Sharing History: Movies

My last post told a story about how the movie On the Waterfront affected a woman’s choice of career. Powerful movies such as this often have unexpected consequences on viewers, although not all of them are so deep and meaningful. Here’s another story from a class participant about the same movie:

“Diane” remembered going to see On the Waterfront when she was a teenager in the fifties. “I was pretty excited,” she wrote. “Not because I wanted to see the movie but because it was my very first date with this cute boy I’d had a crush on for a long time. I was so happy when he finally asked me out.

“He was a Brando fan, and was amazed when I said I had never seen any of Brando’s movies. He looked at me with pity and told me he would educate me on what good film was all about. I was young, and he was cute, so this patronizing remark didn’t offend me at the time.

“But his choice of movie turned out to be a mistake, because I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and powerful Marlon Brando was. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and suddenly my date didn’t seem quite as cute. In fact, he seemed downright boring compared with Brando, and my crush died a swift and complete death.

“It’s a good thing, too. Some years later I ran into my old date, and he wasn’t cute in any way – paunchy and balding – but he was still downright boring. I’ll always be grateful to Marlon Brando for breaking us up.”

Technorati Tags: history, movies, On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando, first date, cute, boy, crush, fan, pity, educate, offend, patronizing, overwhelmed, powerful, boring

Compost: Pibbles

Goody Beagle here. You know how some humans are prejudiced against Pitbulls? They think they are dangerous. But I know a Pitbull personally, and she’s not dangerous at all. Her name is Nutmeg and her human is my human’s daughter and Nutmeg and I played together when we were puppies and since she’s about six months older than me she showed me how to wrestle and play tug and I love her.

I have a Twitter follower whose name is PibbleLvr. This stands for Pitbull Lover – the tweeter is a Pit Bull. When I met PibbleLvr I suddenly knew the solution to the wrongheaded Pitbull Bias. We can change the Pitbull’s reputation just by changing their name! Call them Pibbles. It’s easy to be scared of a Pit Bull. I mean, would you like to be in a pit with no way out, and in comes a Bull intent on goring you? Scary, right? But how can you be scared of something called a Pibble?

Technorati Tags: compost, pibbles, Goody Beagle, humans, prejudiced, Pitbulls, dangerous, nutmeg, puppies, wrestle, play, tug, twitter, lover, tweeter

Haiku Friday: Ladies

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Ladies:

to be a Lady
sit with your knees together
never, ever swear

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, Ladies, sit, knees, never, swear

Writing: It’s Not My Life

I once ghostwrote a memoir for a lovely man who had led a rich and varied life. He was a touring musician during Vaudeville in the late 1920s and early 30s. His circuit included places like Al Capone’s Chicago, and as you might guess, there were some pretty juicy details in his stories. I loved listening to him, and could hardly wait to get those stories down on paper. The problem was his wife. She was a very proper lady in her eighties, and she did not want any of those juicy details in his memoirs – they weren’t respectable and she didn’t want anyone knowing about them. They belonged to his youth, before he became a pillar of the community.

The musician himself didn’t actually care, since he was just doing the book at the request of his children. He shrugged and said, “Whatever my wife says.” So I had to take some of the best stories out of his memoir, and make it conform to what his wife deemed proper. It made the story much blander than it should have been. Boy, that was hard for me.

This happens to ghosts. I don’t always agree with everything my client wants to say, or doesn’t want to say. I may have to argue for artistic integrity. I’ll have to defend why I want to put those details in, or why I want to take them out, or why the story about grandma and the plumber just doesn’t fit in a book about gardening. Even if it is funny.

But I must be aware that I might lose this argument. It is their book, not mine. This is one of the hardest challenges of ghostwriting – you must let go of your own ego. You can’t marry your writing. In fact you can’t even get engaged to it. At the most, you’re simply dating.

Technorati Tags: ghostwriting, memoir, man, musician, Al Capone, Chicago, Vaudeville, details, stories, wife, proper, pillar, community, client, artistic, integrity, argument, funny, marry, engaged, dating

Compost: Ten Good Reasons to Be a Ghost

I wrote the following for the blog The Blood Red Pencil back in March. But I’m so happy with it I’m posting it again here on my own blog – just in case you missed it. And if you don’t read The Blood Red Pencil, you should – it’s a very cool blog.

Ten Good Reasons to Be a Ghost

I’m a ghostwriter, and have been for more than ten years. For many years before that, writing was something I did “on the side.” It didn’t pay the mortgage or put my kids through college; that’s what my day job was for. I didn’t actually start making a living writing until I began to write for others. Now I no longer live on the sidelines of my own life. Ghostwriting is the vehicle I used to get in the game.

