LiteratEye #37: Maybe You Haven’t Seen a Ghost but You’ve Probably Read a Book by One

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Satire

Here’s the thirty seventh installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #37: Maybe You Haven’t Seen a Ghost but You’ve Probably Read a Book by One
By W.J. Elvin III
October 30, 2009

“I don’t think that anyone would call me a lesbian, it’s just that I seem to be the type that other women get queer ideas about.”

hedy lamarr-210Well, what do you think? Did film heart-throb Hedy Lamarr actually say that or was the quote concocted by her ghostwriter? She was not at all happy with the work of her ghost. She sued the publisher of her autobiography, Ecstasy, contending that what wasn’t concocted was wild exaggeration.

She hadn’t read her own autobiography before it was published? Reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s comment when asked about his ghost-written autobiography:

“I hear it’s terrific. One of these days I’m going to read it.”

Apparently Lamarr was upset over being portrayed as a nut case due to her sexual antics.

Ecstasy has been variously described as “mediocre” and, by a judge who refused to halt its release, “filthy, nauseating, and revolting.” If the latter is true, the book doesn’t devote deserved attention to her beauty and brains.

It might be of interest as a guessing game, what’s true and what’s just Hollywood hype?

We visited the subject of ghost writing a couple of weeks ago in a column sparked by the hullabaloo over whether Barrack Obama had the help of a ghostwriter for Dreams from My Father. In a nutshell, I said critics ought to get a clue as to how the publishing world works.

More recently I ran across a pertinent quote from Bob Olson, editor at OfSpirit.Com and a ghostwriter:

“The general public just isn’t aware of how many books are actually written by someone other than the author. Yet ghostwriting has been a common and acceptable practice in the publishing industry for years. In fact, it is more popular today than ever, with many of today’s best selling books having been ghostwritten. I recently heard that upwards of forty-percent of published books today are ghostwritten.”

Ghost writing is a fairly profitable racket, certainly at the top of the chain where $500,000 wouldn’t be an unusual fee for doing a book. On down the scale, a figure of $25,000 is more likely.

Lately, like so many “service” sorts of jobs, there’s a trend toward outsourcing, according to a Wikipedia entry on the subject. Clients can save up to 80 percent of the usual fee by hiring a ghost in India or some similar environ – where English is used fluently and the economy is, what’s the term, backward?

The outsourced 200-page book might run between $3,000 and $5,000, according to the article.

I believe I saw where there are more English-speakers in China than in the United States. I had thought the idea behind that was to smart-bomb the U.S., killing all the people but leaving it structurally sound, so they could move in and life would go on fairly much as usual. But it could be some English-fluent Chinese are motivated by the possibility of ghosting Kanye West’s next book.

For the most part ghosts are an unknown quantity; can you name one? A few have gone on to fame, Larry McMurtry for example.

Truman Capote wrote Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Well, that’s doubtful but it’s a persistent rumor.

Those who have looked into the allegation say Capote saw the novel in manuscript form, being best friends with Lee. But speculation goes that his monumental ego and propensity to “tell all” would have compelled him to reveal his authorship of one of the major books of the century.

Another rumor, quite possibly true, is that Dick Francis’ wife, Mary, ghosted his mystery novels. She got credit as “researcher” but the roles might actually have been the other way round. However, the books didn’t stop coming when his wife passed away. I see where his younger son, Felix, now gets co-author billing.

Among rumors about the insider investigative/gossip column I wrote for years in Washington D.C. was that the real author was Arnaud de Borchgrave, my editor-in-chief and author of bestsellers Monimbo and The Spike. Though the rumor wasn’t true, it was a compliment.

Actually, I was often Arnaud’s step-n-fetchit: “Call Henry Kissinger and ask him”¦(whatever).”

The trick was, Arnaud had the secret phone numbers to back up his “requests.” So, let’s see, I was sometimes ghosting a column for Arnaud, but under my own name? Well, that’s Washington for you.

At least – Tibetan dream yoga aside – you and I exist, for the moment. Many writers don’t have that opportunity. They are “house names,” such as, going back a ways, Carolyn Keen of the Nancy Drew series, Franklin W. Dixon of the Hardy Boys, and Maxwell Grant of The Shadow Series.

But back to Hedy. ABEbooks web site has a fun list of their picks as the top ten ghost writers, posted as a Halloween treat. Hedy Lamarr’s ghost made the list: “Leo Guild has been labeled the worst pulp novelist ever. His artistic liberties caused Lamarr to sue her publisher over inaccuracies in her own autobiography.”

photo: Flickr

(Copyright 2009 WJE, exclusive to The Art of the Prank, for reprint rights contact

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