Moving day

This poor old blog is moving. New digs, new scenery. New posts, even.

Literature, brand naming, writing, and editing posts are now going to

Update your links, would you, so you can come visit my wordsy side?

See you soon!

Hot off the presses

One of my authors has newborn copies of her first book ready for you! It’s a funny, touching, honest look at new parenthood in all its shame, joy, fear, tears, and snot. Sounds like fun, right?

She’d love to send you a signed copy of this hilarious mixed media book. So claim your first edition!

Then, order another copy for anyone you know with small children. Or those who might have small children in their future. Because any way you slice it, supporting moms who find the time to do creative work while investing all their energy in parenting makes a great holiday gift for everyone involved. Including the awesome editor thanked profusely in the acknowledgements. (I don’t receive any compensation for book sales. I’m just proud of the work Ms. Kane did to take her book from manuscript to published book.)

Congratulations, Cindy!

National Novel Writing Month

Each November I thrill to the pulse of tweets and posts of people engaged in National Novel Writing Month.

I don’t join them, but I enjoy their energy.

I’ve been working on a novel for a long time. I wrote it as a screenplay then put it in a drawer for almost a decade. Major life changes stirred the pages in my mind and I pulled it out to make it a novel. I sent it to agents, got feedback, and hit another patch of major life changes. So it sat in my computer untouched for several years. I’m now incorporating the professional feedback and my own need to add to the story into the text and structure of my novel.

So I have two goals this National Novel Writing Month. The first is to finish my novel before November so I can pursue the second: another novel.

I don’t plan to cram my creative process into a month. But it would be lovely this year to use National Novel Writing Month as a milestone during which I end one book and begin another.

If you’re striving to write an entire novel in a month mazel tov! Enjoy! Have a great time. I plan to watch from my own margins and cheer your progress.

The book was better

The reviews of the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas all but beg me to see it.

But the novel was compelling in so many ways that I want to read it again. And since I despise reading books after I’ve seen the film because the actors’ choices and director’s framing all change how I see and hear the story, I’ll either have to reread Cloud Atlas again soon, see the film at home in a year or so, or skip the movie altogether.

Even the ads for Cloud Atlas disappoint me because the people playing the roles look and sound very different from what I see in my mind. Am I unusual in that reaction? Do other people relinquish their mental images of characters more easily or willingly? Can you, dear reader, keep the book and the film versions distinct in your mind?

Does refusing to see a film adaptation that make me a book snob? There are two films that I am able to enjoy without the images and voices on screen clouding my enjoyment of the books: The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The former is quite different from the book, so perhaps I’m willing to call them both by the same name while acknowledging that they’re different things. Those two films are also fantasy, which might be different for me than realist novels. Perhaps the ability of the film and paper versions to coexist in my life means the films are particularly good or that I’ve read the books enough that my mental images are cemented beyond assault by the cinematic interpretations.

Are you going to see Cloud Atlas? Did you read the novel? Are you able to see films related to books without proclaiming loudly to anyone nearby that the book was better? And are you able to separate the film experience from the book experience? Do you even want to?

Rather pedestrian post

The Interwebz are full of posts that proclaim, “wow, I haven’t posted in a while,” then give details about life getting busy or intentions subsumed with logistics.

I don’t even feel like excusing my absence. I haven’t been teaching, but my freelance editing work, other blog, novel, and basic food-and-shelter needs have trumped both academic and verbal branding pursuits.

And I wonder if that means I shouldn’t have a professional blog. I should work, I should live, I should blog on my fluffy journal-ish blog, and leave this one to the mass grave of Blogs with Good Intentions but Poor Execution.


Or maybe just posting this ridiculous drivel will make me realize it’s not as hard as I’ve made it out to be.


For purpose

Serendipity is a delightful force working in my professional life right now. I began reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive—an introduction to the science of motivation and the shifting business models of purpose-driven companies—just as I started work with two B Corps on their branding and brand names.

And a colleague just sent me information about Stanford’s Social Innovation Review and their upcoming webinar about the hybrid corporate model addressed in L3Cs and B Corps and other for-purpose business structures.

It’s always a delight when ideas come together in useful ways, and the manner in which purpose-driven work is flying about me in clusters is making me think about the bigger picture of creating a structure for verbal branding of low-profit endeavors.

