The Good Story Podcast

Episode 4: Laura Elliott, Ghostwriter

Episode Summary

A podcast interview with ghostwriter Laura Elliott, all about deep research, finding inspiration from various sources, and telling stories … even other people’s.

Episode Transcription

Mary: Hello, this is Mary Kole and the "Good Story Podcast," helping writers craft a good story. With me, you will hear from thought leaders related to writing, and sometimes not, about topics important to writers of all categories and ability levels. Here is to telling a good story.

Thanks so much for joining us for the "Good Story Podcast." This episode with Laura Elliot, I was so excited to bring to you. We did have some technical issues, which are all on me, by the way. You know, I am just not an audio pro, but the interview was so interesting, Laura was such a wonderful interview subject, and I just thought that the audience would appreciate it. So, for this episode, I hope that you can, sort of, put your forgiveness hats on a little bit and overcome some less than ideal audio quality for the content that it provides. So, with your patience, and wonderful listening ears, and valuable attention, let's roll with today's interview for the "Good Story Podcast." Thank you.

Thank you so much for joining us. This is Mary Kole and the "Good Story Podcast." This is episode four with Laura Elliot. Laura comes to us from a very mysterious area of the writing craft, which is ghostwriting. And, I know a lot of writers are very curious about it, and want to know more about it, but it tends to be, kind of, an interesting veiled part of the market, so I wanted to bring a real-life ghost on to the podcast to talk about this and other interesting things that she has going on. So, welcome, Laura.

Laura: Thank you so much, Mary. It's so great to be here. I just absolutely am looking forward to our talks together. And yes, I am a ghost, I'm a real-life ghost. It's, kind of, fun to say at parties. And, I got into the field through... You know, it was the unexpected career, right, the uncharted living that I love to talk about. You know, I had been a writer in several areas, and I particularly, for ghostwriting, got into writing a book for someone because I wrote a speech for them. And, I write for global thought leaders, and what that means is, I really write for people that are starting movements more than books. You know, obviously the book is an important component of their platform, but they're also doing big things in the world in terms of trying to start certain big movements around the book, whether that's a documentary, whether that's a leadership program for girls, whether that's encouraging minority women to be more of the blockchain cryptocurrency world, and the Silicon Valley area. I live outside the Silicon Valley so I do write for a lot of entrepreneurs and their programs. And, it's very inspiring for me because these great leaders are starting important movements, because they're solving some kind of problem that they faced in their personal lives. And so, it's just been such a blessing to be able to help people give a voice to their programs through books. And like I said, you know, I got through it writing a speech. So, because I wrote a speech for a particular individual, this was a female minority individual, she also wanted me to come on board and write her book. So, there's lots of ways into ghostwriting that you might not even know about, you know? I think if you do follow your passion with your writing and keep your ears open a little bit, you'll be able to definitely get into the market.

Mary: So, let's start there. You were a writer of your own work and you have some of your own work available. So tell me how you, the early writer, got into your own craft, and how you wrote some of your own work before you got into writing for others.

Laura: It's a great, great story, and it's got a couple of avenues there. The short story is that I was in multimedia, like, not too long ago. I was in multimedia in Los Angeles, and what that means is, I was an animator. And, I worked at the Entertainment Television, the "Los Angeles Times," I got my start, actually, in a startup, a financial startup called Digital Insight. So, I have a huge background in business and startups, which is why I write for entrepreneurs. I actually have a degree in accounting, which I don't tell most people.

Mary: Wow.

Laura: When I found that out, I was like, "Oh, my God." I did not want to be in accounting but I did. I actually do that, and it's funny, you know, it's really helped. I'm so not, like, the world's worst accounting student but, you know, life took me where I needed to be, which was this multimedia design career that I got through... I actually studied at ArtCenter in Pasadena. And so, anyway, my whole life really was around writing. I was always writing, kind of, in the background journaling, and what I would do is, when I had a big problem in my life, I started to journal to try and figure it out. And, I remember, specifically, journaling because my kids were needing to... We were supposed to decide what to do with their elementary school education. And, it was really complicated because they had shown my kids a PG 13 movie at school and they were 8. You know, it was like one of those vacation days, and it was not something I as a parent thought was very responsible, so I didn't really know what to do with that. You know, it was a big enough thing, it crossed my line, and so, excuse me, personally, I do enjoy doing that. I also celebrate things. So what I did was, I found Julian Cameron who wrote "The Artist's Way."

Mary: Love "The Artist's Way."

Laura: Yeah, right?

Mary: I encourage writers to read that book just to better their lives. Not even their creative lives, but it is such an empowering book to just have in your pocket, so I'm so glad that you bring that up.

Laura: Well, you know, it's so funny because I wasn't seeking it out. And, I was doing a lot of volunteer work for my daughter's kindergarten class, and I was also an artist. And so, we were doing these... you know, I painted murals with the kids with their hands for "Lion King" at the time was the big movie. You know, I was just always in there doing art with the children. And, Mrs. Oh, who was the kindergarten teacher, a wonderful, amazing, talented woman, wanted to encourage me in my writing, and so, as a gift for being a parent in the classroom and helping kids, she gave me "The Artist's Way." And, it opened up this whole world to me of creativity, like you say, you know? I mean, they mentioned in there "The Artist's Way" so you think you've got the keys, in a way.

