Monday, January 7, 2013

A Writer's Words

By Pamela

As writers, we have limited avenues in which to express ourselves. Unlike an architect who can be remembered by his or her buildings or an artist whose paintings can be admired and displayed, writers are known and judged by the pages they produce. How we choose to be remembered is up to what we put out for public consumption.

Several years ago at the urging of Susan, I read Jantsen's Gift--a story of a mother's grief and her channeling it as a champion for child slaves. Although the story belongs to Pam Cope, Aimee Molloy is credited with putting the words on the page as her co-author.

Image by Josef.Stuefer, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Writing someone else's story isn't a rare concept. In fact, even some volumes of fiction begin with an author's creation of characters (e.g. Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Goosebumps) and then other writers step in to help turn out books to meet reader demand--a concept also embraced by James Patterson who lends his name to brand books by lesser-known authors. But ghostwriting (or co-authoring, if the author gets cover credit) likely prevails most often when a celebrity, politician or person has a story to tell and not the skills to put it into a marketable account. In steps the ghostwriter.

After reading Jantsen's Gift and other memoirs, I became curious about whether or not I might be able to try my hand at ghostwriting. I was already making a decent work-from-home income as a freelance writer but thought this might be an opportunity worth pursuing. So, a little over two years ago, I picked up the phone and called a literary agency with an impressive list of self-help books and personal memoirs. When I asked if they hired ghostwriters, to my delight the receptionist said yes and to please submit my resume. To my shock, a few months later, an agent called and asked if I would like to talk to one of their clients who was interviewing ghostwriters for her memoir.

A few days later, I found myself being interviewed, by the agent and client, to write a book proposal. The following day, the client hired me. Over the next few months, we talked on the phone and I traveled to meet with her in person, compiling pages of notes transcribed from hours of taped conversations. Eventually, I completed a 60+ page proposal everyone seemed to be pleased with. And then I waited. And waited.

Knowing that the publishing business moves slowly, this didn't surprise me. But finally, nine months later, the agent let me know that the client decided to shift her focus back on her career and was no longer seeking publication. Sure I was disappointed, but fortunately I hadn't given up on my freelance work, so I was minimally affected by her decision.

Then yesterday I got an email alert about this client; I had set alerts a couple years ago and neglected to remove them from my account. My client had resigned from her job after admitting to sexual misconduct--a sad ending to a career that had been wrought with overcoming adversity.

I wasn't shocked so much as saddened by the news. And then, to be honest, I was a little relieved--relieved that the project I worked so hard on never came to fruition. Because, as a writer, I'm judged by the words I put to the page. My words, even if it's someone else's story. The story she told me didn't include the news I heard yesterday, even though the incident happened long before I met her. Her story, the one I was hired to tell, wouldn't have been completely honest.

As I put my head to my pillow last night, images of her in the news flashed before me and I pictured this never-released book being part of the story. What if my name was on the cover next to hers? What if a news venue called me and asked did I know? What if ... ?

Today, I sit at my computer with a stack of assignments at my elbow, grateful that my quiet, unassuming life as a freelance writer and wanna-be novelist goes on without much fanfare. It certainly makes me take stock in my work and what my name is associated with. Because, as a writer, my words are all I have.

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