Ghostwriting

When I first learned about ghostwriting it felt wrong to me. Like someone was playing on their famous name to make money without doing anything. I thought it was deceitful. Kind of a con to readers. “Read the book by Celebrity X!” Only it wasn’t actually written by Celebrity X.

Just plain wrong.

Then I learned more about why some books are ghostwritten.

For the most part, the people who find someone to ghostwrite their book have an interesting story to tell. It might be their biography, or that of someone they love. I know of one woman who bought a book at a garage sale for 25¢ on how to make a million dollars in real estate. Guess what? She did it. It could be a book that would help someone going through the process of addiction recovery, or surviving cancer, or the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a book about building and selling a small business. It could also be a dramatic/traumatic period in someone’s life that would make for a great novel based on fact.

My bet is, the true owners of these stories tried to write the book and discovered, for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen. But the idea persisted. The need to tell their story didn’t go away just because they weren’t able to write it.

In comes the ghostwriter.

I’m writing one now, and happy to do it. The owner of the story has contracted with a publisher to bring something important to them to print. The publisher, who has a good reputation, brings writing talent to the table. That’s me… the “talent.”

I’m only a couple of weeks in, but here are the pros and cons as I see them now:

 

Pros:

  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I pretty much follow a transcript from hours of interviews. Essentially, the transcripts are the first draft, which for me is always the hardest part of the process.
  • In my case, a supportive publisher.
  • Helping someone bring their idea to life.
  • A paycheck.

 

Cons:

  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I have to stay within the probabilities of their recollection of events. My opportunity to invent is limited.
  • If my voice isn’t the one they’re looking for I need to be able to change it.
  • At least initially, the time commitment is greater than what I’d expected. That means…
  • The new manuscript I’m working on is taking a hit. But I think it might level out in the next few weeks. That’s what I’m counting on.

I’m learning as I go through this process. So far, I’m not regretting a thing.

And oh, by the way (in case you didn’t hear me yell) TRAFFICKED walked away as the winner in the Mainstream Fiction category at the Colorado Authors’ League Awards Dinner a couple of weeks ago. 

Writers, have you ever thought about ghostwriting? Readers, does it matter to you how the story was written?

 

It’s all better with friends.

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How Important are Book Awards?

Seriously. I’m asking.

I mean, aren’t awards just the opinion of a few people who might not like the same things I like?

Do you make a decision to read a book based on whether or not it has received an award, or even finalled?

Do you ever cynically wonder if an award was unduly influenced by a publisher?

It’s kind of the same thing with endorsements. Rumor has it that many publishers require their writers to endorse each other’s books. A few  years ago there was a lot of buzz surrounding authors who were willing to “pimp” any and all books.

Would an award for a book by an author you’ve never heard of help to make buy determination, assuming you were mildly intrigued?

So maybe you can guess why I’m asking.

TRAFFICKED is a finalist for two awards. It’s also the second novel of mine that’s found itself in this position. I’m beginning to think I’m the Susan Lucci of crime fiction.

I’m just not sure an award is a determining factor.

Maybe I’ll feel differently (and experience differently), if rather than a silver “Finalist” label it receives the gold one that says “Winner.”

I’ll know May 24th on one, June 2nd on the other.

 

It’s all better with friends.

Writing While Afraid

Only recently did I discover another reason why I write: to face something that bothers me; something I’m afraid of.startled

When I wrote THE MISSINGS I had to research cults, at least minimally. What I discovered left me queasy and uncomfortable. The cult that scared me the most was called Santeria. Evil perpetrated by hateful people stopped me in my tracks.

Eventually, the plot moved on to something equally evil, but I couldn’t get the bits and pieces I’d learned about Santeria out of my head. It was the stuff of nightmares.

So I wrote THE SACRIFICE which is about the missing young daughter of a drug cartel leader who left home voluntarily with someone she trusted. It turned out that someone was involved in—you guessed it—Santeria, and had terrible plans in store for the young girl.  I researched deeper into the cult so I could write the scenes legitimately.