Perfect name

New Belgium Brewing Company’s springtime Pale Ale is “Dig.”

photo courtesy of Daryl L. L. Houston at Two Ells

The name and the label are phenomenal. The connotations of the word dig include digging into something interesting or good, unearthing, and overturning; it also offers a delightful and cheeky nod to the hip colloquial 1960s term for deeply appreciating something. The design adds the connotations of springtime planting, growth, bounty, and citrus-y goodness. Can you dig it?

The brand name is short, memorable, easy to spell, significantly different from other beers; it elicits a grin and offers gorgeous visuals (such as the one a designer fashioned for the label).

I spend so much time rolling my eyes at bad naming that I want to just bask in the glow of this name and design. In the sunshine, in a garden, with a bottle of Dig.

Kudos to New Belgium Brewing Company. That’s how the naming game is done.

Which half of Pynchon do you believe?

My thoughts at the halfway point of Gravity’s Rainbow are posted at Infinite Zombie’s group read and cross-posted below. Sing, swim, drown, or totally make things up seems to be this week’s theme…


I’ve been fighting harder and harder against the text this month, because I’ve decided I’m not just going to let Gravity’s Rainbow‘s narrators take me for a ride anymore. This text is full of distortions, and I don’t know how in the name of all that’s holy we are supposed to know what does and does not happen in this novel.

There are some outlandish narrator assertions that I just know are character fantasies rather than actual events. There’s no way Slothrop had an orgy in the closet while touring Middlewerke. He did not charge the Shell Mex House with Tommy gun blazing. Halliburton’s ghost didn’t appear to befuddle anyone. Marguerita does not beat a reluctant performer Bianca, nor does an ensuing orgy take place before they “begin to drift away to catch some sleep.”

Right? Those simply have to be the narration of a dream, perhaps Pirate’s clairvoyant retelling of the nonsense floating through Slothrop’s brain.

If much of this story actually happens, then, it makes for an exhilarating and frustrating exercise in “if that’s not real in the way conventional fiction is real [yes, I do hear the ridiculousness of that], then why spend so much time on it? Why are a character’s thoughts more important than actual events?” Because they are. How do we each live if not listening to our internal narration, interpretations, and fantasies about what we see and do?

So I know that most of the Slothrop sequences are outsized cartoonish fantasies built on a thin framework of reality. I know Slothrop’s narrator is not teling us what is but rather what Slothrop feels. But that’s where my certainty ends.

A couple of weeks’ old question: did Pökler actually bed Ilse? “No. What Pökler did was choose to believe she wanted comfort that night, wanted not to be alone. Despite Their game.” Her hand might have brushed his knee, but he didn’t slap her, she didn’t hike up her dress, they didn’t spend hours in a taboo sexual affair and then slink out into the morning of Zwölfekinder’s amusement park city. Right? Of course not. But why not, really, except that he was fighting what They wanted and he thought They wanted to weaken him. And what better way than to eviscerate his sense of self? So he fought the obvious by not sleeping with his daughter, who he thought was not his daughter?

I know that postmodern narrators are unreliable. I know that in a text that tries to be a Saturday Morning Cartoon complete with seamless fantasy wish-fulfillment we’re supposed to know that a lot is dream sequence and a lot is fantasy. I started balking way back at the Keystone Cops nonsense after Katje disappears and Slothrop becomes Ian Scuffling. After the U.S.S. Badass I decided everything herein is complete Kuhscheiβe.

So what’s real? Slothrop or Scuffling or Schlepzig or none of them? [All.] The banana rooftop? [Yes.] Blicero’s twisted home on the range? [Yup.] The octopus? [Sure?] The basement-degraded Admiral? [Probably.] Slothrop falling into the sea and struggling aboard the Anubis? [No?] Is Imipolex real? [Yes?] Is the 00000? [Maybe?] Just because our most reliable, technical, buttoned-down narrator shared Weissman’s order of the Schwarzgerӓt doesn’t mean even that’s real. This collection of unreality, I feel, is as real as the novel gets. And yet…

It’s all real, since the text is all we have. Whether the whole novel is a dream or not, it’s as real as we’re going to get.

Pökler’s discovery of the Dora death camp was very real.

Is the death in this novel true while all the life is a hopeful lie? Is the sex, even at its most ludicrous, the fantasy that keeps people on several continents going despite the horrors of the early 1940s?

