Saturday, December 14, 2013

what's making me feel really old today

It's not just that Patty Duke is celebrating her 67th birthday (how is this possible?) it's that she's doing PSAs for Medicare. Crazy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

@MargaretAtwood's ode in 140 to @StephenKing

If there was any doubt that Margaret Atwood writes her own twitter, it was dispelled by her performance tonite in which she improv'd a fractured Xmas carol to newcomer Stephen King. This isn't the first time she's been brilliant in short. A few years ago, Wired asked her to come up with a six word story and she cribbed a checklit novel instead: "Longed for him. Got him. Shit."





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Monday, December 9, 2013

now the scariest man on twitter

Stephen King is on twitter. Yep, that Stephen King. Of course, there are plenty of writers on twitter, but most of us are trying to launch a career. Magillas in the publishing world (or their handlers) generally don't feel the need to give it away in a medium that is unfamiliar to them. Some are opposed, even vehemently, to the suggestion, that twitter, or any social space matters. After mocking Facebook, Jonathan Franzen told students at Tulane last March that "Twitter stands for everything I oppose...it's like writing a novel without the letter 'P'." (Interestingly, he now has a Facebook page.)

I like that Stephen King's twitter account is, apparently, written by him. His first tweets bear all the endearing marks of a newbie:

The wish for mercy: "My first tweet. No longer a virgin. Be gentle!"

The stage fright: "On Twitter at last, and I can't think of a thing to say."

The flailing for content: "Watching THE RETURNED."

But I have utmost confidence that the author of 56 novels and the winner of a bajillion awards will soon find his twitter legs and run with the alpha tweeters. Even with just 13 tweets, he's got 175,000 followers. I commend him for venturing into a new medium, for bringing his awesome chops to the social space, for not delegating the task to a PR machine as some other bestselling authors do.

I'll follow his stream not only for what he comes up with, but for his engagement with other authors. I didn't realize Jeanette Winterson tweeted until I saw her listed in the Guardian today. She, apparently writes her own posts, too: "I have bought a light-up reindeer. Even writers need a night off." Seeing what famous people do when they're not doing what makes them famous.  I love that about twitter.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

on writing and not

When I worked staff at ad agencies, tap tap tapping late into the night, coming up with copy for face creams or shampoos or cameras or drugs with alarming side effects, I longed to be writing my own stuff, imagining the day--like James Dickey (Coke) or Don Delillo (Sears)-- I'd be able to devote time to crafting work of my own invention.

Fast forward to 2012, the year I get a (wonderful) agent (Kate Johnson) and soon after that, bid-a-boom, a two-book deal from Simon and Schuster. The first book's an ebook. This, I'm told, is the new strategy for launching debut authors: first an ebook, then a hardcover that's promoted as a "first book." (Who am I to question?)

My ebook came out last March (check it out here) and the hardcover is due out next year. It's not a series. The ebook is about advertising at the turn of the century (1999) and the hardcover is about a woman who does something heinous and gets away with it for 22 years.

Writing novels is something I've wanted to do since I was eight and devoted a school composition book to telling the undramatic tale of a family of robins who took up residence in the maple tree in our back yard.

It's the opportunity I've always wanted--someone wants my work enough to transform it into a bona fide book. The deadline is yesterday--deadlines are always helpful to creatives in getting work out. So why am I having such a hard time coming up with words tonight? Why aren't words tripping off my keyboard onto the screen? Why is my brain just as resistant to writing the next page of the novel as it was to writing a spot for antacid?

Why is writing so hard, even when it's the one thing you most want to do?

Why were these 300 words such a cinch to come up with, when the scene I'm supposed to be writing stays stuck in my head?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

what an adventure

I've had the thrill of seeing my work in the New Yorker before thanks to media buyers for Nikon, Absolut and others-- but how much more exciting to see work with my actual name on it. I'm especially grateful to poetry editor Paul Muldoon for accepting a poem with the word "shampooist" in it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

happy 93rd birthday to women's right to vote

Four score and thirteen years ago today, women got the right to vote in this country, years after it had already been granted to women in Canada, Australia, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Norway, Hungary, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Lithuania, Estonia. And oh yes, Russia. So why is it that, by most measures of gender diversity, the executive branch remains reflective of a country where "all men are created equal."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

poems as op ed?

