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Charlene Keel is a high-level writer of fiction. Novels. Short stories. If that’s what you need help with, she can certainly accommodate. What you see below arrived a couple days ago; I thought I’d share it with our blog readers:
In my last few years of ghostwriting, I’ve dealt successfully with all manner of clients, from easy-going to prickly personalities. As I tell them in the beginning of our journey together, it’s their book, their story and their characters, not mine. Also that it’s my job to capture their voice, tell their story and portray their characters as they see them in a way that will bring it all alive and entice the reader to keep turning pages.
I also promise to tell them (gently but frankly) when I believe they’re going in the wrong direction (and why), and I’ll try to steer them in a more creative direction — but bottom line is, it’s their book and it’s my job to make them happy with the finished product, even if I disagree about how it should be executed.
So far, they have all been satisfied with my work. I’m pretty good with clients, even the prickly ones.
And that, boys and girls, is what you want in a ghostwriter. Charlene is here to help.
I thought I’d share with you another piece of amazing writing. This is from Britain’s Financial Times, written by Cathi Unsworth in 2017. The subject is a 1967 duet by American songwriter and performer Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. It’s title: “Some Velvet Morning.”
The song has been banging around in my head for the last few days, since I’d heard it on a local radio station. Of course, being an oldie myself, I recall being blown away when it first came out. The first two paragraphs are:
There’s a glissando of strings, like waves breaking on a shore, then a man’s voice, rich and dark, intones the most enigmatic opening lines in pop history: “Some velvet morning when I’m straight/I’m gonna open up your gate/And maybe tell you ’bout Phaedra/And how she gave me life/And how she made it end/Some velvet morning when I’m straight.”
In response, a woman’s voice, light as a summer’s breeze, chants an invocation: “Flowers growing on a hill, dragonflies and daffodils/ Learn from us very much, look at us but do not touch/Phaedra is my name . . . ”
I recently had some work done on my classic BMW 328i. New clutch, brakes, brake light switch, flywheel, seals, oil change, sensors and some other items. The bill came to $2,259. I didn’t have a dealer do it (who needs that headache?), but an independent auto repair shop that specializes in European automobiles. I’ve been going to that shop for years. They’re honest and they know what they’re doing.
When I picked up the car, I knew it would perform as it should. And it did.
There were other options. I could have found a cheap mechanic instead. But I didn’t. I did not want to deal with delays, mistakes, excuses and do-overs.
You know where I’m going with this, right?
Earlier today I spoke with a woman who wants us to write a TV pilot script. We talked about the writers I have on staff. I described the lengthy elimination process I used to select them. “These are the survivors,” I cracked. “Ghostwriters Central doesn’t present a laundry list of writers you can choose from, including many who are pure bargain basement.”
Apparently she had looked at one of those lists. She told me about a writer in Bangladesh who would do the work for around $5 a page. I just laughed.
I have a video security system here. Like everything else, it’s made in Asia. The printed instruction manual might have been written by that guy in Bangladesh. It’s nearly incomprehensible. The manufacturer should have had our Mike Branom, a technical writing expert and native English speaker, write it. Then people could understand it.
The goal is to communicate effectively and successfully, and on the first attempt. It’s easy to sabotage yourself.
The lesson here is: Don’t have your car repaired by someone inexperienced or incompetent. And don’t hire a non-native English-speaking person to write your manuscript, screenplay, speech, instruction manual or anything else. Just don’t. The odds are excellent that it will be messed up, resulting in your having to shell out more money (and time; when is your deadline?) to fix it.
Call us and the job will be done right at a reasonable price.
I love great writing, whether in a magazine, a book, a speech or a movie.
Last night, I put on “Hell or High Water,” from 2016, starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Dale Dickey, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. It’s a story about brothers who go about paying off their late mom’s reverse mortgage by robbing the bank that holds the mortgage, and a pair of Texas Rangers who race from bank branch to branch to catch them.
