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Ghost Words by Michael Mckown - 1M ago

On Friday, May 17th, 2019, I lost my balance on a concrete step in my garage, fell and fractured my left leg, near the hip. I spent four days in the local hospital, and the rest back at home. To avoid further hurting myself and to obtain the help I needed, I put an ad on Craigslist. I had evaluated about 30 responses and selected a young man named Roberto.

One thing that appealed to me is that he spent a year and a half in culinary schools, so whatever he whipped up would likely be better than the yummies served up by the hospital. Plus, he had the necessary free time and desire to help out, as he’d done with again family members. During the interview process, he revealed he’d been a sales manager at two car dealerships.

Now, who wouldn’t want to spend six weeks in close proximity to an automobile sales manager? (Just kidding. More or less).

Sales as a profession can be tough. Sales management can be even tougher, because not only do you need to schedule the hours and track the performances of those under you, you must be unsentimental in setting and achieving goals. And you will probably need to instruct those who seemingly have no sales skill in the art and technique of something they likely hate doing. If you can handle that job, well tip o’ the hat to you!

I gave Roberto a little of my personal history, which involved creating and running organizations and businesses since 1976. I told him that I quickly realized that if I didn’t learn how to sell that I’d quickly starve to death. And so I learned to sell research told me that people don’t buy your product or service; they buy you! One day years later I walked into the Santa Monica, CA, Ford dealership and was greeted by an immaculately-dressed black man. He was tall, slender, mostly bald with some gray fringe, and probably in his early 50s. I swear to the heavens above, his smile seemed to burn straight to my soul. Now I’m sure at least some of his approach was practiced and perfected. But it was effective.

Now, salesmanship as a job, to me even today, strikes me as mostly about artificial friendliness, and a recognition on the part of the customer that it’s mostly artificial, which immediately discounts the sincerity of the conversation. As a job, sales is fake-friendliness and manipulation. And those who doubt that ought to check out the bulletin boards in the rooms of most any car dealership where the sales crew hangs out on breaks.

Think for a moment about William H. Macy’s brilliant portrayal of a fakey “executive sales manager” at the Oldsmobile dealership in Fargo. Creepy, right?

When you have a business of your own, it’s not just a job. It’s your life and it’s your passion. Why is that important? Because you don’t have to fake it. Today, I got a call. A prospective new client wants to have us write both a screenplay and the book manuscript. Now, this fellow has traveled the globe and wants to tell the story of an incident that takes place both in the US and in a Central Asian Republic (think Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, similar to those). The client said it would be a dark story. People do bad things to each other to further their own interests.

My instincts kicked in. We began kicking thoughts around. There are big cultural differences as to what constitutes “a dark story” in the US and in some Central Asian Republic. Standards of acceptable behavior differ, too. The writer must know about the cultural differences and how to convincingly present those differences. I said it’s easy to sail way over the top into cartoonishness and absurdity. Don’t even try to make an American interpretation of what passes as dark behavior in that remote part of our world.

You need to find the truth of that darkness if outside the US. You need to have legitimate expertise. Hire someone who knows and probe that person’s mind. If the story needs to send the audience’s blood temp into the 70s, the one who can deliver the truth can bring down the temps and bring on the nightmares for days after. It’s the truth and its delivery in a convincing, truthful manner that yields the powerful, teeth-shattering performances and their aftermath.

“You saw Zero Dark Thirty, right?” He had. Director Kathryn Bigelow did a first-rate job of leading that film. The actors portraying waterboarding Americans (Jason Clarke, etc.) did a first-rate job of portraying that torture technique. But they may not be the ones to haul the truth of a Central Asian Republic into the light. So find a person who knows the dark truths of that region and how to bring the pain. Then find someone who can communicate to the actors what that truth must look like. Then find actors who can convincingly deliver that truth as though it’s just a daily thing. For in the case of some of those people, it will be just a daily thing. And that’s the magic of acting.

The client and I were brainstorming, tossing out ideas in a fury. And then I suddenly remembered the actor I nicknamed Eyebrows from a film a couple years earlier. The client hadn’t seen it. 12 Strong was a so-so movie about the CIA intervention into Afghanistan in the days following 9/11. Intel ops on horseback. Real John Wayne shit. And an Afghan warlord who called himself General Dostum, portrayed by an actor I’d not heard of until then, whom I called Eyebrows.

