“Hmmm, Rapture.”

Do you think the elimination of people constitutes the “end of the world?” I sure as hell don’t. Frankly, I believe the world would be just fine without us, better even, with demonstrable improvement every day we’re gone.

All this ‘end is near’ talk reminds me that doomsayers need to speak for themselves and not for every living creature on the face of the earth. Frankly, we are all culpable. We immediately think the world has no meaning without us in it. This sort of arrogance drives me crazy. So much so, I wrote a novel about it. Entitled The Last Generation, it imagines a world where people can no longer bear children. The book’s tagline: “It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of us.”

Years later, Alan Weisman wrote The World Without Us, which explored these ideas even further. It was far more popular than my book and almost as good!

Still, mine is a minority opinion. Most people tend to believe in some form of human manifest destiny. It goes something like this: We possess souls and other creatures don’t, therefore we have dominion over them and everything else under the sun. Non-believers can substitute “intellect” for “souls.” Either way, when it comes to our perceived superiority even normal (and presumably smart) people can be as sanctimonious as Glenn Beck, as unbridled as Donald Trump, and as relentless as any given dictator. We say we deserve ‘our place in the sun’ (at the expense of other lesser organisms) merely because we exist.’ We mistake the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as a license to commit all manner of atrocities, big and small, many without even thinking. The bible tells us we are created in God’s image so naturally we are in charge of everything else.

Like you, I didn’t particularly want to perish on Saturday but I’m calling bullshit on the arrogant position that if the Rapture did occur it would have meant the end of the world. Like hell.

My first Altoids ad. They didn’t call it “curious” for nothing.

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)

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“I can’t find Steffan anywhere!”

Recently I wrote about “choice overload” and its impact on modern society. I was inspired by Barry Schwartz’ book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. Like the author, I wondered if we had too many choices for our own good. Do they jade us? Do they make us restless, irritable and discontent? On a lighter note I ended the piece with a selection of popular choices I had not made in the 21st Century. Two of them were watching shows, 24 and Lost.

That’s right; I have never seen one single minute of either series, let alone an entire episode. I’m not exactly sure why that is, given I’m essentially the target. I’m certainly not going to criticize either show (well, maybe a little), given they were both critically acclaimed monster hits that ran for years.

I was going to watch them. I’d read about them. Knew the actors. Saw the previews. But in the end, I just didn’t.

And now it is the end. Both shows are winding up their runs with big final episodes, which, of course, I won’t be watching.

Lost in particular seemed like something I would be interested in, with its existential tone, and vague supernatural bent. But every time I saw an ad for the show I balked. I kept asking myself odd, arguably silly questions that preempted me from tuning in. Like how come the characters always looked so lithe and sexy? How did that one guy always maintain a perfect five o’clock shadow? Don’t you need an electric razor for that? Don’t you need electricity? Or the babe. She seemed more suited for the pages of Sports Illustrated than a struggle for survival.

Conversely, what about the fat one? How come he never lost weight on Lost? One would think a diet of fresh fruit and fish would trim anyone down in fairly short order. Not this guy. He remained obese throughout the series. I kept thinking about him as an actor in Hollywood, hitting Fat burger, instead of fighting for scraps on an atoll.

I’m sure the show provided reasons for all that but I didn’t care. My belief had not been suspended. My curiosity remained slight. This did not stop me, however, from referencing the show constantly. When I pitched my first novel, The Last Generation to all the networks for a possible TV series, I used Lost as a comparison. My concept, a band of disparate characters figuring out life in a diminishing world, was Lost like in so many ways. Pointing that out to network execs seemed like a no-brainer. And it nearly worked. Touchstone TV bought into it. As did NBC. Alas, The Last Generation never made it to the screen.

As for 24, I missed the premiere and assumed a show that took place in real time required constant and vigilant viewing. By the time the DVD came out I wasn’t interested in making the investment. Watching Jack Bauer chasing the clock seemed so damn tiring.

Both these series were darlings of my peer group. I endured many conversations with colleagues about the latest episodes and later, which season was best. I listened, firmly believing a good ad man has to maintain a working knowledge of all popular culture. But I never watched.

And I never will.

Other hit TV series I’ve never seen: Heroes, Real Housewives, American Idol, Survivor & Conan.

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Books unread and way past due…

Recently, I attended a charity auction for my kid’s school at a downtown club, where I found myself having a Don Draper moment in the unattended library, a stuffy, decrepit sort of room where the nicked and worn bookcases were filled with countless navy and maroon hardcover volumes. Clearly, none had been opened in many years. Maybe decades. There was dust on all of them. I even saw cobwebs.

