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The Award-Winning Book and the Ghost Writer July 27, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary.
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7 comments

Ghost-written celebrity memoirs and autobiographies are like farts in a wind storm — nobody really cares and nobody gets hurt.  It’s more of a surprise to discover that a celebrity has put in some actual effort into a book that bears their name.

Anyway, I was reading the paper this morning and saw that The Happiest Refugee, a best-selling memoir about comedian Anh Do’s life, picked up three awards at the Australian Book Industry Awards, including the 2011 Book of the Year (and also Newcomer of the Year and Biography of the Year).  Note that the awards are not based on literary merit but rather on sales and impact on the industry.

Interestingly, the article wasn’t a celebration of Do’s achievements — it was really about how the original manuscript was penned by a ghost writer, Michael Visontay, who worked as a senior editor with a couple of major national newspapers.

My initial reaction was one of shock, wondering how someone could accept three book awards, including the biggest one, when someone else had written it.  My guess is that this was the exact reaction sought by the article, which then went on to clarify that, according to the publisher Allen & Unwin, the actual book that won the awards was written by Do and bore no resemblance to the original manuscript handed to them by Visontay.  In any case, the CEO of the Australian Publishers Association (APA) stated that ghost-written books are allowed to win at the Awards (which I don’t agree with, or at least the ghost-writer ought to share the award).

Fair enough.  But there was more to the article that made me curious.  First of all, Allen & Unwin claimed that a ghost writer was initially employed because Do said he simply didn’t have the time to write the book.  However, after he saw Visontay’s manuscript, he suddenly ‘found’ time to rewrite the whole thing because he wanted it to be in his own voice.

Nonetheless, Visontay will still receive royalties from the book ‘as a gesture of good faith’.  Ghost writers usually charge a flat fee or a percentage of royalties or a combination of both — but all this would be stipulated in the contract from the outset.  It seems a little strange to me that Visontay is getting royalties, not because he is contractually entitled to them, but because the publisher felt generous, when allegedly very little of his manuscript made it into the book.

Secondly, Do’s remarks in an interview and what he wrote in the acknowledgements section in the book seemed to contradict each other.  In explaining the ghost writer situation, Do said:

‘Basically, this guy interviewed me and transcribed the interviews and it just really, really helped me.  They sent … all these interviews transcribed and it was lots of me talking and I have used that, and then wrote the book from that.  The book, the finished product, is nothing like the manuscript, the transcription given to me.’

Is Do saying that Visontay’s manuscript was no more than a transcription of a series of interviews with him?  I’m sure he did more than just that as a ghost writer, but let’s for argument’s sake assume he didn’t do a whole lot more than that.

But then, in the acknowledgements section of the book, Do wrote: ‘To my friend Michael Visontay, who taught me how to write a book and and helped me with structure and form.’

So what the heck did Visontay do on this book?  Did he interview Do and transcribe the interviews?  As the ghost writer, it would make no sense if he didn’t.  Did Do write the book from the transcriptions or Visontay’s manuscript or are they one and the same?  How much did Visontay help out on this book?  Was the acknowledgement a reference to Visontay’s manuscript or was it suggesting that Visontary physically helped him in the writing process?  And is he just ‘some guy’ or a ‘friend’?  Does it really matter?

To make this mystery even more compelling, Visontay said he did not wish to comment on the matter.

Mmm…smells fishy to me.

I guess the attribution of authorship is always a tricky area.  Just how much work does one need to put in before they go from ‘contributor’ to ‘author’?

Famous short story writer Raymond Carver’s works were brought under the spotlight in the late 90s, when it was revealed that his editor Gordon Lish had made significant changes to Carver’s works, including slashing up to half the word count, changing titles, characters, adding sentences, changing endings, tone and style — the style which Carver is well-known for.  That doesn’t make Carver a fraud, but it does raise some interesting questions.

When I read Andre Agassi’s riveting autobiography Open, I was amazed by how well it was written, only to discover that the grunt work was done by a Pulitzer-winning ghost writer, JR Moehringer, whom Agassi warmly acknowledged at the end of the book.  In that case, Moehringer interviewed Agassi, transcribed them, then created a narrative with them, which Agassi then worked on with him to shape into the finished product.  No one made much of a fuss over the fact that only Agassi’s name was on the cover, a decision Moehringer helped Agassi make.

Ultimately, it’s probably still a fart in a wind storm.  After all, Jessica Watson’s True Spirit, the book that was published supernaturally quick after the teen sailed solo around the world (I personally never understood all the hoopla, to be honest), won General Non-Fiction Book of the Year.  Hard to imagine she didn’t get a lot of help with getting that one into shape.

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Big Sports Day: Klitschko beats Haye, Djoker beats Rafa, I exercise July 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Entertainment, Misc, Sport, Tennis.
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3 comments

Djokovic eats some grass after winning Wimbledon

Yesterday was a big sports day for me.  The biggest heavyweight boxing match in years, Wladimir Klitschko vs David Haye, took place in Germany, while the biggest tennis match of the year, the men’s Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, took place in England.  I even played some casual basketball (club game cancelled) and went for a walk.  Big sports day for all of us.

(click on ‘more’ for random thoughts)

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What the crap is going on? June 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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38 comments

So I get up this morning and, as I do on most days, check my email — and I’m shocked to see there are hundreds of unread emails that aren’t spam!  Turns out, my post on The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time was ‘freshly pressed’ on WordPress (whatever that means).  All I know is that a lot of people have been reading it, liking it and commenting on it.

This is a humble little site that gets around 1000 hits a day, so I sincerely thank everyone for visiting and taking their time to comment, even if it’s just to say it’s the worst piece of crap they have ever come across.

I don’t have time to respond to each comment, so what I’ve done is reconsider my list based on the comments made and made an addition list of films that probably should have made the list (maybe not top 20, but on some list measuring rewatchability) but I missed for whatever reason.  Here’s another 30 super rewatchable films, in no particular order.

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The Phenomenal ‘Impression West Lake’ June 20, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Entertainment, Misc, Travel.
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My final Hangzhou post is a cracker.  It was our last night there and we got tickets to see Impression West Lake, an outdoor extravaganza everybody told us we must see if we were even within a hundred miles of Hangzhou.

It’s hard to put the show into words.  Brought to life by Zhang Yimou, director of the films Hero and House of Flying Daggers and the guy behind the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Impression West Lake is one of several ‘folk musicals’ (according to Wikipedia) set across various parts China (the others being Liu Sanjie, Lijiang, Hainan and Dahingpao).

There’s lights, there’s dancing and there’s marvellous music — and I think there is a love story in there somewhere.  Hundreds of actors in beautiful traditional dress, running and dancing across the freezing water of the massive lake, colourful lights illuminating the river surface and the night sky, giant mechanical boats and structures floating on and appearing out of the water — it really was a splendid spectacle, the likes of which I had never seen before.

The only complaint was that the show had to be set outdoors, and since it was in March and at night, it was absolutely freezing.  Even with gloves, I honestly couldn’t feel my hands by the time the show began.  I couldn’t imagine what the poor actors splashing in the water were feeling.

Anyway, I will let the magic of the photos speak for themselves.  We actually weren’t allowed to take them but everybody was snapping away so I joined in.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the best camera, though I did try do make it slightly clearer through some primitive editing.

Enjoy.

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out June 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Exercise, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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13 comments

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

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