I told the client Eyebrows’ performance blew me away on every level. I suggested he rent the movie and watch the man. I explained that I looked him up on IMDb then found out he was on Twitter. His name was Navid Negahban; he’s Iranian. I had tweeted Mr. Negahban once I realized he had a Twitter account. That tweet began: “Does Sean Connery know you swiped his eyebrows?” Then I praised his powerful performance. I ended with the hope I’d get to enjoy him in another movie someday.

The client said he would look at the movie and check out Negahban’s acting. If he liked what he saw, I told him that he ought to tweet Mr. Negahban and ask, “Who’s your agent?” I wasn’t trying to sell the client anything. I was just sharing my passion. But the client got sold. A movie and a book may get written. And an Iranian actor may have landed another job. And the business of the writing of both projects, may have come to us simply because of my passion for a well-executed story.

Salesmanship. Let your passion take control.

And, honestly, I doubt if Sir Sean Connery would even mind if his eyebrows were peripherally involved without his getting paid for it.

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It’s a page on this website, located here.

I’ve been collecting informative and witty comments from writers for years. There are hundreds of comments on that page, each properly credited. A few days ago, I added a bunch more, including remarks by film script writers and song writers. Go check it out.

I think you’ll find the many remarks shed light on the inner-workings of the mind of a wordsmith.

What the heck, I even added a comment of my own. At least I think it’s my own original comment. I’ve been at this job long enough to have an opinion.

The comment in first position at the moment, by the way, came from an article in The New Yorker, which is a writers’ resource all its own. I buy it for the articles, of course, but enjoy the cartoons most of all.

So quit being so serious for a while. Click the link up top and go have some fun. You can be serious later.

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Today, I spoke with a potential client who has a fictional story he wanted to turn into both a novel and a screenplay. He and I chatted for a while, just being friendly and getting to know each other. When our long call was over, I notified two writers to call the client in the morning and talk with him about their parts of his project.

One of the writers was novelist Charlene Keel. We hadn’t spoken in a while and spent a good half hour on the phone. Our conversation got into client problems that we’d had to deal with over the years (none of which, I’m sure, would apply to today’s gentleman). She told me a story about one guy for whom she wrote most of a manuscript. He still owed her for the final payment on her work.

That payment was due before she completed the final two chapters. He had already taken possession of earlier chapters and was delighted with her work. And, she said, he told her he could finish the novel on his own, no further help is required by you, thankyouverymuch, and of course “I’m not paying you any more.” And with that, her client walked away.

It was when he tried writing those final two chapters himself that he realized he didn’t have the necessary skill after all. He wrote, thought he was finished, submitted the work and got immediate rejections. Not long after, he came back to Charlene, suitably chastened, apologized for his boorish behavior, and asked her to complete his novel. And paid her for it. And then he found a publisher.

Sweet! It’s nice when conflicts end that way.

My story didn’t have such a wonderful, warm. ending. Some 14 years ago, the co-founder of Ghostwriters Central came to me with a client problem. He had been working with a man who had accepted the final work on whatever his project was. Sorry, but I no longer recall whether it was a book. But this client had just told my then-partner that he loved the job we’d done but had no intention of honoring the final payment he owed us. My partner called me up and was worried sick about how we were going to get paid.

Now, one of my skill sets is SEO — search engine optimization. I’m one of those guys who knows how to get a webpage to rank high in response to search queries. “You tell that guy he either pays us what he owes us and immediately, or I will make sure that everyone who Googles his name finds out he’s a liar and a thief. Make sure he understands we’re not going to lie, but I will simply tell the true story of how he tried to screw us. Call the man and tell him.” The truth is a good defense.

He made the call. The client was, like, yeah right. Hahaha. I created a webpage, told the story and coded that page in such a way that anyone who searched for his name (you know, family, friends, business associates) would discover his evil deed. It took several weeks before Google indexed the page, but one day, there it was. Ranked in the top five results for a search for that client’s name.

Suddenly the guy is on the phone to my partner, begging us to take it down. My partner told him we’d take it down as soon as we received payment, which was immediately forthcoming. When the money reached the bank, I removed the page. But Google can be slow to deindex webpages. He called several times to whine about the page listing and description still being up, and the supposed damage it was doing to his reputation.

Our response was: “We warned you. We told you what we would do if you did not honor your obligation.” The whining continued for weeks and ended when (no doubt to his massive relief) Google realized the page had gone away and took down the search engine entry for it.

