Sharing History: Ghostwriters and History

Many people think about writing their family history, but few actually do. After all, writing a book takes a lot of time and work, and who else but your family would care? Who would buy such a book? You probably wouldn’t make any money, that’s for sure. Right?

But … have you ever heard of Rose Wilder Lane? Rose is the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who you probably have heard of. Rose had a pioneer childhood, which means her family was dirt poor. As soon as she could, she moved away and worked as a journalist and ghostwriter, living variously in San Francisco, Paris, New York, and Berlin. She ghostwrote sensation-laden books for many celebrities, and for a time she was one of the highest-paid female writers in the country, although her money slipped through her fingers because she eschewed the self-sacrificing lifestyle of her pioneer parents in favor of travel and luxury.

In the meantime, Laura Ingalls Wilder also dabbled with writing, writing a biweekly newspaper column. In 1930 she decided to write an autobiography. She originally called it Pioneer Girl, and it was intended for adults. But it was rejected by several publishers. Then one of them suggested she rewrite it as a children’s book. Maybe because she was tired of the book by then, she got her daughter Rose to help her rewrite it. Laura and Rose were very different personalities, so it was a challenging collaboration, but with Rose’s help, possibly a great deal of help, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books are now beloved by many generations of children.

Perhaps I like this story so much because as a ghostwriter, I am always pleased to tout the contributions of other ghostwriters.

Compost: In the English Garden

The other night I had a dream, rich in detail but rather vague in meaning. Just like most dreams. Still, there must be a story in here somewhere. I’ll tell you the dream, and if you see the story, please let me know.

I am walking through the woods and come to a tree with a door in it, set with brass knobs and hinges. Inside the tree is a round room, and in the room is a big rabbit wearing an apron. She serves me tea in a rose-flowered teapot. After tea she opens a door on the other side of the room, which leads to an elevator. “Have a good time,” says the rabbit.

The elevator cubicle is lined with dark paneling. The floor indicator doesn’t have numbers, just arrows which change colors all the time. We go down.

We stop with a soft bump. The doors open. There’s a stone flagstone path leading us into a garden surrounded by a white picket fence. I know it’s an English garden because it’s full of roses, violets, mignonette, and other traditional English flowers. Bees are buzzing and butterflies flutter by. It’s warm. I see a trellis and go toward it. By it is a cast iron white-painted bench, and on the bench is a man wearing 1890s clothing, a white suit, straw hat. He’s reading a book. He pays no attention to me. I become aware I’m wearing an old fashioned dress with purple puffed sleeves, cherry colored ribbons in my hair, and a white frilly apron, all made of a rich heavy material, most unsuitable for playing in. I’m dressed like an upper-class little girl in 1890’s England, and I know that I am indeed a little girl. I sit beside the man, who still pays me no attention. I examine my dress, it is so beautiful, and appears to be all handmade.

I want to garden, to work in the dirt. But my dress will get dirty, especially the pantaloons I’m wearing. Ridiculous clothes for a child. I get down anyway and sit in the dirt. I make a mud town. I construct a whole village out of mud. The last thing I make is a little mud pub. I shrink myself down so I can go inside the pub. When I go inside I am an adult again, although very small, so I order warm English beer and begin telling stories.

Haiku Friday: Dinner

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

write about dinner
mushrooms, zucchini, peppers
sautéed in red wine

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.

Writing Tip: George Orwell’s Rules

Writers should study other writers. Not to copy them, but to learn. I like to read what other writers say about writing, especially if they have handy tips. Here are three tips from George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, cut it out.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Keeping these particular tips in mind as I write has helped me, because when left to my own natural inclinations, I can be wordy.

What do you think of Orwell’s tips? What are your favorite writer’s tips?

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Stinkiness

Goody Beagle here. I am so glad to be a beagle, for many reasons. One reason is that we beagles have strong stomachs. We can eat nearly anything and not get sick. We don’t even get gas much, so we are not stinky dogs. My human says this is because for thousands of years beagles have been following our noses and eating what our noses find, and we had to develop strong stomachs or else we would have died out. (What a horrible thought!)

But my housemate Alex is a terrgi (you know, a combo of terrier and corgi) and his ancestors didn’t follow their noses as much as beagles, and as a result their stomachs are not strong and if they eat bad stuff they suffer from stinkiness. Alex is no exception.

I don’t really care, because stinkiness is in the nose of the smeller, and I think Alex smells just fine even when he has stinkiness after sneaking catfood. But our human does not agree. She makes Alex go outside when he stinks. I think this is funny because when Alex has to stay outside by himself too long he gets bored, and when he gets bored he digs up stuff in the backyard and eats it too. And then he gets even worse stinkiness.

Sometimes I wonder why humans haven’t died out yet. They’re not too bright.

