Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ghostwriting: Interview with Tansy Howard Blumer

Thank you to Tansy Howard Blumer for answering a few questions about her experience as a ghostwriter.

Tansy Howard Blumer lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and has two grown daughters. She is a graduate of Smith College and has an MA degree from the University of Maryland Graduate School. Tansy's love of journalistic, non-fiction writing led her to change her career course in 2000 to ghostwrite memoirs--both private and commercial. She has written 8 memoirs for private clients. Her commercially published memoirs are:

Big Man on Campus – A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg with Tansy Howard Blumer, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, NYC (2008) (hardcover and paperback);

What's the Beef? Sixty Years of Hard-Won Lessons for Today's Leaders in Labor, Management and Government, by Wayne L. Horvitz with Tansy Howard Blumer, Hamilton Books, Lanham, MD (2009) (paperback);

A recently completed memoir entitled Broken Promises, One Family's   Journey From Alcoholism to Reconciliation, by Jane Bartels with Tansy Howard Blumer, is currently being shopped by a literary agent.


How did you get started helping authors to write their books?

In 2000, after a 34-year career, I decided that I wanted to stop commuting to work and thought it would be fun to try to write as a career. Writing had always been the most satisfying part of my work, and so this was not a difficult transition. Coincidentally, a friend asked me to write her mother's memoir. The mother had a pretty interesting life in Washington – as a Cabinet wife in the Kennedy Administration-- and had a good memory and lots of stories to tell.  She was not interested in writing anything herself but was willing to work with me because she had known me for many years as her daughter's close friend. Hers was a privately published book and was a huge success among her many friends, acquaintances and family. Word started to spread and a lot of subsequent calls were from those people or from people they knew who were looking for a ghostwriter. Ultimately, after writing a number of privately-published memoirs, I decided I had enough of them under my belt to start trying to choose subjects whose stories had commercial potential.

How do you find authors to work with?

I have successfully and unsuccessfully pitched a couple of books to potential clients, but most of my contacts come quite out of the blue from people who have either read one of my books or know someone who has worked with me on a book. In Washington, word of mouth is alive and well! Also, I recently found an agent for a book I wrote for a client and the agent has been pitching books for me to write ever since. I have not yet taken one of her offers, as I feel that the best thing about working for myself is that I get to decide what to work on and how. But it is nice to know that if my client list dries up, I have a source of future projects.

How do you manage to write a book in another person's voice?

I spend many, many hours interviewing my clients and I tape record every word they say. Part of the process for me is to learn a person's voice and then figure out how to translate their speaking voice to the written word. This is something that appears to come naturally to me. I had one client who never used adjectives – at all. I pointed this out to her and she was quite shocked! I am currently working on a book with a young African American woman with a rich cultural vocabulary and voice, and a fascinating career as a championship boxer. I told her I would be her mentor, coach and editor, but that she would have to do the first draft of the book, as I cannot possibly presume to write in her voice. I am conceptualizing the book, interviewing her extensively, coaching her, giving her specific writing assignments, and actively editing the book. But in this case, I am not intending to write it – at least not the first draft. Interestingly, she and I have noticed that after working with her for most of the summer, I am now able to write in her voice to a certain extent – for transitions mostly. In doing so, I have made extensive use of the ghetto dictionary and have learned some very colorful and evocative vocabulary.  Somehow the stars were properly aligned for this project as she and I have become very close friends and colleagues.

Do you find time to work on your own writing projects while doing this work?

This is my own work! When I am working on a project with a client, I am deeply involved and thoroughly challenged. I think about the work all of the time – even in my dreams – and I give the work everything I have.  My clients have often said that they think of our sessions as a form of therapy for them. That is a scary notion for a person who is not a licensed therapist, but I understand what they are saying. They are giving me a precious and emotional part of themselves – their personal stories – and I feel they deserve to have my complete attention in the process.

For more on collaborating with an author, you might be interested in Gretchn Primack's recent post about her experience collaborating to write The Lucky Ones. 

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