When I began noodling around with the idea of writing a book about human trafficking, I thought I’d base it in Italy. My husband and were planning a trip there and I thought the Colosseum in Rome would make a great creepy setting.

But then someone I admired (she’s a global diplomat, primarily for women’s issues) made me promise that if I did write a book on trafficking I’d base it here, not anywhere over there. I didn’t think research would be particularly easy, but when I first googled human trafficking colorado, I was blindsided by the volume of real stories. (I googled again for this post… 2,180,000 results in 0.49 seconds.)

Once again queasiness became my motivator, and I wrote TRAFFICKED.

I was afraid to go online to Backspace (a prominent advertising source for sex) and see for myself what was going on. Only after meeting with a detective who gave me a bit of an education on the site using her tablet was I able to use my own computer and plug into Backspace. However, I still haven’t used Tor or been on the Dark Web. There’s only so much queasiness I can take.

What am I working on now? A story involving the alt-right and hate groups. Yeah, tell me about it.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

Making a Book—Peg’s Recipe

(This article originally appeared in my December 2016 newsletter.)

Several weeks ago I completed the first draft of my new manuscript. The celebration was brief because I knew there was a lot more work ahead of me… edits and revisions. This new stage is where it’s possible to take an “okay” book to a “great” book. To me, the hardest part is over—finding the story and writing it. What happens next is pure magic. Yeah it’s work, but it’s still magic.

I thought I’d share a little bit of my process with you.

This particular manuscript took me about eleven months to research and write. That’s pretty much the norm for me. While I’d love to write two reader-worthy books a year, I haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

A few days after I finished the first complete draft (many scenes having already been rewritten numerous times), I do a series of self-edits. The first is a read-through where I look for plot and character inconsistencies, glaring errors, scenes that need to be cut or added, etc. and then apply those changes. Then I do a text-to-speech edit that points out over-used words, and missing words, and places where I used the wrong word. It’s a computerized voice that demands your attention. When I work through the same words over and over, my mind does an auto-correct from what is actually written to what I think is written. For example, I remember in this edit hearing the word “now” when it was supposed to be “know.” I make those corrections and then do another full read-through.

At this point I’m standing in the middle of a word-forest and have lost all perspective. I know the story can be better, but where? How? (Just so you know, the story can always be better. At some point I just have to let it go.)

That’s where my beta readers come in. For this manuscript, I have seven people who have agreed to read and share their comments with me. Four of them are successful authors in crime fiction, one is a trusted friend who could be an editor if she wanted, and two are readers whose opinions matter to me. I’m in the middle of my fourth round of revisions from beta readers, with a fifth one waiting. So far they’ve run the gamut from general observations to a line-by-line edit. I value all of them, and it’s amazing… they’ve each caught different things! And each person made this commitment during one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Every one of them has my gratitude.

After I finish the beta revisions, it will finally be time for me to bring out the Big Gun, a/k/a my editor. Each of my three books has had a different editor, perfect for that book at that time. I’ll be using the same person I used for THE SACRIFICE for a lot of reasons. First of all, she’s an amazing editor who makes my brain bleed (in a good way). She’s also familiar with these characters because this book is the second in a series, following THE SACRIFICE. She was referred to me by an author many of you might read, Timothy Hallinan. Peggy Hageman, formerly with William Morrow, was involved in the editing process for Tim’s Edgar nominated, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. (If you haven’t read Tim’s Poke Rafferty series set in Thailand, do yourself a favor. My advice is to read them in order, beginning with A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART.)

Sorry, talking about books and authors can often get me running off on a tangent.

The process of the final edit can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the scope of the story and any issues with the manuscript. My plan, always, is to present something that’s fairly clean so the remaining editing process can be as smooth as possible.

While my manuscript is with Peggy, I’ll be in touch with my cover and interior designer. Together we’ll hopefully come up with a compelling cover that reflects the story inside.

And finally after it’s edited, it’s time for a really good proof reader.  So many edits and revisions and changes can wreak havoc on those tiny details—the same ones that text-to-speech helped me with earlier. Only now, even t2s is unlikely to work. My ears and eyes have grown numb and there’s a disconnect in my brain. So someone else, fresh to the manuscript, is needed to give it a nice, tight read. One more edit to go.