Anthony Russo / For The Times August 11, 2013
In a gratifying departure from the usual guidelines, Los Angeles Times editors solicited views in verse for a feature dedicated to opinion poetry. Grateful to the editors for including mine among them today. And for putting poems where poetry usually isn't. A few years ago, I had the privilege helping the Poetry Society of America in their mission to get poems into ad space on subways and buses. It's surprising how many people who don't like poetry discover they do, when it crosses their path.

for sale: literary laundry

Must be the week for airing laundry of literary icons! Not only is a tell-all about reclusive JD Salinger about to break in book and film, but...Eugene O'Neill's shorts are for sale. Not THOSE shorts. I mean his real, bonafide boxers which can now be yours for a mere $1750. But even if you're not in the market for century-old skivvies, a visit to the purveyor is worth a trip if you're in the vicinity of Salisbury, CT.  Johnnycake Bookstore is a booklover's bookstore, the kind NYC used to be full of: stocked with first editions, myriad books you've meant to read and run by a friendly bibliophile who knows his stuff. (Sorry, Dan, I'm holding out for Virginia Woolf's corset.)

Proprietor Dan Dwyer chats up a customer

"With O'Neill's monogram upper left waistband, blue high-grade pima cotton, size 34, from Bullock & Jones, San Francisco. Provenance: Purchased early 80s by a book collector from Boston-area booksellers, who had acquired these, along with books and other ephemera, from the O'Neill estate when it sold off O'Neill's summer place in Marblehead Neck, MA."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

airbnb solicits your 6 secs of fame

Remember when commercials were big-budget enterprises, when Travel Depts (remember Travel Depts?) booked you First Class to LA or Bali or even the North Pole? (OK, that spot was for Coke, which I never worked on, and before my time. But still, I MIGHT have been sent there if I'd ever written polar bears into a script...) Anyhooooo. Enter fee-based compensations, risk-reward structures and procurement teams and what do you get? Crowdsourced commercials, the bane of agency confrontations with cash-strapped product managers. But clever minds at Mullen figured out how to make this all-too-frequent request work for them: don't leave creative up to the crowd. Curate the pics before you source them. Storyboard the spot. Direct the shots. Don't give up creative control. Starting today, the Airbnb twitter feed put out a call for wanna-be filmmakers to contribute their 6 second Vine to a brand film. The prompts are shot lists, well-thought out and very specific, such as a paper airplane flies thru diverse landscapes, left to right. Show the best parts of where you live! Mullen will choose and edit selects, then premier final montage online and on the Sundance Channel. All you need to enter is a piece of paper and camera phone. So much for gaffers and props masters as indisputable line items.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

winnie-the-pooh turns 92

On this day in 1921, A.A. (Alan Alexander) Milne brought home a stuffed bear for his son Christopher Robin's first birthday. A.A. was a playwright, but that writing (to his annoyance) came to be overshadowed by the success of stories he'd write about Pooh. The original Pooh, along with the rest of his son's menagerie which inspired the series-- Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Tigger--are on display in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (sadly, the new name for the New York Public Library Main Branch) in New York.
Photo: Chae Kihn

the creative process

When I was a cub copywriter burning the midnight oil on an assignment I'd gotten weeks before, one I'd just started with my partner (though it was due the next day) after many Happy Hour drinks and free food-like fried objects at The Rusty Scupper, I imagined how different things would be when I was grown-up writer, when I'd learned to master my time-management skills. But. Some things never change.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP Elmore Leonard, ex-copywriter

Elmore Leonard died today, at age 87 while working on his 46th novel. Leonard wasn't always a crime writer, he began as a copywriter, writing ads for cars and trucks in Detroit where his father worked for General Motors. He stayed in advertising for 10 years, getting up at 5 am to write, staying up late to work on his stories, until finally his first crime novel, rejected 84 times, was made into a movie. His mastery of dialogue and plot was legend. No matter what you're writing, your writing can benefit
from his rules of writing:

