In case you didn’t see last week’s post, I’ve been trying to interview Roz Morris, aka @dirtywhitecandy.
She’s the author of eleven ghostwritten novels, eight of them best sellers, owner of Nail Your Novel fiction-writing blog and author of her own self-published book on fiction techniques, Nail Your Novel.
She invited me to a wrestling match, threw me and then admitted she’s scared the occasional kickboxing teacher.
And she won the last round.
Welcome to Part II of eavesdropping on critiquer and independent editor Roz and Victoria. . .with wine:
V: Welcome back, Roz! I’ve been quite busy making up stuff about you for the interview in case your life is more boring than I think it needs to be.
Roz: Unusual things about me? Um. . .can’t think of any. Ah, no, this might do: I once got hit by a train—
V: A train?
Roz: Yes. I’ve got a little scar. I was actually hit by a train door, and it got a bit melodramatic. Some schoolboys opened it as the train was arriving, it swiped me on the forehead, and I bled all over the platform. People started screaming. An ambulance turned up, in dread of what they would see. Instead of a squished body on the track they saw me with a pad on my head, dripping blood and having a voluble argument with a fat station guard, who wanted me to tell him it was my fault. After stitches and advice on concussion (which I forgot the moment they told me), I was able to call work and say I’d been hit by a train but would be in the next day.
V: You forgot the moment they told you! Good grief. That is a concussion. No wonder you forgot to stay home from work. What were we just talking about?
V: Oh, yes. Tell me about the greatest lengths you’ve ever gone to for the sake of a book.
Roz: I’ve done some odd things in the name of research. I was interested in people who have themselves frozen in order to be brought back to life, so I looked up the English chapter of Alcor and went to visit them. I took some friends, and we pretended we were interested in having our corpses frozen. I snooped around their operating theatre, asking all sorts of cheeky questions. I met their other members, who together formed a character dynamic that was crying out to be written about.
I sat in on a meeting and made sure I was at the main desk, where I found all their recent mail—so I started to read it all. Amazingly, they didn’t stop me. There were letters from people wanting to do work experience, obviously not suspecting that they were asking for work experience in preparing corpses to be revived. Great afternoon. I haven’t written the novel yet, but it’ll be used in some way or other.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve done in the name of research? I know you mention writing fiction—do you still do that, is it on the back burner?
V: Yes, I’m still writing fiction. I’ve started a mystery about an independent editor. I made a bunch of outlines with white scenes on black construction paper over the holiday and taped them up over my desk. I have corkboard on the wall with tons of notes stuck to it. My son just stands in front of it all and muses.
As far as research? Chriminey, my whole life has been research. I’ve traveled a lot. The oddest research I ever did was probably the stuff I did against my will, which was drive around South America and Europe with my family for several years when I was a kid. That’s not the kind of research you ever get over. Someday I will write my memoir of it, and it will be poignant and significant and heartbreaking. But not today.
Roz: I want to read that book!
V: You know, my mother actually just sent me a whole album of photos I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years, along with her journal of that trip, which I had never seen at all. Talk about material.
Let’s chat about the format you work in. Most of my work is on-going over a period of weeks or even months. But you work for a place that commissions single critiques, is that right? And you’ve done reader reports for publishers and agents?
Roz: Most of my editing work is one-off critiques. Some is for private clients, some for the critiquing agency. Do you want to hear a bit of boasting?
V: Of course.
Roz: My first client became a New York Times bestseller after following my advice on his manuscript. My most recent client just got his MG novel in a bidding war and is now getting foreign deals.
My critiques often become reader reports because clients often submit them with manuscripts—but some industry people feel you shouldn’t do that. I copy edit and proofread for publishers too—which is necessary but not terribly creative. If we talk about that for five minutes it gives everyone time to go out and refresh their glass. . .
V: . . .(Talk talk.) We’re back!
Roz: I also do a lot of work that wanders over the border between editing and ghosting. I’ve rewritten manuscripts that have great content but whose authors were non-English speakers, or dyslexic, in too much of a hurry to write their own books properly—or whose editors have thrown up their hands in despair. I find that perversely fun—to take wordy murk and fillet out the interesting stuff. And then of course there’s the true ghosting, where I write the book from scratch. I’m not allowed to tell you who I’ve done that for. Not just because of contractual obligations, but because some of them are trained assassins and I don’t look good in a bullet-proof vest.