Mary: Right.

Laura: I certainly did not think of myself as that. I was, you know, in between, I was actually trying to reboot my career because I had been in a serious car accident where I broke my neck, and I was an industrial designer. And so, I had this time where I had to be very immobile, and I found graphic design, went back to ArtCenter, retrained in graphics animation. And so, this book, kind of, helped me find that track. You know, like, you know, I had all my connections in one field, that was another, and that's how I got to cover entertainment in Los Angeles, and also, I was also writing, always, behind the scenes. And, I was hired as a graphic designer/multimedia designer because I could write. I remember specifically at the "Los Angeles Times," I was always writing op-ed pieces, I was writing little journalistic pieces for local newspapers, that type of thing. And, that really helped get that job because you had it right on the fly. I wasn't working graveyard shifts, but I was working night shifts, and I was working those wars that we were covering in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so, scenes do come in over the feed, and I would have to do these animated, like, flash presentations, working with journalists, videographers, photojournalists, you know, Pulitzer Prize-winning, you know, staff, copywriters, editors that all package these big things. But some things would come in the middle of the night you'd have to figure out the odd lead or what we would do with this. So, I was hired for that job because I did have writing in my pocket.

And, as luck would have it, I was sitting right next to the cubicle of Andrew Nystrom, who was the travel editor at the time of the "Los Angeles Times." And, he had heard that I had traveled to Romania because I was invited because of my fiction work with young adults, they had heard about me. And, typical Romanian fashion, they invited artists, writers, ethnographers to Romania, to speak about them to the world because they wanted to enter the EU. Now, this was just around 2005.

Mary: Wow.

Laura: And so, yeah, in that time frame. So, I was invited to go for two weeks, and it was a big thing, because I did I was married, and I had my family, and I was off, you know, on this big adventure in Romania for two weeks. You know, it was a big thing for me personally to do as well. And so, anyway, Andrew heard about that trip, he's like, "Laura, do you have an article about... You know, could you write a piece on Bran Castle and Dracula, you know, like a travel piece?" And, that was my first travel...published travel piece, and I've been writing travel ever since. Travel has always been a big part of my life, and it really does inform the writing. I, kind of, like to say that I bring the world to my projects when I work with people, also to my speaking engagements to a real perspective. I actually traveled the world twice in a period of two years doing all kinds of things. I recently went out into the world to do research for screenplay in Indonesia.

Mary: Wow.

Laura: And, that's actually how I got started, really, by being a good ghostwriter. Now, if I had a point, a place in time that I never knew was the beginning of my journey, it would be that because my dad was a prisoner of war in Japan. And, I always knew it, but he never talked about it. And, my Dad was born in Indonesia, and he was a Dutch colonial, and, he was taken prisoner as a child, you know, as a youth, as you know, Japan occupied Indonesia. And, he finally wanted to talk about his experience after he turned 80. And so, you know, this was back in the day without, kind of, cell phones, we were, like, writing letters back and forth, and I interviewed him. And, it was the best interview of my life because it took place over, literally, a dozen years. And, I learned the art of the interview with my own dad. And, it was just a real special time, and I didn't realize how important those interviewing skills with my own dad would be in trying to get his personal story down and do a lot of research around that, you know, in my own career. Now, I would use it also to interview celebrities at junkets for movies, and, you know, COOs, and now, you know, global thought leaders, but those same skills.

So, because, you know, I think a lot of people sometimes think, "Oh, you need some sort of special connections to do these things." Really, no. You can just start wherever you are. I mean, I was an art teacher in kindergarten and I learned about, you know, taking my career to the next level. You just never know, you know, what life will present itself for you to use in your skills. And so, you know, you can just get really good at talking to your friends and really good at helping them out with problems, and you can leverage that and help other people. You know, and that's my blessing, is being able to interview someone. And, really, my job is to take the people who are really busy, okay, people who are very busy, and we are all very busy, everyone is. But, particularly, if you're heading a huge organizations, the last thing you have time for on your calendar is to write a book. I mean, you'd almost want to stab your eyes with needles, right? This is like, "I can't imagine how I'm going to do this," right?

So, I have, like, sort of, put the fun in the nonfiction process and made it really easy so people can get their message out, and in a relatively short period of time, you know, within 10 to 12 interviews, and spend 10 to 12 hours of time, I can work with them and their research to get a book out that's something that they can use to get their message to the world. So, my job as a ghost is to disappear from my own point of view and to interview someone and read their writings, whatever they've given me, and understand theirs, and write in their voice, and their perspective, for their message. And, it's a real blessing of listening, really important to listen, and really important to, just, really, kind of, get the research right to get their message down the way they want. And, it's just, really, all these interviews are, what I say they are is coffee talk. We just have coffee talk. Like, I don't know, it's kind of like, did you watch "Saturday Night Live" when they just, you know, coffee talk?

Mary: Yes.

