What’s in a Name?

By Alexandria Harris

Unlike Romeo, I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you—everything. Before people even see your face, your name causes a certain bias. Your resume, business card, or direct mail piece might as well be your face. And this face can either say “Hello, I can see this is the beginning of something wonderful” or “Nice to meet you.” With the second option, I’m sure you’ve determined by now that it’s because the person has quickly moved past you to the next person with the normal-sounding name. Humans are creatures of comfort, if not anything. 

Naming your work, especially if it’s a book, is like naming a child. You want to take care with what you’ve put a lot of tears, sweat, and face palms into. Having your baby judged like a Harlequin romance when it isn’t is embarrassing.

I messed up and got it wrong.

Thankfully, naming your work can be easily remedied while naming your child…well let’s just say the first time for everything in this instance should be your last.

 I have no shame spending hours on baby name websites and name meaning generators to find the perfect name for my characters. They are going to breathe life into your story, so they definitely deserve a lot of time. Spending that time to make them all they can be is essential. 

My original book title was FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Besides the fact that at least seven other books have that title, my other hesitation was guiding my mainly young adult-intended audience to topics that may seem reprehensible by the title.

I had to go back to the drawing board and to square three. Square one was out because I’d already established a theme. My sequel is called GARDEN OF SOULS, and the third THE GRAPES OF RAGNAROK, so the title of the first book was especially important. It couldn’t just be anything. 

Some authors go through their book and pick a phrase they think was especially clever of them to write and pick that as a title. Others pick a concept or intricate detail. There is no rule of thumb. It actually depends on how much you can get the person reading your title to wonder about it or be awed. Your title should have a similar effect to pouring a bucket of ice water on someone.

I wracked my brain. I was in a bit of a pinch–I had to have my cover design updated and all the associated marketing materials by the next day. I suppose that’s what you get when you decide to change your title and you’re three months away from publishing your work.

After five hours of thinking, my brain felt like a sweat-caked marathon runner. 

The problem is that every title needs to be unique. Besides the cover design (and the back cover copy), it’s the most important thing that will influence people to buy your book (or other work). I hadn’t done my research, and that’s why I was in this conundrum. 

The good news is that little sisters can be accommodating when you promise to do their make-up for Homecoming. 

Going through the dictionary, thesaurus, and reading back through the book stressed me out—panicking, trying not to get it wrong. The fate of the world, or fate of how well this book will do, depended on how well I could command the English language. 

No pressure.  

So like Frodo looking for Mount Doom with Sam for back-up, I went with my sister Morgan through the paths of knowledge and memory to find a suitable title. It had to go where no title had gone before. An epic story demands an epic title.

I also had a little mystical help along the way—the Everchanging Book of Names, which sounds like it should be in a Harry Potter book or at least an epic fantasy novel. The software is amazing, featuring names for characters and locations in different languages. Some are old languages and some are new, but it will help you if you’re stuck under the villainous writer’s block. 

But in the end, how epic something becomes is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes simplicity can pack a larger punch than all of the long-winded, epic sounding names we can come up with. 

After two days of heavy thinking, I decided on THE GOLDEN ASHFRUIT for my title. With another month to go before publication, I’m banking on the title hold its weight and do some of the marketing for me.


Finally, I have some advice on naming. Do the research. If you do a web search and your current title is already being used for twenty other books, don’t use it. No matter how tempted you are, it isn’t worth starting from the bottom and trying to fight your way to the top of all the SEO madness. Also, Google Keywords is your best friend. The kind of best friend you want to hang out with all the time and consult for all your naming decisions. Lastly, be clever but not crazy.


Take your name where no name has gone before, but remember not to go wild and have it resent you for the rest of its (hopefully) long-lived life.



By John Winn

No, this isn’t about Prohibition, alcohol, or Ken Burns documentaries.

This upcoming Saturday, Sept. 29th, Hennens Observer and the High Point Public Library in High Point, North Carolina will have the honor of hosting author and public speaking coach Carol Roan for an hours-long interactive talk and Q and A addressing the pratfalls–and possibilities–of public speaking. Roan is a 30 year veteran public speaking coach and motivational speaker who has worked with hundreds of clients over a long career spanning from opera divas to average Joes and Joanettes applying for job interviews. A signing of Roan’s books Speak Easy (pictured above) and Speak Up will follow. As always, refreshments will be provided.

