G.O.T. / Walking Dead redux

Let's face it, Game of Thrones is having a serious identity crisis. It thinks it's The Walking Dead, now. From a fiction writer's perspective, the situation is disturbing. Sure, Walking Dead doesn't own the zombie archetype, anyone can use it, but it's about the way Thrones is using it. The whole army of the dead thing started to unravel over the problem of weapons. Used to be the living dead on Game of Thrones had to kill their victims with weapons, meanwhile the walkers on Walking Dead had to kill their victims by biting them. That wasn't a huge difference, but it was something. But in these last couple of Thrones episodes I've noticed a lot of these lazy zombies don't bother carrying weapons anymore. They just kind of embrace and engulf their prey, and maybe bite them, it's unclear. This makes no sense. Getting bit by a skeleton just isn't going to kill anyone. In fact, the scary zombie that was presented at the great meeting of the Lanisters and everybody in yesterdays episode--it wasn't scary at all, because it had no weapon. UNLESS you were worried about it biting you, or strangling you? Or shedding old skin on you? I mean what exactly can these things do to you without a weapon? Scare you to death? Boo! Their crumbly old zombie jaws wouldn't kill a live human.

The whole issue with The Dead on Thrones was that they carried weapons and had the strength to kill you, plus they couldn't be killed, but someone in the Thrones writing room seems to have forgotten that the Thrones' dead don't carry viruses like the Walking Dead dead do. They're just animated skeletal remains. The lesson here being--and as someone who writes both international memoir and fantasy, I take this to heart--when you're creating a world, in fiction or memoir, you have to know the rules and stick to them, otherwise, like a sad, undead skeleton, your story starts to crumble.

Thrones is a strong enough story to withstand some zombie inconsistencies, but come on, this is a WAR, which is all about WEAPONS. So, Thrones writers, what exactly are the zombies' weapons and how exactly do they kill people? I want answers. 

Young Adult books: what's with the "being" verbs?

6316671Recent run-ins with youngsters that like my book Bits of String too Small to Save have made me wonder if this is really a Young Adult book after all. I've been told it isn't, by agents and publishers and people who really ought to know, simply because there are too many twenty-five cent words and the sentences are too long and complex. Not that young adults couldn't read my book, but that it isn't "Young Adult," category-wise. The subject matter is suitably Young Adult, for sure--it's a novel of adventure and fantasy with a bit of a science fiction element and no sleazy stuff, no dirty stuff, nothing parents would disapprove of. There is an out-of-wedlock pregnant lady, but I don't think that raises too many eyebrows.

Personally, I'd like the book to find a home wherever readers appreciate it, but I'm not, objectively, thrilled with the Young Adult genre. What publishing agents, and I guess readers, find to be an age-appropriate writing style is often pretty weird to me. I picked up The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman--an award winning Young Adult novel beloved by many. Here's what I found on the first page: "The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already ... and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests." And a whole lot of other descriptive sentences using "was," "were," and other being verbs. This is something writers outside the Young Adult genre avoid like the plague.

Verbs are the very thing that make novels great. Avoiding "was" and "were" is an issue of great focus for all writers outside the Young Adult genre, who know that there's always some more actionable verb that would give the sentence more zing, but inside the world of Young Adult literature, such descriptions actually seem to be preferred. Nobody can avoid it all the time, but having a profusion of "was" and "were" right in the opening paragraph of a novel is something that would prevent an adult-level novel from getting published at all, but when it's seen in the Young Adult field, it's fine. I don't get it. To me, it's just lazy writing. And that's why I hesitate to call my book "Young Adult." The subject matter is, but the style decidedly isn't. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is "do the kids like it?" A few good reviews are in, but I'm still waiting for results.

Lying by Omission--A Memoir No-No

Okay, here we go again with the never-ending sequence of blogs about Megyn Kelly's memoir, Settle for More. I promise this will be the last. I read the last third of the book and found to my surprise that at the end she has tacked on a chapter about how Roger Ailes sexually harrassed her in increasingly threatening ways throughout her first few years at Fox News. I'm so angry at Kelly for the way she structured this memoir, I could just spit. She basically eviscerated her own story, robbing it of the drama that was rightfully there, and in the process made a great and suspenseful story into a boring, preachy one. Reading from the beginning, I was enjoying the book until the part where she gets her dream job at Fox News, her dream husband, and her life is so peachy keen you can barely stand it. Note to memoir writers and memoir ghostwriting clients out there: as I mentioned in a previous blog, nobody wants to read about how your life is perfect and you're the hero of everything.

