Posterity

A memoir is a tricky thing. It’s the world according to you. Pretty much everyone else is bound to bicker with your interpretation of the facts, let alone with your opinions and impressions. But do you care? Probably not! It’s your book, and besides, by the time others read it, you’re quite possibly dead.

Now let’s consider the editor of this memoir. On the rare occasions I’d given any thought to such a person, I’d assumed a few things: (1) He or she must be a diplomat at the very least. (2) He or she must be patient and great with detail. (3) Some percentage of editors don’t last at this because they can’t put up with subjects who (a) have poor memories or (b) have enormous egos or (c) throw things at them. Or some combination thereof.

That was from imagining the editor/ghostwriter sitting with the subject much as in the film The Ghost Writer (see my post of December 15). However, this week’s project ….

Who am I kidding? This year’s project is editing the memoir of a fellow who was an Air Force JAG officer, CODEL escort officer, and Beltway bandit lawyer, among other things. A friend spent seven years interviewing him and transcribing the tapes. Late last year I picked it up from there. I’ve met the subject once, but this is a solo project – me at the home computer, the electronic transcript on one side of the screen, the edited version of the current chapter on the other side, and the boxes of transcripts on a chair beside me. That’s because my predecessor made handwritten notes on the typed pages, and all those have to be put in as well. It’s like I need three eyes.

I haven’t read Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson, but I have considered how immersed the guy’s gotten in the minutia of someone else’s life. I’m getting a taste of that now. My subject has an uncommon memory, and it’s a bit uncomfortable to realize that I know him more intimately than almost anyone. More uncomfortable than that is realizing that for all these details over all these years, I have a perspective on him that he doesn’t have on himself.

I’m the editor, not a ghostwriter. But like a ghost, I am of course keeping that perspective private. His story is the world according to him. That’s what he’s paying for, and that’s what he’s going to get.

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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