So far fifty of you have submitted cover designs for my new novel slash social media project, Sweet by Design. Above are six recent ones in no particular order. All fifty are remarkable. I could not have imagined so many enchanting options for the cover of my novel. My appreciation for your creative efforts is only matched by my gratitude. Thank you.

Currently we are on Chapter Seventeen of the story. I believe about thirty chapters remain. When they have all been posted the contest will enter its final phase. A winner will be chosen and that designer will receive an Ipad. Second place gets an Ipod Shuffle. While only one design will become the cover for Sweet by Design, I’ll likely publish all of them as part of the book. For they have become part of the story –a really good part.

My only challenge –if that’s the right word- is that I’ve yet to find a “celebrity” judge to help me choose the cover. Right now the criteria for picking a winning design remains up to you and me. Your comments to the blog and via email will be weighted accordingly and, in turn, I will choose a few of my own personal favorites. From this shortlist a winner will be determined. How fun, though, at this point to have a renowned member of the literary or design community serving as judge.

To that end I’ve asked the literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller to participate. Among other honors, in 2005, Mrs. Keller won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Her participation would truly be an honor.

Julia Keller

Alas, my query to this local luminary went unheeded. Perhaps my request landed atop her slush pile along with assorted press releases, manuscripts and promotional materials. That or my email got lost in her spam folder. More likely, I do not possess the necessary gravitas to merit a reply.

But it’s not too late, Julia! If by chance you come across this blog please do consider (or reconsider) my humble request. If it’s any incentive, I receive the Chicago Tribune every morning -the actual paper version! And I look forward to your reviews and stories. Shouldn’t that count for something? If not you, perhaps one of your editors would welcome the gig. I’d be grateful if you forwarded them this link.

Frankly, I’m not worried about finding a cool judge. It wouldn’t surprise me if this very blog post helps me procure one or two. If anyone reading has ideas or wants to help round out the jury, please contact me. Meantime, keep reading the novel and keep submitting your designs. At 50 to 1, the odds are ridiculously low for winning an Ipad.


Take me, I’m yours!


Stay new forever…online!

While major publishing deals with big NY imprints are still the fantasy of every author (including this one), using the Internet to publish one’s content has become almost as fashionable as it is common. A sea change has occurred. Pre-Internet, publishing your own words (be they editorial or fiction) was considered the hallmark of charlatans, dubious gurus and bored housewives. Self-publishing was like a drain trap, keeping you from the bottom, yes, but hardly up on top.

Blogging changed all that. We are nowhere near as fringe as we were ten years ago, last year, or even last week. Every day new creators and aggregators emerge while preexisting ones get better at their craft and grow audiences doing so.

Blogs and other self-published material are an exploding part of popular culture, whether the old-line entertainment, journalism and publishing entities like it or not.

Focusing on book publishing, I’ve unexpectedly discovered aspects to online publishing that actually trump the old-fashioned variety. Though seemingly obvious now, they first came as pleasant surprises.

A major bonus with online publishing is that authors can continuously update and correct their content. Get a fact wrong you can amend it. Lord knows this will prevent countless apologies and lawsuits.

But what about fiction? Since I started publishing chapters of Sweet by Design, several readers have discovered typos and reported them to me. Had this happened with a real book I’d be SOL. But in this case I merely went into my blog’s dashboard and edited the manuscript. No fuss. No muss. It’s like the mistake never happened.

In some respects readers are becoming editors much the way authors have become publishers. That’s a level of interactivity I hadn’t anticipated. At first scary (OMG, someone found a mistake!), I now find it to be a privilege. So, before I write another word: Thank you, Gentle Readers slash Editors. You know who you are.

Another cool variation is updating content for cultural or temporal reasons. For example, in Sweet by Design I mention numerous people, places and things indigenous to Chicago and parts of Wisconsin. Well, since writing the novel one or two of these places has gone out of business, with more undoubtedly to follow. (Thank you recession.) Nothing dates fiction more than passé references. But now, when I’m uploading text and notice such an occurrence, I can edit or do a quick rewrite. My content never gets old. (Be nice, people.) It’s like having the Picture of Dorian Gray for your novel. Stuck up on a shelf, a book gets older and older but online it’s forever young!


My home office, not a “closet.”

My last post was a rebuttal of sorts to a comment made on this blog challenging my ability to create a gay main character in my new novel, Sweet by Design. I replied, tartly, that I’d been doing it for years, citing the campy Altoids campaign as evidence. They didn’t call it “curiously strong” for nothing.

Yet, the blogger’s challenge is a fair one. And damn intriguing.

A reader and contributor to this blog, Charletta Lynn Barton, an African American, provided great insight into the possible motive behind my heckler’s jibe. Actually, several comments on the post are worth reading. Another commenter, Bryan Carmody pointed out that straight actors have been portraying gay characters forever. And vice versa. Can you say, Rock Hudson? This got me thinking…

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Tom Burrell on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Tom, as many of you know, is the founder of Burrell Communications, one of America’s first advertising agencies devoted primarily to the African American consumer. He is also black.

Tom Burrell

Among other things, I debated with him whether an advertising agency could (or even should) be an expert on African Americans in the first place. Was that not racism in reverse –that only black people can sell to black people? I was trying for idealism but probably came across as naïve. Still, I think in a perfect world a good writer should be able to understand and then write for any segment of the population. Including blacks. Including the opposite sex. Including gays. That’s the job.

His response was not surprising. “It’s not a perfect world. Not only are black people woefully underrepresented in agencies but they are portrayed incorrectly by them as well.” I’m paraphrasing Tom but those were his points and they were good ones. Still are.

Yet, part of understanding people from other cultures is to walk in their shoes. While that is not literally possible it is possible in literature. And art. And copy. Moreover, I think it’s critical we try and that we try to get it right. Empathy comes via sharing experiences. No other way. Writing is one of them.

And so I endeavored to be empathetic to gay life. I have that right. Maybe it’s even an imperative. We have a black President. We almost had a female President. And, if the current scholarship on Abe Lincoln is to be believed, we may have already had a gay President.

As my former creative partner, Mark Faulkner (who is gay) once told me: “It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a life.”

I invite you to read Sweet by Design. Did I get it right? And just as important, Is it a good read? Let me know. The story comes free. And I’ve added various interactive elements to make it more entertaining, including a design contest in which the winner gets an Ipad! Work has already been submitted, and, as fate would have it, by an African American: Sweet by Design (the first cover!)

My previous novel, The Happy Soul Industry

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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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