 1. Never open a book with the weather
2. Avoid prologues
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"
5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use dialect sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Same for places + things.
10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

new interactive literary novel

There's a new interactive novel out today--not from a game publisher or vimeo artist, as you might expect, but from old-line, mainstream, behemoth publisher, Random House. The writer is the award-winning Marisha Pessl, author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Night Film is her second novel, a thriller that she's made into an immersive storyworld with website screen captures, old media clippings and photos that link to cyber content. But wait. How can a hardcover novel formidably grounded in the ILR world – the tome weighs in at a 600 pgs. and 1.75 lbs – be "interactive"? Yep, you guessed it – there's an app for that. In the back of her book, just before the acknowledgements, Pessl invites readers who want to continue the storyworld experience to download the free decoder app from itunes or elsewhere. The app is a scan app that lets your smartphone or tablet "read" a bird image that appears on some of the pages. Like a next-generation QR code, the bird jumps you to bonus content. Pessl isn't the first novelist to provide her readers with "extras" in cyberspace (ahem!) but she's the first one I know of to do so from the confines of an analog book. Kudos to her and to the Random House digital team for having the vision to do so and the chops to carry it off.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

mad men reading list

It's a soggy Saturday where I am (Northwest CT) making it an excellent day to do what you never have time for anymore: reading longform. For Mad Men fans, I've compiled a list of books that memorialize those who fought in the Advertising Wars:

Jerry Della Femina's seminal ad memoir "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor" was first published in 1970 and made the ad business sound so enticing it inspired me (and many others) to go into it.

Yes, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a film but the novel is better imho, even without Gregory Peck's moving performance. Great writing, complex portrait of Mad Men-era office life and satisfying exploration of surprisingly contemporary theme of relative values of family vs. career.

And speaking of novels that are (way) better than films adapted from them, Revolutionary Road tells a dark story in Yates' stellar prose, the tale of a couple who buy into the American Dream of the 1960s and how it all unravels for them. She's a homemaker (of course) and he's got a thankless job in the ad industry (oxymoron?) The book resonates with vivid Mad Men-esque scenes like the one in a hospital waiting room, where everyone is smoking cigarettes.

Joshua Ferris was a copywriter in a cubicle in Chicago which gave him the chops to write a hilarious fictional sendup of the business Then We Came to the End. I defy anyone in advertising to read this without laughing. Out loud. Like I did. On a subway. So loud, the person next to you gives up the seat.

If there is a real-life Peggy Olson, it's Jane Maas who started at Ogilvy in 1964 and rose to be creative director and agency officer. With good-humor, wit and convincing detail, Mad Women tells the story of what it took to break into the mad men's club with award-winning work like the "I Love NY" campaign while raising two daughters you want to grow up to be normal.


I was freelancing at McCann when ECD Nina DiSesa's book came out and corridors were abuzz with alternating takes on the book: "It's brilliant!" "It's slander!" "It's her swan song before getting out of the business!"I immensely enjoyed Seducing the Boys Club which is not only the well-told story of how DiSesa herself ceiling-crashed to the top, it's advice to women in her wake on how to "Lean In" and grab those titles and agency stock-options.

I worked down the hall from John Kenney at Ogilvy and have long admired his writing, not just his elegant copywriter prose, but his humor pieces in the New York Times and the New Yorker which are LOL-funny. So is Truth in Advertising, a new satire on the business, which is alternately sweet and sad and hilariously on target. Gwyneth Paltrow doing a diapers commercial that has to stop filming because the baby cast to be hers turns out to be black? Only a veteran of the business could come up with that.

What are the odds that two ex-copywriters from Ogilvy would come out with a novel set in advertising, at the same time? From the same publisher? Another debut novel from Simon and Schuster this season is my own: Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue. It's a coming-of-middle age story about a woman and a business (advertising, of course.) It’s sort of like Mad Men thirty years later, from the point of view of an older, wiser, married Peggy Olson. One of the themes explored is technology, and the book offers readers opportunities to further explore characters in a digitally enhanced epilogue. Advertising, meet Transmedia. (Hey, where better to peddle your wares than on your own blog?)

Happy reading!