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Was H.P. Lovecraft a Ghostwriter?

Houdini manuscript 'Cancer of Superstition' divides opinion over Lovecraft, Eddy ghostwriting

Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy Jr.

Harry Houdini, left, approached both H.P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy
Jr. to ghostwrite “The Cancer of Superstition.” (Houdini, Lovecraft:
AP / Eddy: Fenham Publishing photo)

Jeremy Mikula - Contact Reporter
March 31, 2016

If there was ever a time to hold a seance to communicate with Harry Houdini, it's now.

As part of its Houdiniana auction April 9, Chicago auction house Potter & Potter will be auctioning off an unfinished manuscript of "The Cancer of Superstition," a book project commissioned by Houdini that was canceled when the magician died in 1926.

The 31-page manuscript — which is expected by Potter & Potter to fetch $25,000 to $40,000 — explores the history of superstition and how superstitions persist through "mental indolence of those who reject modern science," even among academics.

Besides the Houdini connection, what generated media buzz from the likes of The Guardian, Fine Books & Collections and others is the manuscript's purported ghostwriter: H.P. Lovecraft, most famous for "The Call of Cthulhu."

"It's incredible, it's incredible," said Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. "I'm not a scholar, I'm an auctioneer, but how many times do these guys talk to us from beyond the grave?"

Fajuri's excitement was echoed by John Cox, a long-time Houdini historian who runs the Wild About Harry website.

"I got a peek at it a while back, and that was the eureka moment for me: 'Holy cats, this is it!'" Cox said. "For a Houdini person, any time something that's considered lost comes up for auction is very exciting."

When it comes to confirming the manuscript's authorship, however, "excitement" can be replaced by "confusion."

A manuscript of "The Cancer of Superstition," commissioned by Harry Houdini, is being auctioned April 9 in Chicago by Potter & Potter Auctions. The manuscript is said to have been ghostwritten by H.P. Lovecraft but have been also been written by C.M. Eddy Jr. (Potter & Potter Auctions)

Potter & Potter lists Lovecraft as the ghostwriter, in part citing "An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia" by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, a 2001 anthology of Lovecraft's work. The book says, however, Houdini approached Lovecraft and Lovecraft's fellow Providence, R.I., author C.M. Eddy Jr. "jointly to ghostwrite a full-scale book on superstition."

But how much of "The Cancer of Superstition" was the work of Lovecraft vs. Eddy is up for debate.

Douglas A. Anderson, co-founder of Wormwoodiana, a blog dedicated to researching and discussing the work of Lovecraft and his peers, said one needs to look at "The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces," a 1966 Lovecraft anthology edited by August Derleth that published a detailed outline and the project's first chapter. Derleth, who had exchanged letters with Eddy prior to the book's publication, listed Lovecraft as the author of the outline but Eddy as the author of the chapter.

That chapter likely came with revisions from Lovecraft, Anderson said, something Lovecraft often did to varying degrees for contemporaries.

"Most of these manuscripts do not survive, only the published stories, so it's really unknown what happened in any individual case," he said.

Three stories written by Eddy — "The Ghost-Eater," "The Loved Dead" and "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind" — were revised by Lovecraft and included in a 1970 collection of Lovecraft's ghostwriting and revision work called "The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions."

"Depending on who you might ask, one critic might claim any one or all three for Lovecraft, and another might suggest that Lovecraft's involvement was minimal," Anderson said. "I feel it strays into silliness because there is very little evidence one way or another."

Jim Dyer, the grandson of Eddy and the owner of Fenham Publishing, which has published three collections of Eddy's writing, said evidence does exist when it comes to "The Cancer of Superstition": Eddy's handwritten manuscript contains revisions with Lovecraft's penmanship.

"(Eddy family members) have my grandfather's handwritten manuscript of 'The Cancer of Superstition,' along with accompanying correspondence regarding the work," Dyer said. "The first two chapters were approved by Houdini; the third was sent to him by my grandfather while (Houdini) was on tour. Unfortunately, Houdini became ill and died. Mrs. Houdini notified my grandfather that she did not want to proceed with any further work on the manuscript."

Despite his initial reservations over the manuscript's authorship, Joshi said that a "more careful reading" of the chapter published in "The Dark Brotherhood" leads him to suspect it may have been Lovecraft's prose.

Joshi's colleague Marcos Legaria pointed out that correspondence between collector John E. Vetter and Derleth, whose papers are held at the Wisconsin Historical Society, adds another complicating factor.

Vetter, a collector of all things Lovecraft, wrote Derleth in the early 1960s to say two manuscripts of "The Cancer of Superstition" existed — one by Lovecraft and one by Eddy.

