The Ghost in the Machine

Gil: I woke up yesterday morning to discover that I had somehow become one of the top ghostwriters of the day. A dubious achievement, to be sure, but one I treasure even more because I am reading Robert Harris's new thriller, The Ghost. Harris is pretty hilarious (and dead-on) about the Zelig-like transformations, jaundiced compromises and questionable blandishments that are the ghostwriter's lot. In this passage Harris's unnamed ghost apostrophizes to his computer: "We had endured rock stars who believed themselves messiahs with a mission to save the planet. We had survived footballers whose monosyllabic grunts would make a silverback gorilla sound as if he were reciting Shakespeare. We had put up with soon-to-be-forgotten actors who had egos the size of a Roman emperor’s, and entourages to match." Well, Tiki Barber had a lot more to say than Harris's (racist) metaphor might convey, and the rock star I'm working with isn't messianic so much as endearingly diffident. The metaphor I always use is a lawyer, providing a voice in court to those who don't know how to speak legalese. As everyone has the right to legal representation, everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story to a ghost. A trippier view of the ghostwriter (more politely and euphemistically called a "collaborative writer") comes in Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, one of his best. Most recently, I helped Terri Irwin pen a memoir of her husband, Steve "The Croc Hunter" Irwin. In fall '07 Simon Spotlight Entertainment published Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond, by Tiki Barber with Gil Reavill. That followed Ruthless: A Memoir, by Jerry Heller with Gil Reavill. This all came in the wake of my original collaboration, the New York Times best-selling Beyond All Reason: My Life with Susan Smith, by David Smith with Carol Calef (written with my wife, and credited pseudonymously to our middle names). The only common thread I can pick up in this quartet of authors is that they all wanted their stories told. My friends make fun of me for always becoming such an enthusiastic fan of my subjects. And the job of ghostwriting does require something of the Zelig sensibility. But I would want my lawyers to believe in my case thoroughly before they ever venture into court, especially if it was my life (or my biography) that was on the line.