Novelist, ghostwriter, and James Patterson co-writer Emily Chenoweth talks ghostwriting for celebrities, the freedom of a pseudonym, her collaborative relationship with Patterson, and how to know when to bail on a book.
Emily Chenoweth is the author of the novel Hello Goodbye, which was an Oregon Book Award Finalist, and ghostwriter of numerous bestselling novels. She has cowritten over a dozen books with James Patterson, and is also the coauthor of the Klawde: Evil Alien Cat middle grade series with Johnny Marciano. She's a former fiction editor at Publisher's Weekly and sends out weekly writing prompts and craft advice via her Substack Good Ideas.
Emily Chenoweth: 0:00
I mean, I have had the experience of watching a celebrity sign a book that I wrote, which was a strange sort of out of body experience.
Eden Dawn: 0:15
And the one and a two and a 123. And welcome to We can't print this.
Fiona McCann: 0:21
It's a podcast telling the story you don't know behind the story. My name is Eden dawn, and my name is Fiona McCallum.
Eden Dawn 0:29
Each week we interview a writer of some kind about the stories behind their story. And if you like our podcast, do us a favor and just send it to a friend that you think would like it. That's very helpful to a small podcast. And you can support us on Patreon. If you want for as little as $5 a month at patreon.com/wecantprintthis
Fiona McCann 0:50
And don't send it to a friend who you think won't like it. No, don't do that terrible idea.
Also get a new friend.
Well, this week we talk to Emily Chenoweth, who is the author of the acclaimed novel hello, goodbye. And also interestingly, she's a ghostwriter of numerous best selling novels. And we can't even tell you which ones and has co written over a dozen books with James Patterson, you might have heard him eaten. I definitely have. She's also the co author of the Claude evil alien cat middle grade series with Johnny Marciano, and was once the fiction editor at Publishers Weekly.
Eden Dawn 1:25
One of the things I found the most fascinating that Emily talks to us about this week is the freedom that comes with being able to write without your name, slash ego attached to a thing. We're not used to that eaten, no, we're not used to it. There was one time I did that, where I was hired by a big National City Guide brand, to write under their very prescriptive, somewhat dry style, and write their shopping guide. And as you know, as a beat reporter, most of my career here has been very much developing relationships with people making sure what I write, I stand behind super embedded in the community, super embedded in the community, that's what being a beat reporter is, has to be. And then to have this one time where I was just like, anonymous, and just wrote the thing, and didn't worry about it. And
Fiona McCann 2:19
like the Bridgerton lady, the poison pen!
Eden Dawn 2:22
a little bit, but it wasn't poison, it was still nice, but I've only had that one experience, and it was quite freeing. Now my ego probably prevents me from writing that way all of the time. But I do think it was interesting.
Fiona McCann 2:33
Did it change your writing? Do you think?
Eden Dawn 2:35
Well, like I feel like they are more boring than I am.
Fiona McCann 2:41
Yeah, once the dawn name is on it, it's got to have pizzazz.
Eden Dawn 2:44
It's gotta have pizzazz, shenanigans, rascals, all of it. But this one was just dry and straightforward. And they're, you know, that's a good writing exercise. But what about you, because you write so many reviews for people, which I feel like is
Fiona McCann 2:59
kind of the opposite. In a way. It's my name is on something that feels like there's an incredible responsibility attached. So it's definitely feels like the opposite of freedom in the sense that I really feel very accountable for what I write. I mean, I've done reviews of books, albums, albums, podcasts, not just to whoever the creator is, and that's a big deal because you know, they're going to be combing every sentence probably, I hope, but also to the reader. There's a responsibility there sure and it's something I feel like you have to weigh a lot. And I am very, very conscious of that and sort of the end ethical impetus behind what I write and how it's a lot to hit a lot to weigh.
Eden Dawn 3:43
It is the opposite of freedom for sure. What about would you ever be a ghost writer?
Fiona McCann 3:51
Who would I be a ghost writer in some ways, I see the draw of the freedom that you just mentioned, right? You don't have your name on it. You can write whatever you want. You don't have to pretend to be one thing and another you don't have to like double down on being Miss Fun Personality! \
Eden Dawn 4:06
You don’t have to worry about a brand like being within you know the the McCann style
Fiona McCann 4:11
or intellectual or this or that you can just do whatever you want for sounds incredibly freeing. But also kind of difficult because I want control. Yeah, I like to have control over what I write and what if my employer has opinions about it or wants to change something that I don't agree with? That will be difficult for me? Yeah, though. I'm you're used to it to an extent with editing, but not when that person is like, has the ultimate say, and then you don't even you do all this work, and you don't even get your name on it.