There is an unforgettable scene where the Rangers, played by Bridges (Marcus Hamilton) and Birmingham (Alberto Parker), walk into a restaurant and have to deal with a no-nonsense waitress in order to get food. The server is played by Margaret Bowman. Taylor Sheridan is the credited screenwriter. Quote is courtesy of IMDb:
Marcus Hamilton: Howdy ma’am. How are you doing today?
T-Bone Waitress: Hot . And I don’t mean the good kind. So, what don’t you want?
Marcus Hamilton: Pardon?
T-Bone Waitress: What don’t you want?
Marcus Hamilton: Oh, well, uh. I think I’ll just, uh…
T-Bone Waitress: You know. I’ve been working here for 44 years. Ain’t nobody ever ordered nothing but T-Bone steak and a baked potato. Except this one asshole from New York tried to order trout back in 1987. We don’t sell no goddamned trout. T-bone steaks. So either you don’t want the corn on the cob, or you don’t want the green beans. So what don’t you want?
Marcus Hamilton: I don’t want green beans.
Alberto Parker: I don’t want green beans either.
T-Bone Waitress: Steaks cooked medium rare.
Alberto Parker: Can I get my steak cooked just a…
T-Bone Waitress: That weren’t no question.
Alberto Parker: All right.
T-Bone Waitress: Iced tea for you boys.
Alberto Parker: Iced tea’d be great.
Marcus Hamilton: Iced tea, yep. Thank you ma’am.
T-Bone Waitress: Uh-huh.
(After she walks away….)
Marcus Hamilton: Well I’ll tell you one thing. Nobody’s gonna rob this son of bitch.
Alberto Parker: My word.
If you’ve not seen this film, find it. This scene just makes me howl with laughter. Brilliantly written and acted.
A couple days ago, I dropped by Kate Jonez’s house in a remote, hilly part of Los Angeles. I had to sign off on some business with her; she’s one of my excellent writers. That was my second visit to her house.
The first visit was back in December when she joined my ghostwriting staff. That day, I drove up the hill and parked across the street near a church. A moment later I was at her door and hit the doorbell. Kate invited me in. I walked into the living room as she shut the door.
“You got a new mailbox,” I said. “I was looking for the old blue mailbox but you’ve got a new black one.” I was using it as a navigational aid, since her house was set back from the street, shielded by trees. And I knew that comment would likely confuse her.
“Yes, we did get a new…. Wait, how did you know we changed mailboxes?” She suddenly realized I should not have known about the change. So how did I know?
No, I don’t sneak around neighborhoods, making notes about mailboxes. And I’m not a stalker.
“Google Street View,” I answered. “When I’m going to some unfamiliar place, I’ll often pull up the address so I’ll know what to look for.”
Was there street parking? (No). What kind of traffic would there be? (Lots of speedy traffic, curves, two-lane road). Could I pull into her driveway? (Backing out would not be the safest thing to do, given the curves, hill, traffic, etc.).
So you need to deliver a speech, let’s say 20 minutes long, to salespeople. You’ve got a new product ready to push out to the marketplace and it’s those salespeople who will get it into the hands of bricks-and-mortar retailers and online vendors.
To connect with your audience, that speech needs to be informative and you need to build a fire under those watching. But not only that, the speech needs to be about YOU. It must be researched, tailored to your personality, your manner of speaking and to that audience.
How’s this for a summary?
“… Every speech has to be credibly spoken by a particular speaker and perfectly pitched to a specific audience. That means deep research into who was in each audience. So of course a speech is about your central concept, what it is you’re saying, but it’s also who’s saying it and whom you’re speaking to.”
That paragraph is from a 2016 interview of Jayne Benjulian, Apple’s first chief speechwriter, by Bourree Lam of The Atlantic magazine. It’s definitely worth reading and I thought I’d share it with you. Go here, check it out.
