Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based fiction writer

Tag: Adam Reger

A bold reimagining of ghostwriting

Two of the more fun freelance writing projects I’ve done have been ghostwriting gigs. One was a novel and one was a children’s book, and in both cases I really enjoyed talking to the author, figuring out what he/she wanted, and then sitting down and delivering the product.

Periodically, I’ll seek out more ghostwriting work by looking around Craig’s List, sometimes advertising my services there, or doing a search for “ghostwriter” on Indeed.com, a job-listing aggregator that has saved me time before. The stuff you find in these places is, however, not often worth finding. At least on Indeed, a lot of it comes by way of elance and oDesk, marketplaces where writers (and others offering services) bid on the jobs posted. Finding an appealing job listed there is always an exercise in deflation, because the person offering the job, either from an understanding of how the marketplace works or from simple cheapness, doesn’t offer much money; the situation is worsened by the bidders, who undercut one another and drive the price down. I suppose it’s classic economics, but it’s always a tough thing to see. Invariably I end up thinking about how many books I could read in the time it would take me to write someone’s non-fiction book and be paid $300 for my trouble.

This is all background to introduce an ad I stumbled upon today, one that truly stood out from the crowd. While the job-poster gets points for forthrightness, surveying what I know about ghostwriting I must say that this is a new one on me:

“I want to buy your completed manuscript/novel” reads the headline; “You will sign over the publishing rights and will not be credited in the book. Essentially, you will become a ghostwriter for it. Once a relationship is established this could lead to more work with much higher pay.”

Yikes. I guess that constitutes a ghostwriting relationship. Except for the part where I wrote this novel for myself, to hopefully publish under my own name. You know, as part of my hopes and dreams. But I guess I could sell it to you and have you publish it under your or someone else’s name . . . I mean, that would at least spare me the hassle of wrangling with publishers and agents, right? Really, what’s the harm—and I’m sure it’s a decent wage, right? . . . The average bid is how much? $1,527? (as of publication time)

To be honest, I was intrigued by this proposal because I thought of the first two novels I wrote. Neither one has seen the light of day; neither friend nor literary agent has seen these bad boys. I’m not proud enough to send them out into the world under my own name. Why not unload them on this guy?

Because he/she wants the first three chapters for consideration, but “. . . be prepared to send over the entire MS on short notice if you make it to the next round.” Also, he ends the post with “Good luck!” So now it’s a contest? Where the prize is peanuts to take my novel and publish it under your own name?

The crazy thing is, I’m still not at all sure I won’t be doing this. If you opt to do it, fellow writers, good luck!

New fiction, newish book review

Some new publications to add to the lists: I have a story, “Santo vs. Crushing Grief,” up at the Northville Review. It’s an “alphabet piece”; note the letter that begins the first word of the first sentence, of the second sentence, and so on, and you’ll see what I mean. Also, the story’s about Santo, of Mexican wrestling fame. Santo was a wrestler—a luchador, with one of those great silky masks that laces up in the back—who made the transition into starring in movies (just look at this amazing filmography!) in which he fought against werewolves, vampires, etc., as well as more prosaic villains like the Blue Demon (also a part of my story). I wrote it during my undergraduate studies and have always been really pleased with it, and I’m especially pleased the Northville Review, which I like a lot, took it.

Second, I wrote a review for Hot Metal Bridge of The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. That staggeringly, jealous-makingly great debut novel has been out for a while now, so you’re probably aware of it. But if you’d like to read my take, there it is. (I read The Tiger’s Wife while traveling in Germany and Italy this summer, and though the novel’s action is set a bit east of both places, it felt like a fortuitous turn of events; now, when I think of the novel, I think of a long bus ride from Rome to Florence as much as I do the novel’s striking images of a bombed city with exotic zoo animals running free among the wreckage.)

First Draft: Done

Well, friends, this morning I finished the last remaining scene of the novel I’ve been working on since some time in January. (I don’t know offhand how long this took, but based on this blog post I’d guess I started around mid-January, and was definitely at work outlining the novel by then. Four to four-and-a-half months is pretty good, in my experience.)

I’m very lucky to be leaving, later today, for a long period of travel: Germany, then Italy, then Las Vegas. Lucky to be going at all, of course, but in particular I’m lucky to have a natural break come up, to not even have the option of peeking at this draft for almost two weeks. Further, I won’t be able to do more than some intermittent, notebook-in-coffee-shop(-or-beer-hall, as the case may be) writing during this time; in the past I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by starting other stuff during my “cooling off” period just after finishing a draft, and coming back to these messy drafts a little less interested and enthusiastic.

In terms of interest and enthusiasm, I’m still excited about the novel’s potential. It’s way too long (it’s somewhere around 115,000 words, which comes out to something like 400–450 pages), and a lot of the scenes will need to be made more scene-like. It’s full of places where I wrote notes in brackets like “[what is friend’s name?]” or “[confirm this later].” Sometimes I thought I had a great handle on the characters, they surprised me, and at others I felt I’d completely lost the thread.