Laura: Yeah, that's absolutely right. Okay, sort of like that, right? Yeah, they're just great, you know? What's also funny with the coffee talks, because it's like, it kind of takes the pressure off, and really, that's where the gold is, you know, you're sitting around and you're talking, and something comes up. I mean, you might think the book is about one thing, and it legitimately is, of course. But in these little talks, it's like, you come up with these things, "Oh, wait a minute, I remember this thing." And, you dig a little bit deeper there because I think, just like writers, like, you and I write. We're writers, we can, sometimes, not see it because we're too close to the work, and it's like your own story. The people that I write for, they can't see their own stories. Some of them are writers and have tried to write it, they can't see the larger themes because they're too close to the work. So, that's some of my job also, is to get a little bit inside, like, "You know, have you ever thought about this?" Because, from what I've been hearing, you know, let's connect the dots here. And, it's, kind of, a cool way to get a bigger message than even thought possible, by getting some input.

Mary: So, I would like to, sort of, take a different angle of attack to your skill set, to the research skill set, to the interview skill set.

Laura: Oh, yeah.

Mary: So, you may be aware that publishing is having a bit of conversation right now about own voices, all voices, and the issue of diversity, and, are we allowed "to write" from perspectives that are not ours? So, obviously, two sides to this. I think it's amazing and well deserved that diverse voices are now sought after, and publishing is finally interested in representing some people with different cultures, different languages, different origins, you know, different abilities and disabilities, that sort of thing, on the one hand. On the other hand, a lot of writers who may be white, may be women, may be of a certain demographic that's represented a lot on shelves, they're now saying, "Well, am I allowed, am I able to write an African-American character? Am I able to write a male character? Am I able to...?" You know. And so, this conversation, I think, the bigger implication of it is this idea that writing is a way of stepping outside of our own experience, because that's what we do whenever we write a character, and reading is a way of stepping outside of our own experience. And so, a lot of writers now have realized, "Okay, everybody is looking very closely at what we're doing and making sure that we're representing all the diversity that life has to offer, and so, if I want to step outside of my own experience and I want to write a character who's a different sexuality, for example, or a different culture, I need to do that intentionally." And, I think, research is a huge part of that. So, I tell my clients, for example, "You absolutely can write outside of your experience, but you need to do it justice. And so, what is your research plan, what is your plan to, and maybe, interview people of a different culture, a different sexuality, to make sure that you're really honoring that experience if you choose to write about it." So, whether we're ghostwriting or just character writing, how do we get to the marrow of somebody's experience with research and interviewing?

Laura: Well, that's a great, great, great question, and it has a couple of facets. I will say before I address anything, specifically, that we are writing from experience, we are all people, we are human beings, so humanity has a huge tie. So, you know, we all have a level of experience that we can bring to our projects, and it really is just about understanding and empathizing with other people. I really believe, the more you're able to emphasize with a walk of anyone, you're going to be able to effectively report on it or write it. Now, we have the fiction area, we have the nonfiction area, I'll tell you what I do. With nonfiction, you know, it's all about primary research, right? So, there's different kinds of research. There's primary research, which is interviewing a person who has had that experience. That's very important research. So if you're doing a war story, something like that, I think, Spielberg, you know, he interviewed all the Holocaust survivors, as many as possible, all the video, right?

Mary: Yeah.

Laura: . And then Donna Jo Napoli also gave me a very big tip on this because I still have not written my dad's story. I've written it as a novel five times, I've written it as a screenplay, I've come back to the fact that I'm going to write it as a novel again. You know, I'm too close to that story so I needed the time, right, and the format. But, I mean, it's a World War II story, it's a big story, it's a Pacific theater. It involved, also, the European theater, and a lot of different things. It involved science and technology I didn't know. And, Donna Jo Napoli said to me, I said, "Well, I think I'm falling in love with research, and I can probably research this book for the rest of my life and I will just never write it." And, she looked at me, and I don't know, she's just an amazing woman. And, I've heard her speak at SCBWI events over the years, especially, over here in LA, you know, the annual event. And, she would say, "World War, you know, you could do that, and you've got to give yourself a time frame." You know, give yourself, "This timeframe, I'm going to research this book for this specific amount of time, and I'm going to make the most dramatic decisions I can if it's fiction." You know, because you'll find research sometimes will lead you to different conclusions. But, integrity comes in what you're writing. Okay, if you're writing nonfiction, pure nonfiction based on fact, you have to go with the facts. I mean, if you're doing creative nonfiction, that's a different thing. You can say, "This is not the truth, but it's how I envision the truth." You know, I think it was "In Cold Blood" that took, by Truman Capote, a narrative nonfiction to a new level. That was the first thing that really came on the scene that changed everything, it even changed the way newspaper reporting was done. I mean, now newspapers have to compete with entertainment. But, back in the day when Truman Capote wrote "In Cold Blood," usually, journalism was not narrative like he did. It was like Joe Friday, right?

Mary: Yep.

