Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tap. Tap. Tap.

So, I'm at the grocery store putting pears in the provided thin bag, when I feel something against my foot. The bag had ripped and I had just been dropping pears on the floor. I swooped them up and got a new bag, then continued down the fruit aisle. It occurred to me that my teenager would have been mortified, thinking everyone saw her drop the fruit. I smiled to myself in nostalgia for the days I was that young. Yeah, maybe a kid saw and giggled, but truthfully no one cares diddlysquat that a bag broke.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What if someone did care? I set the bananas down in the cart, and leaned lightly on its handle. I could picture myself seeing a woman standing at the pears, dropping pears, putting one back and re-bagging the rest, walking away.

What next? I am still inside the mind of my imaginary observer. I walk to the pears. I pick up the pear she returned. I hold it. She had touched this pear. I smell it. It smells sweet, like her. I put it in my coat pocket. It's mine, now. I turn and keep following her.

Don't worry, I'm not a stalker. Just a writer. Kinda creepy how easy it is for me to put myself in a stalker's shoes, though, isn't it?

That's what writers do. We can see a story in just about anything, no matter how mundane. I can find foreshadowing in the tying of my sneakers. I can see evil in a couple of dropped pears. I can recognize romance in a penny on a sidewalk.

I know I'm not normal. I can walk past the penny or pick it up, just like anyone, but as I'm walking away, there will be this little tapping at the back of my mind. This little "what if" thought that's asking for my attention. If I'm not in the middle of anything - like driving - then I'll take out my notepad and jot it down. I have bags of scrap pieces of paper with thoughts jotted down. And boxes. And little wicker baskets. But I digress.

When I'm writing for a client, I steer the "what if." A restaurant's "what if" involves a person walking in and ordering something. It's my job to make that everyday occurrence appealing. A nonprofit's "what if" involves donations. It's my job to make that annual report informative and compelling.

I couldn't write it, any of it, without that little ...Tap. Tap. Tap.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Breaking the Laws of Physics

Stephen Hawking has a story that is begging to be told, and I would have given the proverbial arm to have the privilege of writing it. But he's not the only great story - I see one in the face of every person I meet. What is behind the shy hesitancy of my mail carrier's daily greeting? Why does the Starbucks clerk tug his earlobe before counting change? Where does the Capitol building security guard go in such a hurry at 10:30am sharp every day? Questions like these often lead to an interesting story, and it is up to the writer to turn interesting into compelling. That takes trust.

Writing a biographical story, whether fictionalized or not, requires a ghost to delve into deeply personal aspects of the subject's life, developing an intimacy and trust powerful enough to pull even the most reluctant client's secrets into study. Unlike a psychologist or a bartender, a ghost almost becomes the other person, settling into his psyche like two individuals impossibly occupying the same time and space.

It's breathtaking. I find myself treasuring the temporary feel of this other soul's life. And then I think and write, and think and write again, carefully choosing how to repackage the story to reveal only that which the subject is willing to share publicly, but told with such depth as can only be achieved by falling into that infinite black hole of his sorrows and shames, by traveling in his history, by hearing him sing in quantum strings of joy, by surrounding myself in the spatial fabric of his truth.

The personality of the tale - not the facts - is what makes a story compelling. There's nothing so rewarding to me, as a ghostwriter, than being able to earn my subject's trust enough to briefly break the laws of physics. I don't know about you, but I cannot wait until New Year's to see how Hawkings' story is told.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding Source Documents

Image rights http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21845/lot/19/
I trudged up the back wooden stairway behind my client, who pushed up on the ceiling above us, revealing a door that creaked with disuse. We poked our heads up through the floor of his attic, taking a quick glance before our feet carried us the rest of the way into the oppressive heat and dust. I wasn't prepared for the sudden drops of perspiration climbing out of my skin, but I quickly forgot my discomfort as my eyes fell upon a huge book laying closed upon a Victorian-era book stand.

The sound of my client's voice, unnecessarily apologizing for the state of his attic, faded. I held my breath, hoping, and moved toward the dusty covers of the thick tome, noting the broken cobwebs trailing around it where my client's fingers must have been when he re-discovered it recently. My own fingers, made brave by my sturdy garden gloves, wiped gently at the title.

It was an old family bible, probably handed down through generations. I gently lifted the cover and searched carefully for the publication date. 1769, Office of the Queen's Printer. My client needed a book dealer, not a ghostwriter, and preferably one who could recommend a talented preservationist.