A: It's a lie. Nobody's life is perfect and if you say it is, you're untrustworthy.

B: Conflict is what makes any story interesting, and the minute your life has no conflict, the book is a dud.

C: Everybody hates perfect people. 

But as it turned out, her life during that period of time was FAR from perfect. The truth of the matter was that the price Kelly had to pay for this amazing job was dealing with Ailes' sexual harrassment and staying silent. That's a high price and a humiliating situation for a woman like Megyn who prides herself on being powerful. Additionally, she faced the internal conflict of whether or not she should speak to her new husband about the harrassment. She didn't want to upset him, but she needed support. Finally, she faced a moral dilemma: should she risk her position at Fox by speaking out, in case other women were also being harrassed? Was it selfish of her to stay silent? These internal, external, and moral conflicts, if included in the story, would have made Settle for More a suspenseful and intriguing, unputdownable read, and if I had been the memoir ghostwriter working on this, I would have written it so that readers saw the true complexity of her life. Instead, what Kelly did was segment her life into chapters about the different topics: "my childhood" then "my marriage" then "my first show on Fox" then "my conflict with Trump" then "Ailes' sexual harrassment." In so doing, she removed the real drama from her story. I suspect she did this so that with just the one chapter dealing with sexual harrassment, she didn't drag the topic through the book and seem like a whiner, when she spends her whole book talking about how she's tough and not a whiner. But relegating this issue to the last chapter of the book is another way of covering up for the aggressor and also cheats her out of a better story.

This is, however, an issue I come up against quite a bit when working with memoir ghostwriting clients--they want to cover up the bad things. DON'T! The bad things are the juiciest part of the story. If you want people to read it, you've got to keep the conflicts in there--yeah, even if they make you look bad. After all, what really makes you look good in a memoir is your willingness to show the true story, warts and all. Deleting a huge conflict from the story, only to reveal what was really going on the whole time in the last chapter, is a total cop out. It is. And the fact that Kelly did that is no doubt the reason I almost gave this book away twice before I actually finished it. I felt like something was being whitewashed. I was right, and I felt kind of insulted at the end when she finally revealed that she had been lying by omission all along.

Moralizing Memoirs are Dirty Tricks

kellyBack to Megyn Kelly's memoir, Settle for More. I'm going to refine my critcism of it in the previous blog, just because I went ahead and read the second third of the book. The thing that attracted me to this book in the first place, was the summary on the book flap that promised "never before heard details about the first republican debate of 2016," and the first few pages of the prologue, which dive right into the good stuff. I found that election cycle fascinating from a woman's perspective, because here we had Fox journalist Megyn Kelly asking Donald Trump a tough question about his reputation vis a vis women, and then Trump basically threatening her and insanely claiming she was "bleeding from her wherever" on national TV. That election cycle also saw Trump call Carly Fiorina unpresidential because of her looks. Fiorina then took his statement and threw it back in his face with an ad that reached out to women across the political spectrum, even though her pro-life, pro-corporate platform had never really been seen as a particularly feminist one. 2016 saw conservative feminists coming out of the closet and fighting back against their republican male peers: a really interesting phenomenon, I thought. So when Kelly's book jacket promised behind the scenes info about that world, I wanted to read it. Then, I read a third of the book, which was about her (sorry, but ...) relatively unremarkable childhood, her first marriage, then her second marriage to her golly-gee dream husband, having kids, how much she loved them ... I got very bored. But then she got into her time as a journalist, the debate, the war Trump waged on her, her conflict with Jon Stewart, and the book became nothing less than riveting, then it annoyed me again by reducing her entire life's experience to a platitude about parenting. I think the book does give you good insight into Kelly's way of thinking and the profession of journalism itself, however I feel like it plays a dirty trick on the reader. 

