Interview Transcripts

Marilyn K. Strube: Ghostwriter 9/22/05

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection live interview.

 

I'm particularly looking forward to our guest tonight.

 

Marilyn K. Strube is a ghostwriter for Guideposts, an inspirational magazine. Ghostwriting offers Marilyn the anonymity she covets while allowing her to work with fascinating individuals and craft their experiences into the kind of heartwarming stories that have made Guideposts #13 in circulation. Besides freelancing, she teaches university composition and is an ICL instructor.

 

I'm going to learn something here, too, because I know nothing about ghostwriting and it has always intrigued me.

 

Marilyn, welcome! Thanks so much for joining us tonight!

Marilyn Strube

My pleasure!

Mary Rosenblum

So how did you first get started in writing?

Marilyn Strube

I took an English Comp course in 1986 and loved it.

 

The teacher wrote nice things about my writing in the margins

 

and said I should try to get stuff published.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, that's where a lot of 'would be careers' end, Marilyn. How did you get beyond that point?

Marilyn Strube

Well, a lot of rejections, Mary!

 

And then I entered the Guideposts workshop contest and won it out of 6,500 people!

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, that's impressive!

sallyk

How did you get started in ghostwriting?

Marilyn Strube

More like a miracle.

 

I'd read GP all my life and I was very familiar with their story telling style.

 

I even told stories verbally like they did! :)

 

I got started through Guideposts. Many of their stories are ghostwritten.

 

That’s because they tell stories first person and not all story tellers are necessarily writers.

 

I help them tell their stories. J

Mary Rosenblum

You know, before we continue, maybe you should really define what ghostwriting is, for anyone in the audience who might not be sure of the definition. J

Marilyn Strube

Good idea.

 

Ghostwriting is when you write under another person's byline.

Mary Rosenblum

In other words, if someone tells first person about, say, their experiences in Katrina,

 

that person's name would be on the piece, but perhaps someone else actually put their story into prose?

Marilyn Strube

That's it exactly, Mary.

 

It's an ideal arrangement for me because I'm a very private person and I love writing first person stories

 

for someone else.

Mary Rosenblum

You know, Marilyn, this makes me wonder...how much is it a case of you sort of getting to share someone else's life for awhile? Really get into their personal experience? Is that part of it?

Marilyn Strube

Wow, you really have a handle on my job, Mary.

 

That’s a huge part of it.

 

I rally need to get into a person's skin to be able to write from their POV.

 

Luckily, Guideposts runs the story by the subject before it ever gets to print to make sure it's accurate

 

and matches their voice.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, I wondered.

starr r

Does this mean you're on Guidepost's staff, or is it all freelance?

Marilyn Strube

That’s a tough one to answer.

 

I'm not a staff writer BUT because I won the workshop I'm considered a contributing

 

writer and therefore have my own editor and he looks at my stuff the very day it comes in.

 

None of that slush pile business.

sallyk

Do you find the subjects or does the magazine? Or both?

Marilyn Strube

Great question! Both. I find stories in the paper and hanging around after church or meetings or in the student lounge

 

at the university where I work.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, so you propose the subject to your editor, then?

Marilyn Strube

Yep. Thursdays are GP's editor meetings and they decide there which stories they'll go with. If mine is picked they make it an assignment.

Mary Rosenblum

So what is your working method here? Do you ask the subject to tell you his/her story? Tape record it? Use written notes?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, I say, "Hi, my name is Marilyn Strube and I'm a writer with Guideposts magazine.

 

I saw your story (or heard about it) and I'd love to talk with you further. Would you be interested in telling your story to Guideposts?

 

And I record it!

Mary Rosenblum

Then you write it up as a first person narrative, right? And submit it to your editor?

Marilyn Strube

That's correct, Mary. I warn the person that I

 

will be sending it to GP and they will be the ones taking over on their story.

aulait

Is the final story subject to approval from the person you interviewed?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, it is.