But that’s the nature of writing a novel. Even if you hate Ernest Hemingway’s work, if you’re a writer you should appreciate his two semi-famous quotes (i.e., famous among writers and writing students) on first drafts: “The first draft of anything is shit”; and “The important thing about a first draft is finishing the damn thing.”

Apologies for the noodling, barely-veiled-triumphalist feel to this blog post (especially as it’s likely to be the last one for a while). One further note, towards making this post interesting and useful to anyone else, is that (as mentioned here, at the outset of the novel) I used Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” of novel outlining, and it was really pretty helpful. The chronic problems of aimlessness and compulsory-feeling workdays didn’t disappear, but they were contained within each scene: I could make a character stare out a window, thinking, for a few paragraphs, but I knew that eventually he had to start walking again and proceed to point B. That was a big help in limiting the number of scenes that are themselves completely gratuitous and static (though given the length of this draft, I’m sure there are some of those, too). I had my reservations towards the Snowflake Method going in, but I found the questions it raised useful, and I expect a lot of the materials I generated—character sketches, brief and less-brief distillations of the novel’s overall trajectory—will be useful to refer back to, and probably amend, as I begin the long process of revision.

Marathon Looms

No looking back, no backing out now: the Pittsburgh Marathon is in six days, and I am in the chute. I’m looking forward to it, and ready, though I could be readier.

It’s been a weirdly anticlimactic last three weeks of training. I did my 18-mile run, and on the following Thursday’s 10-miler started to have lots of pain in my right knee. I finished that run and then began resting my knee, diagnosing myself with runner’s knee, a common enough overuse injury. I did a long run the next weekend of 8 miles, stopping when I felt twingeing in the knee, and that following Thursday I did 7 out of the prescribed 10 miles. Where I really lagged behind was in doing 12, the following Sunday, instead of the prescribed 20.

Since then I’ve actually gotten mostly back on track. The downside is that by the time my knee felt better, I was into the tapering part of my training schedule. In other words, I skipped the really long training run, and my 18-miler, now almost a month ago, will go on record as my longest training run. It would be worse if I hadn’t run marathons before, but I feel less than fully prepared. I’m not sure what else I could have done in this situation, though.

On the positive side, though, my legs feel strong and ready to run, and I’m looking forward to the race in a way I really didn’t in the lead-up to the Philly Marathon, which when it rolled around found me with tired, aching legs. I’m hoping that fresh legs outweigh the lack of doing a super-long training run. I’ve done some good cross-training this time around, and feel really good about setting a new personal best, ideally by dropping another ten or more minutes off my Philly time (4:01 or 4:02; I don’t remember it except to note that I would’ve broken four hours if it weren’t for the “.2” part of “26.2”).

I am minimally famous, Part III

It had totally slipped my mind that several weeks ago, I won Hang up and Listen‘s trivia contest for a precedented third time. (Revelry for the first and second times are here and here, respectively.) The question was about mascot overlap between the women’s Final Four, the men’s Final Four, and NCAA hockey’s “Frozen Four.” My answer: in 1985, the Georgia Bulldogs (women’s), Georgetown Hoyas (men’s), and University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (hockey) were all in their respective final foursomes. (“Hoya” is a Latin word, but Georgetown’s actual mascot is, in fact, a bulldog.) Another great, challenging question from the great Mike Pesca.

New Stories at Used Furniture Review

I have not one but two flash-fiction pieces up at Used Furniture Review, a great and classy online lit mag that is worth your time. I’m pleased not only to publish them, but for them to appear together, as they’re both what we might call “math lit”: experiments with the number of words in a sentence and the number of sentences in a paragraph or section. It’s a fun limitation to play with, and these are the rare pieces where I was pleased with the result.

Now It Can Be Told: My Book!

I’ve been holding off on saying much publicly, but as today is its release date, I’d like to announce that a book I worked on last summer—doing a lot of editing and a substantial amount of writing—is now out in the world.

It’s called U.S. Navy Pirate Combat Skills and the publisher is Lyons Press. It’s a humor book, taking public-domain military manuals and editing the text to create a manual on how to fight old-timey pirates (think Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, etc., not Somali pirates with motorboats and machine guns). It’s full of great, funny illustrations (that I thought up, so maybe some bias there) by David Cole Wheeler (who also illustrated U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual and U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual, predecessors to the pirate book, both edited/written by Cole Louison).

It was a lot of fun to work on last summer, and then to see the illustrations as they were produced, and, later, to answer copy editing queries about whether I perhaps meant “cutlass” instead of “dagger” on page 93, and if I could tweak the text of a figure caption to better match the image of hand-to-hand combat between a sailor and a crusty seadog. The staff at Lyons Press, in particular Keith Wallman and Ellen Urban, were terrific to work with.