The prologue hooked me, as it was intended to, but after that, with the fourteen chapters about her childhood, husbands, and kids, I  literally shut the book and put it in my used-bookstore-trade-in pile. Later, I remembered I wanted to read about that debate, and picked it up again, but grudgingly. I kind of resented having been forced to read all that gooey relationship stuff. Granted, as a memoir ghostwriter (and a person with my own set of kooky parents), you have to hit me with some outlandish stuff if you want me to make me interested in your childhood or relationships, so I'm a tough audience; however, it's clear why she put in all that. Later, when she talks about how she toughed it out throughout Trump's post-debate bullying, she references her mom's non-coddling parenting style to make a point about how that toughened her up for moments like this. The non-coddling message comes full circle and ties the book up, philosophically, quite neatly, and Settle for More carries the message: don't coddle your children, or they won't grow up to be tough, like Megyn Kelly. This message might be really useful for parents who struggle with this issue, but it annoyed me, because I picked up the book completely unaware that I was about to read a book that, at its core, is about parenting. 

I thought I was going to read a book about a feminist behind the scenes at Fox news, and the crossroads between conservative thought and feminism. Some of that is in the book, granted, but it isn't the focus, and I think the topic was somewhat whitewashed. She gave a pass to a whole bunch of men at Fox news who didn't exactly throw her under the bus, but didn't stand up for her, either, so busy were they keeping Trump appeased. Why should journalists keep a presidential candidate appeased at all? That question isn't mentioned. How can a woman so adamant about her right to equality work for Roger Ailes, know him well, and never mention his bad reputation regarding women, in the whole book? These were the things I wanted to know about, but I got broad strokes, instead. In the end, the message is that she isn't a whiner, has proven she isn't a whiner, and can't stand other people who are whiners or who nurture whiners. I hate whiners, too, so I don't disagree, I just think Kelly has a lot more to say than that and the book skims over a lot of topics, and basically sells itself short with the aphorisms about parenting. I still have a few chapters more to read, but again, I'm ready to put it in the recycle pile, because when memoirs start moralizing, you've lost me.

Settle for Meh

settleWhen people ask me what I do and I tell them I ghostwrite memoirs, they often ask if I write celebrity memoirs. I tell them yes, just to keep things simple, but in truth what I do is very different from your typical celebrity memoir. Most of those are books that would not be at all interesting if the subject wasn't already famous. Case in point, the latest one I read: Megyn Kelly's "Settle for More." It was pretty interesting up until chapter 14, where all her problems in life were solved by a few months of therapy and a dream husband. I stopped reading Tina Fey's memoir right about that point actually, too. When your greatest problem in life is whether or not to have two children or just the one, I remember I'm only reading this because you're a celebrity. That's just not a riveting plot dynamic. But Megyn's book reminded me of some issues I face in my ghostwriting work, too--it's important to point out the traumas and dramas that made you who you are, but not to overemphasize them so that it seems like nothing else ever happened to you. This is one of the reasons I use a secondary editor, because it's really easy to fall into talking about how some childhood ezperience shaped every decision you made afterward. The truth is, people do crazy/stupid/cruel/mindless things for a wide variety of mostly-unknowable reasons, and it's not necessary to analyze and pinpoint what a psychologist would say about why you did it. As long as you remember the reason you gave yourself at the time, that's all readers need to know, because those readers are the amateur psychologists and sleuths that are solving the mystery of why you did what you did. If you analyze yourself, it leaves nothing for the reader to do!

In Megyn's case, she was bullied in seventh grade, but by eighth grade everything was better and by high school she was the popular captain of the cheerleading squad. It's true that childhood hurt never goes away, but in the case of Megyn, she brought up her memory of the bullying so many times afterward, when she faced adversity, that it really felt like she was trying to prove she had suffered--she wasn't just a little miss perfect. In this case, the effort to prove she had suffered kind of discredited the suffering itself. What I found more interesting than the bullying episode was the time she spent as a successful attorney, because the hours were so intense and the pressure so massive, and yet her success so great, that she actually grew to hate her life--all because she was so good at it. Now that paradox, to me, is interesting, especially the fact that other successful lawyers suffer in exactly the same way and have done so for decades, and yet nobody seems to have thought to stop this crazy cycle of lawyer abuse, including the high-powered lawyers themselves. They've got the money and the power to establish whatever work culture they want, but they don't think to change things, even to make their own lives better, save their marriages, prevent suicide, increase happiness. To me, this speaks to something in human nature. Perhaps the pride of being good at your job feels like something essential to survival. People will do anything to keep the status of being on top--and yet, that lifestyle is exactly what makes lawyers die of heart attacks. Now that, to me is interesting. I could ponder it all day. 

