04/16/2014 12:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Life as a Ghost

If I had a dollar for every person I've met who tells me their life story should be a book, I'd have $278 by now. The great thing about self-publishing is that everyone can write their life story and turn it into a book. The terrible thing about self-publishing is that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can write their life story and turn it into a book.

The difficulty is explaining to civilians (non-celebrities) that the chances of their getting an advance from a major publisher are slim to none. Some people, however, just want to tell their life story for family and friends, so they will know how he or she lived, and how their experiences made them the person they became. The book can serve as an historical document.

The thing is most people can't write for toffee. They might be able to conjugate a verb, but can they tell their tale or share their brilliant idea so people will flock into bookstores (the few that are left) for a hard copy (so last millennium) or buy a downloadable version of their book? Can they make a story so compelling that you can't stop reading? That's where ghostwriters come in.

I am a ghostwriter. I ask the subject of the book pertinent and relevant questions in a relaxed, conversational manner that will jog his or her memory, which should then help furnish those extra details that give depth and authenticity. Then I shape the text so it flows, retaining the person's voice and conveying exactly what they want to say in a way that can keep a reader's attention.

People don't realize how much work goes into editing out the boring and mundane stuff, and making sense of what's been said. In conversation, you can also read body language, facial expressions and hear intonation to get their drift. But what sounds scintillating and riveting can sometimes be almost nonsense when seen written down.

While I believe a good writer can turn any story into a cracking good read with universal appeal, it's rare to meet that person who really has lived a truly extraordinary life. When it last happened to me, I was on the receiving end of my first non-invasive facelift by Martha Weinstein at her salon in Brentwood, California.

I sat up during the (painless and relaxing) procedure when Martha said she was 89 years old. I peered at her wrinkle-free face. She certainly didn't look it.
Then she told me she had been in the health and beauty business for almost 70 years, was known as the Argentine Oprah in her home country following the success of her TV show that ran there for 20 years, and had met Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Juan Peron as a child. I told her she really should write a book.

"I started one a few years ago," said Martha. "And I've been looking for someone to help me finish it."

I sat up for the second time, turned to her and said, "Martha, this is your lucky day."

But it was actually my lucky day as we began collaborating on The Stay Young Revolution: How To Transform Fear of Aging Into Confidence of Youth. Martha wanted her book to be solely about holding back the years without resorting to invasive fillers or cosmetic surgery, but there are thousands of health and beauty tomes out there fighting for attention. I convinced her it should also be part-memoir, as she has lived an amazing life that will inspire and motivate people. I doubt there's another one written by someone aged 89 who speaks six languages, still works part-time as a beautician and has encountered a trifecta of fascist dictators.

The working experience with Martha was hugely enjoyable. She has excellent recall and had already written some passages that just needed editing and incorporating. I have become a proud member of Martha's Stay Young Revolution and a friendship has been forged.

I'm looking forward to Martha's 90th birthday party in October, when she will dance the tango. There's no point in urging her to start taking things easy. Martha believes keeping busy and having a purpose helps keep her youthful and beautiful. And she has a revolution to start.