We prefer a nice, easy, honest relationship with our clients. But if you can’t write and you need a writer to handle your project, treat them with the respect they deserve. And if you’re gonna try to maliciously screw your writer, be aware that some of us know other uses for a Louisville Slugger than to knock a stuffed, stitched cowhide spheroid over the center field wall.

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We’ve been pretty busy at Ghostwriters Central. Someone asked the other day about what’s happening here. We always have a lot of small projects going on but at the moment the larger projects include two books, three screenplays and four theatrical stage plays. And that load meant I had to add staff. The new folks are:

  • Stephen Witkin, who specializes in film, TV, stage plays and speeches.
  • Corey Wright, who is a playwright, screenwriter and provides script coverage services.

You can see their photos and read their bios on our ghostwriting staff page. That’s 10 very experienced, very capable writers at your service. We are not in the business of letting writers offer their services on this site independently. These folks work for me directly. They are under contract to Ghostwriters Central. If I say they’re exceptional, you can believe it.

I make it crystal clear to everyone I hire that we are all about excellent, competent client service. I like nice, easy relationships. I want great writers who pose no problems for me or for clients. There are no rip-offs here, no excuses and there’s no bul…uhh…baloney. We have a wonderful reputation and I fully intend to maintain it. If you’ve got a project for us, give me a call. We’ll handle it properly.

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So many great writers, so many I’ve not heard of. One of those was William Least Heat-Moon. I saw his 1982 book mentioned in an article about small-town America. I immediately ordered it, and it is my current read.

Mr. Heat-Moon decided to make a change in his life. He departed Missouri in a Ford van, somewhat modified so he could live in it. And he hit the road, minor highways linking small towns. In maps way back when, rural highways were indicated in blue, hence the name of the book.

The book is a travelogue, a tale of his on-the-road adventures as he wandered from town to town, including conversations with the local folk. One place he visited, simply because of its name (or lack thereof) was Nameless, TN. Ever heard of it? Me either. This is a fascinating true tale and I’m probably only 15% into it at the moment.

The man has uncanny powers of description. Oftentimes I pause to savor his delicious word choices and word combinations that lend great power to images my mind creates. I try to commit his phrases to memory simply because they’re so memorable.

A great deal of pleasure awaits as I delve deeper into this book. What I’ve read so far brings me to a recommendation: Find it. Buy it. Enjoy it.

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The call came in from an attorney. He was due to give a motivational speech in several days and he needed a speechwriter who could deliver excellence on a tight deadline. I had a writer in mind — Brian Ackley — and arranged for him to call the client. They decided to move forward on the project and I sent a PayPal invoice to the client. Short deadlines require the rush rate, which is double our usual rate. It’s often a problem finding a qualified writer when time is short; after all, people make plans and may not be able to take on the project. And even if the preferred writer is available, extraordinary effort may be required. Other projects have to go on hold so the writer can get the rush project done.

In this case, Brian and client needed to talk often in order to structure the speech and flesh it out with real-world examples from the lawyer’s professional life. The back-and-forth roared along until nearly the last moment. Once the second draft was completed, the client headed to the venue to deliver the speech. Mr. Ackley had tailored the speech to the client’s requirements and that client received what he wanted before the deadline. He had this to say near the end of the process, before the final draft was delivered:

“Thank you so much for your hard work on this. I love how this is shaping out. I’m presenting around 8:30 this evening so the hard deadline will be around 7pm.

“Let’s absolutely use the story of the accused father over (name deleted). Is there a way to clean up the ending so that we leave the audience on a high/powerful/inspired note? I didn’t feel that with the current ending, but I understand it is a work in progress.

“You are extraordinarily good at this and I’d love to work with you on future speeches, to build off of this one. I’m available by email and phone for the rest of the day if you have questions as we work to go final on this.”

I appreciate the client’s kind words, and Brian’s steadfast dedication to getting this project fully developed and delivered in time. Who can ask for more? Brian Ackley is a hero, and I am happy to say that all those on my writing staff are heroes.

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So for a few weeks I had been replying to emails from clients, writers and friends without response, which I thought was odd. And then I got a call from a client who wondered why I hadn’t emailed him back. I remembered his query and said that I did reply. But since we were live by phone, we talked about his project.

I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find my email reply in the Sent folder of my Opera email client (“client” means it’s a program on my PC, not web-based email, such as Yahoo or Gmail). Clearly, if email sending doesn’t work, it’s a big problem.