 

Recently one person actually said, "no."

Mary Rosenblum

Interesting. What happened then? The magazine simply didn't run it?

Marilyn Strube

The person didn't like the way it opened and wasn't open to the editor in charge rewriting it to her specifications.

 

I think basically she got scared. 4 million plus readers read GP. So the story is on hold for when/if she changes her mind.

Mary Rosenblum

That's too bad. I suppose that's a risk you have to take...that someone will get cold feet about seeing that personal story actually in print. That cost you some writing time, though. Ouch.

Marilyn Strube

GP is great about "kill fees" that is they pay me a portion of what they would have paid for the full story.

Mary Rosenblum

That helps. Glad to hear it.

spider

How much of your personal creativity enters into the work?

Marilyn Strube

LOTS! I really have to put myself in a person' shoes and recreate how I think it must have been. It's not like they

 

say, "The wind was biting cold and the snow squeaked under my boot."

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. It seems to me that you are translating what people 'mean' when they tell about an experience into a reality the reader can share.

Marilyn Strube

That's right Mary. It has all the wonderful features of fiction writing, you need the conflict, sensory details, etc.

info

Do they ever indicate whether it was nice out, or cold, or is it a bit of guessing game?

Mary Rosenblum

Or do you ask questions, Marilyn?

Marilyn Strube

Good question. Yes, they do because I ask them but I fill in the sensory details that really make their lives come alive to readers

Mary Rosenblum

I'm just intrigued. It seems to me that this is very much like writing a first person fiction story, only you are not making up the character and events. But you are using the same skills you'd use in a first person fiction piece.

Marilyn Strube

I often call them two, three times and ask specifics

 

about the weather, what they were wearing, who said what.

 

That's right Mary.

starr r

How many rewrites do you generally have to do in order to get their "voice" right?

Marilyn Strube

Excellent question! I usually do three official rewrites

 

but do plenty here at my home computer before my editor ever sees it.

aulait

How do you know which publications accept ghostwritten material. It isn't always in the market books.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm not sure I've ever seen it in guidelines.

Marilyn Strube

Another great question. As far as I know, GP is the only one that insists on it.

 

Other magazines allow a byline such as "as told to Marilyn K. Strube" under the story teller's name.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm of course, thinking of the many interesting people I've met where I have thought...'you should write up your story and send it to...' Only they don't write.

 

I wonder if that's not a valid marketing strategy for writers?

 

A ghostwritten narrative?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, a good one!

Mary Rosenblum

All right all you LR students who are balking at your nonfiction Assignment Three. :-) There you go. A new alternative.

aulait

What other markets have you ghostwritten for?

Marilyn Strube

None. The rest of the markets have all been under my byline.

spider

Is the work pretty steady, and how much personal enjoyment does it provide you?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, the work is steady and I love writing as much as I love teaching.

 

For years I just did menial jobs to help support our family.

 

I finally got to go to college after the last one left home for college herself, got a BA, got an MA --

 

both in English/Journalism. Been happy and busy ever since!

Mary Rosenblum

You made good use of your tuition! :-)

Marilyn Strube

Yes. But school wasn't necessary for me to write. I was writing and getting published before that as are lots of my ICL students. J

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, let us please make that distinction...you do not NEED a degree in order to write successfully and publish! Just for the record.

aulait

What does ICL stand for?

Marilyn Strube

So true. I remember the first Guideposts refresher workshop I went to and I was completely out of my league, or so I thought.

 

But then I learned that plenty of writers didn't have a degree.

 

ICL = Institute of Children's Literature

spider

Job satisfaction. How wonderful!

aulait

That is awesome, so how old were you when you graduated from school?

Marilyn Strube

50!

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, WAY cool, Marilyn!

 

A round of applause please!

Marilyn Strube

Thanks!

starr r

I'm excited that you're here, Ms. Strube, because just this Sunday, our pastor told a story I thought would be perfect for GP, but I'm unsure how to go about it. Can you help?