Eden Dawn 4:43
That's true. You can always fight back with an editor, but perhaps you can't with a client in the same way.
Fiona McCann 4:49
No, I mean, it would be a strange, strange circumstance, I suppose. In a way it'd be amazing writing exercise and I do see the freedom in it but also how Holy moly. It's an awful lot of work for no credit.
Eden Dawn 5:02
I know. Yeah, I'm not sure maybe I'd be awful at it. Maybe I'd be good. Maybe this is our opportunity to combine our skills, start our own poison pen name and just do a line of romance novels.
Fiona McCannr 5:14
Yes. Eden Dawn McCann oh no pen name! That's terrible pen name. I think that'd be kind of obvious.
Eden Dawn 5:20
All right, we'll work on that. We'll work on that. In the meantime, on to Emily.
You love Betsy and Iya
Fiona McCann 5:28
you know I do. And in fact, anyone who knows me knows that I spend 99.999% of my life in their earrings and have not one, not two, but three of their signature Bridge inspired cuffs. And it's all designed and made here in Portland
Eden Dawn 5:42
I've been writing about and wearing Betsy and Iya’s ready to wear collections since they started in 2008. And I love it. And now they also make gorgeous fine jewelry including custom pieces. Like the Leo constellation wedding rings Betsy designed for my husband and I.
Fiona McCann 5:58
It's gorgeous. And now you can support both our podcast and this rad family business by shopping with them to our special fancy link, Betsy and I a.com forward slash weekend print this
Eden Dawn 6:09
use that special URL to automatically get 11% off your order of ready to wear but do not sleep on that fine jewelry either because it is good.
Fiona McCann 6:18
Emily, what exactly is a ghostwriter? Because I feel like there are iterations of ghost writing that I don't fully understand. Like sometimes it seems to me that it's somebody whose name is not on a book. Sometimes their name is a little bit on a book. What is it?
Emily Chenoweth 6:32
so true ghost writing would be that your name is nowhere on the book, or maybe very small in the acknowledgments. You take it to the grave. Yes, exactly. And cowriting means that you have your name on the cover, although it will be smaller than whatever famous person you're working with.
Eden Dawn 6:51
So tell us about your relationship with the man, the myth, the legend? James Patterson. Yeah.
Emily Chenoweth 6:59
So I am one of James Patterson's co writers. And I've been doing it since 2012. And it's been an incredible writing job. And it's a very collaborative process. And we work closely together on a series. It's been 13, or 14 books or something like that.
Fiona McCann 7:20
She's very prolific.
You just mentioned co writing , his name is big Bonanza on the book. And then your name is on there as well. Or is it your name?
Emily Chenoweth 7:31
It is actually a pseudonym. But I chose it because I was coming out of actual ghost writing where I was writing under a bunch of pseudonyms. And so I just thought that's what you did. In retrospect, I have some regrets about that, since it became so much my writing career was working with James Patterson. And so it's a little bit funny that I don't have my name on them at all. And if I could go back in time, I might change that.
Eden Dawn 7:57
Could you do it now just add add Chenoweth at the end, like like you marry or you got married? Like that Sex in the City episode where she marries herself and registers for her own shoes. It's exactly that scenario
Fiona McCann 8:10
exactly clearly. But what is the pen name on the James Patterson books,
Emily Chenoweth 8:15
Emily Raymond and Raymond is the last name of my partner, Jon Raymond and our children.
So you want to do the opposite of get married? You want to get unmarried,
I'm going to take back my maiden name the only name I'll ever have. Yeah.
Fiona McCann 8:31
Well, you had all the options in the world. You could have made up Fantasia Petrichor.
Emily Chenoweth 8:35
Well, right. I could I could have and but the thing is, I was I was proud of writing for James Patterson. And I wanted to be discoverable as such in a way and I wanted also, I was never going to take the last name of Raymond. And it felt strange, not sharing a name with my children. And so I thought if I called myself, Emily Raymond, it was a bond with them.
Eden Dawn 8:58
Oh, that's sweet. And also it sounds good. Emily Raymond. Sounds good. Emily Chenoweth sounds good, too. Great. Names made great together. That's a slogan for something else. Put
it on the book
. It's a blurb for you, babe..
