Tag Archives: autobiography memoir writing a book

Writing Your Family Story

My Dad and me

Fathers and sons can be incredibly close, the connection between them the most powerful bond in the world.

But when I was growing up, I was actually closer to my mom–because Dad was almost never home, instead consumed by his business, a popular men’s and boy’s clothing store.

We understood his absences, but I think he regretted it. In fact, this beautiful letter from Dad to me recently fell out of a scrapbook, and said it all:

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His apparent guilt was truly unwarranted because I still felt his love in a myriad of ways: The affectionate brush of his hand across my cheek;  bending down to teach me how to make a tie; taking me skiing on Sundays; the way he carefully fitted my clothes at his store; getting me my first car and driving me to college; and standing backstage with me years later at a TV appearance.

As the years passed, and my career as an author developed, he was incredibly proud: “Glenn,” he’d tell me, “I don’t know how you do it. You’re great.” He was always encouraging me, strategizing about business deals, believing in me, providing that magic potion called unconditional love.

Toward the end of his life, when he was almost 98, as a tough-minded Marine whose slogan was “adapt and overcome,” he was still working out at the gym and driving his car, getting back and forth to the parking lot by using a power chair. A total inspiration. We talked almost every day. And without him now, left behind is a huge vacuum that will never be filled.

Joseph and Jared Cohen

I really miss him. So seeing his letter reminded me of a brilliant new book that captures the depth of a father son relationship. It’s called:  Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey. It’s a series of poignant letters from father to son, written over a period of a decade, filled with fatherly advice and words of wisdom, messages from the heart.

The attentive Dad,  journalist Joseph Cohen, shows his son, Jared, how to develop as a man, writing candid notes that provide takeaway values and lessons. As each year passes, Joe  skillfully steers an adolescent boy into becoming a sensitive young man of integrity. Every boy in America needs a Dad like Joe.

Beyond the book, Joe has also co-created a revolutionary movement called Empowered Fathers in Action, a cutting edge non-profit designed to impact the connection of fathers and sons, and in the process empower young men to contribute to their communities. With a solid relationship to Dad, they feel better about themselves, and thus happier in life.

Christopher Salem and Davey Williams

In this, Joe has partnered with renowned prosperity coach, Christopher Salem, the author of Master Your Inner Critic,  who is the CEO and Co-Founder of EFA. Also on board is speaker and coach Davey Williams, Jr. the charismatic Director of Community Relations for the EFA. It’s a powerful trio of talent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why am I so interested? As we all know, boys today are bombarded with social media and impossible expectations, crushed by a competitive vibe that begins in kindergarten.

Through it all, the anchor of Dad can be profoundly stabilizing.In fact, one principal reason I support EFA is their commitment to reducing bullying incidents and decreasing the rates of teenage suicide and school shootings across the world.

What could be more important than that? I can tell you that, as a kid, I was traumatized in school by bullies, often humiliated in gym class, so I totally relate to the power of fatherly support, which can boost  self-confidence and lead to better self-esteem. The masculine influence is vital.

Joe, Chris, and Davey are true pioneers in a movement that will touch every father and son in America, motivating us all to watch closely over those we love the most.

Chemistry Counts When It Comes To Choosing Your Ghostwriter

A few years ago, as a contributing editor at Family Circle, I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling author Tim Sanders, who, at the time, had just released a book titled: The Likeability Factor. Tim, a trailblazer in publishing, has now created a brand-new web site, NETMINDS.COM, unique in bringing together authors and publishing professionals in a new kind of marketplace assembled for the purpose of making great books.

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Tim recently called, wanting to interview me about the subject of ghostwriting. And I share with you, as below, our chat:

“Recently I caught up with my long time friend Glenn Plaskin to talk about why chemistry was the #1 factor an author should consider when selecting a ghostwriter. He’s both an author himself, a syndicated columnist and seasoned ghostwriter of several best selling books. While many authors look for credentials or sadly, price, Glenn suggests they first seek out a personal connection.”

Tim: How did you get started as a ghostwriter?

Glenn: For me, it all started with magazine writing. After 25 years in that business, one of my interview subjects, a celebrity, had liked an article I’d written about him, and asked me to write a book with him. We would talk on tape, I’d formulate a chapter from our interviews, and then we’d go over that material until it was a fully formed chapter, then a fully formed book.