If you are a writer or author in the final stages of polishing up your Great American Novel or just someone who wants to learn more about speaking in front of a live audience, we cannot overestimate how important this meeting will be.  So much of the marketing and promotion of novels and books these days depends on writers being able to read and promote their work in public–someones for many days and weeks at a time.  Being able to read and enounciate your work in a clear, concise–and dramatic–way is often as critical to capturing a reader’s interest as a brilliantly designed book cover.  As a coach, Roan comes highly recommended, not just from clients but also members of the Hennen’s family.  

We’ll be getting the word out through traditional media as well as Twitter in the run-up to the meeting, so if you miss this post by any chance trust me you’ll hear about it soon in you local paper (if you live in the Piedmont) or on Twitter or Facebook.  So if you’re truly invested in seeing your literary dreams thrive, please come and see us in High Point next weekend.  Not to mention, it’s totally free of charge!

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Party’s Here, and You’re All Invited

I said that I wasn’t going to write another post again–and for the most part I am keeping true to my promise–but for today I am making an exception.  And the occasion is truly exceptional. Next Saturday, August 25th, the staff of Hennen’s Observer, including myself, publisher Joshua Hennen, contributing writers, and friends of the magazine will gather at the High Point Public Library in High Point, NC at 4 p.m. to celebrate the official start of our writers and artists group in North Carolina. The meeting is partly a getting to know you session, part grand opening of the magazine. High Point library officials, including the library’s director, will be on hand to observe the event, and the public is definitely invited.

Light refreshments will be served.  The actual meeting is expected to last well over an hour, and will cover everything from fiction, creative nonfiction, and hard-news journalism (including our upcoming child abuse and neglect issue, which Alexandria Harris did such a smashing job contributing to). We are proud to be officially recognized by the community, but we are also honored to get to meet at least some of the cheerleaders and fans who’ve kept us going all these years–even when we wanted to throw in the towel. Hennen’s is more than a website or a magazine.  It is a social network, production company, sounding board, and digital watering hole for struggling and established writers both locally and internationally.

Writing is in our blood. Good writing that makes a difference is even more important to us. But more than that, being able to be part of a community that values the work we do is beyond luck. We feel blessed just to be able to pursue our craft, without interference or fear of offending someone.  We cannot express our deepest thanks to all those anonymous bloggers, writers, journalists and wannabes who read our blog and website every single day. It brings tears to our eyes that they choose to spend their precious minutes of downtime reading us instead of something else.

So climb into that car, buy that plane or bus ticket and come on down to High Point next weekend. Don’t worry–the coffee will be  fine.

For more information please consult:

Google Maps

@hennensobserver Twitter page

Hennens Observer Facebook page

…And this excellent post by crime writer Lee Lofland, describing a seminar he, novelist Jeffery Deaver (Roadside Crosses)  and several other well known authors attended in High Point circa 2010.. Lofland does a good job of giving a run down of what a typical writer’s group/meeting is like, plus a little ambience about the library itself.  As you can tell, the sky was overcast and gray, but we’re holding out for more pleasant weather and company! 

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The One That’s Not About Sports


By John Winn

I have a confession to make: I hate sports. I loathe sports. I never played basketball, baseball, participated in only a few dodgeball matches in grade school, even won a first place ribbon for (I think) the hundred yard dash. In fact, I still have my ribbons all framed in a patriotic tricolor of red-white-blue that suggests the wholesomeness of Middle America.   

I’m actually from the South, but this post isn’t about my supposed redneck upbringing (however genteel it might actually have been). It isn’t about sports at all.  But it is about the news, and literature.

When we started this blog, we intended for it to be a lighthearted companion to our main website. The slogan says it all: light and easy with a side of bacon.  Despite being humorically challenged, we managed to succeed in a way, chronicling the Internet’s obsession with bird-women, making ironic observations about our craft–which Alex has done with gusto–and generally trying to stay on the light side of life. Yet it’s not so easy to be topical and funny at the same time–take it from this hard news guy.