I called the hosting company and had their tech support people look at the issue. Eventually they said the problem is on my end. With the Opera email client. Fortunately, hosting companies have web-based alternatives to email clients. I logged in to that system and answered a lot of emails, and they all included an apology for the delay. I should have noticed the problem earlier.

Opera email was never a program I liked much. And now it was malfunctioning. The tech guy said not to worry, all the emails sent and received were preserved on the server. He said just find a new client and all the data would download once logged in to the mail server. I recalled the hassle of configuring Opera email. It was a headache. I remember thinking, why does setting up an email client have to be such a pain?

I Googled for “email clients” to see what other options there were. I found several tech site reviews of various clients. eMclient.com‘s free version allowed up to two email accounts, the review said. I visited their site. The free version lasted only a month. The pro version was $49, with unlimited mail accounts. I took a chance and downloaded the free version.

At this point, I expected the usual configuration headache. I entered the email account info (michael@ghostwords.com). It asked for the password and I handed it over. Suddenly the program launched into action. And seconds later, all the emails — coming, going, spam, etc. — appeared. A couple clicks and the default appearance was set for html, both in and out. I added the signature line with no problem at all. I then added the second email account. Worked perfectly. I was amazed that some brilliant software engineer found a way past all the hassles.

Damn! I thought, anyone who can make an email client this good, who makes my life easier by streamlining the entire process, deserves my support. I clicked Help and told it to upgrade to the pro version. Another surprise: It asked if I were sure about upgrading since I had 30 days left on my trial period. I clicked I’m sure, entered some credit card info, then the product key was emailed to me. I entered that into the program and now I’m all set.

So, blog readers, if you’re looking for a top-quality email client, this is the one I strongly recommend. Come config time, you can leave the Tylenol bottle in the medicine cabinet. Trust me. Try it out.

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In today’s Los Angeles Times, I see that legendary novelist and screenwriter William Goldman has passed away at age 87. Nardine Saad wrote the obituary. She said, in part:

The prolific Hollywood wiseguy wrote some of the most quotable films of all time and also authored a number of novels and memoirs. He became a sought-after “script doctor,” a hired gun who burnishes a struggling screenplay, because he understood cinematic storytelling as well as the importance of a character’s perspective.

But it was his 1983 book, “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” that had Tinseltown buzzing by explaining that there were no easy answers in show business, readily entering a well-worn catchphrase in the film world’s lexicon.

“Nobody knows anything,” Goldman wrote. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess — and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

Another memorable quote: “Follow the money,” which first appeared in All the President’s Men, has been used in scandal investigations ever since.

Rob Reiner directed Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Obit writer Saad has been fielding tributes to the Hollywood icon, including this from Reiner: “I visited with him last Saturday. He was very weak but his mind still had the Goldman edge. I told him I loved him. He smiled and said fuck you.” (The F-bomb was replaced in the newspaper sentence with an ellipsis).

Sayonara, Mr. Goldman. It’s been a lark. The entire article appears here.

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Writer Mike Branom recently wrote a campaign concession speech for a client. That client provided some thoughts about what to put in the speech, which resulted in Mike (who is an expert in public relations) telling the client: “No, no, no! That’s not what to say.” Later on, I asked him to write a blog post and he offered to pen his thoughts on what to say — and what not to say — in a concession speech. Here ya go! Enjoy!

By- Mike Branom

You’re a politician and it’s the night of Election Day. As results from the polls trickle in, you’re mentally rehearsing your victory speech, considering how you want your swearing-in to go, already planning how to enact your policies…

Wait, the networks just called your race? And you… lost??

Now what???

Well, your next public move is one you either dreaded or hadn’t even considered: Delivering your concession speech, because it’s time to get off the stage. There are two reasons why losing politicos deliver concession speeches. The high-minded explanation is because such remarks signal an end to the fight, meaning the winner now can get to work on the people’s business. The other motive is personal: Everyone is about to stop caring about you, so better say your piece before they shut off the microphone.

But what do you say? Ooh, that’s the tricky part. You’d like to go out with your head held high, still hoping to convince people you’re the better choice. But you can’t sound bitter or attack the winner, or, even worse, not say anything at all, because there’s no faster route to ignominy.