Tim: Talk to me a little bit about why the author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be collaborative?

Glenn: It’s like going on a blind date except there won’t be any romance, at least there shouldn’t be! But it is a little like dating someone. There has to be that indefinable click. And is anything more collaborative than dating? You have to feel a rapport, some kind of emotional connection that allows the author of the book to feel comfortable with a ghostwriter, to feel that the ghostwriter understands them, not just intellectually, but emotionally. An author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be harmonious. You’ll be working together in very tight quarters. So things have to be amiable. And having a great sense of humor is key too! I once met with a prospective author for what was scheduled as a 45-minutes meetin. We ended up talking and laughing for three hours! I knew after that our writing relationship would be a successful pairing. And it was.

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Tim: How do you conceptualize the author/ghostwriter relationship?

Glenn: The author may have a compelling story but may not have the time, skill, or training to write it. The ghostwriter is the conduit. I compare it having a Mercedes. It’s a great car but when you need it serviced, you don’t try to do it yourself. You take it to the dealer. The ghostwriter the book mechanic, who is best equipped to make the Mercedes run perfectly. The author has the ideas and the content; the ghostwriter has the technical skills to tell the story in the way in needs to be told.

Tim: Let’s put you in the author’s shoes. What should an author look for in a possible ghostwriter? You indicated humor previously. What other factors should the author be looking for in those first two general meetings with a ghostwriter?

Glenn: Well, the first thing a prospective author should do is check a ghostwriter’s credits. A simple resume check. Google the name, see what comes up. Go to the ghostwriter’s website. See if it’s professional and well maintained. Make sure they’ve been published. Make an effort to call authors the ghostwriter has worked with in the past and ask them how working with that ghostwriter was. There is quite a lot of pre-prep that can be done.

Tim: And ghostwriters have their credentials readily available.

Glenn: Exactly. Once an author has determined the ghostwriter is professional, step two is the meet and greet. Usually the first iinteraction is conducted over the phone, the second meeting in person. The very first thing I look for is simple likeability. Do you like the person? Would you be their friend in “real life”? Are you impressed with their intelligence? Do they seem to understand what you’re talking about? Did they come prepared? Nothing will impress someone more than knowing something about them. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Also, is the ghostwriter a good interviewer? Can the ghostwriter fill in the blanks? Are they a good listener?

Is your ghostwriter a good listener?

Is your ghostwriter a good listener?

 

Do they seem to be grasping the verbal cues that you’re giving them and picking up on them and furthering along the conversation?

Tim: Do you always ghostwrite subjects that you are well versed in?

Glenn: Not at all. I met with a pastor once. I really liked the guy, so he passed the likeability test. But I didn’t feel connected with the religious subject matter of his book. I didn’t actually have much interest in it. So, I turned the project down. A few months later, he came back to me and asked me again. I said yes, I challenged myself. We ended up having a great collaboration. My lack of knowledge of the Bible didn’t hurt the product in any way. I feel a good ghostwriter can write about anything, especially if they have great chemistry with the author, as I did with the pastor.

Tim: Can the author cultivate that chemistry?

Glenn: The author shouldn’t have to. Remember, the ghostwriter is making your life easy. They’re servicing your Mercedes. It’s not up to the Mercedes to do the work. The ghostwriter is the one that has to build the relationship and build the trust.

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Tim: As a ghostwriter, can you improve the chemistry with the author?

Glenn: If you go on a first date and then you go on the second date, and by the second date you’re not crazy about the person you’re really not going to go on any more dates. So I can’t overemphasize the importance of the first telephone and in person meetings. If the click doesn’t happen after the first two or three interactions it’s likely that it may not go any further. And maybe that’s as it should be. You can’t improve what never existed.

Tim: What do you do to sustain strong chemistry over a long project?

Glenn: Well, for starters every working relationship needs boundaries. We can’t work in an unorganized vacuum. So it’s up to the two collaborators to decide when are we going to work? How are we going to work? How often are we going to talk? Once these boundaries have been established, a ghostwriter might need to get creative when making sure the author follows them. I once worked with an author and our schedule was a tight one. We needed to finish a chapter every week. The problem was that he wasn’t giving me the information I needed soon enough. So, I gently told him, “The train is leaving the station every Monday. One way or the other.” He heard me and we had zero problems after that. I got the information I needed first thing Monday morning from then on.

