Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Not Being a Ghost

I found myself talking to people about ghosting a book recently. This was because I had misunderstood the original approach - I thought I was being asked to be co-author. I would have done that as I liked the idea and the author. Also the money would have been pretty good - if, that is, I had been co-author, judging by Wikipedia, ghosts don't make that much. Unfortunately it turned out what he meant by 'co-author' was 'ghost' so I pulled out. Like accepting a knighthood, ghosting is something I feel I shouldn't do. Why? Writing for money is what I do and that's a kind of performance. Actors perform and they don't feel queasy about speaking with someone else's voice. So if writer equals actor, then ghosting should be just another job. But it isn't. Perhaps it's the journalism thing. I can't see anything wrong with a struggling novelist ghosting his way through the gas bills. I'd be pretty startled if he continued to ghost when he was making millions, but that's not an ethical matter. Journalism, however, implies an unspoken contract - a silent voice saying, 'Right or wrong, this is me.' Of course, the market demands one adapts one's voice. This is, at first, training and, perhaps later, compromise. You don't have to be a fully-fledged ghost to be a bit of a ventriloquist - operating a dummy that only looks like you. But the dummy, if consistent, has a kind of integrity and he doesn't try to hide the ventriloquist; in fact, they usually engage in lively discussions. When the ventriloquist is a ghost, the dummy is a disconnected other and that - call me a sentimental old fool - I can't handle.

8 comments:

  1. Saw plenty of that when I was in the fo’c’sle. Best not to go anywhere near it. Only a select few are any good at it. Those who are doing it from necessity, purely for the money, soon tire of it and aren't reliable. Others, and I'd guess you are one, look back on it as a depressing experience, a dark cloud in a clear sky that never quite goes away.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Who is it? I'll give it a bash.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have a by-line. If that is what it's called these days. Surely, why go back to a day when.
    And it is bloody hard enough to sit to write, as you say why do it that way when you do not need to.
    BTW, your idea re; Obama is looking more real by the day. That woman seems a bit thick.

    ReplyDelete
  4. No one is ever gonna call you a sentimental old fool.

    ReplyDelete
  5. PS: go read my review of Marilynne's "Home" on philly.com. I guarantee you're not gonna like it, however, like you, I know I am right. Absolutely.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Susan! You're back! Were you bin? We missed you!

    ReplyDelete
  7. B.A., like my older brothers, occasionally pisses me off and I thus disappear. Last time it was that thread attacking all Americans that got really nasty. This time it was more of a "Daisy Miller" thing, too hard to explain. I'm less annoyed now, obviously.

    But thank God for Nige, I must say. He's a gentle soul one can never get annoyed at. Sorta the brother I NEVER had! Bryan, on the other hand, irritates sometimes but it always entertaining. Perhaps he shall someday turn into a pearl, like sand in the oyster shell. On verra!

    ReplyDelete
  8. i agree with Mark, if you're talented and can pay the rent why take a step back? Also, as you say, your journalism, while i guess it involves all kinds of adjustments and tactful elisions & careful ways of putting things, is some version of yourself. Ghosting would be nothing but your technical ability, robo-Appleyard. i edited and partly rewrote a friend's book but it was a pleasure; i can't imagine being able to edit/rewrite anything i didn't think was worth it, or anything too distant from my own perspective.

    Also, the first step on the dark path to selling your body on a Soho backstreet is surely agreeing to ghostwrite.

    ReplyDelete