Friday, March 23, 2012
Author Holly Michael on Ghostwriting
A few hours later, an editor with Guideposts for Teens magazine called. She wanted an essay I’d submitted a couple of months earlier. Someone other than my mother and maybe even God, liked my writing. Immediately, I pitched an essay I’d written about my struggle as a teenager overcoming the drowning death of my sister.
They published “Guilty” a few months later. A patient editor worked with me to understand Guidepost’s formula. Once I got that down, she offered regular ghostwriting assignments.
My first job took me near Little Rock, Arkansas, to interview a teenage boy who had survived a plane crash. I wondered how I, a mom in her thirties, raised in the north, could write in a teenage boy’s southern voice. As a natural born people-watcher, I listened to the way he spoke, his dialect, his mannerisms. Voices have tones and tempos. I compare ghostwriting to acting. You must incorporate the same techniques an actor would in taking on a role. You have to get in to the head of a person and understand how he or she would think, feel, speak. Is the person you are writing for friendly, formal, chatty, distant, quiet?
A more difficult assignment was an older woman who had survived a holocaust. I imagined her emotions as a terrified teenager, so many years ago.
For more than ten years, along with other freelance jobs, I interviewed teenagers, took photos, and wrote their stories for this magazine. As my young children matured into teenagers, they became a great help. When I wrote a story for a high-school basketball player, I showed it to my teenage son,Jake. He said, “Mom, no one says, ‘I shot a three-pointer. Say, ‘I busted a tre.’” Tre didn’t survive my spell check, but I trusted Jake.
In any writing, you have to study the voices of the characters (either real or made-up) and learn their lingo. Before the magazine went to an online edition only, I interviewed a teenage girl in India who had survived the tsunami. My husband is a pastor, and he and I were in India for mission work two weeks after the 2004 tsunami hit. The girl we interviewed didn’t speak English. My husband, a native of Tamil Nadu, translated her horrific journey of being swept up in the huge wave and carried through the streets of her village. Watching Tamilarisa’s mannerisms and tuning into her shyness and sorrow helped me write from her point of view.
Though I couldn’t speak her language, I understood the pain and anguish of a teenage girl who had lost a loved one in a drowning death. The assignment brought me full circle with the first story I’d pitched to Guideposts about my own teenage experience of suffering the loss of a sister who died from drowning.
Empathy is a key to writing from another point of view. You must hear the emotion behind the words.
I took what I learned from ghostwriting into further freelance writing work: writing a biography for someone, full time work as a features writer for a newspaper, and other freelance jobs.
Now, entering the world of fiction writing, I use what I’ve learned. A novelist must use various voices. In CROOKED LINES, my upcoming novel, I write from the point of view of two teenagers coming of age in totally different cultures: A boy from India and a girl from the Midwest United States. I carry them through to middle adulthood. My current WIP is I’LL BE SEEING YOU, a novel about a man in a coma and his children who come together with their own issues and agendas. It’s fun and challenging to write from the perspective of an elderly man in a coma.
I’m also looking forward to a future project. Jake, my son is a diabetic who is preparing for the NFL draft. He says after he gets drafted, he wants to write a book about kids, sports, and diabetes. If all goes well and we begin this joint venture, I’ll return to ghostwriting roots. If you want to read more about Jake and me, check my blog:
Subscribe or keep checking back for updates to what happens with the novelist and the NFL player. Holly’s novel, CROOKED LINES, is in the quarter finalists of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. You may download the first three chapters for free as well as rate or review it here: