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Kelly Cheek
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Who Are You?

In late November, I stumbled upon a job in Upwork that interested me. It was a ghostwriting job for a novel.

To be honest, ghostwriting never appealed to me before. I like to get credit for what I do. I don’t mean just credit in the form of payment (although that’s an important factor, too). I think an author should be recognized for his writing.

A few years ago, I was married to a very conservative “Born Again Christian” elementary school teacher. When I started writing a novel that contained some explicit scenes in it, she was horrified. What would her family/coworkers/students think? After the horror persisted for a while, in an attempt to placate her, I decided to take on a pseudonym.

I published Profile, which turned out to be book one in my Facebook trilogy, under the name Haydn Grey. Private Messages and Poked were subsequently released under that nom de plume as well.

Meanwhile, the schoolmarm and I divorced. I kept writing and publishing, and after a while, I had several novels with Haydn Grey’s name on them. But I was vain enough that I wanted to be able to take credit for the novels that I wrote, not this Haydn Grey character. And I realized that there was really no reason to continue with the alias.

So I changed my name. No more Haydn Grey for me. I proudly started using my own name again. Granted, it may not have the upper crust Anglo-Saxon ring of a character on Downton Abbey, but it’s mine, the moniker I’ve been accustomed to for over half a century. So Haydn Grey is dead and buried, pushing up daisies, taking a dirt nap.

And I don’t miss him at all.

That’s not to say that it was a walk in the park. It meant that I had to retire each book in Amazon and go through the process of publishing them again, one by one, registering them with new ISBN numbers and barcodes, etc. It was tedious and time-consuming, but it felt good to finally have them in my own name.

But back to ghostwriting.

Writing an article or blog post for someone else, in my mind, is one thing. I don’t feel a deep connection to something like that. A novel, though, is something else entirely.

It’s a personal thing. My story, my characters, I feel very possessive of them. So I never wanted to ghostwrite a novel that someone else’s name would be on.

In this case, though, it involved turning a screenplay into a novel. The characters and the story were already done. The author is a former cop, and the story is a crime procedural following a group of San Francisco police detectives as they try to catch a rapist/murderer.

I was sent a sample, the first couple of chapters of the screenplay, and asked to audition by novelizing them. He liked what I wrote and granted me the contract for the whole story, which he then sent.

To be honest, it’s not a great story. No mystery, no twists or surprises, just going very directly from point A to point B to point C. So as it turned out, I was fine with not having my name on it. And it paid $2,000.

But during the course of writing it, I realized something. I don’t like writing someone else’s story. I like creating my own story. Being constrained by someone else’s storytelling ability (or lack thereof) was kind of maddening. That’s the way it was for me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

I did make a few minor changes. I also made a major one. There was a character that we never saw, but she was important. She was the focus of the rapist/murderer. He had been watching her for a while, before the story even started, and was determined that she was going to be his victim. She’s the one he was obsessing about from the very first page. When something changed which put her out of reach, he settled for one of her friends.

Still, we never met her. During one of the police briefings, two of the inspectors told what they discovered during their interview with her, but the interview itself wasn’t in the story. That was a violation of a well-known writer’s maxim: Show, don’t tell.

So I created a scene that wasn’t in the screenplay. I built their interview with this girl, based on the information that they revealed later in the scene in the briefing room.

And the author liked it. He recognized that it made the story better.

Now, after that, I suppose I could have made other changes that might have improved the story, but the fact is that, as stated earlier, I didn’t really enjoy telling someone else’s story. And, more importantly, I didn’t want to add too much of my own creation to a work that I wouldn’t get credit for.

So, for the most part, I novelized the rest of the screenplay as it was written. I had two months to get it done. I finished it in three weeks.

That would be some decent supplemental income if I could find a lot of those to do one after the other. If I enjoyed it, it would be even better. But so far, the majority of ghostwriting opportunities I’ve seen involve creating a story, then signing it over to someone else.

No thanks.