Laura: So, "On the 5th block of the 3rd day." You know, "The month of May, X was shot," level. But, that was what reporting was. So, everything has evolved. So this is such a rich topic, we could probably talk about it for two or three hours, or maybe five. But, I'll just point out two things I've done specifically, one in my fiction. I wrote a book called "Winnemucca." It's a magical fairy tale, magical realism about a girl waking up to her own intuition on a road trip that she takes. She's 17 years old, she's in the West, and she needs to have a certain voice. And, it's not quite Southern, not quite Western, I didn't really know how to get her voice. I knew she was not me, I grew up in Chicago, and you can still hear it. So, the way I would say something is not the way my main character would. So, I read "Cash," Johnny Cash's autobiography. It is beautiful. The first line of that book says the way his line came down, right?

Mary: Mm-hmm.

Laura: Like the way his... You know, "My line came down from..." And, he talked about all the different ancestors from Europe. And, he had a way to turn a phrase. So, no, was Ginny, Johnny Cash? No, but she was a hybrid of many people, you know, that I went in and got the voice. So, you know, I always think it's really great to turn to someone real when you're trying to get a voice down, even in fiction, you know? And then, you know, I would never get the voice for "Transfer Student," you know, it's an intergalactic tale of beauty and the geek where a woman a girl, okay, a Beverly Hills surfer swaps lives with a boy geek alien, okay? I'm not going to able to interview a boy geek alien and they swap bodies, like it's a freaky Friday type thing. So, you know, a boy becoming a girl in a girl's body, a girl becoming a boy in a boy's... You know, there's just all these things that I will never know, but I've researched around it.

So, that's the best way that I can talk about that. But, primary resources, always, always, always, always. If you are writing a book in the genre and you yourself are not that person or your character, try getting to know that. This world is... Just try to get to know someone energy that, this world is so great with technology. You can reach out to all kinds of experts in fields, you can also reach out to many people in your community and just be like, "Yeah, I want to do a little research. I'm trying to get this story together and I think this character is similar to maybe your experience. You know, can I talk to you a little bit, a little interview?"And, it will be more authentic.

And then, again, get someone in the field to read it, that's like beta reading. That's kind of like, you know, focus books and marketing or something like that, or giving free theater tickets, but movies do that too. So, you know, when you've written what you think is your best guess or your heartfelt idea of what this experience you envision would be, this is especially in fiction. Nonfiction, it's different because that's really real. So, you know, my books are with a real person so I'm really talking about their experience. They're in the director's chair, they're calling the shots, I'm just the conduit. But, in this world of fiction that you're talking about, that is the most important thing to do, I think, is really get people that can give you a really good idea of whether this is accurate in some ways.

Now, saying that, you know, you're going to miss things sometimes, right? You're going to do your best job, you're going to do all of the things that I've said, and maybe there's something that you might have missed. And, you know, that's always possible. But, we have to do the best we can in the time we have to do it, and you really can't get caught up in perfectionism or else you will not write word one. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said, "The only perfect thing is a blank page," right?

Mary: Yeah.

Laura: Because, the minute you write a word, right, it could be a different word, you know? Like, "I don't know if I want to start my story with this, maybe I'll start it with that," you know?

Mary: Mm-hmm.

Laura: So, you know, from that perspective, so, yes, that's what I would have to say about this enriched topic.

Mary: And, to your point, you could research forever.

Laura: Yes. I mean, seriously, and I had, and that's why I went to Donna. She'd just got done talking, and I love her, I think she's talking about her book "Bound." She always writes historical pieces and books, and, you know, she just said, you know, she has four kids, at the time, they were little, and she said something about her kitchen floor being spotless. Or, sorry, something about your kitchen floor, like how she never worries about her kitchen floor, it's spotless. And, she said, "Yeah, the kids can eat off of it," like, she didn't care. Like, she didn't care about her house being a little bit messy by other people's standards. She had her kids, you know, make meals every day, you know, even her two-year-old, it would be like yogurt fruit. But, she found the time she needed to do the work she needed in the way she needed to do it. And, we're all different and our processes are all different, but the one thing that we need to do is do the work. You know, as writer, you need to do the work as conscious as possible, but don't let perfectionism or the fact that you're not going to, maybe, understand something stop you, you can always understand it, you can always pick up the phone, you can always research things. But, this rich history, like, how was I ever going to write about Indonesia and Japanese occupied a time of 1942 of World War II? I can't take a time machine and go back there, I can't. But, what I can do is look up all the primary research, there's a lot of books that have been written, there's a lot of... I went to Indonesia and talked to people, that's always possible for people. You know, and I know that, you know, you can get into these kinds of organizations that will give you some money to do that for a certain project. You know, so you can get these awards that will send you to different places as well, you can look around for that on the internet, they will help you, people will help you if you're even looking for certain parts of history. So, that's always a... You know, because I know we can't always travel where we need to go, right?