We’ve got everything covered, from books to movies to wedding vows to advertising to CEO speeches to instruction manuals and even crisis communications. That last item is what an excellent public relations person does to help a business survive some corporate screw up or disaster. It’s all about the mitigation of bad news and minimizing the damage to their reputation. If you’ve been following the news over the last couple months, Amtrak could have benefited from our services. But they didn’t call. Not surprising.
I literally went through several weeks of intense effort in order to find these eight writers. Each has been assigned a realm for which they are perhaps best suited, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to write lots of other things. Under the About menu you’ll find the Ghostwriting Staff page. Each writer prepared his or her own bio summary of around 250 words. These folks have rather incredible qualifications.
I had a vast amount of email in response to an open call for writers. Most of them sent samples of their work; the others sent samples when I requested them. I read and graded (yes, graded, like in school) their works then averaged out the grades for each writer. Every one of these people scored “A”s in their main areas of expertise. The grading was necessary because of the volume of applicants; that way, I didn’t worry about forgetting how good someone was, or forgetting how bad someone was, and perhaps hire them by mistake. The best works were thrilling to read. The works of some of those who didn’t make the cut just gave me headaches.
And one fellow I invited to join the staff told me he was advised by his lawyer to say no. At least, that’s what he claimed. Honestly, though, I didn’t think he was seriously interested. But if he were telling the truth, I’d advise him to watch and enjoy the final scene of Erin Brockovich in which Julia Roberts’ character had a few thoughts about lawyers.
If you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter, you can have great confidence is us. Go check ’em out. You’ll be impressed; I sure was!
I’ve been reading a lot of book excerpts, screenplay pages, short stories, poems and lyrics lately. I’m evaluating writers to fill out the staff here.
What I’m looking for is exceptional talent. But it’s not simply a matter of how well a writer can form words to carry a scene or make a point. It’s also about the execution of same. What inspired this blog post is an article I’m reading about an Internet deejay. It’s entertaining and absorbing to read. The writer has some serious resume credits. But also has some serious grammatical problems.
Grammar can trip up a writer so easily. It’s not that I’m a grammar Nazi. Well, maybe I am. But here’s the point: Not only do you need to be an excellent wordsmith to work here, you also need to execute the work properly. We write for others. If you can’t tell a client’s story well, that client will be unhappy. If you do tell the story well but that story suffers grammatical problems, the client will be unhappy about that, too.
Writers hoping to find a spot here need to be able to compose with words and execute the structure and grammar properly.
This isn’t necessarily about formal education. Some people have natural talent with language and instinctively understand grammar. Folks like that may be dynamite writers by the time they finish high school, while others with masters degrees will still be making silly mistakes. The level of formal education isn’t really important to me. What I want is imagination and skill. I’ll take a brilliant writer with decent grammatical skills any day of the week. If you can paint with words and not stumble over commas and apostrophes in the art studio (so to speak), I’ll want to talk with you.
In the case of the writer whose work I was reading before diverting to write this post, the writing is very good but the grammatical execution thereof is severely lacking. Why in the world would a writer send a defective sample to the one doing the hiring? From a business standpoint, here’s the problem: The writer’s work would need an editor to fix the problems before the work can be returned to the client. That just slows things down and drives up cost.
I need the client to be happy. I want the client to refer us to others. I want clients to say nice things about us on Yelp. The writer needs to have exceptional writing skill and exceptional skill at not using wrong words (elicit/illicit, to/too, your/you’re), not putting a space after an opening parenthesis, not putting commas where they don’t belong, knowing when to not use apostrophes, knowing when to use single or double quote marks, and so on.
These are fundamental writing skills. The writer who inspired this post will need to look elsewhere for work.