"John Vetter at the time worked for a collection agency and started his own book-dealing business called Kadath Books," Legaria said. "For some reason, the correspondence after early 1963 doesn't mention 'The Cancer of Superstition' anymore, but this could be due to Derleth handling further matters with (Eddy). We do know for sure that there was another manuscript, that Clifford Eddy told both August Derleth and John Vetter about, and that this might be the chapter that was included in 'The Dark Brotherhood' or those chapters that just turned up."

The confusion over the manuscript's authorship has gotten back to Potter & Potter, Fajuri said, adding that "people have called in and said Eddy wrote the whole thing, while others have said Lovecraft wrote it."

"I'm sure Eddy was involved in some way, maybe even a major way," Fajuri said. "We know he was working for Houdini as an investigator and writer, so I'd leave that door wide open."

What Fajuri is certain of is that Houdini didn't write "The Cancer of Superstition" based on the complexity of the language in the manuscript.

"Houdini wasn't a natural-born writer, even if he 'wrote' and published books," Fajuri said. "All of his letters have misspellings or names are incorrect. Some of that is because he dashed it off in the dressing room and some of that is simply because he didn't know."

Despite his lack of writing skill, Houdini published a number of books, articles and even an entry in the 13th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica — thanks in large part to ghostwriters, Cox said.

"It's interesting to see how often Houdini employed a lot of ghostwriters because he was always putting forth material," Cox said. "He had an industry of ghostwriters."

That "industry of ghostwriters" included both Lovecraft and Eddy before "The Cancer of Superstition" was ever written by one or the other — or both. Lovecraft ghost-wrote the Houdini-bylined short story "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs" published in a 1924 issue of Chicago-based Weird Tales. As Fajuri noted, Houdini employed Eddy as a ghostwriter and investigator.

Houdini's death in 1926, followed by Lovecraft's death in 1937 and Eddy's in 1967, means confirming authorship of the manuscript might be difficult, Fajuri said, with one thing to keep in mind: Only Houdini's name appears on it.

"We're selling an object here, not the copyright, and while we want the best price possible, we also want to be responsible," Fajuri said. "The only name on the manuscript is Houdini. One way or another, it has these links to historical figures attached to it, and that's exciting."

When "The Cancer of Superstition" goes up for auction April 9, no one will be certain who the actual writer was. And it doesn't get any more Houdini than that, does it?

Jeremy Mikula is a Printers Row staffer.



10:00 a.m. April 9, Potter & Potter Auctions, 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 121.

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune
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Ghostwriting Memoirs for Black Theater Productions

Ghostwriters Get Into Subjects' Skins

Black Ghostwriters Theater Productions

Prof. Mervin Morris, also by Michael Redford

From Drama to Literature: A Blend of Black Voices

The theatre was an important theme in the talks on literature given by five writers during a Kingston Book Festival workshop at the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston, last Friday. The presentations were in two sessions, A Life to Remember: The Business, Art and Craft of Writing Memoirs; and How to Write and Use Marketing Materials for Book Promotion.

Lecturer and ghostwriter Sydney Lowrie gave a lot of credit to his training in acting at the then Jamaica School of Drama for his ability to empathise with authors whose books he has helped to ghostwrite.

"At the drama school, we were taught method acting, which means you tried to get into the attitude, character and personality of the character you were playing," Lowrie said.

Studying English at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, instilled a love of literature, and Lowrie combined the knowledge gained at the two institutions to develop his writing skills.

"In ghostwriting, what happens is that you become like a method actor. You get into the author's character," he said.

To do that with scientist and entrepreneur Dr Henry Lowe, for whose autobiography Lowrie was ghostwriter, he not only made many audio and video recordings of Lowe speaking, but also interviewed his brothers and mother.

"You want to write a story the audience will read, then the life starts to represent something more than just itself because of the resonance it will have with the audience. You're mediating between the subject and the audience, and you have to get the authentic voice. My acting experience and ability to hear and speak the voice of someone else have helped me," Lowrie said.

He emphasised the importance of getting the historical context and experiences right.

"You put in their achievements, their observations of life at the time and the things that were happening around them, and you relate those memories in a way that not only your Jamaican audience, but also a global audience, can appreciate. We [humanity] all share the same aspirations," Lowrie said.


The ghostwriter needs to be descriptive about the little things "throwing a gig, playing marbles, shining a flashlight on a figure so the shadow on the wall became your movie show". But he or she must also get the general facts right "the behaviours of the time, the interactions of children and their elders, the role of the Church and the school, how we related to people in authority".