Emily Chenoweth 9:12
Thanks. Yeah, well, so So as James Patterson and Emily Raymond, and his name is big on it, because he's the name that matters. Like he is the brand. He is the genius behind. I don't even know how many books
Eden Dawn 9:25
and clearly you enjoy this relationship, because you've been doing it for many years together.
Emily Chenoweth 9:30
I love it. I'm grateful for it every single day of my life. It's been amazing.
Fiona MCCannn 9:34
So there's no part of you that's like, I wish it was my book. And mine was the name in big writing on it.
Emily Chenoweth 9:42
No, I don't think so. Because I love writing those books with him. But if I were writing a book by myself, alone, it wouldn't be like that. And that same way like he's a much more commercial writer. I am a more literary writer. She just amazing. I did at airports, I mean, like, my stuff's a little more boring. The chapters would be longer the sentences more beautiful in theory, in theory,
Eden Dawn 10:08
in theory, but you said you came to Patterson from doing ghostwriting many years of ghost writing and tell us how that experience have morphed over time, because it feels like you are kind of saying you hit a bit of a jackpot where you have this great relationship with somebody you found. But I feel like that might not always be the case. And that ghost riding world or maybe I'm wrong?
Emily Chenoweth 10:30
Yeah, it's not I mean, I, it's sort of I had sort of two ghost riding paths in a way. And I can tell you, the one that brought me to Patterson, and then if we're interested,
Fiona McCann 10:43
Emily Chenoweth 10:45
So because I had written my own book, which was this semi autobiographical work of literary fiction, beautiful sentences, that be really pretty, it was very well reviewed, you know, 15 people bought it. And they were all related to me. So it was a total bestseller. But because I had written that book, an agent who was not my agent had read it. And I guess knew, I had done some ghost writing work before. And so the editor of the book that I had just ghost written, obviously knew Patterson's editor. And so when Patterson was looking for a new co writer, those editors started talking. And then they called me and they said, Hey, would you be interested in trying out? Patterson has this young adult project that he wants to do with someone, he's looking for a new person to work with? Can you submit four sample chapters and see if you guys might be good to work together?
Fiona McCann 11:46
Four sample chapters? Wow.
That's an audition
Fiona McCann 11:49
Yeah, it's an audition? Did you wet your pants when you got that call? Because you're like James Patterson?
Emily Chenoweth 11:54
I did, basically, yeah, it was, I didn't understand how life changing it would be. But I knew that it would be life changing. And so I worked so insanely hard on those four chapters. And I knew that as a writer, you're full of self doubt all the time. But I knew as I was polishing those four chapters, that it was going well, and I was fairly confident that I was going to get it. And I did. And so we worked together on that first book.
Fiona McCann 12:26
And can you tell us what working together is, is like,
Emily Chenoweth 12:31
Without going into too much detail about how the sausage is made? I will say that it is a really collaborative process. And then when we're working on a book together, we talk every two weeks about where it is and where it's going, and how it looks and all that stuff. Yeah,
Eden Dawn 12:47
I actually think that's kind of nice. Because when you're working on a project with someone, as somebody who has written a book, in the same home with the person, that's perhaps too much time of being able to talk about the book together and not enough time to go actually make anything and then come back together. And so I like the idea of having a couple of weeks to be like, let me go do some of my stuff. Let me get, we last said, you get like a chunk done. So I come back to the table. And I'm like, here's some stuff I did. Now let's like talk about this thing. So
Emily Chenoweth 13:19
I totally Yeah, I agree. And but the reason it started that way is because I was also via my other channel of ghost writing, I was ghost writing a series of books for a celebrity who's different than the personality. I know, it's confusing, because I can't say any names. But I was already under contract to be ghostwriting, this other novel when I got the Patterson gig. And so I had to write two novels in nine months or something like that.
Fiona McCann 13:52
Take that novelists.
Emily Chenoweth 13:55
That was hard. I haven't I, I was gonna say I haven't had to work that hard since but that's not true. But so I would spend one week working on the novel that I was ghost writing, and then I would spend the next week working on the novel with James Patterson. And so that's how it became that sort of every two weeks thing and then just we just sort of stuck with that schedule.
Fiona McCann 14:16
So he he calls or you call him, or what do you always take James Patterson's calls over everybody else?
Emily Chenoweth 14:23
Yes. When James Patterson calls you have to answer it does not matter where you are. Once I was dyeing my hair, and he called you know, it was like the dice was to stay on for 40 minutes. This was minute 38 And I see his name on my phone. I'm like, it's gotta do it, but I gotta pick it up as your routes go purple. Yeah, so my hair was a little weird that time. You just take it whenever it comes.