To help with remarks you never hope to deliver, here are some general words of advice…

Thank everyone

 Campaigns are not solo efforts. Yes, your name and face are everywhere — but there were people behind the scenes getting your name and face before the voters. Maybe they stuffed envelopes or walked neighborhoods and knocked on a thousand doors, or perhaps they were powerbrokers in their own right, introducing you to various kingmakers. Either way, thank them. Make them think their hard work was valued. If you crush their spirits, they may not want to work on a campaign again — and you’ve just made life harder for the next candidate of your party.

 You can mention the score, but only if it was close

 If you fell short by 100 votes out of 1 million cast, then you’re justified in pointing out your victorious opponent wasn’t preferred by a significant number of voters. In fact, if you make your case effectively, you can deny the winner a mandate. After all, the electorate was split nearly 50-50.

But if you got waxed, stomped, beaten like a rented mule, etc., then don’t breathe a word about the margin. The results speak for themselves and you raising the issue will only serve to underscore how badly you lost. And no one you’re trying to reach wants to be reminded of that.

You can mention your opponent…or not

If you lost a primary election, then it behooves you to say nice things about them if you want to remain welcome in your party. In a general election, though, it’s optional to say who beat you rather than the passive-voice you were beaten. Just because you’re smiling when delivering your speech, it doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.

Why you ran

Your concession remarks should make some reference to your platform because this is your last chance to do so. Even in a blowout, a graceful way of framing: “We brought attention to critical issues, such as.…”

One voice

What’s the line? “Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan.” You lost, so you get up there and speak. There’s also another reason for doing this: If you’ve run at the head of a ticket, you don’t want your No. 2 sticking shivs in you as an act of self-preservation. It’s been known to happen. Call it the Palin Principle.

Optics, optics, optics

If you’re delivering your remarks in person, then take a close look at how everything will look. If your standing in front of a backdrop that repeats in bold letters “VICTORY!”, you can bet the photogs will get a shot of you, the loser, with that in the background. In that vein, do not bring your family on stage. Most likely, someone will be crying, so save them the mortification of having their tears captured for posterity. Also, please make sure your audience is happy to see you; if they’re not, ooh, will that come through. I’m reminded of a line I read after Mitt Romney’s campaign-closing speech: “The crowd applauded as for a golfer who sank a tricky 12-footer to save par on 18, closing his 3-over round of 75.”

(By the way, Mitt delivered a graceful, upbeat concession address in 2012, and now he’s about to be elected as a senator — an achievement made impossible had he gone out with guns blazing.)

There’s no way around the pain of conceding the election, so make your statement short, quickly ripping off the Band-Aid. But keep in mind, you’ve got the rest of your life to wear the tag of “Lost Election,” so following these guidelines will keep things from getting worse.

Not only do we provide the writing expertise but we also can advise on the wisdom of the approach. Given Mike’s PR background and exceptional writing skills, he can enhance your personal or corporate image, while keeping you from making big mistakes.

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One of my outstanding writers, who has a wry sense of humor, informed me that he’s written the libretto and manuscript for a comic opera that will be produced in Maine in April. I asked him to send me a couple hundred words about it, and he did. In the third person. Read on!

While Thomas Cleveland Lane has been patiently waiting to be somebody’s ghost, he has written the libretto for an opera, in conjunction with a skilled composing partner. The opera is based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, and, Poe notwithstanding, it is a comic opera.

As with the story, they have titled the work Some Words with a Mummy. You can go to a site like Gutenberg and probably find the original story, but if you want a far more irreverent and amusing version of the tale, then the opera is what you want. Now here comes the good news: if you are willing to hie yourself up to Freeport, Maine, this coming April, you can actually see a performance of said show. That should be no problem if you live in Portland, Maine, but maybe a bit of a commute if you live in Portland, Oregon. On the other hand, if the opera is the success it richly deserves to be, you may be able to catch it in a theater near you. Keep in mind, this is not classical opera as you may think of it, with five acts in a language you can’t understand, that goes on and on until the fat lady finally sings. This is two acts in English. We will have you out of there in no time.

Mr. Lane notes that, even if the run at the Footlights Theatre sells out and makes him big bucks deluxe, when you break it down, it will have worked out to a very sub-minimum minimum wage. Writing libretti ain’t easy, but it can be a lot of fun. Having an excellent libretto credited to you can also be a lot of fun. The same goes for any other poetry or narrative prose. Why not give it a try?

Phone (207) 747-5434 for more info.

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