Update on The Novel Formerly Known as the Nerf Novel
Fluffball! is undergoing a bit of an overhaul and should be ready to hit the market in March. Here's what happened.
In fiction, your characters can drink a Dr Pepper or drive a Buick or stay at a Holiday Inn without much concern that their author is violating any trademarks. It's advisable, of course, to avoid negative connotations. You shouldn't imply that Buick is the preferred ride of serial killers or that Dr Pepper turns people into murderous Capitol-storming insurrectionists, but there's no harm in simply mentioning these brands.
I had done something a little more than mention a brand in Fluffball! The entire novel was about a professional Nerf basketball league, and the word Nerf appeared in some form or other upwards of 400 times in the manuscript. It was all very positive. The novel is in one sense an homage to the Nerf basketball and hoop I got for Christmas in 1972 (and when you read it you'll see that research for it began that very day).
But to play it safe I contacted the trademark owner, Hasbro, and asked for their blessing. I assured them I had attached nothing negative to their brand and offered to let them read the manuscript. Their response came surprisingly and distressingly quickly:
"Unfortunately, a self-published book based entirely on our brand, would exceed any standards of fair use. On the other hand, if you were to find a reputable publisher, we would entertain a possible licensing arrangement with you."
Ah yes. One of the reputable publishers who have been beating my door down for the last 35 years? The book is written. It's ready to be read. And I had my fill of the cap-in-hand groveling before agents and publishers a long time ago. So, after consulting with a number of trusted friends, this novel is now about the people associated with the Foam Basketball Association. The official title is now Fluffball! Or, How Five Really Tall Guys and an Immortal Chinese Philosopher Opened the Door to a Parallel Universe and Saved Professional Foam Basketball, More or Less.
It's coming soon. I mean it.