If I had written Megyn's book, Settle for Less, I would have focussed less on her perfect marriage (a lot less), less on the don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful theme that seems determined to prove she's riddled with angst while climbing the ladder of success (meh), and more on her observations of the subcultures she has been introduced to. She hit on something interesting in the chapters about being an attorney, but after that, things went downhill. Also--and keep in mind I'm writing to keep readers reading, not to give out "helpful tips"--I'd try to find some failures to talk about. She writes about learning to be vulnerable and not so guarded, not so perfect, yet this book isn't much of an example of that.

Megyn's failures here are mild and always superceded with fantastic learning experiences. Reading about someone else's amazing success actually gets dull. Sure, readers pick up a few tips here and there, but mostly it makes them feel like their own lives aren't good enough. When I read a memoir, I want to see the subject be willing to play the fool--I can't believe I screwed that up! I did the whole thing ass-backwards! Why do i make the same mistake over and over? This is why I challenge my clients when they tell me the big success stories of their lives. I ask what risks they took, how other people reacted, and which parts of it they screwed it up, not just how they succeeded. Usually, they're suprised. That's not the way they're used to telling the story, but it's quite dull when you're the hero of every story. Be the lousy bum who stumbles through everything, and I might just get past chapter fifteen. 

Bits of String: The Prequel

Now that Bits of String Too Small to Save is out:  ebook, paperback, hardback, the works. I can and must concentrate on the sequel. Predictably, I began by taking ElizabethAnn through a portal to another world, this one by the sea, where tentacled sea monsters mess with peoples' heads and hearts. I rather like the devastation the monsters have wrought, but I'm putting the breaks on this storyline for now. The responses I'm getting from a lot of people indicate they want to know more about No Oaks, how it became the futuristic dystopia and police state that it is in the beginning of Bits of String. Is its supposed to be America? Is it supposed to be Santa Fe in the future? Excellent questions, all. I think a novella is called for, here--a prequel. Something to flesh out No Oaks and the Von Earp family, which ElizabethAnn leaves behind in the very first chapter of BIts of String.

She thought she liked life in No Oaks, but after a while, and after she discovers her true nature, she has no desire to return, not really. Though ElizabethAnn desperately seeks a "home," her actual home holds no appeal for her. That's part of the story's theme: how one can outgrow a home, but that doesn't necessarily mean a new home appears before you. There can be a sense of no longer belonging where you came from, but still not knowing where you're going, either. The search for home is elusive because even as we search, the search changes us, and then what we find may be something we've already outgrown.

Anyway, I think readers will enjoy finding out exactly how No Oaks, where most folks bathe with a vigorous rubbing of antiseptic gel, got to be that way, and how Grandma lived there for years as a secret rebel, just waiting for the right moment to escape back through the portals between space and time. Stay tuned!

Words Lives Matter

Wow. That last blog was a bit intense. Who wrote that? Whoever it was better go get some valium or something. Today I'm not going to talk about the insanely complicated world of book distribution because the more I know about it, the less I understand. I have given the whole thing up to the Gods. I take my only comfort in knowing that the meta-data fields I've chosen on Amazon bring Bits of String up next to Kurt Vonnegut in one instance and Tom Robbins in another, so I hope some of their juju rubs off.

I'm going to try not to rant, but I've been on a certain self-publishing facebook site that shall remain nameless for its own protection. I pop in there once in a while to see what other authors are up to, but I have discovered this is not a site for actual writers, just for people who want to make money off of self publishing. First of all: HA HA HA! The joke's on them! Why would anyone cook up a get rich quick scheme around writing books? Being a writer is an affliction--don't people know that? It's not something you chose, it choses you, and it destroys you. But here's the part that kills me. These people are obsessed with content creation speed and have no care for quality at all. They seem to think selling a book has no bearing on the quality of the writing. And hey, maybe they're right, for all I know. They leave advice like, "These days, it doesn't matter if you have every quote mark in the right place or adhere to the rules of grammar. You just have to write fast and market well to make money." Holy Jeez!

