Memoir Writing and Long-Distance Phone Bills

May 4th, 2015 | Posted by Steve in Nonfiction | Odds and Ends | The Writing Life

Monday, 4 May, 2015

Busy week last week. Now I can relax and catch up. Last week I had:

– A May 1 (Friday) deadline for a ghost-written book.
– Corrections and discussions from editor and proofreader about a mystery novel.
– Urgent cry for help from a client wanting me to review/rewrite/write a portion of a grant proposal.
– Urgent (aren’t they all?) request to update a web site for a website client.

I think I got to bed at 3 am. Friday morning and was up at 7 a.m. to get that completed manuscript for the ghosted book off to the editors. Goes without saying (why do people write that when they fully intend to say it anyway) that later that day, and even the next day, I was getting changes of mind/changes of wording from the client. No surprise; some people don’t react to a deadline until it passes. I expect it. Just  part of the game.

The proofing of the mystery was an exercise in total humiliation. I’m pretty good at self-editing but seeing a professional proofer tear my work apart was embarrassing.

By Saturday things were under control and then I get a phone call from a longtime writing friend. He’s doing a piece for one of the local newspapers about memoir writing and can I help him? I’m not sure if the ghosted book qualifies but I offer words of Great Wisdom—which will likely never appear in print anyway. But then he asks me how many interviews I did.

“I talked to the client twice a week,” I said. “An hour each time. Noon for me and 9 a.m. for him because he’s in Los Angeles. For about six weeks. And there were a dozen or so other interviews too, with other people.”

“That’s a lot of telephone time,” he says. “Who paid for all those long-distance phone calls?”pagecontact2raw

I didn’t answer that at once. I was too stunned.

“You must use Skype,” he said. “Save money that way.”

“Um . . . no. I just picked up my phone. Nobody pays for long-distance any more.”

We both then reminisced about the Days of Yore when we had to keep phone logs and bill clients or editors for phone bills. But, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, He still pays for long distance? How is that even possible?

I did eventually come up with a few tidbits of use to the aspiring memoir writer. I’ll add those below:


We have two powerful tools today that we didn’t have in the past. And those are Google and maps. In my writing I have been able to check on client statements by reading old newspaper accounts or other documents available online. It’s not that the client is a liar, it’s that people’s memories aren’t all that good after decades. Today we can look up things in minutes that would have been all-day tasks in the past. And with the mapping programs we can zoom right in on locations and write our own descriptions (bearing in mind, of course, any passage of time that might alter what we’re looking at).

Some examples:

– Told by my client that a theatre he went to as a kid was ten miles from his house, and that he and his friends used to walk there to see movies, I checked the maps. Ten miles is a long walk for an adult. Each way too. In fact, the theater was about one mile from his old house. But back when he and his friends walked, he had short legs and probably remembers it as ten miles.

– As long as I was looking at a street view of the theater (it was still there) I could add some descriptive about the neighborhood.

– Told about an incident where an armed robber killed six people, I checked decades-old newspaper accounts. There were just three killed and a mention that the robber’s gun had jammed.

In short, we no longer always have to rely on the client’s memory of past events, or on whatever paperwork he might supply. (I have a big box in the corner of my office full of everything from his sixth-grade report card to his contracts with publishers. One good thing about completing a ghost-written book is being able to FedEx the materials back and clean up my office.) Today we can—often—double-check for factual accuracy.




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