V: Swear to god, I’ve never even seen myself in a bullet-proof vest. Your life is way more interesting than I thought it was.
How do you get your jobs? Did you stumble into a gofer position at a publishing house at a tender age and just work your way up? Or do you know all the London literati and have cocktails with them every weekend? (And will you invite me if I ever turn up at Heathrow?)
Roz: I get most of my work through contacts, although I quite often send CVs to people and tell them I want to work for them. Seven times out of ten they probably bin me, but it’s how I got the work with the critiquing agency—and that worked out very well.
My first published book happened because my husband was commissioned to write a novel for a series, and when he delivered it the editors changed the brief. He couldn’t rewrite it because he had other projects, but I’d been dabbling with writing for years so he told the publisher that I would write the replacement. They had no other option, so they agreed. I gulped, got my head down and wrote. Six weeks later they accepted the manuscript—and I realised I was going to get away with it. After that initial back-door break, it slowly built up.
And if you ever turn up at Heathrow and don’t call me I will never forgive you.
V: My husband and I just had our annual winter conversation about a vacation in Europe. One of these years we’re simply going to pick up and go, so keep your brollie handy.
How much can a writer make for ghostwriting a book?
Roz: It all depends on the deal. It really helps to have an agent fighting your corner, to get a proper share of royalties and other rights. You can earn a lot because the books will be properly marketed—otherwise the editors wouldn’t be able to justify hiring a ghost as well as paying the ‘author’ whose name is on the cover.
But there are also unscrupulous companies who lure a writer into a ghosting job, pay them a flat fee, ask for unreasonable numbers of rewrites and don’t pay a royalty at the end of it. Or the terms and conditions mean that the writer doesn’t get royalties on sales that aren’t full price, such as book clubs and foreign deals.
Even worse, some unwary souls are conned into writing a book ‘for a share of the back end’. I did that once, got nothing and never did it again.
V: Warning heeded. Have you ghostwritten mostly fiction or nonfiction?
Roz: I’ve mostly ghosted fiction, but I’ve done one memoir as well. That wasn’t any particular plan—just the luck of the draw.
V: Are you still writing those ghost-novels? (I think I just broke the English language.)
Roz: Not at the moment, but there’s something in the pipeline. Right now, though, I’m pinning down my own WIP on the wrestling mat.
V: How’s that going?
Roz: More ups and downs than a bride’s nightie.
V: [laughing] Roz.
Roz: It’s been tough finding the strongest way to tell the story—I had to invent several new revision tools to get it right.
Now I’m on the detailed edit, which is ruthless in the extreme. I’m lopping out passages that are perfectly good but are holding back the pace. The outtakes file is three times as long as the actual text. Yesterday I congratulated myself on a joke that was dripping with several shades of irony—and today I hacked it out because it gave slightly the wrong tone for the scene it was in. You can tell I get a bit obsessive, can’t you?
V: This the the writing life, folks.
Roz: And, most difficult, I’ve based one of the characters on a longtime friend and this week had terrible news about him. All books put you through the mill, but that’s a bit impolite of fate, really—especially when I’m trying to concentrate on a book. But he’s got a bit better, so maybe we can cautiously raise a glass. (Ahem. Stop hogging the vino, Mixon. . .)
V: Oh! Excuse me. Say when.
So what’s the one thing you’d like to say to aspiring writers about this work we do—both the writing and the editing? What’s your editorial secret?
Roz: My secret? Oh, that question wasn’t for me.
V: Well, it was. I already know my own secrets. I think.
Roz: Ah! I started to reply, then figured it might be a tail-end question for the blog readers to encourage them to chat in the comments.
V: I never do that. I figure if they feel like contributing to the mayhem they know they’re welcome to, and if they’re shy they don’t want me making an issue out of it. I just have faith in their grasp on the general protocol.
Does this mean we’re done talking about fiction? Shall we break out the bubbly? Here. Let me peel you a grape. . .
Roz Morris, aka @dirtywhitecandy, will give you creative aneurysms. You should probably talk to her about that. She can be found at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Please join us for more editorial conversation with Roz and Victoria in our four-part series: We can’t leave fiction alone—Talking Fiction.
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Later this week I’m trading guest posts with K.M. Weiland of Wordplay.