Gil is an animal of many and variegated stripes. He writes nonfiction (Aftermath, Inc., Mafia Summit) and fiction (Mockman).
He is also expert at articulating the stories of others as their collaborator. I asked Gil some questions about the process.
I like to collaborate, because otherwise you’re alone in a room with a computer keyboard. Collaboration relieves that.
How do you help someone tell their story?
I ask them questions, get them to talk about themselves, record the results, transcribe it, and that’s the raw fodder for the book. Sometimes they offer other material, past interviews, diaries, historical records, all of which are good.
You’ve written for athletes, record producers, polar adventurers, and the husband of Susan Smith, the woman who drove her kids into the drink many years ago. Which one was your favorite coauthor?
My favorite is always the one I’m doing now. But I have to say Robert Swan, the adventurer, the only man who walked to both the north pole and the south pole. I like him very much. An incredible environmentalist. That book was called 2041: My Quest to Save the Earth’s Last Wilderness.
Are there any tricks of the trade?
I consider myself a success if I disappear in the prose.
I don’t think it’s important. I always believe that the people who should know I have written the book will wind up knowing, i.e. editors and agents. I’m proud of my “with”s, that’s the terminology you use when as a ghost you get a “with Gil Reavill” credit. And I’m also proud of my uncredited ghostwriting.
What are you working on now?
I’m not at liberty to say.
Will it be a big book?
It is a big book.
I’ve written books for angry black men and I’m a timid white boy. I’ve written books for egocentric women and I’m a zelig male. To reach across the membranes of self to enter into another person’s reality is an enjoyable novelty. The metaphor I use to talk about my ghostwriting work is a lawyer and his client. I’m there to give somebody the language that they might not have otherwise. Or I’m perhaps in some cases there to speed up the process, to allow someone to write a book in one year what it would take them ten years to do without me.
What do you think that ghosting has done for your own creative work?
Ventriloquism is always part of the creative process, even in nonfiction. What did Kafka say? We need an ax to break the ice between us. Creativity is the ax.
What does that have to do with the question?
What is the question?
We’re all separate souls and creativity builds the bridge, whether it’s between two real people or an author and a created character. There are still bridges to be built.