This is a paragraph from a short story by Kevin Hall. Topic is the young man’s first job as an intern in the basement of a hundred-year-old brick building in Omaha, now housing a big law firm:
“Fall turned to Winter, Winter turned to Spring, Spring turned to Summer, then Summer skipped Autumn and went straight into Winter. Temperatures plummeted, cracks spread web-like across windshields as black ice seduced rubber tires, skipping traffic across meridians and turning morning commutes into crap shoots with icy destruction. The cold air bit my flesh as I walked to work, somehow sneaking its way into my many layers and nestling itself into the marrow of my bones. The basement was even worse. Imagine spending 12 hours a day in an abandoned meat locker where the livestock is paperwork and every shadow looks like a ghost; where your breath lingers like mushroom clouds and your teeth play drum roll chatters from the insides of your jaw. But even through the shivering shudders that numbed my fingers and toes, I continued to worked my heart out from sunrise to sunset, even though from the basement, I couldn’t see either.”
What I’m doing is looking for great new writers to bring on staff. What powers of description Kevin has! At first, I whistled and then broke up laughing with delight. Reads like something from Mickey Spillane or Raymond Chandler. I need a hot cup of tea before I read any more of this.
I love watching football, especially on a really big-screen TV. And I love great writing. Sports writing is a challenge. Describing plays and the actions of players is often given over to excessive use of superlatives, and there’s a reason for that.
Great things happen in sports so great phrases are used to describe them. The problem comes in when something happens that is so far beyond the pale that the writer is dumbfounded. He or she has no doubt exhausted every possible phrase to describe the impossible, but here before that writer is a play that goes far beyond the impossible.
How the hell do you describe something even more impossible? Now that’s a serious challenge.
Last night, I was stunned into open-jawed astonishment at the finale of the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings NFL playoff game. It was amazing to watch, and I was happy for the Vikings and their fans, but I knew I was in for a good time in the hours following that victory. Sportswriters were faced with the task of describing that game.
This is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. I could imagine them at their keyboards, reaching deep into their vocabularies, probing their imaginations, searching for phrases. Looking for a hook on which to hang a paragraph.
Late Sunday night, I went looking for articles using Google News and the search word: “Vikings.”
Today, writer Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writing for the ever-frustrated hometown Vikings fanbase, came up with this paragraph, the third in his article:
“But with 10 seconds left on Sunday, needing at least a field goal with no timeouts left and the ball on their own 39-yard line, the Vikings called ‘Seven Heaven.’ And they watched Stefon Diggs leap for a Case Keenum pass, turn the corner and march a fanbase right out of sporting hell.”
Again: “And they watched Stefon Diggs leap for a Case Keenum pass, turn the corner and march a fanbase right out of sporting hell.”
Oooh! Freakin’ brilliant! That perfectly encapsulates the moment…and, more importantly, years of moments. Years of frustrating moments in sports was the hook.
Then there’s Peter King of Sports Illustrated who decided to talk about a moment in the locker room after, and Keenum’s cell phone:
“Ding! … Ding!
“Forty minutes after he ran (levitated?) off the field Sunday, Case Keenum picked up his iPhone in the Vikings’ locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, looked at the screen … Ding! … and just shook his head. Keenum repeated a line he could not stop saying. He said to no one, ‘I can’t believe it.’ That ding sound, the annoying sound when a text message lands in an iPhone, just wouldn’t stop, and Keenum, bemused, tossed the phone onto the wooden seat of his locker.
“’Can’t believe it,’ Keenum said. ‘A hundred and 73 texts.’
“He rose to pose for pictures with Stefon Diggs, his partner in the most stunning moment in Vikings history. Their grins were goofy. ‘Dude, I can’t believe this!’ Keenum said. There are times when people are so happy they appear to be almost in a daze, and that was Keenum, right here, right now, turning back to his locker.
“’I’m not mad about it,’ Keenum said. ‘It’s a good problem to have.’
“Keenum just sat and thought for a few moments, and looked at me.
“’How are you gonna write THIS?’ he said.
And now Keenum knows how King wrote it.
I do love great writing, and on an occasion such as this, I go hunting for what sportswriters say. The best writers seldom let me down. It’s my own personal Seven Heaven.
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