The Olympics seemed like the perfect launching pad. It is and remains one of the premier spectator events–everyone gets to see the triumphs and defeats, the unstuck landings, the runners who don’t quite make it past the finish line. The intimate nature of the games means that everyone can get into it without having to know the stats and the players’ backstories and all the things required of certain sports fans back home (I’m looking at you, NFL).

The Olympics also happens to be the one event that intersects with all others and for a guy like myself, that’s a dream. You can talk about the politics of sports, the human interest angle (Wieber’s fall from grace, Bolt’s dominance on the track, Phelps’ swan song to the sport he loves), even how the games pretty much overshadowed every other story in the news–even arguably, the ones that should have been above the fold instead.

That much we (and I) set out to do. But like a gymnast who can’t quite keep her balance, we made obvious errors in our coverage, and mistakes like those would get major deductions in a real newsroom–and by deductions, I  mean pink slips. Even Jordyn would agree on that one. I guess we had chutzpah, but chutzpah and calculated risks are two completely separate things.

So without further adieu, I step back behind the curtain and let Alex and Brennon share the spotlight once more–for now, at least.

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

ICYMI: Olympics Edition






By John Winn

So the flag has been folded, the athletes have gone home, and the lagers have been thoroughy consumed. London 2012 is officially history. Yet while most of the known world was glued to the screen watching Bolt, well, bolt, Wieber tumble on the balance beam, and a certain American swimmer make his mark in the record books, heads of state died, a prominent author bid adieu to Planet Earth, and a Canadian military official became one of the most notorious spies since Robert Hansen. So without further ado, here is a run down of what should have been the top news stories for that fortnight-yet obvious weren’t.

July 27

John Atta Mills dies.

The economy still sucks.

-NIttany Lions players continue to pretend Jerry Sandusky didn’t touch all those boys the way that FBI Director guy said he did.

-Oh, and some Canadian guy stole a bunch of military secrets and gave them to Russia. The estimated haul is believed to be greater than the US Diplomatic cables Bradley Manning handed over to WikiLeaks, which included information on ongoing covert operations by the US, UK, Australia, Canada and a few other nations. If convicted, Jeffery Paul Delisle could end up spending the rest of his life in prison.

July 28

-Mitt Romney arrives in Israel. Hilarity ensues.

-Syrian Army begins their bitch-slapping of Free Syrian Army rebels in the country’s biggest city Aleppo.  If successful, government forces would effectively quell the rebellion, widely considered one of the bloodiest and most tumultuous conflicts in the Middle East since the Arab Spring began.

Sally Ride died. Oddly enough, the biggest news about this isn’t her death from pancreatic cancer, but her lesbian partner of 27 years, who sadly, is ineligible to receive death benefits–because she is lesbian.

August 2-4

Maeve Binchy died.

Gore Vidal died, which is an even worse shame.

August 8-9

-Some Wall Street bank gets in trouble for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government. Paging Lisbeth Salander.

August 11

Romney finally selects his VP. The wait is over!

-But wait, there’s more!

Gu Kailai “confesses” to murdering Briton Neil Heywood, who was something of a  international man of mystery himself. The Bo family–including Bo Xilai himself–are thought to have been involved in numerous corrupt business dealings with Westerners in Chongquing, of which Heywood played prominent roles in arranging for the Bos, as they could not do so themselves. Heywood reportedly threatened to  expose the family’s ill-gotten gains during a confrontation with Gu, Xilai’s wife, which may have led to his alleged poisoning by Gu and her orderlies.

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When Your Best is Not Good Enough

By John Winn

Sometimes, no matter how fast we run, how hard we push, or how graceful we dismount, the best isn’t good enough for some people. You could put your entire life on hold, sacrificing birthdays, Christmases, proms just to work towards a single dream–only for it to evaporate in a London minute. But you don’t have to be an Olympic gymnast to know how it feels.