There you have it. My revision process. It takes a village to create a book, at least one of mine.

It’s all better with friends.

In Search of Imperfection

Recently I learned two new words: kintsugi and pentimento. While these were applied to objects, I think they fit well into who we are as creative humans.

Pentimento (Italian) refers to paintings or drawings evidencing that the artist has changed her mind, but instead of covering up the old work, she lightly erases it and creates the new image. I couldn’t find a photo of pentimento that I could freely share, but the renowned artist, Matisse, has such a drawing. I figure if he was willing to show fallibility, who am I to try to impress with (fraudulent) perfection?

We can cover up our past, refuse to acknowledge we’ve changed our minds about something, or we can hold it as a marker reflecting where we’ve been and how we’ve grown. We can admit to numerous rewrites of our stories, or we can assert we only need one or two drafts and it’s ready for readers. We can pretend our lives, and kitchens, are perfect, or we can be comfortable with the smudge marks.

Kintsugi (Japanese) celebrates the breakage and repair of pottery by putting the broken pieces back together with gold or some other shiny and noticeable element. Rather than trying to disguise the break, and in my mind treating it as a flaw, the object is made whole while beautifully acknowledging a history.

Who hasn’t made a mistake? Or been badly wounded physically or emotionally? Those are the moments and events that make us human and help us grow into something awesome and treasured.

Perfection is impossible, but pentimento and kintsugi are real and something I can relate to. They relax me.

Can you use these two concepts to incorporate into your life? Your 2018 Goals?

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

**Side note: January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. I’m pleased to announce that the audiobook for TRAFFICKED is now available at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.**

Grabbing Endings

Do you remember the first time your child ran up to you, arms flung wide, desperate for a hug? I bet you do. It’s etched into your memory. Wow. What a feeling.

If your children are older, do you remember the last time that happened? And if you can remember, would you have it happen one more time? Just so you could mark it in some way? Make it special in an understanding that this level of spontaneity would never happen again?

Because it was an ending you didn’t know was an ending. There’s no page to turn to find it again. It’s over.

If you’ve lost a loved one, can you recall that last kiss? That last hug? That last, “I love you.”? Don’t kick yourself if you can’t. Few of us can.

We easily remember the first time. We’re confident there will be more. And if we’re lucky, there are. We even get used them. Expect there will always be more. We’re so naive.

Endings are harder. We never, ever know when it’s the Last Time.

I propose that every positive moment you enjoy today, tomorrow, next month, with someone you love, you mark it. Squeeze it. And make this action your norm. Not out of fear, but out of love. Write it in your Gratitude Journal as if it’s the last time it will happen. Grab it like a brass ring. If it’s not, you’re lucky. If it is, you have enveloped and preserved a moment in a rare and special way.

Grabbing endings is a way of living in the moment. Don’t take anything for granted. Understand that this minute—those arms flung wide—might never happen again.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

#NotMe, but I Stand With The Family of Women

Women have found their voice, and damn it’s loud. And solid. And proud. And it brooks no doubt or slander or thrown tomatoes. We’re finally standing strong and solid with arms bound and spirits raised. We’re finished with all forms of subjugation to men.

It took us awhile.

In my mind the very first brave woman was Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas vetting for the Supreme Court. She took backlash and whiplash and everything else, but she held fast and honorable to her values.

And no one listened. Not even women.

While other questionable male entitlement came out over time, I don’t remember other women standing up. As far as I know Monica Lewinsky never said a thing.

But then we saw the sheer number of women accusing Bill Cosby—and oh man, did that hurt. Really? Bill Cosby? America’s favorite dad? My heart still cries with that one. But I’ve come to terms with what I wish to be true versus what is likely true.

Today we’re hearing women’s voices, from politics to entertainment to business. Some people wonder if all of them are credible. Some people, even women, think it’s all just some silliness they need to get over.

#NotMe. #NotEverAgain.

 

It’s all better with friends.