Mary: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah, but that is available to you. There's so much help. Once you have an idea, so much of the universe comes to help you, it just is absolutely amazing to me how it happens. And, I can't explain it, there's been so many things that you would call a coincidence, which I really don't believe in, it's just serendipity takes in, and once you start, you will see that things will fill in for you, and you will start to meet the right people. The people you need will come to you and the people that need you, you'll go to. It's just interesting. But, I do believe that, also with what I write, you know, because this was very pointed and interesting to me because I do write a lot. Well, I'm a female, so I do write about female entrepreneurs quite a bit. I write with men as well, but I'm, kind of, drawn to the female minority entrepreneur experience. While I'm not a minority female, I can certainly empathize and, when I interview my subjects, understand their world. And so, in the nonfiction world, maybe it's not quite as difficult. I think my biggest challenge was when I wrote from a Muslim man's perspective about his experience in America. I took that project on and, you know, we clicked together and it worked out just fine. But, that was probably, for me, the biggest stretch. You know, and, for me, I think that I learned in that process was, we're both human beings and we can both relate, and I can understand what he had gone through when he tells me about it, you know, and get it on the page. So, he would tell me, you know, how things...maybe I wrote not quite right or right in the voice exactly, but, you know, that was things that we worked out. So, I would say, don't limit yourself, just don't. You know, I really wouldn't. You can get the expertise you need because they're out there and ready to help you.

Mary: So in that vein, can you...? You know, a lot of writers, there is a natural insecurity to the creative process. So, a lot of writers, you know, as the publishing landscape right now is asking, "Are you allowed to write this story?" Writers are asking that themselves even before they put pen to paper, "Am I allowed to tell the story? Is the story good enough? Am I good enough?" And, I think one of the things, you know, it's very important and valuable, I think, of you to say, "Hey, get out there, people are willing to help." But, if I'm a writer and I'm feeling I don't even know where to take the first step, how have you, maybe, had success in finding people in the world to interview, especially if it's, like, a sensitive topic, like, for example, something that might be emotionally painful, like adoption, or illness, death, grief, these things that you really want to make sure you get right on the page, but that people may not or just want to sit down and talk about necessarily? How do you go out into the world and get that interview?

Laura: Yeah. Well, one of the things you have to do is be open. Be open to people that you meet and experiences that you have and be...go out there and do it. Really, I don't believe many things happen when you're not reaching out. So, one of the things about confidence about writing is to get out and be in a group of writers who can connect you to organizations. And, SCBWI, obviously, is a huge, huge, huge, wonderful organization that has many, many facets and many experts that can help you along. Mentors, very, very important. Ask your mentor, find who you want to be and ask them how they did it, what connections they've used. The other thing that you can do very often is, you know, I mean, you know, your local university is going to have all kinds of information. You don't have to get it from a person right away, this is the other thing. You know, it's not just the interview. Interviews are tricky, actually, sometimes. Like, for instance, my dad, he didn't want to go to certain places because of the trauma. And so, you learn how when you... I am an expert at dealing with people who have experienced trauma. A lot of the books that I write have had some sort of the people that I write for have had traumatic experiences happen, and you learn how to understand what some of the triggers are, and how to respond to them. For instance, in my dad's case, when the interview got too difficult for him personally, he defaulted in answering the question to the general history of the time, which he, really, was quite a student of, and, I never really understood fully as a child because he would talk about history a lot. And, when your a child around the dinner table, and you're, kind of, like, "Oh, really, dad, you're telling me that history again?"

Mary: Right.

Laura: Then, very, very interestingly, only in the last seasons of his life when I fully understand what would be more important to someone who was locked away for four years and the history at the time, right? So, that says a lot about character and how to write it. So, those vulnerabilities, the things that maybe...if you do have the great good fortune to interview someone who has gone through a trauma experience, or even yourself, because I do believe that a lot of the books that we write, really, is my trauma, our own stuff. So, if you're writing about these topics, maybe it's happened to you. And, that's where Julia Cameron really unleashes the gold there in the "Morning Pages." I mean, so much comes from just our own journaling and our focusing on what our past experiences. So, if you really are shy about that, about going out and talking to people, and the interviews aren't coming your way, then, really, take much to yourself and write about what you know. I mean, that is one of the first experiences. You know, if you really are a little bit wondering and really getting started, starting with what you know is always really a great rich mine of gold there, of stories, and memories, and things like that, and, you plug into it. And, what I call it is appointments with your imagination.

Mary: Oh, that's good.

Laura: That appointment is with my imagination, yes, and my client's. You know, when I go straight, we have a weekly call, it's an hour call, and that is for my clients to make an appointment with their imagination, as busy as they are, professionally, as we all are, and that's what where they bring me, they say, "Laura, you'll never guess, this week this happened, can you believe it?" Like, one of the clients I was writing for had a special quote that meant so much to her growing up from a black woman. And she was a black woman writing this book, and she was in this part of Atlanta, and she saw the quote from the very woman that inspired her on a brick wall.

Mary: Wow. Yeah.

Laura: And, you know, and we just wrote about it in the book, we'd just wrote about it in the book. So, there's all these things that start happening when our imaginations start really, really working, and you'll notice it in the process of your own creativity in your own creation as well, dots will be connected. You don't know them now, but taking the step, the dots will connect.

Mary: And, we're allowed to say this because I'm calling you in California. I'm originally from California so we're allowed to talk about serendipity with a straight face.