Am I a Nazi for grammar and punctuation? Yes. If a comma is out of place, I lose my mind. I can't even imagine no one else will notice it. But that person's attitude bothers me even more because its just like saying, "Words aren't actually important. They don't actually mean anything." Look at our political climate today. Not just today, actually, but generally. There are a lot of people who just say things. They open their mouths and words spill out, seemingly in any random order, and this satisfies them. They think they've created meaning. Some people are fooled by this, and these are exactly the people who think words and grammar and punctuation don't matter. Just spew out any random words and people will get the gist. But many others are not fooled by it, because they know words do matter. Words mean things, and sometimes people say important things that change the course of the world, and when they do, they better get the freakin' commas in the right place, because punctuation changes the meanings of sentences. That's what it's there for. So sure, if you're writing a mystery thriller and you don't want to bother hiring a copy editor, it's not going to destroy the world, but its so disrespectful to the whole idea of writing and the notion that words actually matter. I failed in my mission. I ranted. I couldn't help it. God bless you and good night.

A critique versus a review--get this through your skull.

I am being driven crazy, and the ones doing it are so-called friends--people who I ask to read my novel Bits of String Too Small to Save and leave a review. Of course, I'm asking for reviews. You have to get reviews to sell books online. I'm not going to start my marketing campaign until I have reviews because people don't buy books unless they have reviews. And people don't leave reviews until they've bought books. The old catch-22. So authors have to give away the book ahead of time and ask people to please leave honest reviews of the book on the Amazon site. I am specific in asking for "honest reviews" because it would be pretty disgusting to ask everyone to leave a good review. Frankly, my work is good. I'm sure a lot of people will like it. I don't have to ask for "good reviews." But I guess non-writers get confused by the expression "honest review."

They've seen writer's critique groups on TV or something, I guess, and by "reviews," they literally think that I am asking for a critique. Like I would ask for a serious literary critique from someone I've never worked with before, after the book is scheduled to be published? Is that how they think writers operate? I guess they do. So let me make it clear to folks out there. A review is where you go on Amazon and click where it says "leave a review" and you say if you liked the book or didn't. A critique is something professional writers get from trusted inside sources, published professionals, and highly regarded people in relevant fields. Critiques help writers improve their work, but they're something done on the inside, behind the scenes. Professionals do not distribute their work to amateurs and strangers and relatives (even if they are "avid readers") asking for "critiques."

Personally I'm not only against asking friends for critiques, I'm against the very idea of the writer's critique group itself-yes, the bedrock upon which writers workshops are founded. The simple reason why is that the people in the class do not necessarily know their assess from their elbows, and in their sometimes well meaning (and sometimes not) efforts to critique, they will often bash all the wrong things about a writer's work, thus making them remove the best parts from the work and be insecure about something perfectly fine for years to come. Yeah, one hater's bad critique can really mess with the mind of a sensitive artist. I've seen it happen so many times. And where is the "teacher" when this happens? Sitting in the circle claiming everyone's opinion is valid, which is definitely not true. In these groups you seek approval from people who are fellow writers, who, at base, are jealous little bitches. We all are. No critique group participant is just going to say--this is great! Keep going! They are always going to find fault with it, and it is going to hit the writer hard even though that person is not qualified IN ANY WAY to cast judgement.

Personally, I hire qualified professionals to edit/critique my work. That's how I got good at this. One qualified editor at a time. One book at a time. Not throwing my work to the wolves and listening to a bunch of amateurs squawk. So, to summarize, if I ask for a review, leave one if you feel like being helpful. But whoever you are, unless you're much more experienced than me and being hired specifically for the job, you can rest assured, I am not asking for a critique. Nor, if you're a writer, should you be soliciting the opinions of random people on your work. 

Welcome to Night Vale

nightvaleIf you have ever listened to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, you are my people. The incredible imagination in evidence here really takes me away. The series of stories is described as "Lake Wobegon as seen through the eyes of Stephen King." A little Twin Peaks-ish, if I may date myself. In Night Vale, the community radio station is the most dangerous place to work, and the town is not only surreal and absurd, but deliciously nightmarish. Every conspiracy theory is, indeed, real. Unimaginable terror is presented as drab mundanity. You'll get it when I just tell you the "categories" Wikipedia puts this podcast under: comedy, fake news radio, surrealism, paranormal horror, deadpan (that's a category?), and magical realism. I found it in my search for fiction in the same imaginative vein as my upcoming book, Bits of String Too Small to Save. I would inaccurately flatter myself to compare my book's magical realities to that of Night Vale, so I won't do that, but I think I will go so far as to say if you like the free podcast Welcome to Night Vale (voiced by Cecil Baldwin), or the book Welcome to Night Vale, which is an amalgamation of the podcasts (by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor) you might also like Bits of String. You, clearly, are a person who enjoys taking your imagination out for a walk and then, what the hell, letting it off-leash.

