Grey hits the books with First Chapter Project

In 2015, Peter Lagosky, a copywriter at McCann Calgary, wrote a story called  “25 Pall Mall Gold Regular,” a short story chronicling a night in the life of a “degenerate” and his pack of cigarettes told from the point of view of each cigarette in the pack.

“It’s quite noir, and it speaks subtly to addiction but mostly to relationships,” says Lagosky of the story, which is featured in a new book called Chapter One: A Novel of Unfinished Novels by Copywriters Everywhere. The book is a fundraising initiative for the Miami Ad School Toronto.

“25 Pall Mall Gold Regular,” was intended to be part of a collection tentatively titled Fiends, which Lagosky describes as an anthology about fiendish behaviour surrounding everything from sex to drugs and alcohol. “Each story would have been about a unique vice, from the view of the person with the vice,” says Lagosky, who lists Charles Bukowski and Fyodor Dostoevsky among his literary influences.

“I write a lot, but the number of  times it makes its way off my hard drive is somewhat infrequent, only when I’m feeling really confident about it,” says Lagosky. “Hopefully with this book I’ll get a bit more of a push and I’ll really start going after it.”

Lagosky’s writing is one of 19 pieces from around the world featured in Chapter One, which was conceived by Grey Canada copywriter Rena Green and her art director partner Eric Carriere.

The First Chapter Project began with Green telling Carriere about the many first chapters she had written and abandoned in her failed attempts to write a novel. “I wondered how many other copywriters had attempted to write a novel and how interesting it would be if we could read those first chapters,” she says. “We’re all great writers, but we don’t always get to write that many exciting things in our careers.”

The great unfinished novel is a fact of life for advertising copywriters, and is even referenced in the show Mad Men. Several copywriters did eventually go on to become authors of considerable renown, including The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald (who before making it big wrote lines like: “We keep you clean in Muscatine’ for the Muscatine Steam Laundry in Muscatine, Iowa) and Salman Rushdie (who coined Aero’s “Irresistibubble” while working at Ogilvy & Mather).

The Grey creative team used social media platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram to attract submissions, including tagging high-profile ad people with Instagram ads referencing some of their best-known work (a message to “Got Milk?” creator Jeff Goodby, for example, featured the message “Got book?”)

The creative team also sent blank notebooks to more than 100 copywriters around the world, including FCB’s global chief creative officer Susan Credle, inviting them to participate.

Green and Carriere received more than 50 submissions from around the world, with 19 ultimately included in the final product. The submissions run the gamut from a graphic novel submitted by Tom Christmann, partner and chief creative officer for DiMassimo Goldstein in New York, to an autobiographical chapter submitted by Ian David, creative director of an Alabama shop called Fearless.

And yes, there are chapters from would-be novels about advertising.

“It’s the ones we had a good time reading,” says Green, who enlisted her fellow copywriters at Grey to edit the work, even asking them to reach out to friends, colleagues etc. to help with foreign-language submissions. “The ones that stood out for us were those that made us laugh, or cry or just really enjoyed,” she says.

In addition to Lagosky, Chapter One also features the work of several Canadian copywriters, including BBDO Toronto’s Jacob Pacey; Cossette Vancouver’s Madhushani Ramaraju and Toronto-based freelance copywriters Cassi Kaplan and Josh Schendel.

The books can be pre-ordered now through Kickstarter. The goal is to reach $2,000 for a small print run, with  all funds beyond the cost of production going to a Miami Ad School Toronto scholarship. By late Tuesday afternoon, the effort had already raised more than $1,700.

Chris Powell