Laura: Right. Exactly. Totally. And, I just think that that's the one thing you have to be open to, too, is that new direction. You know, that, like, for instance, this is very powerful, I was really hesitant about writing the end of my dad's story. He gave me an ending, it seemed plausible, but it didn't seem right. So, I sat on it for a long time, but there was nothing I could do about it. I'm like, "Well, okay, that's what dad said." But if you are actually doing some sort of primary research, especially somebody who is close to you in your family, you have to be dispassionate about it. So, everything that he mentioned to me needed to have research behind it to say that it existed. So, for me, I had to look through war records and the way prisoners were transferred and found when groups of prisoners were transferred and this type of thing. So, you know, I had to make sure that what he was telling me was actually real, you know?

Mary: Sure.

Laura: And, that was hard, because, you know, he doesn't know, he's traumatized, he doesn't know all the dates. But, the ending never made sense to me. Well, I sat down, I was in Bali, and I sat down at a luncheon about forgiveness by Mofo [SP] Tutu [SP], and, it was very powerful. And, I sat next to another woman whose uncle had also been taken prisoner at the same time my father had. And, she had done a lot of work on her book, because the one that she was talking about, her uncle was a painter, a very well known painter in Bali. And, she did a lot of research. Well, she's Dutch, she speaks Dutch. Well, the Dutch government kept a lot of records that I wasn't able to even translate, right, I don't speak Dutch, I don't. And so, she was doing the same research, same period of time, and knew exactly the information because...

Mary: Oh my goodness.

Laura: ...the information I was looking for, she had found. And so, that led me to the ending of the book, and I gave my dad the ending of the book for his last birthday, his 92nd birthday.

Mary: Wow.

Laura: And, that's just, kind of, amazing. Yeah, it was an amazing gift. And, I mean, I don't know what else to say about that.

Mary: Yeah. I mean, what can you say?

Laura: Right, you can't call it serendipity or coincidence, it's because, I think, somehow the energy that I had wasn't even... I wasn't even there at that time to do research, that project had stopped. I was there for the book festival that they have there, the Ubud Book Festival, it's an amazing one, if she could ever get there. And, I was just there to absorb everything from there, the wonderful points of view, international perspective there at the books festival. And, listening to Mofo Tutu on forgiveness was just phenomenal. Of course, that's why I was there, I wasn't expecting putting dots together in my own personal project, but that's what happened. So, it's when you begin something, things start happening to help you to get to the end if you stay open to them.

Mary: And, I feel like a lot of writers do experience this, whether or not they want to go in the Julia Cameron direction, the serendipity direction. But, a lot of writers, when they jump from the creative part of a process to the revision part of a process, things tend to start coming together, and they'll start noticing, maybe, connections that they'd left for themselves, like little bread crumbs, but maybe unconsciously. And, I think that during the revision process, this kind of writing magic, even to unbelievers, it becomes a little obvious that, "Oh," you know, things are working on multiple levels to help a project along because you really start noticing that you've woven an image lexicon or a theme into the project that you didn't intend. And, just, like, nice things come to the surface, but...

Laura: It's imagination.

Mary: Yeah.

Laura: And, our imagination, you know, it speaks to us in different ways and we can see it. You know, like you said, it leaves bread crumbs. I love that, our imagination leaves breadcrumbs for us, and we're conjuring it, our mind, our understanding, our own thoughts, our own creativity. And, there's a magic about it. I mean, that's what I write about with "Laura's Magic Day," there is a magic about it. You know, there's a magic about the process. It's real, it really is. Just like it does, just like it does.

Mary: Right, a friendly ghost.

Laura: Yes. Yeah.

Mary: So, as we, kind of, get toward the end of our conversation, I think I have two questions. One is logistical, very much for those still, kind of, curious about the inner workings of the ghostwriter. Would you mind talking through a project from inception to completion? Because, as a ghostwriter, it's not just you on the writing project, it is your subject, and it is, sort of, they're the impetus for the project. So, how do you just manage, from beginning to end, a ghostwriting project?

Laura: Okay, that's a really great question. And, they have the same kind of trajectory. But, the most important thing that any ghostwriter can do is to honor your subject's process, because, you know, you're a writer and you have your own process. But, all of a sudden, now, you're collaborating with someone who has their own process, and it's their process, first, you're there to serve. I'm in a servant role, so, I very much want to know how do they like to go about this. Some people are very visual, I've had lots of videos to go through, I've had lots of pictures. Some people are writers themselves and it's more of an editing project, plus. Sometimes it is a straight editing project, but most of the time I'm writing new content. And then, the other way is, I have people who need to talk it, talk it out. So, they'll give me sound files or videos, and I'll use the sound from there. So, it's all about getting comfortable with process, their process. They are the star of the show, you are not. So it's all about that. And then, really, it's very much important to set up a calendar, an editorial calendar. I learned this at the "LA Times," any news fabric for "World Travel Magazine," "LA Parent." We all had editorial calendars, and this is even a good idea for an aspiring writer, and I found it, even in my own case when I was trying to write my own projects, and I had a very busy full life, I made my own editorial calendar and I held myself accountable to my deadlines, right?

Mary: Yeah.

