Writing a novel from the perspective of a client – hardly a fictional character, luckily – is a matter I had not considered in depth until the week of December 15-31 when everyone was between holidays. Living alone and becoming a hermit when I have a deadline, I found myself in limbo after a wonderful Christmas dinner with friends and awaiting a New Year’s Eve party. Those six days in between when families are gathering up the torn wrapping paper and ribbon and buying champagne for December 31st, are quite welcome because I figure I can use the time to write and everyone else is still baking or returning gifts. I always open my Christmas gifts as soon as I receive them which greatly irritates one of my daughters and evokes laughter from the other. In any event I had long trashed the ripped-off sheets of Santa paper and was back in my mesh office chair to play Solitaire.
The hiatus included time spent wondering why on earth I’d wasted months without working on my third mystery during which time my small press publisher went belly up, and accepting freelance assignments instead. But of course, one must keep the wolf from the door.
During the first week in December I signed a contract to ghostwrite a book, my 15th. A book of fiction. Now, I ghostwrote a crime novel a few years ago, and in fact it catapulted me into writing my own series after that book went into bookstores, and I continued to ghost biographies.
Creating a biography is one thing; creating a make-believe world envisioned by someone else is an entirely different experience, in part because they haven’t thought it through and have no idea how necessary an outline or summary is. Memoirs practically write themselves as we use interviews with the client, relatives, friends, and colleagues. Research provides descriptive settings and one-on-one tape-recorded sessions in person allow us to observe body language and behavior. Often winkling out moments of their lives that they considered irrelevant but were actually crucial to the story as a turning point can take persistence on the part of the ghostwriter.
Growing up in a Cornish village at the very southern tip of the UK where fishing and shipwrecks were the main topics of conversation, as well as my mother’s hats, our fictional heroines were the young Secret Seven detectives in Enid Blyton’s books (she sold 600 million!!), and adventurous children in The Dandy and The Beano comics. We had no superheroes until Marvel came to town. Steeped in moral issues, we learned all about good and evil in the written word and illustrations, but Superman and Batman were beyond my sphere. I was considered a pragmatic child, and indeed grew up with a practical, realistic attitude. Space travel, illusions, and magic held absolutely no interest. To me, everything was explainable instead of an unreal figment of someone’s imagination that could not possibly actually happen, unlike the action in mysteries.
Then, I was offered this gig writing a sci-fi fantasy.
Could I translate her vision into a saleable book? Sometimes memoir clients simply want a few copies printed up for their families. Others go full blast for commercial sales. This client wanted a blockbuster, sure-fire book that would top the best-seller lists instantly. She had done her homework on sci-fi and had a fascinating plot and characters. So far, so good. Then we got down to brass tacks and it turned out my pragmatism threatened to ruin the deal. I asked silly questions like, “Which pharmacy dispensed Captain America’s serum?”
I needed explanations of how and why characters did things, I wanted backstory and detail. I found it simply too difficult to enter her world and believe in it enough to write it. I’d ghosted books for a nuclear-physicist, an Olympic athlete, an arborist, and sundry others but, alas, dipping my toe into a world where I had to suspend belief took two weeks to accept and almost ruined Christmas. But, like all authors, I turned to research, picked myself up and dug into the story, and now I am enjoying exploring this new world of fantasy. Who knew? Come on down, Batman!