The further we get into this novel, the more capable I feel at distinguishing conventional fiction from experimental narrator hijinks. But I then question the previous narrators’ assertions and feel I should stop at each cinematic fade, go back to the beginning, and reread from there. And believe none of it, which is, I suppose, the point of postmodern fiction anyway. “How probable is the Anubis in this estuary tonight?” It’s a Schroedinger’s text come to harass us with uncertainty and “be careful, for if you try to detect truth, you won’t like what you find.”

Because I’m beginning to think that Gravity’s Rainbow is a Vergeltungswaffen: a Weapon of Retaliation. A revenge for fiction, for reality; for war, for murder; for frivolity in the face of war and murder. Retaliation for the helplessness and the refusal to help; for the privileging of capitalism over humanity; for the insufficiency of America’s too-late efforts to “liberate.” A Retaliation for our inhumanity: Gravity’s Rainbow gives us a fantasy that shows us how ludicrous it is to pretend life is anything but death.

I have a great idea…

“Let’s let our employees name the company. What could possibly go wrong?”

Mondelēz. That’s what.

“Beg your pardon,” you say?


Kraft needs a new name for its snack division. They open the process to 1,000 employees, two of whom say something like “Delicious World.”

A little tinkering results in Mondelēz. One part Condoleezza and one part Mons d’ Elise.

I’m going to vote “no, thank you” on this one, Kraft.

Am I being a naming snob? No. I don’t believe great names only come from experts. One of the most successful naming endeavors I was a part of came from a woman who poked her head into a meeting and offered a suggestion born of a song she was listening to. Her suggestion became the name and *everyone* was thrilled.

But there’s something about this “win an Edible Arrangements gift certificate if you have the winning idea” sweepstakes of creative darts makes me a bit queasy.

Perhaps it’s the Business Week disaster massage Continue reading

Sara Lee as astronomers

So Sara Lee renamed its international coffee and tea company. According to their own press release they worked with IDEO and spent a reasonable six months looking for names for this company that sells coffee and tea in Europe. Thousands of candidates were pared down (also typical), tossing out anything that didn’t work for the brand’s strategy, audience, or creative goals.

After paring down a substantial list based on strategic and creative criteria, 50 or so names were then forced through myriad hurdles, most stumbling at one of the legal, marketing, or graphic roadblocks to a final name.

The result is D.E. Master Blenders 1753.

When naming a major international company, the naming strategy needs to ensure there are no linguistic or cultural problems with a name, that the trademark is clear in all countries where the company will operate or sell products, that at least one viable URL exists. The creative endeavors must make sure there’s euphony in the name. And memorability. An encapsulation of the brand’s personality that does a substantial portion of the brand’s marketing work each time someone reads, says, hears, or writes the name.

In Europe Sara Lee sold coffee under the name Douwe Egberts. The heritage of this is highlighted in the name DE Master Blenders 1753.

So how does DE Master Blenders 1753 function as a name? Does it do its job?

Let’s start with the most obvious: it has to mean something to the people who buy or drink Sara Lee’s beverages. Does DE Master Blenders 1753 have audience relevance? Sure, for people used to Douwe Egberts, it does. Does it offer competitive differentiation? Well, no other coffee has such a technical, lengthy, or precise name.

Is it memorable? Sort of. Once you learn the story you can piece out the name from memory. And you won’t confuse it for any other brand, so it’s assuredly differentiated. Is the name sustainable? Yes. 1753 and DE are both the seeds of the brand, and that won’t change. And any beverage can be blended masterfully, so coffee and tea can make room for unforeseen products rather easily.

Is the designation of Master Blender credible? Maybe. I haven’t had their coffee. I’m willing to bet that a multinational corporation has a few coffee experts blending their beans, so I’ll stipulate their master blender status.

Is the name euphonic? No. Resonant? Nope. Evocative? Uh-uh. Exciting, compelling, moving, persuasive? Nope. Does it make you just a little giddy at the possibilities of engaging with this coffee? Not me.

Candidate for Periodic Table of Lengthy and Technical and Mundane Names?


This new corporation sounds as though it’s a coffee and tea company peripheral to the quasar pulse of the star known as SDSSp J153259.96-003944.1.

Look, naming for a huge multinational corporation is a rough gig. And the need to not ruffle feathers or step on toes leads most companies to choose a safe, expected, obvious choice.

I guess that’s good, since it leaves all the creative names for the rest of us.

Enjoy your cuppa and tell me what you think of the name DE Master Blenders 1753.