While Megan was home for the Thanksgiving weekend, we watched a Netflix documentary called, Jim & Andy. It’s the behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of Man on the Moon, in which Jim Carrey plays the later crazed comedian Andy Kaufman. In the documentary, Carrey says that he channeled Kaufman and was constantly in-character during the time the movie was being filmed.
Many people who knew Kaufman were astonished by how similar Carrey looked and acted to Kaufman. Even Kaufman’s father hugged Carrey, in a behind the scenes clip, as if Carrey was his son. His out-of-wedlock daughter, who Kaufman never met, talked to Carrey for an hour and as if the daughter was meeting her father for the first time.
After watching the documentary, we talked about the idea of spirits of the dead influencing creative efforts of the living. That was when I recalled my own similar experience when I literally ‘ghost-wrote’ a book in 1991 for an author who had died after writing a few short introductory chapters. I later wrote about the experience in a blog post in 2007. Here it is, unedited.
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Years ago, an editor asked me if I would be interested in completing a novel for an author who had died. He was forty and passed on very suddenly of a heart attack. He’d written four chapters and left behind an outline.
Trish and I knew him–though we’d never met in person. He and Trish had the same editor and agent. We’d exchanged e-mails and participated in the same mystery novel blog on GEnie, back in pre-Internet days. (They didn’t call them blogs, though.)
I worked on the novel for a few months, and from time to time I felt the author, Dave Pedneau, standing behind me, watching, and sometimes I thought he was laughing! It was kind of eerie. So I wrote faster. Finally, I finished the novel, but there was one thing I hadn’t figured out. Oddly enough, I didn’t know what the title meant. He used law enforcement acronyms for his novels, like B.O.L.O. (Be On the Lookout), or A.K.A. (Also Known As). But this one just had the letters: N.F.D. with no parenthetical meaning and I had no idea what it meant. I couldn’t tell from the story, either. Finally, just before I turned it in, I asked a cop at the gym if he knew. He frowned, then said: “Oh, that’s easy: No Fricking Deal.” Though ‘fricking’ was not quite the way he put it.
That was the title of the book! Suddenly, I knew why Dave had been laughing.
There is a little synchronicity here, too. A few years ago, I was teaching private yoga lessons to a very well off woman. She was religious, also kind of prim and proper, and always had her housekeeper or cook around when I was there. One day I was waiting for her to get ready and looked at the books on a shelf. There weren’t many, maybe a dozen. Just as she walked in the room, I spotted N.F.D., and blurted, “Hey, I wrote that book.”
She picked it off the shelf, looked at the cover, and asked: “What’s that title mean?”
”Umm, ah…No Fair Deal. That worked. In fact, that was the name the publisher put in small type right below N.F.D.