Haiku Friday: Dog Walking

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

wake up your senses
walk with a dog in the rain
then roll on the rug

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.

Sharing History: First Publication

When I was five I wrote a poem about my dog Zipper, a feisty little dachshund who was nearly as good as a sibling. My mother thought the poem was so great that she entered it in a competition in a children’s magazine.

Zipper is a weener
he likes his deener
and he likes me too

I won the competition for the 5-7 group and my poem was printed in the magazine. Mom was ecstatic and she must have bought 50 copies of the magazine to give to everyone she knew. I was miffed because the magazine illustrated my poem with a photo of a brown dachshund, not a black one like Zipper. Fame mattered little to me; as an only child at the time, I had my fill of it at home.

The next year Mom entered me in a short story competition for children, using another of my “child-prodigy” efforts, this one about a cow who ran amok through a suburban neighborhood, upsetting garbage cans and trampling small dogs and cats. The cow was eventually caught and ground up into hamburger, a bloody ending but one which served the cause of justice. Unfortunately this offering didn’t even win an honorable mention, and Mom cancelled my subscription in disgust with the editor’s blindness.

Compost: Spilling the Beans

I’ve always had an itch to know the truth. The itch torments me even though I know that truth is a mirage – nothing but hot air waves reflecting your own fears and desires. But even though there is no truth, there are lies. That is called paradox, the principle that runs the universe.

My search for the truth – and the lies – is why I love storytelling. It’s why I write my own books, and ghostwrite books for others. I look for the truths under the lies, so when I find them, I could spill every last bean for all to see. If I write the story, I can ensure it has an ending and does not lie. Right?

The problem is there’s no end to the beans, or just one last definitive bean. I cannot write a story with a tidy ending. And I know that everyone may tell a lie.

I have as little control over the creative force that moves through me as I have over anything else in my life. Creativity, after all, is the mother of lies. Or at least the auntie.

Whatever. I don’t know any answers. But I’m write all this stuff down anyway. It’s what I do.

Every morning I scribble in my cheap notebook, which shouldn’t be dignified by the name “journal.” I call them my “compost.” They are just me doing writing exercises, starting with whatever phrase appears that day in my head, and going on from there, never lifting my hand from the paper, never stopping until I fill three pages in longhand. Most of these scribblings, of course, turn out to be garbage – that is the nature of compost. But sometimes my compost produces flowers of enormous beauty. That is also natural.

That’s when I write all those haiku, at the end of my compost. One haiku every day — every day for nearly 20 years. Their quality, too, is quite variable. As one of them goes:

So many haiku
some may breathe or even sing
some are just stupid

Stupid or not, I often think those haiku keep me sane. I know they keep me writing, and that is the same thing.

Yes, but what the hell do I do with them? They contain a lot of beans, and I just cannot bear to throw them out. Maybe they will be good for something. Maybe they will enlighten someone, or fertilize some unplowed ground. Who knows?

Haiku Friday: Bats

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

bats in your garage?
a tip to get them to leave:
they don’t like headlights

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.

Writing Tip: Don’t Throw It Away

Save your writing. Even the bad writing. Later you can re-read it, and it will encourage you because you’ll see how much better you are now.

To prove this, recently I came across my mother’s scrapbook in which she saved stuff her children did. Here is a poem called The Bandits she saved that I wrote when I was 13. I hope you will agree that I have improved since then.

The Bandits
by Kim Pearson

One day a group of bandits rode into town,
They were very strange; they rode upside-down.
The leader was tall and had a long nose;
His arms were huge and likewise his toes.
The leader’s name was Hang-Nail Pete.
His fore-man’s name was Leon the Creep.
The rest were numerous, 85 I am told.
But believe it or not, they weren’t looking for god.
They were looking for a woman;
Her name was Tissi Tilly;
but she was in love with a man named Billy;
Hang-Nail really hated this.
Tissi Tilly was the queen of the west.
He wanted her just for his own,
But alas, Hang-Nail was quite unknown.
So he decided to kill Billy the Kid,
And send his soul to the land of the dead!
They rode into town where lived Tissi Tilly.
They were sure this was where they would find Ol’ Billy.
So in rode Hang-Nail and his gang,
But all of a sudden, Leon said, “Dang.”
“What is it?” cried Hang-Nail,
Leon said, “Darn,”
“Did you know this town doesn’t have a barn?”
At that Hang-Nail hit Leon the Creep,
And right at him back Leon leaped!
Long was the fray and long was the tussle
But both emerged, not owning a muscle.
Then the other ones kicked up a storm
Then came Billy prickly as a thorn.
He shot them, every one of them right down dead
And cried, “Ha Ha! You all look red!”
Now nobody rides with Hang-Nail Pete
He has died with his men, including Leon the Creep.