July 30, 2010
Saying I must have “some kind of weird balls,” an anonymous commenter took me to task for writing about a gay character in my new novel, sweet by Design. Calling me a “straight mook” (BTW, I love the word “mook”), someone calling himself “J-Low” seemed to think I hadn’t the chops for writing a gay character (in the first person no less.)
I replied that I’d better have the chops, because I’ve been selling to gay people for years. Most clients value gay consumers and rightly they should. These are men and women with ample disposable incomes, not to mention being epic trendsetters. In other words gay people buy stuff. Lots of stuff. And the stuff they buy –cars, booze, clothes, electronics- represent core categories. Categories that often depend on early adapters to thrive, let alone survive. Writing copy for them –really good copy- is mission critical for all of us in modern marketing.
Goes without saying, right? Then, why, I wonder, would someone question me, or any writer for that matter, with having the ability to assume a gay person’s persona? Yes, most writers tend to model their main characters after themselves (especially if using the first person) in terms of age, sex, race, and et-cetera. But expanding our horizons beyond the familiar is part and parcel to writing, be it copy or fiction.
It is also fun as hell. Writing a gay character like the hero of Sweet by Design, Jeffrey Sweet was liberating, stimulating and a great learning experience. Avoiding clichés and stereotypes was crucial, but then when is it not?
Anyway, people are people. Save for the vagaries of DNA, Jeffrey Sweet is not unlike many 38-year old males. He fears what his parents think of him. He regrets certain past behaviors. He desires companionship and beautiful things.
And you don’t?
So, yes, I wrote a gay character. And while I may be a “straight mook” I was, to the best of my abilities, thoughtful and fearless. I invite “J-Low” and anyone else to see how I fared. The story is free. Plus, it has various interactive elements to make it more fun, including a cover design contest open to anyone, regardless of age, sex or creed.
Did I get it right or are, in fact, my balls too weird? You can let me and everyone else know in the comments section. The first three chapters are now online, right here: Sweet by Design (novel, synopsis and contest)
July 19, 2010
Some people I care about are in pain. A Marriage is blowing up –quietly on the outside; loudly within I’m sure. There are children, who make these things complicated, torturous and toxic. For them. And for their parents. It’s bad.
Without great sin involved, taking sides is ridiculous. He’s not a villain and she’s not a witch. Shit happens.
Alone now, my own children sleeping, I sit here in front of my computer, doing what I always do when my mind is feverish: I write. But unlike conjuring a tag line or pithy words about a current event, for this I got nothing.
And so I said to the man whose wife is leaving and taking the children with her: In one year things will be fantastic, you just can’t see it now. Let her go…for now. Let her have the little ones…for now. Things are too toxic. The damages are severe and accruing. Rightly or wrongly, she is the nurturer. In one year things will be fantastic. Compared to now.
Is this advice? If so, is it good advice? As we get older they say we get wiser. I wonder, then, why so much shit happens when we get older. I have an idea. The expectations of youth ferment into resentments. We expect our marriages and our families and our jobs to always be right by us. When they are not, we are left impotent and seething. It is almost worse not having a villain. We look inward. Maybe we learn from it. But more likely we burn. Bad things can happen. We make poor decisions. Alcohol and people are waiting to intoxicate us.
Getting over loss is brutal. I’m not referring to death. Not here. In a way, unless unforeseen, death is a mercy. Unlike an estranged spouse, or former job, it is not still there, residing with another.
And so I said to the man who just lost his job and has no idea what’s next: In one year things will be fantastic, you just can’t see it now.
Alone now, in front of my computer, I pray that they do see it even if I know that they can’t or won’t. I also pray that I see it should something like that ever happen to me.
Per usual, a great many short-listed adverts in the press and poster categories in Cannes are driven by their visuals. Assume similar for films. This has come to be expected; after all, it’s an international festival. Words are not the same everywhere. Not only is translating copy an imperfect means of determining its exact meaning (wordplay hardly ever comes across) but, let’s be honest, judges are impatient to do so. Jet lagged and jaded from hundreds of submissions, how can we expect each and every judge to take the necessary time to read the provided –often flawed- translations? It’s not fair –to them and the submitting agencies.
President and co-chief creative officer of the Martin Agency, Mike Hughes wrote an excellent article last week in Ad Age entitled, “Why Judging for International Awards Shows is Broken.”
In it, he writes: “I confess that I often can’t even tell how good the craftsmanship is on many foreign pieces of work. How do I know if the writing’s sharp or if the use of local idioms is relevant when all I’ve got is a translation?”
But here we are and that’s the way it’s done. That said, pictures –be they illustration or photography- do translate across cultural divides. While aspects of the concept may yet be indigenous to a given population, and alien to others, an image fares infinitely better at being interpreted correctly than a piece of copy. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Which is why so many of the submissions to Cannes also go without saying. (Point in fact there is little chance my hopefully clever double usage of the phrase “goes without saying” would ever come across translated in 17 different languages.)
And so we “see” more and more visually stunning ads in Cannes than we do copy-driven work. Maybe this isn’t so bad? Maybe it’s indicative of our shrinking world, whereby people from all walks of life are juxtaposed more than ever. The advent of social media has only turned up the heat. It’s like the melting pot at full boil.
In addition, for better or worse, I’d argue we are becoming an ever more visually driven world. Instead of all learning a common vocabulary we are increasingly reliant on images to communicate. This was said when TV first entered our lives, changing them forever. And it has only become more so.
As a wordsmith, I suppose I find the continuing transformation bittersweet. Watching communication be whittled down to 140 characters on Twitter or brief updates on Facebook can be disheartening.
On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t appreciate the changes either. Hell, I’m a part of them. I now use words to create images. I write stories (advertising and fiction), seeing the narratives in my head. Frankly, I started doing this a long time ago. Truth be told, agents and editors were quick to criticize my two books, The Last Generation and The Happy Soul Industry as being more like screenplays than novels. Younger people, however, appreciated them for precisely the same reason.
And so it goes at Cannes. The new breed of marketing communications is quicker: mobile technology, Apps, links, shared video, posters and design. A picture is truly worth a 1,000 words. Or millions of dollars, like this short-listed poster for the Illinois Lottery from Chicago’s own Energy BBDO.