Focusing on his ghostwriting of the memoir of renowned actress Leonie Forbes, Professor Mervyn Morris said he found it "a learning experience". After "a somewhat deprived and uncertain childhood", Forbes trained as a typist and was employed at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona's, Radio Education Unit, which was run by broadcaster and actor Hugh Morrison.

"One day, somebody who should have turned up for a recording didn't, and Morrison put something in front of her and said 'read this.' She read it and they were impressed," Morris said.

That led to Forbes being employed by the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and then to getting a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England.

In the course of interviewing Forbes Morris, learnt many intimate details of her life, including details about her several marriages and that she is

psychic. Of particular interest to him was how she created one of her most famous characters, Miss Aggy, in Trevor Rhone's classic play Old Story Time.

A difference between the autobiography and the memoir, Morris said, is that the former gives a general, detailed picture of the subject, while the latter focuses on discrete moments, people and places.

Latoya West Blackwood spoke of her ghostwriting the memoir of Rosie Stone, widow of Professor Carl Stone, and her challenge to find the 'right voice' for the story. West Blackwood said Stone (who was infected with HIV) did not want to come across as the angry wife betrayed and made ill by her husband, but instead wanted to help others in a similar situation.

"As a result, the book had a life outside the usual market, and she was able to deal with international agencies," said West Blackwood.



Book Ghost Writer or Book Ghostwriter - which spelling is right?

Book Ghost Writer or Book Ghostwriter?

By Karen S. Cole | March 12, 2016

book ghost writer
Have you noticed that ghost writer is also spelled ghostwriter? Either spelling is equally appropriate. However, author clients seem to prefer the use of ghost writer, especially when it comes to the phrase book ghost writer. For some reason, major search engines are finding that people type in that phrase more often than book ghostwriter.

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I would also like to move up under these phrases: ghostwriter services, ghostwriter service, ghost writer services and ghost writer service. I have to be careful about keyword stuffing, as the search engines tend to penalize businesses for that practice. But I get plenty of leads in every day, and now I am running a blue chat balloon window to assist you. Check it out on the main Ghost Writer, Inc. website:

Content Ghost Writer - Outsource Content Writing

Ghost Writer for Content

ghost writer for content
There are many pros and cons to outsourcing content writing; on the plus side it can save time and money compared to hiring an in-house writer, but on the downside it can be daunting to work with writers who don't have insider knowledge of your business, products or customers. It is therefore crucial that your brief provides all the information a ghost writer for content needs to produce high quality, relevant content which engages with your audience. Here are my suggestions for writing a successful ghost writing brief.

Give examples of your brand's tone and style

As a successful brand you've no doubt worked hard to capture a style and tone which relates to your audience and it would be a shame to lose this when a new writer comes on board. List a few key pages from your website and encourage the writer to follow a similar style. It could be friendly or formal, humorous or serious; no matter what your brand's voice is you need to stick to it, so be clear on what it is.

Be explicit about what you want

Sometimes we have a clear view in mind of the type of work we want from a ghost writer for content, and other times we're open to ideas. Either way, be explicit when instructing your writer so that they can provide you with exactly what you need and include all relevant information. This includes content that you don't want, for example on topics you've already covered or that which a competitor recently wrote about.

Describe your target audience

Your content won't interest your target audience unless it speaks to them on their level. An article about nightlife in New York sounds simple enough, but a target audience of 18 to 25-year-olds will be looking for very different information than those over 60. It can be incredibly important to explain who your target audience is in these types of circumstances.

Be clear on keywords

Whilst it can be tempting to ask for copy which includes all of your keywords it can be detrimental for the writer who is expected to cram in phrases which may not suit the subject matter of the content as successfully as they should. As a general rule of thumb, choose a primary keyword and maybe one or two extras, both of which should be highly relevant to the first. This helps the writer to understand exactly what topic they should be writing about which leads to better quality content, both for SEO and the reader.

Include your USPs

When it comes to persuasive web pages or product descriptions, it is essential that you tell your copywriter why they should choose your products or services. What makes you different from your competitors? Are there any special services you provide? Only when your copywriter knows your unique selling points will they be able to create truly compelling content that leads to conversions.

Be open to suggestions

Whilst it's important to provide a ghost writer for content with a clear brief there is such a thing as too much direction. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes on your brand and content can come up with innovative ideas which your audience will love. Don't be afraid to let a ghost writer choose the angle of the article or to use their own information sources. They may come up with something you'd never have thought of and which your audience loves.

About the Author

Martin Harrison is co-founder of the website content provider Copify. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.