Eden Dawn 14:50
I like that. You guys feel like a little bit of an unlikely duo. You're like cross country, different age bracket, and all I'm saying is two words and those two words are buddy comedy.
Emily Chenoweth 15:04
I mean, it's funny now, Now maybe we could I mean, I have such affection for him. I really, really do love the man, although, you know, our relationship is just professional. It's I mean, we chat, you know, but I mean, it took a long time to come to that place. I was terrified of him for the first, I don't know, eight years of working deal. I mean, that's the thing. He's a really, really big deal.
Eden Dawn 15:29
And it's a good job. And like, it's hard to find really good jobs as a writer, and this is a good job. It's not it's the best job.
Emily Chenoweth 15:36
I mean, it's amazing. So you never want to screw it up.
Fiona McCann 15:41
Well, now that you have swum in the good fortunes, and we've heard about this, please, let's talk about slumming it. Tell us some stories, because I feel as if it could not have been this perfect all of this time. What about the celebrities you co wrote for? How does that feel?
Emily Chenoweth 15:58
You know, that was actually a really pleasant process. And that was more pure ghost writing. So it wasn't like that collaborative. And so I can't I can't say that that was that was
Fiona McCann 16:10
like Is that where they basically say, I want to write a book about this. And then you go off and you go, here's the book and they go great. Is it that?
Emily Chenoweth 16:17
Yes, it is basically like that.
Fiona McCann 16:20
Can I hire you?
Emily Chenoweth 16:25
Yeah, it's really they don't have anything to do with it because I mean, they'll read it. They'll comment on right, they'll read it. I don't look, I'm sure there are plenty of baseball players who never read their memoirs, you know, or whatever not not to diss on baseball players. But many people who haven't. Writing is hard. Why would you ever do it? If you could pay someone else to do it for you?
Fiona McCann 16:43
Prince Harry recently hired a ghostwriter. And we know it wasn't not very ghosty because he's written a whole article in The New Yorker version. Right, exactly.
Emily Chenoweth 16:49
And but and Harry had wanted him to put his name on the cover. And he hadn't I'm not really sure why he didn't. But he had also written Agassi's book. And he wasn't on the cover for that. And I'm not sure how that came out. Like, was that supposed to be a secret that he had worked with?
Fiona McCann 17:04
I don't, I don't know. It's very hard to follow the intricacies of the publishing world?
Emily Chenoweth 17:08
I don't know. But that was that New Yorker article was interesting, because it had because Moehringer is talking about sitting around with a table full of like other ghost writers. And he just calls them ghosts. And he's like, he's so Yeah, listen, the ghosts were just telling horror, trading horror stories about ghost writing. And I was sort of jealous. I mean, not. I'm glad I don't have any horror stories. But at least in my experience of the ghost writing world is that you don't speak to your colleagues, you don't know that you have colleagues because like it's super secretive. I think perhaps because the ghost writing work I've done has been novels. And so they really can just give you an idea. They being the publisher, or maybe this liberty can give you an idea, or they can give you an outline, but it's basically like, go off and do your thing. Whereas if it were a memoir, there'd be have to be so much conversation, interviewing, talking to other people. So like with that, it's it's much harder to keep that kind of thing. Secret, right? Like we're novel, I could go into my cave and emerge and hand X celebrity, their novel. And if it wasn't a terrible novel, they'd be like, fine, because I'm not getting the facts wrong. There's no facts to get wrong.
Eden Dawn 18:21
Right. Right. Right. Here's the where I feel like I would have a problem with that, personally, is well, one. I'm a Leo who demands attention. So I would be okay with it. In theory, I mean, I've written plenty of copywriting for agencies or whatever, where you get no, you know, no attaboys for you just do the job. That's fine. It's when I would if I saw a celebrity that I had written a book for where they had done nothing doing like an app press interview about it. That's where I feel like I might start to have an emotional meltdown.
Emily Chenoweth 18:52
Yes. I mean, I have had the experience of watching a celebrity sign a book that I wrote, which was a strange sort of out of body experience. I didn't do it. No, no, I didn't. I didn't mind it precisely. But there was this awkward moment where my mortgage broker was in the line, and he's sort of like, what are you doing lurking back behind the signing table? There was no world in which I could explain to him what I was doing there,
Fiona McCann 19:20
right. I just love this celebrity.