Mary Rosenblum

Any suggestions?

Marilyn Strube

Sure. The trouble is that GP doesn't typically run stories about clergy.

 

Their stories focus on every day folks, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

 

Clergy is expected (unfair!) to be good and to overcome obstacles.

aulait

Is most of Guideposts ghostwritten?

Marilyn Strube

I'd say each issue is about 50 percent ghostwritten.

sallyk

Have you ever considered ghostwriting a book?

Marilyn Strube

No way! Too much of a time commitment. I don't even want to write my own book at this stage of the game. :)

Mary Rosenblum

Actually...since I'm sure we have some people in the audience wondering about that...

 

a writer friend of mine has done that...for example a winning basketball coach, a public figure. He pitches

 

the project to a publisher, gets the okay, and then does it the same way you do, Marilyn.

 

But it takes MUCH more time and interviewing.

Marilyn Strube

Yes, I hope it pays well, too, because I'd need some serious incentive to put my life on hold.

 

Many of my friends do write books and they are like crazy people for six months of the year dancing to the editor's tune!

Mary Rosenblum

Yes to the 'crazy people' part. :-) He vanishes from the face of the earth until he meets deadline.

sallyk

Too much fun doing the articles?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, I do love article writing. I love personal experiences. I just did Victoria Jackson's story for GP, from Saturday Night Live

 

and she is amazing.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool. So how do you contact someone like Victoria Jackson to ask her if you can write her story?

Marilyn Strube

Wow, that's a question and a half!

 

It’s not easy. I found her email address on her website.

Mary Rosenblum

Do people turn you down often? At all?

Marilyn Strube

Hmm, at first, yes, but I think now I sound more confident and people pick up on that. They think

 

now here's a professional writer who is going to make me sound good! I send them stuff I've written for other people and

 

stuff under my own byline. I like for them to get to know me so they can trust me

 

with their precious stories. I don't want them to be afraid that I'll say something they didn't mean to say.

Mary Rosenblum

Do your stories ever get turned down by your editor?

Marilyn Strube

Oh yeah! Monthly! But by the same token, plenty get snapped up. Thank the Lord!

Mary Rosenblum

Do you send your 'rejects' elsewhere? Or are they too specifically written for Guideposts?

 

(And see???? Even us pros get rejections!)

Marilyn Strube

Great question, Mary. Because they fit the inspirational market so well, I often get them published in the Chicken Soup books

 

or other religious magazines.

Mary Rosenblum

And they're mostly published under your by line? 'As told to...'?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, correct...

 

I should mention here that the toughest part of my job as a ghostwriter is telling a subject that their piece wasn't accepted by GP after all.

Mary Rosenblum

Oooh, I hadn't thought of that! I bet that is disappointing.

Marilyn Strube

Yes. I have to be careful to say that it isn't them being rejected or their precious story

 

it's that GP has decided to go with another piece, maybe something like 9/11 or Katrina.

 

Lots of stories are being collected on Katrina right now and others are being shelved if not rejected. It's all par of the biz.

Mary Rosenblum

Tactful way to put it, though.

cosmos

How do you submit clips from Guide Posts to show that you were the author? Does GP give you a letter of credit for your articles?

Marilyn Strube

Wow, excellent question. No one has ever doubted my credentials as far as I know, but, yes, my editor is very good about

 

letting people know I was the actual author.

sallyk

How do you determine what to charge for your work?

Marilyn Strube

Another great question. I'm on a pay scale with GP as one of their workshop writers.

 

I started out making $400 on my first piece and it has incremented $50 with each story I've written. They have a $2000 cap.

Mary Rosenblum

Nice pay. :-)

 

How long is the average Guideposts piece?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, and I work hard for it! Now, if I could only get 6 stories accepted a month!