Bits of String . . . New Release!

BitsofString w illusHello dear readers, and thanks for staying in touch. Pretty soon now, you'll get to download, for free, my first novel in my own name, called Bits of String Too Small to Save, on your ereaders. Real book versions will soon be out, too. I thought this blog might be a good time to talk about the strange circumstances in which this novel exists. When I first wrote it, I gave myself a rule: write for an hour a day, and have fun every minute. I wasn't allowed to waste any of that precious time outlining and agonizing and plotting. (I did all that later). The first draft was simply an exercise in one writer having fun. As a consequence, it's a really fun book with hilarious characters and great dialogue. Also, as a consequence, it fits into exactly zero established genres. I've discussed this ad nauseum with publishers who were very interested in it, but not quite: they had no idea how to market it.

You see, the tone is a kind of Lemony Snicket meets early John Barth. The characters are children, but some of the subject matter is much too adult for children. Plus, the language and complexity of sentence structure is way ahead of even the highest level young-adult genre. So, let that be a lesson to you writers out there: think about genre before you write! But then again, don't. I love this book and I hope it starts a whole new trend in genre-bending "unmarketable" books that make writers actually having fun into a whole new trend.

Because I'm self publishing, I got to do it the way I wanted. I hired Phiilip Harris, a brilliant illustrator, for beautiful pen and ink drawings that further blur the genre boundaries. Ideally, you could read it to your kids, and the two of you would enjoy it on totally different levels. The release is coming soon, soon, soon, so stay tuned!

How to Use Made up Dialogue in a Memoir

broadstrokesI thought today I'd address a question students and memoir ghostwriting clients ask me about often: the use of made-up dialogue in a memoir. I've had people look askance at me when I pitch an interesting book as a memoir. Yeah. They think a memoir is, by nature, boring, because it has to be true. But my memoirs have action, dialogue, introspection, and all the elements of a good novel. The way I do it is easy, actually.

It just involves stepping outside whatever staid notion of "how books are written" that's stuck in your head. Whenever I write in something that isn't an exact memory--and no, you don't ever remember the exact words of an entire conversation, let's be real--I just speak directly to the reader. I say, "this was the gist of the conversation," or "Jim said something that sounded a lot like the following," or "here's the conversation as I remember it." It's that easy.

Remember that books are creative enterprises, and you don't have to stick with the "memoir" formula you've heard about. As long as you admit that mistakes might have been made, you can just go ahead and get pretty close to the truth and call it good. I would, of course, be careful if I was quoting a famous person who might sue my memoir ghostwriting client for slander ... but then again, I'm always careful. This type of phrasing is a way of being careful and accurate about the fact that you're not being particularly careful and accurate.

Telling the reader directly that this memory might not be exactly perfect, but it's pretty close, is actually a more honest way of writing a memoir than how many people approach it. Those that are dead set on getting every memory perfect usually end up lying about the parts they half-remember while claiming everything is exactly right. Truth is, every memory is filtered through one person's mind, so it's always an interpretation. I say, just be honest about that fact, and it makes life, and memoir writing, a whole lot easier.

A Great Challenge: Incorporating International Politics in a Memoir

l 308021My favorite memoirs to ghostwrite lately have been those that incorporate international politics. Sounds dry, but actually its quite the opposite. In fact, memoirs are a very popular type of text for teachers to use, these days, in teaching world history (Remember Diary of Anne Frank?) especially because they aren't dry and informational. They're packed with real-life conflicts and show how political conflict affects real people. Of course, every memoir has some type of setting, starting with family. First, the individual stands against the backdrop of his or her family and the family culture, with its expectations and habits. Then, that stands against the overall setting, for instance 1950s high school America, or 1970s rural Alabama, or Manhattan's Upper East Side in the sixties. Most American readers can conjure up some basic picture of such settings to form a basis for their understanding of the book, however if the overall setting is civil-war-era Cameroon or the time of the formation of the Soviet Union in Moldovia, most readers are starting at zero. That means that, as a ghostwriter, I have to not only give the family background, but also information about the area's culture before the war, then during the war, and how the war or political action changed people and their expectations.