JOE PINSKER | APRIL 15, 2021 | The Atlantic
Updated at 1:00 p.m. ET on April 15, 2021.
In the late-19th-century play Cyrano de Bergerac, the eloquent title character gets a woman to fall deeply in love with another man by ghostwriting letters, as him, to her. The details are a bit messy—Cyrano himself is also in love with the woman, the woman is his cousin, and the other guy dies in Act IV—but much of the play’s drama revolves around the letters’ secret authorship.
One hundred–plus years later, in the age of texting and emailing, the world is full of Cyranos: Getting quick, surreptitious help writing high-stakes messages has never been easier, whether that means enlisting friends to consult on a flirty note in a dating app or turning to a co-worker for assistance on a sensitive email to your boss. Although this sort of collaboration is widespread, people still generally assume that the messages they receive were composed by the sender alone. Acknowledging how many of our supposedly one-on-one communications are written by committee would risk undermining the comforting illusions that “private” conversations are truly private and that we are all enlightened communicators who never need to look to other people to know what to say.
The feature of written communication that makes this kind of ghostwriting possible in the first place is “revisability,” to use a word introduced to me by Jeremy Birnholtz, a communication professor at Northwestern University. Because people can perfect messages before sending them, Birnholtz said, they often take advantage of that ability to increase the odds of a positive response. Plus, the fact that digital messages can be saved indefinitely, to be reviewed at any time, can add pressure to nail diction and tone.
Revisability is not a 21st-century innovation—it’s a feature of letters too, as Cyrano can attest. But what’s different about today’s ghostwriting is how quickly and easily it can happen: To get instant feedback, all you have to do is forward an email thread or screenshot a text exchange. This ease has enabled ghostwriting to flourish in all manner of everyday communications, whatever the author may need a second opinion on.
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Elaine Haugen's family history is told with the help of a ghostwriter.
Written by Kathy Steiner | April 14, 2021
One of Elaine Haugen’s goals in life was to write a trilogy of books, said her husband, Gene. She did not live to see that goal but she did complete a book on her family history, a book that is now available through Amazon and the Dakota Store in Jamestown.
“Rings of a Family Tree” is Elaine Staaël Haugen's story, told with the help of ghostwriter Jennifer Bourne.
“It’s a really incredible family history, it’s an incredible story,” Bourne said.
Written in short chapters, the story begins with Elaine’s great-grandmother, Hannah, who journeys from her home in Norway to America and literally marries her betrothed before getting off the ship.
It is not a happy marriage. At one point, Hannah became a patient in the North Dakota State Hospital. Years later, Elaine would work there, helping others as she faced her own challenges.
“She ended up working there and developing programs for the State Hospital,” Bourne said. “It’s such a full circle, such a great family history. ...”
Born in North Dakota with no eyesight, Elaine was about 6 years old when a physician in Minot performed cosmetic surgery on her left eye that also restored a sliver of tunnel vision about the size of a straw, Gene said. In the last seven years of her life she had no vision, he said.
But Elaine was not one to let a lack of eyesight hold her back, Gene said.
“She navigated through life as if she could see as well as anyone,” he said.
Elaine graduated from the North Dakota School for the Blind and studied for a master’s degree in social work at the University of North Dakota. She married, had two children and became a single parent. She worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the North Dakota State Hospital.
And that was how she met Gene.
“I was drifting aimlessly and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my life,” he said.
Elaine interviewed him as part of her job. After he tested at Job Service North Dakota, she directed him to work with children at the Anne Carlsen Center, which he did. Eventually, he, too, worked at the State Hospital until he retired.
They married in 1987 and were married for 33 years before her death at age 84 on June 14, 2020.
Elaine’s book is written
Elaine wrote journals for many years, Gene said. After retiring, Elaine’s long-held desire to write books rekindled. With the need to hire a new caregiver to help Elaine, who had Parkinson’s disease, Marilyn Teckenburg began working for the couple and introduced them to her daughter, Jennifer Bourne, a writer who agreed to serve as ghostwriter for Elaine.
“They had a year-and-a-half-long process of going through journals and interviews to come up with the book,” Gene said.
Bourne said all told, it was about a five-year project.
“It was so unlike any other ghostwriting experience because typically as a ghostwriter, people email you or give you typewritten work and then you go through it,” Bourne said. “But this was an interview process so I was interviewing her and writing the book from there. Her knowledge and her memory of her family history was just - it was incredible.”
Posted on by Rich Johnston
In 2018, at the age of 94, Joye Hummel Murchison Kelly attended San Diego Comic-Con to received the Bill Finger Award. A much-ignored figure in superhero comic book history, Kelly ghost-write numerous issues of Wonder Woman that were credited to the character's co-creator William Moulton Marston. That a comic about female empowerment was written by a woman for years, whose identity was kept a secret to preserve the myth of the male writer, does seem rather odd.
Born on April 4th, 1924, and a Long Island resident, Kelly began working for William Moulton Marston, writing on Wonder Woman in 1944 when she was 20, after taking a psychology class from him. He tutored her as an assistant writer on the comic books – three titles and a newspaper strip – and she took over writing the comics entirely, from Wonder Woman #12's The Winged Maidens of Venus. She wrote over riting 70 Wonder Woman stories through to 1947, when William Moulton Marston died of cancer. But when she was credited, it was with the in-house pseudonym of Charles Moulton.
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