The AdPulp Interview: David Wilkie

Dave Wilkie is a copywriter, and like all many copywriters he has a novel in his drawer, and another one on the way. Wilkie is also a retired ad blogger, having shelved Where’s My Jetpack last February.

Wilkie’s novel, Random Scratch, is set in and around one of America’s most prominent and media-savvy megachurches, the fictional Oak Canyon. This is how the book begins:

He had no license to do so; still he daily counseled cheerless and lonely men and women on their relationships, their finances, their addictions and their children. He had never debated formally, yet he frequently took the stage as the deliverer of lengthy orations. He had no management training; but he was the Chief Executive of a growing empire, a recession-proof business in a depressed Midwestern state. If anything, recession was good for business.

“God has been good,” was his automatic response when anyone inquired.

Q. You quit your blog recently. Do you miss it yet? Or is it mostly a relief?

A. It’s funny because I’ll pass a stupid billboard and want to take a picture and then I realize, “Oh, yeah, I put my blog on hiatus.” Or I’ll read some dumb quote from the latest industry voice we’re all supposed to pay attention to and I want to make a one-off, one-panel comic to mock it, and then I have to say, “Naw – this is not worth bringing my blog back for.” So I miss it out of habit but I’m also relieved not to have that duty anymore. There are enough bloggers out there calling out bullshit and mocking ads. I still keep what I called “the other blog” at for when I want to post stuff that isn’t necessarily industry related.

Q. Where are you from, and where do you live?

A. Growing up military, I learned to say, “I’m from everywhere and nowhere,” but San Diego was always home-base during our family’s 15 or so moves and it’s where my Dad retired to when I was in high school. I was born in an American hospital in Frankfurt, Germany and now live in a place called Wekiva Springs, which is just north of Orlando.

Q. Please describe your advertising background in 100 words or less.

A. In the 90s I had a job that kept me on the road a lot. I’d listen to the radio and the commercials always pissed me off. I’d say, “Damn, these SUCK. I can do better.” So I bought a little four-track cassette recorder and began making commercials and selling them to local businesses. That led to a job in radio, which led to a job as a commercial writer/producer at an NBC affiliate, which led to a string of jobs at third-tier and crappy ad shops, start-ups or in-house agencies, which led to where I am now, freelancing. (I also love a word count challenge – and that was 100.)

Q. I see your character “Oak Canyon Dan” has a Twitter account? He looks kind of sinister. Is he?

A. He’s a devilishly handsome, narcissistic, celebrity pastor of a huge megachurch. Sinister? Not really, but maybe power mad and a little too self absorbed. I suppose his marketing efforts could be considered sinister, building a huge empire through manipulation. Since I wrote the character with green eyes, I simply searched “green eyes” with Google images and found that guy for the icon of the character’s Twitter account.

Q. How important is it for advertising creatives to look outside the business to stretch themselves creatively?

A. Extremely. I’ve always told creatives to keep a creative passion on the side just for their own sanity. And most creatives I know, be they artists or writers, do that. It’s either photography, music or painting or another form of writing, but it needs to be all theirs, where a client, an editor, an art director or an account executive can’t put their stamp on it. Do it for the sake of the art, whether it will ever “sell” or not. And those people, whose input we creatives often resent, are only trying to exercise their own creativity. The notion that “everyone’s a creative” came to me one day when I had some tree-trimmers out to the house and the lead guy was studying the canopy like a blank canvas, imagining out loud what the finished job would look like. The statistician or the car mechanic probably nurtures a creative hobby on the side.

Q. How is your search for an agent going? What methods are you using?

A. It’s not going well so far. And from what I hear, it’s like that for most people trying to sell a book. Believe it or not, there are still literary agencies out there who want to play the old-fashioned “send a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with your double spaced manuscript,” etc. If they aren’t taking email queries, I have no time for them. They’re just being obstinate and stuck in that old gatekeeper model. I’ve used Twitter to land a couple of reads, but so far, the answer is always, “Not right for me at this time. But good luck!” There’s an agent in NYC (aren’t they all?) who’s currently reading the first ten pages. I expect her to tell me the same thing. I’m not as diligent as I ought to be about finding representation. Or maybe the book just plain sucks and I’m too close to it to recognize that!

Q. Why did you put your book up on the Web for free? Did you have some misgivings about that?

A. It’s not really a gamble, as far as I can see. I suppose someone could steal it and call it their own, but proving it’s mine if they ever find success with it won’t be hard. I’m hoping it will be just one more way for people, and hopefully a publisher or agent, to see it and get in touch. If nothing else, maybe some bored web surfer will stumble upon it, read it all the way through and enjoy it.

Q. Why write a novel? Isn’t the novel an antiquated form?

A. I don’t think the novel is antiquated. Look at e-readers. It’s not all self-help and biography that’s selling, I’m pretty sure. As to why I wrote it, I just wanted to write something that entertained me and maybe got across some points I am passionate about, instead of using my gifts exclusively as a hired gun for some product or service I might not necessarily believe in. And the freedom of writing without a deadline or a client was quite fun. Actually, I did set myself the challenge of ten pages a day after reading that Graham Greene challenged himself to 300 words a day.

Q. How does working as a copywriter benefit the fiction writer? Or does it?

A. You’re always telling stories as a copywriter, creating fiction, and you’re always editing and making things sound better with fewer words. At the same time, you’re hoping to get into the head, the heart – the wallet! – of your readers. The copywriter is a weaver of fantasy and ultimately, a salesman. If you can write an ad, a commercial, a poster, web content or a pitch, you can write fiction – you already write fiction.

Q. Do you write screenplays?

A. I haven’t, but I think this recent story could be adapted for the screen quite easily, starring Christian Bale or John Travolta as the pastor, and Kid Rock as the redneck caretaker of the campground, reprising his groundbreaking (and woefully under-appreciated) work in the classic American film Joe Dirt. Why that masterpiece didn’t sweep the Oscars that year is one of cinema’s greatest mysteries. It was an injustice, a crime really, and I can understand why David Spade’s work since then has been so dark. (I joke, of course, but I will not pass that movie by if I find it playing when channel surfing.) I have another story in mind that I just started writing that seems fit for the screen. It involves two Army buddies who stumble upon a time hole in the back of a supply depot, and they ferry modern weaponry and materials to the colonists during the Revolution, thus ending the conflict in days instead of years. I shared this idea with a colleague who said, “Yeah – it was called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

Q. You have a pen name? What’s the reason for that?

A. My pen name, David Guzzetta, is my mother’s maiden name. It’s a nod to that side of the family and I also thought it would be a good idea to keep my work and real life identity separate from this new endeavor. I also think it has a nicer ring to it than my given name. I actually toyed with the notion of inventing a Swedish sounding name, something like Thor Carlson, maybe throw an umlaut somewhere in there for good measure, since Swedish authors seem to be all the rage these days. And of course every writer harbors dreams of someday “making it,” you know – the book sells, becomes a movie starring Christian Bale – so a pen name serves as a way to lay low. And I suspect this book, if it ever makes it, will piss off a few people.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.