Yes, Jordyn Wieber was done wrong, and even a clumsy, non-athletic aspiring writer could tell that the point system in gymnastics is messed up beyond all recognition, but what makes Weiber’s cut Sunday from the all-around competition semi-final so moving wasn’t how dramatic or unexpected it was–but it’s banality.

Wieber was (and is) the Hillary Clinton of the U.S. Gymnastic team in 2012–the front-runner, the odds on favorite, the girl who would be queen. This is a girl who consistently posted stats in the 59.5-60.0 range, who has won multiple gold medals in international competition, and is pretty much the reigning female world champion in her sport. So when she failed to advance, it was an upset, to say the least.

Wieber’s loss resonates beyond the world of sports. How many girls her age have applied to Harvard, Yale, Carolina or a bunch of other schools only to get turned down?  How many women have struggled to advance in their careers, only to see less competent men become CEOs, CFOs, and managers?  You could be the top of your class, have excellent employment histories, and still not Make It.

There are a lot of factors that led to Wieber’s loss.  Deductions, judging, the usual behind-the-scenes politics–take your pick.  But that doesn’t take away the pain. Wieber just got a knife in her heart, and believe me, those memories are going to stay.  It’s like Neil Armstrong being told he won’t be allowed to walk on the moon–you think you’d forget that sort of thing?

I agree with Bela–I think the rules system in Olympic gymnastics stinks, and is probably the biggest sham this side of The City. But I am not an athlete.  But pain and disappointment are universal regardless of what you play or what your nationality is.  Put me on Team Wieber.

[UPDATE: Looks like Wieber made good on her plan to net a gold for the Fab Five.  You can read the details here.]

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Racing to the Bottom: Gen Y Edition

By John Winn

As Brennon so thoughtfully pointed out today, ambitious young people (read: aspiring journalists) hoping to break into their field have run into some difficulty for some time.  The industry as a whole is rebounding, but one thing is dead certain: Gen Y is moving away from traditional print media as a career. It isn’t only aspiring journos running into trouble, so it’s worth it to look at Generation Y from the bottom rung: the entry-level job.

In the past, the words ‘drudgery’ and ‘work’ didn’t often go together in the minds of 18-29 year-olds. A booming economy, access to luxury goods, and the idea of a certain lifestyle fostered by shows like The Hills and Laguna Beach created the impression that if Joe or (increasingly) Joanna American was young, smart and witty that a dream job was in the offing.  This also coincided with a shift from a manufacuring to a knowledge-based economy, which influenced in no small part apiring journos’ dreams of becoming the next Arianna Huffington or David Pogue.

That dream is more or less over.  For those wealthy enough, or just lucky enough to grow up a few short years before the crash of 2008, scaling back simply means packing their bags and going to Europe, or taking on an internship at their dad’s-best-friend’s-newspaper-cum-website. Yet for the rest of us, it means the dreaded S-word: Settling.

 Not surprisingly, this has created some resentment not just among the generations, but within them as well.  It cuts across nationalities and classes, and is one of the main reasons why the OWS movement resonated with so many last year. Yet for many, just holding on to a job–any job–is considered enough of an achievement to brag about.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a crawfish plant or an auto dealership, aspring journos and non-journos alike are putting their dreams on hold sometimes permanently, telling themselves that they could come back to it later when the dust settles.

Like a lot of aspiring journos, writing and editing has been in my blood for some time. My brother works for Global Post.  My cousin writes press releases for a Montreal-based government relations company. Yet increasingly I count myself among those who have had their dreams deferred because of circumstances beyond my control.  A lot of my coworkers at the courier service where I work have had to do the same, and I know for a fact they won’t realize their dreams–ever.  I find my siblings’ obliviousness offensive, and resent their humblebragging in equal measure. I resent the talking heads and personalities who told us we were special, that we were guaranteed some Shangri-La $80,000 career and McMansion on the side. They’ve never walked an hour in my shoes–or in my case, ten.   

I curse their bones to the dust.

To those who are struggling in this economy: I stand with you.  To those who don’t understand–who will never understand–I hope you never have to choose between the life you want, and the life you can afford.  But you will never face that dilemma, will you?

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.