The Story Synopsis

The Vatican crashes headlong into Madison Avenue when a hard-hearted advertising executive is forced to assume the identity of his dead twin brother, a priest. Things get especially interesting when the ad exec falls beads-over-collar in love with a nun.

Dan Steele has it made. He’s on top of his game as creative director of The Prescott Agency in L.A.; a jaundiced adman who looks at you and sees a narrow demographic–and a very fat paycheck. His identical twin Michael, a do-good Catholic priest, can traipse around the Third World doing all the emergency relief work he wants. For Dan, doing good means having the biggest home entertainment center money can buy. But his life of conspicuous consumption is about to come to a horrible screeching whoa.

Meanwhile, Father Michael has just returned from Rwanda, having fallen ill, and Dan sends him to the hospital on his own insurance coverage — after all, what’s a brother for, right? But when Michael’s disease turns fatal, Dan’s looking at hard time for insurance fraud — and since Dan needs to hide from an enraged copywriter whose brilliant idea he stole — his best solution is to take up the cloth, masquerading as his brother, the Father. Soon, Dan is thrust into a world even savvier in the wiles of marketing and mass persuasion than his own: the world of organized religion. But worse, in addition to the homicidal copywriter, a shadowy and dangerous figure from Father Michael’s past is also advancing ever closer towards Dan and the good-looking, gun-toting Sister Peg, who gives him impure thoughts about renouncing his vow…not that he ever took one, anyway…

US Cover

Before it’s over, Dan dreams up a fabulous advertising campaign for the Catholic Church, makes a startling discovery about Sister Peg, and — with the help of a rebellious monsignor and his gun-toting Sister of Mercy — Dan saves both the Care Center and his brother’s soul.

Think of it as a comedy about the importance of faith and being able to shoot straight.


How the story became a novel

Like Pest Control, this was a story I worked on with my frequent writing partner, Matt Hansen. But the central idea came from my cousin Karen Marble(née Vaughey). She was working at a law firm when she heard a story about a man of Mexican birth who had gained citizenship in California and had become a successful businessman. His brother, however, was here illegally and had become sick. The successful one gave his brother his insurance card so he could receive medical treatment. The brother ended up in the hospital, then died — all on his brother’s insurance policy.

When Karen told me this story, I knew it would make a great screenplay. Matt and I wrote several drafts but never got it quite right. Matt then went to work on other business and I took another stab at a screenplay, but still it wasn’t right. I put it aside and went to work on writing Pest Control as a novel. A few years later, after publishing Pest Control and finishing The Organ Grinders, I decided to take another stab at the story (which we were calling Altar Ego at the time).

I did my usual pre-writing research — this time on theology, the advertising industry, and the international disaster aide industry — and then got to work on the novel.

When it was finished, the manuscript was in need of only one thing, a good editor. Fortunately, I have one in fellow Mississippian, Tom Dupree.

It will be distributed by Harper Collins/Wm. Morrow in the U.S. and by Random House in the U.K.

Film update

Universal Studios bought the film rights to “Cross Dressing” in May of 1999 for Tom Shadyac’s Shady Acres Productions. Tom Shadyac directed most of Universal’s hit comedies in the 1990’s (“Nutty Professor”; “Ace Ventura”; “Patch Adams” among others).

Universal Studios recently hired Gary Tieche (“Speaking of Sex”) to adapt the novel into a screenplay.

It’s unclear whether Tom will direct the film or if he will act solely as a producer on the project.

Details and developments will be posted as they come in.

The product placement plan

I’m in the business of writing books. Unfortunately it’s not enough just to write them, they must be marketed as well. Before my first novel was published I asked my agent what sort of publicity the publisher would do. He said they would send copies to reviewers and hope for the best. Fortunately first novels are considered ‘newsworthy,’ especially when they sell to a major Hollywood studio as “Pest Control” did.

When “The Organ Grinders” was about to be published I ask my editor what sort of publicity they were going to do. He told me they were buying ads in The New Yorker and otherwise they’d be sending copies to reviewers and hoping for the best. Second novels aren’t considered ‘newsworthy.’

Absent an ‘angle’ I was told, it is nigh unto impossible to get PR for any novel not written by a best-selling author. Without PR fewer people know about your book. When fewer people know about your book, fewer buy it. When fewer people buy your book, you’ll soon be looking for a new publishing contract. I hate looking for new publishing contracts.

I was left to my own devices to find an ‘angle’ for my third book, “Cross Dressing.” It came to me one day while writing. Since my protagonist is a hot shot in the advertising business and since much of the book is a satire about American hyper-consumerism, I thought it would be funny to make “Cross Dressing” the first novel to feature what is known as ‘product placement.’

I told Tom Dupree (my editor) the idea. He loved it but said I’d have to pull it off myself as they didn’t have a clue where to start. So I tracked down the right people and did the deal with Seagrams and so far, I’ve picked up the publicity I was looking for…

For full details on the product placement deal, see the June 2000 issue of Brill’s Content. For less than full details on the deal, see the March 24, 2000 issue of Entertainment Weekly or the May 1, 2000 issue of Time magazine.

For my take on the whole thing, read my story of the ‘Product Placement Brouhaha‘.

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