Eden Dawn 19:23
Because the NDAs are on pretty strict lockdown. Yeah, everybody knows it. Right? Like I'm fairly certain that when I read the excerpt from Snooki from Jersey shores book that she likely did not write.
Emily Chenoweth 19:36
I feel I don't know. Yeah, I
Eden Dawn 19:41
Shout out for Snooki.
Emily Chenoweth 19:43
Yeah, I mean, I do think you know, there are a million a million books by celebrities and probably 99% of them are are in fact ghostwritten. But no, my particular celebrity I did not resent that experience all because I had been what I felt like you know, reasonably welcome compensated. It had been a pretty fun process. I was working not with a celebrity, but with an editor who I really liked. And so that was fun. There was another book for someone that was that goes through it, and it wasn't a celebrity. And the person did a lot of press for that and talked about her writing process. And people are unweighted. I had done a lot of talking with her like we had, really, we had worked on it together. But if you're talking about who was writing the sentences, it was emphatically me. And so to see in print, oh, you know, this is how I did the thing.
Fiona MCCann 20:40
Wow, people are unbelievable
Emily Chenoweth 20:42
yeah, I just I just felt like, okay, that's like taking it too far. Other level, like you can't say I don't mind someone just like silently signing a book I wrote, like, who cares? Like, great. You're I mean, the reason people are buying this book is not because I wrote it they’re buying it because they want a book that this celebrity did. that's fine. But it was
Emily Chenoweth 21:03
this person, actually speaking about her writing process. And I was like, you don't know what the writing process is?
Fiona McCann 21:10
I love that. It just this sentence, which I crafted so carefully. It came to me. I was in the garden. Oh, my God, people are unbelievable. I wonder do they start to believe they've written the book themselves
Eden Dawn 21:23
maybe they do delusions a hell of a drug!
Emily Chenoweth 21:25
I think you do start to believe it. I mean, you, you know, because we've done so much talking together and so much back and forth. Like there had been a lot of involvement. Like, I can see how
You’re the typist
Yeah, exactly. Right. I just I just took her dictation, which is not true, but maybe she really did believe it. But that one that stung a little in a way that that nothing else has stung.
Eden Dawn 21:54
Yeah, yeah, I can see that. I can see that too. Have you had a project that was going south enough that you had to walk away from?
Eden Dawn 22:02
Of course you have, tell us more Emily!
Emily Chenoweth 22:06
sometimes publishers want to come up with a book concept so they can own the intellectual property. And this is something that book packagers used to do folks like Alloy Entertainment. Do you want to ask me the clay?
Fiona MCCann 22:20
I want to know what a book Ppackager is because I want to be approached by book packager, hey book packager, I'm right here.
Eden Dawn 22:26
We also want to educate and delight. Right?
Fiona McCann 22:30
So say it in a delightful but educational way,
Emily Chenoweth 22:33
I will do my best. I'm not sure if book packages are quite the huge deal that they used to be, I felt like I was coming in to this world at its tail end. But then I left New York, so who knows what's happening there. But when I was in New York, there were book packagers, like alloy entertainment. And they would get together they would, they had all these smart, young, hip people. And they'd get together in a room and they would come up with incredibly high concept ideas for book series. And they outline them, character arcs whole thing, and then they would, that would be their intellectual property.
Eden Dawn 23:13
There are freelancers hired in writers rooms,
Emily Chenoweth 23:17
These are people who are actually employed, they're like editors. Imagine it's like, it's almost like a publishing house when they're editors. So these people are, they're a company and they, the company owns the IP, and then they go out and they find some like really low level writer, which was me coming out of grad school. And they'll pay a pretty nominal fee to write a novel and then they own all the rights to it. And so you get your 10 grand or whatever, and they reap whatever backend rewards are like, say package the book, they then sell it to a publisher, they retain the, you know, film and TV rights, and then it becomes a TV series. And so they're just like, and you get no money,
You get no residuals don't.
Whatever you get your 10 grand
Fiona McCann 23:58
Peace out. Have a nice life. Wow. Well, you are having a nice life. So
Emily Chenoweth 24:02
I am thanks, you know, thanks to them, thanks to James Patterson.
Eden Dawn 24:05
But that's interesting. I actually, I've never heard of that entirely, except for when it comes to the like Nancy Drew.
