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Just Give Me Money  
Fay Weldon may have lowered her novelistic standards. Still, who hasn’t been seduced by the almighty dollar?  

    Sept. 10 —  We all know I’ve got a book inside me. My publisher knows it (but won’t finance it), my agent knows it (but can’t get me the six-figure advance that would enable it), and my mother knows it (“Gersh,” she says, “when are you going to write that book we all know you have inside you?”).  

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  BUT NOT EVEN I know what book, exactly, is inside me. Until now, that is. Until Fay Weldon.
        Last week, Weldon announced that she would be sponsored by Bulgari, the jewelry maker, for larding her text with frequent references to the inarguable quality of Bulgari baubles in her next book, “The Bulgari Connection.”
        Many critics were shocked that Weldon would let something so crass as product placement cheapen something so noble as literature. The New York Times editorial page—whose own integrity is not only beyond reproach, but beyond returning my employment-related phone calls—even condemned Weldon for ushering in a world where books are cluttered “by the visual din of advertising” because authors won’t be able to “resist the temptation to turn [their] work into a billboard.”
        I am living proof that the Times is right: I can not resist the temptation. The minute I read about Fay Weldon’s entrepreneurial genius, I started compiling a list of my favorite products for possible sponsorship. Next, I contacted key “business development” or “marketing” executives at all of the “companies” and pitched them my—well, actually Weldon’s—idea.
        But I went one step further, not merely offering prominent product placement, but promising to tailor the plot of each novel (hey, I’ve got a million of ‘em) for each company.
        Here are the pitches I made to some of America’s great businesses:
* To Kellogg’s: The murder mystery, tentatively titled “Stool Pigeon,” centers around an ornery, “Columbo”-style NYPD detective named Jake Ringler. Although he is fueled by an unshakable sense of justice, Jake is like many middle-aged men: behind his invincible outer layer, is a man who needs all the nutritional help he can get. I know from personal experience the benefit of the 5 grams of fiber I get in every bowl of Raisin Bran. A healthy breakfast is so important when you’re trying to chase down criminals. So for a nominal fee, Raisin Bran cereal would be Jake Ringler’s breakfast of champions. (No response—yet—from vice president Mike Libbing.)
* To Ferrero, makers of Nutella: My novel, tentatively titled “Sweets for the Sweet,” is a bittersweet love story centering around two characters, a chef and a food critic, who fall in love at a gourmet dessert trade show. It’s the classic “boy meets girl, boy gets girl after they reveal to each other their love for Nutella, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl by inventing a totally new chocolate confection that he names after girl” story. If we can work out some kind of arrangement (a small fee, perhaps), I would ensure that the new chocolate confection created by my main character is owned and distributed by Ferrero. (No response—yet—from marketing director Brad Maslan.)
* To Salton, makers of the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine: As a huge fan of your product, I am prepared to feature the George Foreman grill prominently in my book, a comedy tentatively titled “The Man Who Loved Beef.” The main character, Bernard Lustig, is constantly searching for the perfect way to cook meat, yet is flummoxed because current methods don’t allow him to enjoy the taste of grilling with the fat reduction that your grill offers. I assure you that, for a small fee, I would be more than happy to have him discover the joys of the Foreman grill. (No response—yet—from the company.)
* To Tropicana: My novel, tentatively titled “Fresh Squeezed,” is a mystery set in a Manhattan juice bar. The main character, Neville Underwood, is the owner of a juice bar called “Neville’s Nectars.” Despite years of churning out special juices for his customers (they all love his wheatgrass, mango, kiwi and apple concoction), Neville drinks Tropicana Pure Premium in the privacy of his own home. It’s not that he doesn’t like his own juice bar products, but sometimes he just yearns for the simple, pure things in life. (No response—yet—from James Copeland, director of business development.)
* To Coca-Cola: My novel, tentatively titled “The Real Thing,” is a crime mystery set in Manhattan and centers around police detective Seamus McCabe. Although most of his colleagues are hard-drinking cops, McCabe fuels himself only with a hunger for justice—and a thirst for Diet Coke. If we can work out some kind of arrangement (a small fee, perhaps), I would love to make Diet Coke the beverage of choice for Detective McCabe. Let’s face it, what better way is there to fuel up for an all-night stake-out—yet remain on your diet—than downing a few Diet Cokes? (No response—yet—from new business ventures president Steven Heyer.)
* To Converse: My novel, tentatively titled “Gumshoe,” is a crime story set in current day New York City. Our main character, NYPD detective Sam “Mercury” Morris, is a cop who not only always gets his man, but always gets his man in record time. Sure, he’s got some quirks—he never uses bank ATM machines, for example, because they’ve allowed banks to cut down on teller hours while still charging us fees—but his unshakable loyalty to Converse All-Stars is the personality trait that defines him. If we can work out some kind of arrangement (a small fee, perhaps), I would promise that every time Sam chases down a thug in the back alley of a just-robbed bodega, his Converse All-Stars will give him the extra speed he needs. Every time he’s outrunning some hoodlum in a 1975 Oldsmobile, his Converse All-Stars will save his neck. (No response—yet—from marketing vice president David Maddocks.)
* To Compaq: My novel, tentatively titled “Yours Truly,” is a classic epistolary story, but updated for the computer generation. Like the classic “novel-in-letters,” my book will consist of correspondence sent back and forth between our star-crossed lovers, Bernard Lustig, a hard-bitten New York writer, and Ione, a lovely Greek woman he meets by chance during a vacation on the island of Samos. His letters are typed on a Compaq Presario model 1655, while hers are handwritten to show the contrast between the two cultures. If we can work out some kind of arrangement (a small fee, perhaps), I would ensure that Compaq is the computer of choice for Bernard Lustig. I see Lustig as a Compaq-kinda guy. He’s grounded in the here and now—and, as such, certainly not an Apple user!
       To date, Compaq is the only company that has responded. The letter I received from Community Relations Program Manager Andrea McCrea had this to say: “Unfortunately, since we only make donations to charitable organizations, we are unable to honor your request for sponsorship. We appreciate your thinking of Compaq for this opportunity and are happy to hear that you believe your character identifies with our product. Please accept our sincerest wishes for success in your endeavors.”
        OK, so maybe it’s not a six-figure advance, but to me, that’s a rave review!
Gersh: More Sopranos Controversy


Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House). His website is at http://www.gersh.tv
       © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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