu, which is a surprisingly fresh take on the classic novel by Margaret Atwood. The first season—and I was pleased to read it has been renewed for a second season—begins and ends in sync with the events of the book, leaving its viewers at that same moment of uncertain outcome for Offred, the handmaid from whose perspective the story is told, but with the resonance of hope that change is afoot in the totalitarian regime of Gilead, which subjugates women under its own Western evangelical version of extremist sharia law.

Having loved the novel for its language as much as the story, I was unsure whether I’d be drawn in to the series when it first aired. Elizabeth Moss plays Offred in a manner that was different than I’d imagined her in my reading, so it took me a few episodes to adjust to that difference. What excites me is that Ms. Atwood is a consulting producer and was extensively involved in developing this project for television. The series storyline is true to the novel, but expands upon it and modernizes it in ways that feel natural and not at all like a departure from the book, but rather a deepening of it. I watched knowing that—as the plot revealed new information or background about the characters and events—it reflected an enlarged vision of this world endorsed its author, and as such was not just the committee-creation of a roundtable of writers (no offense meant to television writers, who produce a lot of amazing content for us to enjoy). Hulu’s remake of this classic story feels both familiar and true to the book, while at the same time refreshingly new and exciting.

And so I’m looking forward to season two like a fan girl who finally gets to read the sequel to a beloved book over 30 years after its original publication, except that this sequel is being formatted for television.

Thumbs up, Scrivener.

When I rebooted my second novel earlier this year, it seemed like the perfect time to try out Scrivener as I re-integrated myself into the world of Las Vegas in 2069. This meant transferring all the notes and outlining I’d done in Word into the binder structure within Scrivener. I’m happy to say that the investment of time in the material transfer and software learning curve paid off and I’m really liking the fluidity that Scrivener allows me when I’m in a creative mode. Moreover, I’ve utilized the iOS version of Scrivener from my iPhone (synced to Dropbox) and it’s worked perfectly, and provides me with a place to drop notes right into my manuscript when I’m not at my desk.

On a final note, I had my first experience with tech help recently, and Katherine at Literature and Latte, the company that makes Scrivener, emailed me back later that night with some troubleshooting solutions. Scrivener gets a thumbs up from me.