Emily Chenoweth 24:12
Well, that's a little bit of I mean, I guess that was the original book, packaging your way. But like, think when you when you think of book packaging in the early 2000s, I want to say that was like Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Those were big marketing books, and Vampire Diaries. Okay. So these were really enormous projects. Whereas like, the Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys kind of ghost writing stuff. That was, that was a big deal. But it wasn't. I mean, like if they didn't have TV series back then. So yeah, there's less money to be made, I guess.
Fiona McCann 24:51
People come in, they come up with what they think is a really strong commercial idea. They have the outline and then somebody else has to go write him. Yes,
Emily Chenoweth 24:59
exactly. Am I want to put it out? It's a well, that's seems hard. Because it, the idea isn't always as good as you think it is, the writer might not be as good as you think they are, right? I mean, that's actually how I first got into the ghost writing gig is that somebody had, I believe it was at the pasture had come up with this concept for a series and they had the first two series had come out, and they've been ghostwritten by the same person, they had another person, right, the third, it wasn't that good. And so I was hired to do what we were talking about earlier, a voice rewrite, which means you're handed a manuscript. The editor says, This is no good, can you make it better? And so a voice rewrite can be just kind of punching up dialogue and cutting and whatever, or it can be almost a whole scale rewrite, which is what I ended up doing on this first ones who was so bad, it was pretty bad. And sometimes it's just easier to start a new yes to it's true to try and clean up somebody else's right. But the thing is, the major publishers saw that alloy entertainment and book packagers, were doing this cool thing where they got to own the intellectual property rights and could make more money. So the publishers want to have their own IP to so they get their editors together who have so many other jobs as well like, and they're trying to come up with ideas. So I was briefly well wasn't brief, but actually felt like my whole lifetime. An editor at a major publishing house, they said we have this IP, it's a locked room, and it's like an Agatha Christie style thing. You've got a bunch of people in a room read all of them that you love that that yeah, that stuff happened. And I was I felt really proud of myself because I was like, Okay, this sounds like a pretty cool idea. Your fee’s too low, I think I got them to, like, at least double my rate, maybe even more just me for you. And I don't like to ask her anything. So I was feeling like really, really powerful. And then I get this, the, the IP and I just cannot figure out how to turn it into a book.
Eden Dawn 27:09
Is it so wait, the outline what what I did
Emily Chenoweth 27:13
not really have an outline? No, I was just given a concept. I was given a location, I was given a sort of lead character, couple of characters, a sense of past crime, and, and sort of all of this coming to head at one particular party. So that's the sort of locked room
Eden Dawn 27:32
as they all do, you have to have all of the suspect and the murderer in one room. That is the crux
Fiona MCCann 27:36
I’m all in already on this book I have to tell you
Emily Chenoweth 27:40
I have to say I thought it was a brilliant idea. They had a beautiful cover, like it sounded so good. But when it came to breaking it down and making it actually like work as a novel, I really, really couldn't do it. And I sent what I had sort of come up with, as my suggested outline to like a mystery writer who's like, Dude, I don't know how you're gonna make this work like this. I don't get like, I mean, I really talked to a lot of people. And it came to the point where I was miserable. I mean, I couldn't do this thing. I, I would wake up thinking about it, I would go to bed thinking about it. I was having actual panic attacks. And at this point, I, this is the embarrassing part. I consulted what we would call an intuitive.
Fiona McCann 28:31
Don't you be embarrassed by that!
Emily Chenoweth 28:33
I mean, I'm not really because I actually think she's amazing. She basically tells you things that you know, but can't acknowledge. She's not a true psychic. She's not a future caster. She's not going to be like, Yeah, you're gonna fall down and break your leg tomorrow or whatever. She'll just be like, here's what I see. And she sort of listens to guides and she'll say the guides say that. So she said to me, the guides are just saying shit shit shit
Fiona McCann 29:00
You would never think the guides would speak like that.
Emily Chenoweth 29:03
exactly. Well, right. And so she said, she said, so you can do this project. It won't kill you. But the guides aren't into it. And and that gave me the strength to tell this editor. I'm not I can't do it. You have to find somebody else.
Did you say ‘the guys don't like it, babe.’
Eden Dawn 29:25
The ghostwriter consulted the ghosts.