The most fun of all, though, was writing prefatory materials for the book: a guest foreword by retired admiral I. I. Scuttle, commander of the most decorated anti-pirate fighting force in U.S. Navy history that includes “The Pirate Fighter’s Creed” and the lyrics of the sea-chantey “Pirate Slayers We.”

Below the fold, to give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself into by picking up this book, a few verses of that famous morale-boosting thumper, “Pirate Slayers We”:

Read the rest of this entry »

New story at Twelve Stories

Twelve Stories, an online journal I’ve always liked a whole lot—isn’t twelve an ideal number of stories for an issue?—is up with its brand-new third issue. I’d say that the journal continues to get better, but my modesty prohibits that.

Which is to say that my story, “Elegy for Lost Ambitions,” is one of the lucky twelve. Be sure to check out the whole issue. I’m getting to the last of the other stories now, but everything I’ve read so far has been terrific. Also, as someone who knows next to nothing about typefaces, layout, et cetera, I’ve always found Twelve Stories whole aesthetic wonderfully clean and easy to read. So, you know, one more reason to check it out.

Noveling

I wanted to share a novel-writing resource I’ve found useful over the last few weeks, as I’ve changed course while working on my novel. As usual, I’ve gone on at length in the run-up to sharing this valuable resource, Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” for outlining a novel, so I’ll link to it here in case you’d rather not wade through the waist-high verbiage below.

In a nutshell, I became frustrated with the increasing aimlessness of my novel. I had what I thought was a good idea of where it was going, what the various threads were, and so forth. But each scene seemed inessential, even dull. I felt like I was writing only for the purpose of getting that day’s word count in. I could all too easily see to the end of this process, when I’d have a first draft I didn’t care to revise, and would be faced with re-writing the entire thing.

I thought, “What will I do before the second draft to make this less of a mess?” The best answer was that I’d look through, see what I had, and rigorously plot out the second draft based on the storylines and characters I’d worked out. This satisfied me for about thirty seconds before the obvious occurred to me: why not plot it out beforehand?

I’ve never worked that way before. I’m not ideological about it, though; I just think it’s fun to free write, catch a hint of where this thing is going, and then follow it there. I think Stephen King, in his surprisingly great On Writing, describes this method as something like finding dinosaur bones in the ground and then just following the process of excavating them. I’ve found that solid . . . but it’s never worked for me for the novel. Part of what gave me pause as my novel went along in its bumbling fashion was that I’ve been here before. I’ve written two novels, and each one I wrote more than once. That thing I said about getting to the end of a first draft and not caring to revise it? Yeah, I was very much speaking from experience on that one. (I would argue that my first novel is more like three novels, since each one shifted focus quite a bit.)

So I was left with the alternative: to plot. (I should stop and confess this is hardly a new dilemma for a writer to face; so much so, the website for National Novel Writing Month has at least one forum thread dedicated to the “Plotters versus Panters” (i.e., by the seat of your pants) schools of thought, and there are over 70,000 Google results for that search phrase. (Interestingly, “Plotters versus Panthers” turns up about eight times more results. Go figure.))

I looked around the internet for resources or advice on outlining a novel. Read the rest of this entry »

New Layout

Happy new year to all. The new layout is not too terribly new, but it is exciting, at least for me: I know just enough about blogging to have gotten thoroughly confused, numerous times, trying to change the layout of this blog. But finally I’ve done it, and I have what I wanted: the main page of this site is now a simple note about me, and the blog is not front-row center anymore. I want to keep going with the blog—my recent, dramatic fall-off to the contrary—but I was getting increasingly uneasy with the disconnect between what was going up there and the reason that I originally started this site.

In a nutshell, I hoped this site would serve as an online portfolio to which I could direct potential clients, and where people looking for a freelance writer in Pittsburgh might eventually find themselves. It is that, of course, but it’s also often a blog where I re-cap the latest Philadelphia Eagles game, or discuss how bad M. Night Shymalan’s last movie was. Maybe “unprofessional” doesn’t fairly describe it, but I wouldn’t call it “professional” exactly, either. Basically, any time I’ve provided the link in a freelancing context, I’ve hoped that the person visiting my page would look only at the “Non-fiction” or “Ghostwriting” pages and leave the blog alone. It got to the point where I thought that if I wanted to keep this site going, I might just have to scrub the existing blog archives and restrict my subsequent blogging to 10 ways to maximize SEO efficiency, the art and science of proper comma usage, the challenges of crafting a good white paper for a client, and a bunch of other topics I know I’d find really tedious to read on a blog. (Actually, maybe not the comma thing, if I’m being honest. There are days I might read that.)

Tucking the blog away here will hopefully allow me to keep a balance between being professional but also having fun writing about the things I’ve so far written about. My “problem” (let’s call it a “first-world problem” of the highest order), after all, stemmed from having too much fun with the blog, writing about marathon training, the maintenance guy who hosts telephone conferences from the toilet, and the comedy I enjoy, rather than producing fussy considerations of the ins and outs of being a writer. Being a writer, to me, means engaging with the world.