I gazed upon the titles. I’d never heard any of them or their authors. I opened one up and read a few paragraphs, something about a bachelor going over his dead father’s keepsakes. The man’s name was Jack. Or was it Henry or Bill. Anyway, the sentences were finely written. They moved along nicely enough. For a moment I could almost see myself sitting down in the nearby armchair. But no. I already had a bad rap as being anti-social, especially at events like these. If my wife caught me wiling away the evening reading I’d catch hell. The car ride home would feature another steely lecture. I put the book back. Sliding it into the slot, I imagined the bookcase, a la Sherlock Holmes, opening up into a secret passage! Wishful thinking. I’d have to go back to my party.

Before adjourning to the ballroom, I pondered the books once more, and their authors, now so utterly forgotten. When I was younger I thought being a published author was the pinnacle of achievement. For me, it was the goal of goals. The penultimate. Even deeper I believed creating a book was a form of immortality, a legacy. I knew someday I would. Had to. Otherwise, it seemed to me, my inevitable death would be in vain.

Now, gazing upon these hundreds of decaying volumes, I had a different view. There is no immortality, even through books. Unless you are blessed with creating a masterpiece like Moby Dick or Portrait of the Young Man as Artist, nobody but no one will care about it or you. And even in the unlikely event you did create a masterwork, you’d still fade eventually. Ashes to ashes. Dust jackets to dust jackets. High school kids would be required to read your prose but they would do so begrudgingly. A few nerds might carry the torch, less and less of them every year.

Needless to say, the same epitaph exists for movies and other art. For every Hemingway or Caravaggio there are millions of fabulous nobodies. People like me. I’ve written three novels, struggled to have two of them published, and dozens of short stories last read by a college professor whose name I can’t recall anymore than he would my stories.

Staring up at all these old books, I realized how silly my ambition was. Legacy! Please. Besides my kin, who in the hell did I think would read my stories? In fifty years my novels would be lucky –damn lucky- to be housed in a decrepit room such as this. Unlikely, given they are paperbacks. Even online they will be “out of print.” Maybe even –gasp!- Google proof!

Still, I would not trade the years I spent toiling on my books for anything. The countless hours I’ve spent conjuring tales are among the best times of my life. Selfish in the extreme, it was and is the one place where I felt and feel in control. Certainly more so than in all those mind numbing cocktail parties I’d attended and will attend.

So, what’s the lesson here? What is my point? I think it has something to do with living in the present and not worrying about the future or fretting over the past. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating hedonism. This does not mean sex, drugs and rock and roll. Lord knows I tried that. It means if my present is about writing (be it books or ad copy) then that is what I should do. It is my ambition that needs to be tempered. Rethought anyway. For all my blessings, my ambition got me right here, between a few hundred unremembered books and about as many drunks in the next room.

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No babies…not again!

As most of you know, I blog a great deal about my novel, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God hires an advertising agency to help make “goodness” relevant again. In one respect, I started this blog to explore the many themes covered in that book, in particular the challenges of doing the next right thing in an industry criticized for its ungodliness. Hence the name: Gods of Advertising.

What some of you might not know is The Happy Soul Industry was not my first book. That honor goes to The Last Generation, a novel with arguably darker and more secular themes. The Last Generation imagines a world where babies no longer are being born. Instead of treating the material like science fiction, with the usual tropes (Armageddon, devastation, plague), I chose to write about the existing population, exploring how they would behave knowing that they, in fact, were the last generation.

If the concept sounds eerily like the motion picture, Children of Men that is because it is eerily like the motion picture, Children of Men. In fact, that movie in no small way, derailed the development of my novel into a TV series on NBC! It’s true. The Last Generation was in development with Touchstone TV, Phoenix Films and none other than famous Hollywood producer, Mike Medavoy. Don’t take my word for it: Variety article: The Last Generation

Alas, NBC balked at the pilot script (not written by me) and the show was halted before pre-production began. There were numerous reasons for canceling the show but none more heartbreaking than the emergence of Children of Men –a film, by the way, which I still haven’t seen.

Given my recent discussion of plagiarism in advertising, the parallels here are hard to ignore. I think it only fair to state my book came out several years before the movie. However, Children of Men was based on a book (unknown to me), which came out years before mine. I guess that makes me an accidental plagiarist.

Needless to say, had I known about The Children of Men, let alone read it, I never would have written The Last Generation. While Happy Soul differs from the storyline of the movie, the central conceit is identical. That fact alone would have diffused my inspiration to write. And, as you might imagine, inspiration is key when writing a novel. The Last Generation took me a year to write and another two years to rewrite. After that, I had to find a literary agent, publisher and then a Hollywood agent. Still more rewrites. And then we had to pitch. We’re talking five or six years of my life just to get to where I got.

Sure, I was disappointed and frustrated by my turn in Hollywood. But I was also very proud. In terms of movie deals I got farther than most. More importantly, I adored every minute of it. In fact, I hope to go through it again with The Happy Soul Industry –a story, I believe, which offers even more promise as a film than The Last Generation. To that end Sleeping Giant MGMT in Los Angeles is currently shopping the book. We shall see…

For those interested, The Last Generation is on Amazon. Thank you for your readership. God bless.

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