Emily Chenoweth 29:30
But it's funny. I remember I spoke to the intuitive again, not that long ago. And I remember I was like, Oh, do you remember when the guide said Shit, shit, shit. And she said the guides don't speak like that. And I said they did. Like wow, they really had a really strong opinion. But it's but I really I mean, I do credit her for like preserving my sanity because I think I really was on the brink of a nervous breakdown because the whole beauty of being a co writer, or a ghostwriter or whatever is that the idea comes from somebody else and Your job is to do a beautiful job for your employer. That's what I like to do. For me to be faced with a blank page where any single thought of mine could go on to it is a recipe for like self doubt, self loathing and like naptime. But, you know, when the sort of guiding force and the ideas and the outlines and the all these things come from elsewhere, I just have to do a really good job of filling in the blanks.
Foina McCann 30:30
That's so different. I feel like from so many writers who it's, it's, it seems so easy for you to put your ego aside, yeah, like, this is fine. I'm just going to be a jobbing writer, I am going to be your soldier, and I don't need to be the general.
Emily Chenoweth 30:45
like, that's the thing, like, the ego is only going to mess me up, I'm only just going to hate myself or doubt myself or whatever. And just write under a name. That's not really mine. To have to be working on intellectual property that it is not mine is relaxing. I am a good writer. And when I do, if I do say so myself. And so if I'm doing something or someone else, that's all that matters. Like I'm aware of that, like I can do a good job for my boss.
Eden Dawn 31:16
But what are you doing for your ego? Because everyone has an ego.
Emily Chenoweth 31:23
I don't, I'm just really highly evolved. No, I think I feel good because I I, like I'm writing. I say, Cool thing, like, I'm just proud of your work, you take pride in your work I do I take a lot of pride in my work. And you know, when I hand it, you know, when the first draft of, you know, goes off to the publisher, like it's not my thing, I don't have to market it. I don't have to flog it on Facebook or whatever. Like, I get to do the best part of writing, which is writing. Yeah, I don't have to ever worry about anything else.
Fiona McCann 31:56
Like being asked to be on a podcast or something.
Emily Chenoweth 31:59
Well, as you can tell that these things are tough. I'm not that good at it. So no, it's just it's best for me to be in the shadows. And you know, every once in awhile, I'm like, yeah, maybe you should get your light out from under the bushel, but I like being under the bushel like,
Fiona McCann 32:16
but all of this all stemmed all the way back from like your very first book.
Emily Chenoweth 32:21
Yes. I mean, working with James Patterson came from that first book, but I was doing some, you know, more anonymous, low level ghost writing of those sort of teen novels before that. And that came out of I guess, being in New York City and knowing people in the publishing industry working at Publishers Weekly, and just being part of the writing world, like, if someone figures, you're halfway intelligent, and they can pay you 10 grand to write a novel, like, that's pretty exciting. Yeah. For that for that for them.
Fiona McCann 32:54
Yes. And it is pretty exciting for you when you're at that age to like, it's kind of It feels very exciting when 10 grand which is obviously nothing but at the same time, it feels like somebody's gonna be paying me 10 grand right at novel I'd be all in
Emily Chenoweth 33:06
Yeah, I remember. Oh, yeah. I remember getting paid $15,000 to do to write a novel based on a screenplay. And that felt like a really big deal, because I had pets. Oh, man, I had so much to work with as well. Yeah.
Eden Dawn 33:19
I was when I was young all the time, like the the book hook based on. Remember with Robin Williams? Yeah, anyways, like I read the book version. But I feel like I often read the book version of the movie. I think that comes back to everything we talked about on the show a lot, which is trying to find a community of writers of just being around because that goes happen. But the fact that you are operating in those worlds and getting to meet people and those opportunities arise, but I am curious if you have something we know nothing about? Any advice for people who might be pursuing that world of ghost writing? And if you don't, that's fine, based on the face you've just gave me?
Emily Chenoweth 34:07
Well, I mean, I you know, the thing is, I had already produced my main career came out of like actually publishing a novel. So I think it's a matter of producing this stuff and if people will find you, but I, you know, I don't know how I don't know if book packagers are operating in the way they they used to just coming up with stuff and snapping up recent MFA grads in the way that they were. Does Sweet Valley High still exist, because that was certainly a thing that like numerous Columbia graduates did. I didn't do that.
Eden Dawn 34:39
I met a Sweet Valley High writer at a party not that long ago. And I was like, you're very cool. In my mind, you are very cool.
Emily Chenoweth 34:47
I guess the advice that I would have to people who want to be in any sort of industry writing or an otherwise is that you have to go where the heat of it is. And so I went to grad school in New York City and I ran a reading theories, where everyone who had a book out would come and read. And so I met the person who would become my agent there. I met the person who would later become my editor there. I met a million writers and it just felt like this. It was writing adjacent at that point, like, I wasn't actually doing a lot of writing on my own, because I don't know what I was doing in grad school but not writing. I was not writing.