Other writers ask me about ghostwriting, often with an undertone of sympathy, as if ghostwriting was a last resort. When I tell them I love ghostwriting, I don’t think they really believe me. But although there are downsides to ghostwriting, there are plenty of upsides. Here are ten of them.

  1. You can make money doing what you love – writing. Now I must admit I’m not raking in the dough and getting filthy rich. But I am making a comfortable living, and I am hundreds of times happier than I used to be while making twice as much working for corporate America. There were a few lean years in the beginning, but I’m still here, over ten years and nearly 40 ghostwritten books later. There are many people who long to write a book, but lack the skill or the time to do so – but that doesn’t mean they lack the money to pay you to do it for them. It takes time, skill, and effort to write a book, and you can charge accordingly.
  2. You will learn many new things. I now know what it was like to fight in the Korean War; how to cure a nasty digestive condition; how to telepathically communicate with a horse; theories of modern parenting; how to make a good compost pile; why not to use male enhancement products; and a history of sauerkraut making. Just to name a few.
  3. Your mind and your heart will be stretched, and your tolerance and compassion will grow. You will learn how others think – even others radically different than you. Like actors, ghostwriters play many roles, just on the page instead of the stage. Unlike an actor, I’m not constrained by my gender, age, race or culture. I am a middle-aged white American woman from the West Coast. But as a ghostwriter, I’ve been an African-American man from New York, a Japanese-American woman, an Iranian immigrant, a self-described redneck from Oklahoma, and oh yes, some middle-aged white American women. I’ve been any age from 20 to 90. I’ve been a doctor, an accountant, an entrepreneur, a cop, a scientist, a shaman, a gardener. Etcetera.
  4. You will hear and tell great stories. It’s a cliché that everyone has a story, but it’s true. Everyone’s life matters. Everyone knows some interesting things. You can even help people find the stories they didn’t know they had.
  5. You can give a written voice to those who can’t write, or who think they can’t. Just because they can’t write well doesn’t mean they don’t have good stories. (See #4.)
  6. You don’t have to come up with all the ideas all by yourself. You just have to ask questions and listen for the answers. Your listening skills will improve mightily.
  7. You can help ideas and wisdom get “out there” that otherwise wouldn’t. Perhaps the book you write for someone will change the world in some fantastic way. Books have a long and distinguished history of doing just that.
  8. You can help eliminate the stigma of self-publishing if your clients are going that route. Many self-published books are written by amateurs and you can tell. Your skill can make them professional creations instead.
  9. Ghostwriting is good for your ego. You don’t get any glory or credit. Nobody knows it was your writing that made a book sing, or caused people to weep, or others to cry “aha!” as an idea illuminated their life. Your writing does not belong to you. It belongs to the author, who is not you. Yes, this is a positive thing. It keeps you from getting puffed up with self-importance.
  10. You can use your inborn artistic talents in a way that helps people. You were given a gift – you can write – and by ghostwriting you can use that gift to give back. What is more fulfilling than that?

If you are interested in becoming a ghostwriter, my new online interactive program, “Living as a Ghost” ( teaches writers how to be successful ghostwriters and provides a resource for ongoing support. We ghosts should stick together – it can get lonely out here in the ether.

Technorati Tags: ghost, ghostwriting, Blood Red Pencil, voice, write, reason, learn, mind, heart, stretch, tolerance, grow, compassion, stories, ideas, wisdom, stigma, ego, talent, Living as a Ghost, interactive, on-line, program, training

Haiku Friday: Guilt

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Guilt:

make room for your guilt
give it the place of honor
drape yourself in chains

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, guilt, room, place, honor, chains

Sharing History: Art

It’s said that art reflects life. It does, of course, but sometimes life’s experiences are caused by art. This is true of any art, but one of the most fun to write about is the movies. Sometimes watching a movie can affect our lives in profound ways. To illustrate, here’s a story told to me by one of the participants in my “Making History” classes.

“My father was a longshoreman in the 1950s and 60s, shared “Sally” (not her real name.) “When I was young I never really knew what a longshoreman did. It was just where Dad went every day, and it didn’t matter to me. I saw my father as an uneducated man and I didn’t want to be like him at all. We had nothing in common.

“My parents scrimped and saved to send me to college, although I didn’t know about the scrimping and saving until later. I thought college was my due. I dated college boys, and I was ashamed of my longshoreman father, who laughed too loud and drank too much beer and only read the sports page of the paper.