 

1500 words for a full length although that has shortened lately to more like 1300 words.

Mary Rosenblum

Very nice pay...although let me guess that keeping that personal story to 1300 - 1500 words is the hard part of this job?

Marilyn Strube

It used to be, Mary but I've had plenty of practice at knowing when it's time to wrap things up... by page 4

 

double-spaced, I better be moving to my point rapidly!

starr r

What about payment? Is it split 50/50 between you and the person whose story you tell?

Marilyn Strube

No, I get my usual pay and the subject gets an honorarium It's fine with them. They love the publicity!

Mary Rosenblum

Most people are THRILLED at the idea of being showcased in a magazine.

cosmos

As a writer for Guideposts, are you in demand as a speaker for Christian Writer's Conferences across the country?

Marilyn Strube

Yes. It's hard to write some stories like the one I just submitted today about a golf pro, Jeri Reid, whose life and accomplishments are HUGE!

 

Not really although I have spoken to groups locally. I think I'd have to really advertise myself to get invited to the BIG conferences. :)

starr r

What do you say to those (you barely know) who discover you're a writer and exclaim, "Oh, you should write my life story! It's fascinating!" ...and you're completely uninterested, unmoved?

Marilyn Strube

Hah!

 

What a hoot! and so true.

 

My parish priest wanted to be in GP but I had to try to let him down easily. You don't want people to think you are too good for them.

Mary Rosenblum

That really could be a problem. Especially in your community where you ARE known.

Marilyn Strube

I'm usually pretty honest, Mary. I blame it all on GP, that they are a picky bunch!

Mary Rosenblum

What do you write on your own, when you're not working on Guideposts material? Nonfiction only? Any fiction?

Marilyn Strube

Oh, how I wish I could write fiction... I so admire writers who write fiction.

 

They all claim I could do it if I tried

 

but I mostly write my own personal experiences and articles for academia.

 

I just wrote a piece for GP about how I snore and how I needed to share a room with a roommate

 

on a trip to Paris earlier this year. It will be in the February issue. They want my husband and me to be in our pjs for the photo shoot. Goodness!

Mary Rosenblum

LOL!

geezer

I haven't seen any Christian magazines that accept fiction. Do you know if there any out there?

Marilyn Strube

Sorry, I really don't know. You’d have to check the writer's guide, may I suggest Sally Stuart's Christian Writer’s Market.

 

Excellent book and plenty of tips on how to write devotionals, cover letters, etc.

cosmos

In an inspirational piece, how do you decide what comes first to hook the reader? What article organization do you use that is so successful?

Marilyn Strube

GP has a formula that works for any kind of writing... state the story problem (conflict) within the first two paragraphs.

 

Tell the story in sensory detailed scenes

 

and end with a takeaway, a Biblically based precept that will be

 

of practical help to a reader in living more creatively and harmoniously.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you, Marilyn. That should really help anyone intending to try writing for Guideposts....and it's a good structural formula for many narratives.

Marilyn Strube

You’re welcome. Best advice; study the magazine you are targeting until you have it in your gut!

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! That is basic...and critical...advice for anyone who wants a career writing for the magazines!

cosmos

Do you travel often for your interviews?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, I do. I live in Michigan and any story that is in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana or Ontario, I usually cover.

aulait

What was the subject of the story that won the Guidepost contest?

Marilyn Strube

I had written a story for my mom, a memory about how she used to make French toast

 

and how she was kind to an unlikable classmate of mine and gave me a new perspective

 

on how lucky I was to have a mom and dad and brothers and sisters.

 

The classmate didn't have a mom anymore.

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool narrative, Marilyn. I'm not surprised it won the contest.

Marilyn Strube

Yeah, but it was never published in GP, can you believe it?

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, interesting. Did you ever publish it elsewhere?

Marilyn Strube

Yes, my sweet editor suggested I try Catholic Digest with it and they snapped it up. They have always been kind to my GP rejections.

