You know how it is. You lean over and whisper into its ear, invite it up to your place for a drink and some smooth music on the iPod ... and there it is: you've dated your story through the mention of technology.

Mr. Rickards thinks it's daft, and Patti thinks it's more specific than that. I've always leant away from using brand names in novels and I'm wondering if that's because I'm a programmer and want to use variables rather than constants.

Or is it a cultural thing, to use brand names? I've noticed that Americans (are there any here?) seem to prefer using terms like Xerox, 7-Up and Google, rather than photocopying or lemonade (that's what we call it down under, even if it doesn't have any lemons in it) or 'look it up on the net' or just plain 'look it up'.

My theory with novels is that using brand names takes you out of the story, unless it's a specific trait of a character or otherwise relevant.

Do you writers ever balk at using a brand name? Do you readers wince or raise your eyebrows when someone Googles something for the umpteenth time?

Tell me now, or I'll just have to Google it myself.

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Hmm. Langley, Richmond, and Surrey are all in Virginia. I know what that is like. A careless U.S. reader might wonder about Coquitlam. :)

And I think it is very off-putting when a character who is a U.S.citizen and has lived in this country all of his life suddenly uses brands and medications that are never used here. Of course, that sort of thing is usually caught by the copy editor.
Yes it would be very comforting to set something just before the technological revolution--maybe early seventies so it's not too foreign. I know older people tell me the world changed quickly then too but it seemed pretty static compared to the next 40 years.
Sue Grafton does that with Kinsey Milhone. And she keeps a timeframe of the early 80's, with the books set very closely together so that Kinsey has to function as a more hands-on gumshoe, pre-computer age pre-fax, pre-cells, pre-Ipods. And the lucky woman gets to stay in her eternal 30's!
Yeah, but the lack of fashion sense and the disco era? (Shudders.) That's what little I remember about the seventies - leg warmers and Sesame Street Disco.
Big Hair and the sound of the mass-neutered BeeGees over and over and over again! The horror...the horror!

Luckily Kinsey chops away at her hair in front of the bathroom mirror with manicure scissors. None of that Disco Queen crap for her.

Not everybody was into Disco at the time (Jeez, this is really dating me, isn't it?) ; I think John Travolta should have been up on charges of crimes against humanity for his part in it. And when Jefferson Starship sold out back then, they became dead to me!
Not a problem I have to contend with, thank God. However, I dislike the use of brand names in the books I read. I dislike them even more if the book is of recent vintage (say the 50s) and the author inundates the reader with all that stuff that is, oh, so easily extracted from old magazines and catalogs to prove his/her research. In fact, I dislike all sorts of excessive detail that has no function in the story.
I think it depends on what you're trying to do. If you're working from a set chronology, then it's important. If you want your book to be timeless, then you should keep brands and products out of it. My editor hates it when I use brands and songs and the like, but I wanted my story rooted (pervasively) in 2006. That's just one guys take.
Sometimes it just jumps off the page at me the writer has avoided using a brand name. Why didn't they just say Starbucks, we all know what they mean?

Of course, I Iike that kind of clear, non-cluttered prose. I really like Raymond Carver and Bobbi Anne Mason's In Country is a terrific novel. Maybe it was an 80's trend (which was, for me, when I first started thinking seriously about writing), like the Robert B. Parker novels that can sometimes now look like catalogue pages.
I don't find that product names take me out of the story too much. But they can when they are overdone. I was reading an older book recently and the author kept referring to cars by their make and model. It's okay the first time, but when it's done with every mention of the car it's a bit jarring.

One thing I don't like is when they Americanize a British book. If the references to people and products worked in the original book, I see no reason to change them for the American one. I remember an author asking the folks on the RAM list for suggestions for Americanizing several references in his book that the publishers were insisting be changed for the US edition. That really pisses me off. I know that publishers have to worry about the least common denominator, but I don't want my books dumbed down. I'm sure there are probably instances where the reverse is done for British editions, although maybe they are luckier than we are.
Peter Temple flat out refused to Americanise his Australian novel for republication. It looks like that decision has worked out pretty well for him, even if it's taken such a long time.
I was totally turned off by the debut novel of a highly successful crime novelist years ago. The namedropping was a tad annoying. But the thing that really pushed me over the edge was the nonstop usage of designer names. It was Armani this and Gucci that, ad nauseum. I wanted to smack the protagonist upside her head with one of her finely crafted Italian shoes. I certainly don't need Haute Couture shoved down my throat when I want to be drawn into a story. I could not identify with her at all. It was so distracting from the meat of the book that I have not read another by her since.

Then again, I think that items like Aspirin, Leatherman or Coke have become the norm and are perfectly acceptable. It's a little awkward reading, "Pain reliever" or "Multi-purpose tool" or "carbonated beverege" and disturbs the flow of the narrative.

Also, I prefer when an author from Scotland or Australia, for example, use their own vernacular rather than Americanize a book for me. If I can't take an educated guess at what a Tim-Tam is then shame on me.
I agree, and I had the exact same reaction to a debut novel years ago... Wonder if it was the same one!


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