Writing a book takes discipline on both sides. And that certainly helps the sustained chemistry stay buoyant. The final thing I’ve learned to help keep the chemistry strong is never responding when angry. In the book writing process, there will be moments of great tension. There’s going to be times when the author is irritated, not in the mood to do his or her part, and there’s also going to be times when the ghostwriter may feel irritated by the client. That’s just normal. One thing that I practice, and I hope this is useful to others, is that when I’m upset is always the wrong time to discuss it with the client. Instead, talk to a friend, talk to your sister, talk to anybody, but don’t talk to the client. By practicing this, I hardly ever have arguments with an author. You want to avoid those at all costs. You’ve got to learn to let annoyances go. It’s almost like you have to take a Ghostwriter 12 step program! I think in order to keep the chemistry going, it’s very important to keep the relationship as harmonious as you can make it.

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Lead-In To A Memoir: Paint A Picture, Create A Mood

Every book needs a riveting lead, an opening story that instantly draws you in, capturing your full attention.

Like the first scenes of a movie, the beginning sentences of a memoir should be seductive, lines that paint a picture and create a mood. For example, last year I finished a ghostwritten memoir about a man traumatized by domestic violence as a child, later in life creating a  foundation to help adult survivors recover from abuse.  It begins this way:

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I never knew that my mother slept with a knife under her bed. And she never knew that I slept with a bat under mine. But there we both were, a room apart, keeping our secret weapons handy, terrified of what the night might bring…”

The reader is hopefully engaged by the images conjured up and the promise of what may follow, which allows anyone to “get into” the book and stay there.

I  personally give any book a 20 page benefit of the doubt,  and if I’m not engaged by the 21st page, I put the book aside and never return to it. You have to get the reader interested.

When I wrote my first book, HOROWITZthe biography of  classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, I began it by conjuring up  a visual picture of him in performance:

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When Vladimir Horowitz walks onto the stage, he always appears in a black cutaway jacket, gray striped pants, vest, and silk bow tie–a “uniform” (as he calls it) reminiscent of the elaborate frock coat and cravat worn by performers in the nineteenth century….once at the piano, he wraps ” his audience with the sort of near-infernal energy once ascribed to Niccolo Paganini and Franz Liszt.” And we’re off on a journey that spans eight decades.

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My second book, TURNING POINT: Pivotal Moments In The Lives Of America’s Celebrities,  is focused on how celebrities have overcome crisis, and I begin it this way: “Sweet-smelling and innocent, trusting and unashamed, the newborn baby sleeps away the days safe from worry, longing, and fear. Safe from problems. Safe from a dangerous place. Safe not for long.

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A few pages later, Elizabeth Taylor, featured on the cover of the book, recalls the days that close friend Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS: “I’ve never seen a more painful, cruel, degrading death. So lonely. The brain, mercifully, seems to totally disintegrate. I’m goddamned sick and tired of people blaming gay men for AIDS. It could just as easily have been spread by some horny rich babe from Miami. AIDS is not a sin, it’s a disease–and the insanity of homophobia has go to stop. How dare so-called religious people say it was God’s idea, His wrath to kill the homosexuals. We’re all God’s children.”  A powerful message.

And then, on a quite a different note, in a ghostwritten Christian-based book, The Power To Change Today, a Chicago Preacher who felt unloved as a child started his book this way: “When I was a little boy, I decided to run away from home. I needed to get away. Why? Because the sadness I felt inside was just too much for me to bear. I didn’t know what to do with that pain. And I was only eight years old.

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Like a suspense thriller, the reader immediately wants to turn the page and find out why that little boy was so unhappy. So whether it’s being intrigued by the greatness of a performing musician, a film star’s passion for AIDS research, or the heartache of an abused child,  each lead-in is meant to grab you from the start.

That’s where a really good ghostwriter can earn his stripes. While most people  recall the events of their lives, re-creating those events in a compelling  way requires putting the words together so that they literally evoke the emotions of what happened.

How would you begin your autobiography?

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