“When he went out on strike I felt that he had done it to spite me. All it meant to me was there was less money. I was a senior in high school, and I thought the strike was stupid. Nobody is making you be a longshoreman – if you don’t like it, then why don’t you just quit? I didn’t have the nerve to actually say this to him, but it’s what I thought.

“Oh, I was a spoiled you-know-what, all right. Why my parents didn’t bat me down to size I don’t know.

“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I had an epiphany about my dad. One Saturday night I didn’t have a date, so as I sat in the lounge at my college dorm feeling sorry for myself, I turned on the black and white TV and began watching an old movie, On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, which I had never seen before.

“That movie changed me. I saw how longshoremen were treated. I looked at those rough men and I saw my father, working at that difficult job day after day, for poor pay and little respect, not even from his own daughter, just so I could have something better.

“I cried throughout most of the movie, tears of shame, and tears of anger. But at the end, when a bloody Brando walks up that gangway, I was standing up and cheering, all alone in the deserted dateless dorm.

“By the end of that semester, I had changed my major to economics, and after college I got a job working for a union, starting as a part-time secretary. I worked for the union for 36 years, and whenever I wondered why I stayed with them for so long, all I had to do was close my eyes and see my father working on the docks alongside Brando. I like to think I’m doing my part. I know whose side I’m on. My dad’s side. “

Technorati Tags: sharing, history, art, life, experience, longshoremen, union, strike, college, Marlon Brando, movie, economics

Compost: Goody Beagle on Chewing

Goody Beagle here. The Grandpa got a new dog. His name is Alex. (The dog, not The Grandpa.) Alex is part Terrier and part a few other things, no one knows quite what. But we’re all sure about the Terrier part because Terriers are great pest-killers, and Alex has shown much determination in ridding The Grandpa’s house of the horrible pest called PILLOWS.

Alex is dealing with The Grandpa’s pillow infestation in the time-honored tradition of terriers: he stalks them, attacks them, shakes them vigorously until they’re dead, and then eviscerates them so they can never return. When the pillow is reduced to piles of stuffing strewn throughout the house, Alex rests, satisfied.

No one else is satisfied, however, especially not The Grandpa. The Grandpa needs at least one pillow to sleep on, doesn’t he? I think Alex might be suffering from Terrier Delusion. He has mistaken Pillows for Rats.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the desire to chew things to bits. I sometimes chew up sheets and pillowcases, but not because I think they are rats. I chew them up because they smell so good, especially after my human sleeps on them. I don’t kill the sheets and pillowcases, though, not like Alex does with pillows. I just eat a few holes in them here and there. They are still perfectly good. Also they last a lot longer that way.

Technorati Tags: Goody, Beagle, grandpa, Terrier, dog, pillow, chew, stalk, attack, eviscerate, strewn, piles, stuffing

Haiku Friday: Poetry

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Poetry:

to know poetry
first you must pay attention
to the emptiness

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, poetry, pay, attention, emptiness

Writing: It Makes You Vulnerable

Talking to a ghostwriter is almost like talking to a therapist or a bartender. After they get comfortable with the ghost, clients will tell you all sorts of stuff – and they may have second thoughts later, and wish they hadn’t.

Here’s a frustration with working with non-writers. Writers know that writing exposes you and makes you vulnerable. The more real and truthful you are, the more vulnerable and exposed – and the more compelling to your readers. But non-writers don’t know that – until they get their manuscript back from the ghostwriter they hired to write their story, and they read their words and thoughts and feelings on paper. And then they get scared. They want to hedge and soften, and turn specifics into safe generalities, so they will feel safer.

Of course, this will kill the writing. Readers respond to gut-level stuff; that is what makes stories compelling and readable. But it’s not just the readers who get shortchanged when the story is “softened.” So does the author. By softening those rough patches, by hedging their truths and telling instead of showing their pains and joys, they have dramatically reduced one big benefit of writing – healing their wounds.

From the ghostwriter’s perspective, this is so frustrating! It’s not my story; it’s theirs. If they don’t want to tell the truth, I can’t make them. All I can do is offer my word tools, and hope they use them.

Many times I’ve been told “I didn’t say that” when I know they did – I have their recorded voices saying exactly that. I had one client who had a bit of a potty mouth, but she didn’t realize it. I didn’t include many of her swear words, but I inserted a few here and there to make it sound like her. She was upset. “I would never use that f&^%*ing word!” she claimed.