From Literary Hub:
The first thing the ghostwriter did every time someone new entered her apartment was show them the wall of photos. She used to be the PR director for Madison Square Garden, so her photo wall was worth the look. There she was with the Yankees, George Foreman, or Meatloaf. There were more than a dozen photos on the wall, and she told me she had many more.
The ghostwriter herself was an older Jewish woman, probably in her mid-to-late seventies, extremely energetic and full of love. She typically wore crushed velvet track suits, zipped to a modest height, and had a huge smile. Her whole body shook as she typed, which she did furiously, with two fingers. You could hear the keystrokes down the hall. Her emails, which she sent at the speed of conversation, were often in all caps and always full of misspellings. It felt like being shouted at by someone with a thick accent, although she rarely meant it like that.
. . . .
I had just gotten out of my MFA program, and I felt like some kind of hotshot writer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was on the other end of a summer which had seen me move to Idaho to finish my novel, but it was in fact more of an excuse to experiment with a variety of hangover cures. I needed a job, but I didn’t know how to get one. All of my previous gigs had been of the “call this guy and he’ll hire you” variety.
And my job with the ghostwriter began the same way. A former classmate got me a job in the office, which was her grandmother’s apartment on the Upper West Side next to a Trump building, doing the same thing as her, which was ghostwriting for a ghostwriter.
. . . .
Work for the ghostwriter fell into two distinct categories. The less interesting was doing what she called “stories,” which were 500-word pieces about small companies that were posted to a copyright free website. We’d take a current event and write about how a certain company’s product could fix it. For each article, my coworkers and I, all graduates of the same MFA program, were paid $50 and given explicit instructions to not tell anyone we had written them.
The second category was the actual ghostwriting, which is where things got (at least a little) more interesting. To get clients, the ghostwriter would attend various professional development conferences and give talks affirming that books were a great way for people to build their professional profile and translate that into speaking gigs. The books, she insisted, would legitimize their authors as experts in their fields and help them tell their stories. After these engagements, she would come back into the office, glowing.
“I think we got some great leads,” she would say. “Lots of work coming in!”
. . . .
Finally, work came in. There was a woman who wanted to write a nonfiction book about her relationship with her horse, which had helped her get over the trauma of growing up with an emotionally abusive mother and a neglectful father. Later, the woman fell off the horse and suffered nerve damage that partially incapacitated her. But she recovered and continued to stamp into our office every day, drop her bags, and slowly unspool her tale to the ghostwriter. The horse was named Boo-Boo, and she instructed us to use that in the title. The ghostwriter picked the book’s title when it came to her in a dream.
. . . .
Ron came in with a neck brace and a story about how he’d managed the American team in a culinary competition that he billed as the first reality cooking show. He had suffered tremendous nerve damage in two car accidents—one in which he was riding a bike—that made it hard for him to bend his wrists or move his neck. He was a big man with a high and harsh laugh, almost like a bark. His wife wanted him to get back into the kitchen, but his body couldn’t take it, so he thought the book would be a good way to earn money. Although the price tag was steep, he believed her line that the book could launch his career. So he lugged huge boxes of files, photocopied pages of library books, and curling photographs of him standing next to gigantic cakes carved into the shapes of dragons, or castles, or whatever, to our office. The inventor of the competition was German, and Ron made a half-hearted attempt to suggest that he was kicked out of Germany by the Nazis. That wasn’t true.
When Ron came in—when anyone came in—the ghostwriter flipped a switch. She went from sort of daffy and inattentive to intimately involved with her client’s world. Her head cocked, her timbre lowered, and she understood everything. A client could have sat down and told her they were going to murder their parents and she would have said, “Well, they have been very mean to you.” With her, the clients felt heard. They’d open up their lives, reveal deeply buried trauma. She was a truly fantastic interviewer. Part of that was the time she invested, part of that was her agreeability, and part of that was that people just genuinely liked her. So she earned her fees.
Link to the rest at Literary Hub