He reached around me and casually flipped open the bible to reveal several letters folded within its pages. Clearly, this is what I was here for. I opened the first piece of yellowed parchment. Within the first few lines, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite biographies ever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Be the Page

Art credit to https://www.flickr.com/photos/lumaxart/2625862463/

Social Media has brought businesses ample opportunity to engage their clientele in more depth than before, garnering loyalty that draws them from online to brick-and-mortar. How? 


Business owners, nonprofit managers, and politicians know that personal engagement does more for sales, donations, and votes than any other type of communication. People trust where they can look in the eye, reach with a handshake, and personally measure character. And - people spend money where they trust.

A social media page is an extension of your business, your mission, your message. Just like networking at a chamber function, your page is the place where you share what you are excited about; say thank you to the people who have helped you; ask for suggestions; support your causes; and explain what you do and why. The best social media pages let the personality of the organization shine like a confident look and firm handshake. They showcase the organization's character. They build respect first, then trust, then customers.  

If an engaging, active social media page can do all that, what do you think a blank one does? You are your page, or so the social media audience thinks. 

Need help with your blank page? Hire an e-ghost.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why Watch Disaster Movies

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men - as a whole - experience it." - Helen Keller

Recently, I've been filling my entertainment time with disaster movies. The Impossible. 2012Titanic. Contagion. War of the Worlds. Twister. And, of course, World Trade Center.

Helen Keller was right. The world is not a secure place. It never has been. I have always been drawn to those stories that acknowledge that fact and put ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances; stories that show how people respond in the face of frightening, impending danger and to tragic, multitudes of loss.

In times of disaster, a person must suddenly draw upon his innate pioneering spirit and break ground in unknown territory without the choice and preparation of our pioneer forebears. She must step up to the plate, with no practice swing, and pray for a hit or suffer a miss. Nothing prepares you for a tidal wave, a mugging, a twenty-car pile-up, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, or a broken limb as you miss your footing down a flight of stairs. Somehow, we get through it, and are indelibly changed when we get to the other side.

As Mark Twain once said, spirit has fifty times the strength and staying-power of brawn and muscle. Whether that spirit arises in response to disaster, or by choice as we pioneer into space and other new ventures, I draw comfort knowing that in an insecure world, we can count on the human spirit in times of emergency.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Bed Only a Mother Could Love...

A bed left unmade for 16 years and surrounded by trash sold at Christie's yesterday for $4.3 million. The artist who slept in it for four days felt that it was a true representation of heartbreak, surrounded by ashtrays, empty liquor bottles, and dirty laundry. Take a look at it here.

There's no question, it certainly tells a story of sleepless nights filled with chain-smoking re-hashed conversations, numbing fiery booze, tear-stained pillows, and angrily-kicked sheets. Most humans who have loved and lost have had their beds look similar at some point in their lives. So, who would buy this object of commonly shared misery? The lost love, out of some sense of guilt (or even pleasure) at having caused such pain? The artist herself, to boost PR on her other work? A Spock-like soul who surrounds himself with emotional works to express what he cannot?

I'm inclined to think it was a mother, who can't bear to see a child's pain, and bought it to make the bed, tidy the mess, kiss the hurt with toiling hands, and make it all better.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dear daughters, a word before you leave the nest...

Like the Phoenix, everyone has repeated "burning days," and repeated new birth from ashes. The best lesson learned is that life is messy, exhilarating, painful, sweet, frustrating, frightening, amazing - and just as it should be. Too often, people try to avoid the burning days that come with being human, and the more they try to avoid, the slower and more tortuous the burn when it finally comes. Like deferred maintenance in buildings and cars. Or not paying down debt when we have the chance. Avoiding pain is nothing more than a lost opportunity.

We are meant to grow and stretch and push boundaries. We are meant to make mistakes, learn, and try to do better next time. The Ostrich, on the other hand, (and we've all known head-in-the-sanders), tries to deny human nature, afraid of the burn, unable to comprehend the joy of the new life on the other side. A true Phoenix chooses the burn, walks into the fire with her head held high, ready to be cleansed of mistakes and impurities, and walks out a new woman, forged with balance and strength and wisdom, ready to begin her next cycle with a firm step and accomplishment in her eyes.

If you ever feel like an Ostrich, come home and I will take care of you for as long as you need to be safe and heal. There are times when it is important to let someone else be the Phoenix for awhile.

I know you will always try to do the right thing. I believe in you, and I love you forever,