Laura: A deadline is important, it really is, or the work doesn't get done. And, also, deliverables are important. So, what you promised your client is, I'm going to deliver this to you on whatever schedule you need over however months you've agreed to, or years even. And, you're all on...because I really believe, and I'm going to credit Tony Luna who's an amazing adjunct professor at ArtCenter for this, is, "All communication, whether it's business or personal, it has three components, that you are communicating with respect on a foundation of trust." So, you know, trust is gained by doing what you say, by signing NDAs very frequently, of course. And, you set this up through open communication with respect. That means I'm going to give you, I'm going to tell you what I'm going to give you, you know, and you have this. So, it's a respectful thing to do, honoring somebody else's time. When any one of those components aren't there, whatever the relationship is, well, both will suffer. So, you want to still stay really true to the project and offer it in a time that respects their time and their process. So, those are the keys, like, really. [crosstalk 00:46:43].

Mary: And then, do you pass it over for feedback as you're working, or do you, sort of, go away, create the manuscript, then present it for review? How does it, sort of...?

Laura: So, my own personal processe is like this, and actually, it is counter-intuitive for like most fiction, the world of fiction, since I work in nonfiction ghostwriting, but I also have ghostwritten fiction as well, and I really love it, and I also work this way in that world, is I deliver, well, for lack of a better word, a final draft at the end of the project. I edit along the way, so I send a new chapter one week, they review it, we go over revisions the next week, and there's a new chapter two. And I do that because there's time constraints, whether it's from a publishing house or personal time constraints, where a project can only take a certain amount of time, and you give the most polished version. But, there's other ways around that too, and other ways to work, but just do a first draft and let it languish out there and to sit, and then expect a client to read a full book, you know, of course, they do at the end. But that's kind of a lot, very busy people. So, if you can keep it focused along the way that's the best way to do it. 

Mary: That's really interesting. And, to your point about editorial calendar, is you are the one, kind of, driving this. You're like, "Okay, here are your next pages." You really have to, kind of, be on top of that element.

Laura: Yeah. And the client is, too. By the time someone's hired me, it's something they're ready to do. I mean, you know, they've invested a lot of money, they have some sort of obligation, whatever it looks like, it's all different. You know, whatever their deadline, whatever it is, it's usually firm, and the project needs to be completed. So, I really have had no problem with keeping someone involved. The time when things happen, which real life happens, it's hard. Okay, so, you know, you're with a subject and you are in their lives and understanding what's going on. Well, all kinds of things have happened to my clients while I've been working with them, unspeakable tragedy, from, you know, upsets in life, to things like this. So, real life happens and that's why you've got a calendar. That's really great because there's a point in time where you can say, "Okay, we're going to pause. We're going to hit pause here, and we're going to regroup later." So, that's really great, because if you don't have something out there to look at to form a deadline, excuse me, then as a writer, you have no way to explain why it's been delayed.

Mary: Sure.

Laura: You know, if you have it all out there and everybody signed on board, and something happens where either... Well, God forbid, it's you. But it's usually, you're writing for the client, something happens in their life, then you can, you know, whoever needed it by a certain date can understand why it's not. You know what I mean? So, little things come up, life happens, so this is a really great tool, and I would recommend anybody to use it for anything that they're writing, whether it's a personal project or, you know, something on behalf of somebody else, it's a pretty powerful little tool.

Mary: Yeah. That's really good advice. So, I wanted to end on, I think, one of the main craft elements that may be interesting to get a ghost's perspective on is voice. Writers are constantly looking to find their voice, to fine-tune their voice, to discover this crazy topic of voice, which really gives a piece of writing its heart, right? And, you know, the publishing establishment is not very helpful because all the agents are like, "Well, I'll know it when I hear it," you know?

Laura: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Mary: But, you as a writer, you have your own writing, obviously, but you have taken on the additional level of complexity of stepping into other people's voices and finding their voice with you as conduits. So, do you have any ideas for how writers of any stripe, whether they're ghosting or working on their own projects, how they might approach and keep refining this idea of voice?

Laura: Well, I think the most important voice you need to get in touch with is your own. That first is the first thing, then the second thing is be a student of voice, because I also write screenplays. So, I'm a ghostwriter of speeches, screenplays, and books. I lived in LA for a long time, I've been in movies, I've been in TV shows as well, and not the top-level people, people in the background, right?

Mary: Sure.

Laura: Like, if you're in Los Angeles, movies will find you. I was working in the newsroom, and Robert Redford walked in and wanted to use it in his movie "Lions for Lambs." And so, I was in that movie, you know, I was working that day, but it was mostly extras. And, Meryl Streep took her mark at my desk every day. And, that happened, and I'll never forget while I was looking at the computer, I was brushing my hair. And, I was like, "Oh, my God." And, she's like, "Oh, you're real?" I'm like, "Yeah," because I had a deadline, most of the reporters or people were out of the newsroom at the time. But, movie is all about show, okay? So, a screenplay is all about show. So, you'll always hear, "Show, don't tell." You know, movies are another way to understand voice. But, yeah, be a student of voice. It's in so many things, it's just in the written word. There's a voice in painting and there's a voice in music, so, you know, understand... You know, I went out for a pastry, because I love, like, croissants and stuff.

Mary: What is not to love, though, seriously?