Fiona McCann 35:24
I know what you were doing. But we can't sit down on the podcast.
I don't think you do. I think I was doing a lot of napping.
Eden Dawn 35:33
No, that's what we know. I know about your now.
Fiona McCann 35:38
And that's not even a euphemism listeners. I just want you to know that
Emily Chenoweth 35:42
I am a person who likes to sleep. Yeah. So what happened was, through just being in New York, and being involved in the publishing industry, someone had asked me to write an essay about breaking up with my best friend. There was the time of the book packagers, there was also the time of anthologies like there were all kinds of anthologies of bunch of different writers writing about one topic like the bitch in the house and the bastard on the couch where companion sort of husband wife things, and this was an anthology called the friend who got away and they were asking, all women turned out to write about best friend breakups. And so I wrote about breaking up with my best friend in college. And she wrote about me, and we were sort of turned out to be the sort of setup centerpiece of this anthology. And this anthology happened to come across the desk of the head of Random House, who knew me because of the reading series that I was co running, and he called me up and he said, This is a fantastic essay, if you can write me a book proposal, I will endeavor to purchase this book. And so that is exactly what happened. And I sold my first book on proposal based on this essay that I had written. And I don't think that happens anymore. I don't think you can, I don't think an unknown writer can sell a book or sell in a literary novel on proposal. And I know that I'm not saying that that worked out really well for Random House. But it was good for me.,
Eden Dawn 37:09
it does seem unlikely. A thing you do that I really like, which I think is great for writers who are not maybe living in a big city hub, or maybe even aren't particularly looking for it to be full career, but they want to be involved in writing, is Emily puts out these lovely writing prompts. Yeah, that's sad. That's huge. And I think it's such a, it's such a small but nice way to participate in community because it's like, here you want to write, it's hard to come up with things to write with. And just do it. Sometimes I have even done like a literary journal will have like a prompt. For like, you can submit your essays here. And I will just try to write the essay. I'm not submitting it nice, just because I'm like, okay, yes. Good. Oh, that's an idea. Right about that thing. It's the thought exercise that makes me feel alive.
Fiona McCann 38:02
I mean, it does stretch you as a writer to I feel like your props make me do something I wouldn't necessarily do.
Emily Chenoweth 38:09
I don't believe that you do them. But thank you for saying.
Fiona McCann 38:12
I'm looking you in the eye. Emily.
Eden Dawn 38:14
I didn't claim to do that. I just liked that they exist,
Emily Chenoweth 38:18
right? I mean, I did one. Okay, well, that's good. That's good. That's probably what I was told about other words, I look at this AppSec as sort of like a service to the writing community. Like, here I am. I'm a full time professional working writer. And here's my process. Here's me occasionally whining about it. And here are some ways that you could approach your writing, if you are so inclined. And again, like I mean, my job is often writing from prompts, you know, in a way, like, I'll get some 70 page outline from James Patterson and then, okay, what am I going to do to flesh this out? So in a way I, that's sort of my professional life, and but I like writing these little essays and thinking about my writing process, and offering people chances to sort of engage with their own process, whatever that might look like. And I do actually think that like just thinking about answering the prompt or answering the question that the prompt asks is interesting and valid
Eden Dawn 39:18
value. Yeah, yeah. Because it just makes you have to start churning those hamster wheels in your brain. Yeah.
You know what the guides ds say about your substack. Great, great, great. They don't say shit. They don't say that. That was special.
It was a special case
Imagine the guides after that? They're like, we really had to resort to language there. But I think we got through.
Eden Dawn 39:43
Thank you, Emily, for coming to join us today. Yeah, you're a delight. You can sign up for her substack including those writing prompts at writing is a good idea.substack.com. That's it from we can't print this for today. See more info about this app. sewed including transcripts and links to things we talked about. We can print this.com and check out all our socials at we can't print this.
Fiona McCann 40:09
Thank you to our producer Miranda Shafer and to Dave Depper for our intro music. This podcast was recorded at the Writers’ Block in Portland. And a big thanks to our third officemate Rachel Richie.
Eden Dawn and Fiona McCann 40:19
We love you.
We love you so much and your sweet wife. And if you are a writer with a great behind the story story, write to us and we can print email@example.com Kisses, bitches