Mary Rosenblum

Glad it got published! Which do you enjoy more...writing your own work, like this, or telling someone's story for them?

Marilyn Strube

That's a tough question, Mary. Certainly writing another person's story is more challenging

 

and I love the challenge... but I guess I love writing my own stuff more.

 

I mean if it gets rejected I don't have to give anybody the bad news 'cept me!

Mary Rosenblum

There is that. J

 

What is your writing schedule like? How much time per week do you spend on your ghostwriting projects?

Marilyn Strube

Two or three days I devote completely to writing, the other days are devoted to teaching either at the university or ICL.

 

I take Sundays off. :)

Mary Rosenblum

Busy schedule. :-)

cosmos

I took my Sally E. Stuart Christian Writers' Market Guide 2004 from my book shelf and I couldn't find instructions on how to write a devotional. Where do you find this information in this guide?

Mary Rosenblum

Do you know the answer to this? You may not.

Marilyn Strube

I'm sorry Cosmos, I thought it was in there. I guess I sent away for that pamphlet. Do you see an ordering slip in the book?

Mary Rosenblum

You might be able to find that information online, Cosmos.

 

Try googling it.

cosmos

I will look for the ordering slip. Thanks.

Marilyn Strube

You’re welcome!

Mary Rosenblum

So what do you have coming out soon?

Marilyn Strube

Well, the "snore" story in February.

 

Just had a story in Chicken Soup for the Father and Daughter's Soul in June

Mary Rosenblum

Cool. :-)

Marilyn Strube

Also, wrote my brother's story which appeared in June, the grill master story.

Mary Rosenblum

That's in the June Guideposts?

Marilyn Strube

Yes

Mary Rosenblum

So what advice can you give to our novice writers in the audience...what do you see as the most important things to do, when you're starting out?

Marilyn Strube

Hmm, believe in yourself.

 

Take yourselves seriously.

 

Having kids and a husband it was important for them to see that I was serious about my writing...

 

I backed them up w all their priorities and they took their turn repaying the favor by leaving me alone when my office door was closed.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that 'take yourself seriously' is far more important than most new writers realize.

Marilyn Strube

I have a stack of rejections... any writer worth their salt does... be proud of them!

Mary Rosenblum

Amen!

 

And write, yes?

 

The bottom line?

Marilyn Strube

Also, read about writing. My books are all books on how to write. I can't get enough!

 

Yes. Write every day. READ every day. Read menus and notice how they make the food sound so yummy... it's those sensory details that will bring life to your work. And use strong specific verbs! Crept instead of walked... peered instead looked.

Mary Rosenblum

Any final questions for Marilyn before we let her rest her weary fingers?

 

You've been a marvelous guest and you have opened my eyes to a whole new and interesting area of writing.

Marilyn Strube

Thanks, Mary. This has been fun.

sweett

Great and very informative interview. Thank you so much!

Mary Rosenblum

I believe Sweett may be doing some ghostwriting for Katrina survivors, Marilyn.

Marilyn Strube

Sweett, you're sweet! Thank you!

sweett

Yes, working on several different aspects of Katrina interviews

Marilyn Strube

That's excellent news. God bless and keep everyone o f them.

cosmos

I sure appreciate learning from you. Thank you.

starr r

Thank you both for the information and the encouragement..

janp

Dynamic lady, thank you Marilyn

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you so much for coming, Marilyn!

Mary Rosenblum

I have really enjoyed this, and I hope you come back and visit with us again.

Marilyn Strube

Wow, you are all way too nice. I wish you the best.

geezer

Claps.

Marilyn Strube

Thanks, any time.

Mary Rosenblum

Ditto. We'll let you go. Thanks for coming! You were great!

Marilyn Strube

Okay, God bless and keep writing!

Mary Rosenblum

You, too, Marilyn. Thank you for coming and good night!

 

Thanks for coming, all!

 

 

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