Laura: Right? There was this piano, and it was just sitting in the corner. And I thought, "God, wouldn't it be crazy if somebody played that piano right now?" Because, I love the piano, I've tried to play it, I don't play very well. But, I love it when other people do. In walks this guy, young man, and he starts playing ragtime because that's what they do. Apparently, Saturdays, that's what they do here. And, he says playing ragtime Scott Joplin. I love Scott Joplin. I play it awfully, but we got into talking about Scott Joplin and stuff. And he's like, "You know," he loves the era and the point of view of the '20s. And, this brief period, ragtime wasn't big for a long time, but this period of time captivates his imagination. And, they have a way of saying things, you know. Is it "The Great Gatsby?" Right? There's a certain, like, vocabulary to things. So, you become attuned to that. It's not just a point of view, it's also a turn of a phrase. It's also, you know, certain pauses, certain thoughts. And so, I would, first of all, really get tuned into your own voice. How do you feel about things? What matters to you? What would you give your life for, and what would you not? You know, what disappointment could you not overcome? Things like this really need to be explored when you're looking at voice. For me and the ghostwriting world, you know, pointed questions sometimes come up, you know, about a certain experience or a certain way of going through something. You know, and every book, every story, Joseph Campbell talks about this in "The Hero's Journey," and you hear it a million times, "Every story has an inciting incident." Okay, if that incident didn't happen, the story wouldn't have happened, it would never have occurred. So, that's where the voice is. How do they tell that story? How do they bring that up? How would you tell that story to your friends? And this is a really good tip, get your best friend, turn on iTalk, and tell them something. Tell them something and you will get your own voice that way. Because, I think, very often, talking helps, you know recording a conversation of yourself, or even if you're in a room and you want to verify something. Or, even till today, I have a project I've been working on that I'm a little stuck on. I said this morning, "I'm going to read this aloud today." Because, you know, you hear it differently. So, try different things to mix it up as well, and also, try with your voice. I think your process is always a little bit in line with your voice. So, you know, try and get a little bit more familiar with your processes, you know, in writing. How do you like to write? Do you like to write in the morning or the evening? Because, that's about getting to know yourself as a writer, too. But yeah, those would be some things I would look at when you're starting to explore voice because it is, it's everything.

Mary: It is. And...

Laura: If you have the right voice, it's like someone's holding your hand. You'll hold that hand and you'll go through the whole book with them if it's just the right voice, if you hear that voice. Right now, real people are really great to look at. Right now, I'm reading an awesome book by Jane Goodall, it's called "A Reason for Hope." And, she's got that, you know? With her first bit, her first little sentence, she just brings you in, you know? She is, of course, Jane Goodall, but...

Mary: Of course.

Laura: But, you know, and she had a ghostwriter help her write this story, of course. But, it's just, you know, if you look at that, it's just an amazing thing to go ahead and, you know, explore a voice in that way. Find your own and then just get a bunch of great examples.

Mary: So, be a student of yourself, be a student of other people, be a student of life, I guess. And, this brings us very neatly back to Julia Cameron and "The Artist's Way."

Laura: Yeah. Well, yeah, I don't know where I'd be without her. Yeah.

Mary: This is funny because I'm doing my interviews a little bit out of order from when they air, but this is the second interview in a row where "Artist's Way" has come up. And, I don't want this to be like "The Artist's Way" podcast.

Laura: Oh, yeah, I know, but...

Mary: But, I believe it to be so seminal to creative people, and I believe, at heart, we are all creative people. And, it's just's just such a delightful little journey, I took for the first time, when I was in college, that everybody owes themselves. Because, if we don't make time for these things, like you were saying, everybody is busy, life always finds a way to interfere. If we don't make time for ourselves to know ourselves better, to be like, "What is my process? What does that even mean for me as a writer, as a creative person?" I feel, like, we're not going to get very far.

Laura: Well, that's really well said, and I think, also, part of that is living with intention. What is your intention with your work? What do you want to represent. Who do you want to be? What do you want to say? What is your message? And, I think that's partly it, you know, is also having that down, you know? And, you've said it perfectly.

Mary: Oh, well, thank you. Thank you, thank you. So, on that wonderful note, you work with writers, right?

Laura: Yes. Yes, I do.

Mary: Is there anything you want to tell our listeners before we, sort of, wrap things up?

Laura: Oh, yeah, sure. If you're stuck, I do consultation with writers just to get unstuck, and just to, maybe, get some perspective, like I said, about seeing some things that maybe they could be doing a little bit differently in their work. And then, also, you know, ghostwriting books, I also do that as well, obviously. And, you could know, whatever you want to take a look at, I'm at And, you know, if anybody wants to book a discovery call, they can. It's just like 15 minutes of hanging out and drinking coffee like I do all the time. And, that's it, yeah. So, I would enjoy helping anyone get to the next level.

Mary: And, thank you for hanging out with me, hanging out with us. This, again, is Laura Elliot, a friendly, friendly ghost. My name is Mary Kole. This has been the "Good Story Podcast." And, Laura, thank you so much for joining us.

Laura: Thank you so much, Mary. Pleasure to be here with you and your listeners.

Mary: The pleasure is all mine. And, everybody out there, have a wonderful day, and here is to a good story.