They say art follows life; this time love gave birth to an artist. Magdalena Perez is living proof that television personality Bob Ross was a master painting teacher. Just three years ago Magda, my Miami neighbor, had never picked up a paint brush. Today, she is as good as artists who have been painting their whole lives. Her series of 15 lakeside scenes will be on exhibit at the VynnArt Gallery in Meredith, New Hampshire, June 29th to July 16th.
Eliot and I immediately bought one of her paintings when we previewed her collection before they got shipped off to the New England gallery. Her talent to capture still life is so unreal you almost feel like you are looking at photographs. It’s completely uncanny.
I must have asked Magda a dozen times during our interview how it was possible that she lived 40 years without knowing she had this inner talent. Her life partner, John Rutherford, said her dexterity skills have always been super special. “You should see her do a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. She completes them in record breaking time. She can even do them upside down.”
Magda, a Colombian native,claims she learned everything she needed to know to get started from Ross. She adds that she now takes an occasional art class to learn new techniques like how to mix colors. When she is in New York she attends the Art Students League. You can tell she was meant to be an artist when she talks about the New York art school. Her whole face lights up when she tells you about the teachers, students, and history of the institution. She loves going there for the inspiration.
Magda’s studio in Miami is in one of the bedrooms of the condo she shares with John. You have never seen anything so neat in your life. She is meticulous about her surroundings. No splatters, no sprays, no spots anywhere. You think you are entering someone’s lavish office. Every brush, every paint, every canvas is lined up like it’s in a retail showcase. Magda’s a neat freak.
She’s been that way ever since she walked into a Michael’s art store in Miami a few years ago asking the clerks to help her stock up with everything she would need to paint her way through the pandemic. She and John escaped to a private island in lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire to stay safe during Covid. Magda spent most of her time painting and experimenting with acrylics, oils and charcoal. Her imagination was running wild while she painted many of the surrounding lake front sights. She wanted to capture the beauty of this unspoiled area. It was amazing that she was capable of painting pictures with such rich, vibrant colors. I’m no art connoisseur but I can honestly say Magna’s paintings all contain some sort of magnetism that makes you stare at them for long periods of time.
That has been the reaction of many of our neighbors in the South Pointe area of South Beach. We have been amazed that we knew Magda before she ever picked up a paint brush to the masterpieces she is producing now. To many of us who can’t draw a straight line, this is a miracle in the making.
Magda moved in with John a number of years ago after meeting him in Columbia when he traveled to the country to perfect his ability to speak Spanish. He met Magna, the owner of a well-established hair salon in Medellin through a friend. She and others escorted John around the city only speaking to him in Spanish. While communications between Magda and John were limited at first, they soon discovered that they enjoyed each others company. I would guess that one of the attractions was that they were both looking for uncomplicated lives. By that I mean, less drama and more fun.
John was a transplant from New Zealand who spent most of his life deep in business and Magda was a country girl who moved to the big city to be self supporting and build a career. They both had their fair share of hardships and successes and now wanted to bring more joy into their lives. The only trouble was that they didn’t know how to communicate that to each other because of the language barrier.
John explained that the problem resolved itself in the strangest possible way. This story is one for the books. He wanted a more serious relationship with Magda but had no way of actually explaining that to her. He decided to take her to dinner one last time to see if there was any chemistry between them. Magda tends to be on the shy side so she was not going to necessarily show any signs of affection without cause.
John made the restaurant reservation in his broken Spanish. He was asked a bunch of questions which he felt he answered properly. When the couple arrived at the restaurant, they were directed to a table that looked like it was decorated for Valentine’s Day. There were hearts and rose petals on the table and all kinds of flowers framed their cozy little area. Both John and Magda were embarrassed at first but quickly adapted to the mood that was set up for them. John still insists he doesn’t know what he said to the reservationist but whatever he communicated did the trick to cement the relationship.
I am just guessing, but I believe that Magda’s new life in America has brought out the artistic gift in her. She recently did a painting of the boathouse area of Central Park that I swear looks like it was created by one of the masters. How is it possible that someone who never drew a picture in her life can produce such an image? Wait till she unveils her series of portraits. They are outstanding.
I am the first writer to feature and review Magda’s work. What a privilege. Maybe I will become famous just for that. I’m hoping that Magda’s work moves into abstracts. I am very anxious to see what her mind creates. I will be the first to report on that as well.
Lulama ‘wolf’ Mlambo is a 28-year-old visual artist who lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. We came across her work on our art trip to Paris last October. An Athens, Greece gallery, “The Breeder,” was showing her work in a grand old mansion that was in desperate need of being restored. Many galleries who use pop up spaces to present the work they represent try to find places that are avant guarde.
The pop up gallery was not even on our itinerary but Kathryn Mikesell, co-founder of Fountainhead Arts, insisted we make the stop even though most of us in our group were exhausted by the end of the day. I think I complained the most. “Enough, my eyes are popping out of my head from looking at art.” Kathryn was very persuasive. I left the limo for one last gallery visit. We all had to walk the steep and imposing circular staircase to reach the gallery on the upper floors.
I finally made it and immediately stopped when I saw a piece of art that was designed to fit in a corner of a room, on two adjacent walls. We didn’t have room for an object like but I was attracted to the style of the painting, very Henri Émile Benoît Matisse. I caught up with Eliot and we asked the gallerist about the artist, Lulama Wolf. He showed us her work on a laptop and we both immediately spotted “More of Less.” We both are very impulsive and said in unison, “We want it.”
At the time we had no idea how prolific the artist was. We have been following her on Instagram ever since and we get more and more impressed. This is just a small sampling of her work. I couldn’t possibly post all of them. It goes on and on. Watch the video. She is the real deal.
In unprecedented move, Cuba will let Russians lease land as the two countries get closer.
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
In a clear signal of their strengthened alliance, Cuba will grant preferential treatment to investors from Russia, allowing them to lease land for 30 years, an unprecedented step in the history of the island’s communist government, a Russian official told Russian business representatives in Havana.
Boris Titov, Russia’s presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights and chairman of the Russia-Cuba Business Council, told representatives of more than 50 Russian companies on Thursday that Cuban authorities “are ready to provide special conditions for Russian businessmen,” Russian news outlet Sputnik reported.
According to Sputnik and the Reuters news agency, the Russian official said the concessions include the right to make use of Cuban land for 30-year terms, duty-free importation of agricultural machinery and the right to repatriate profits in foreign currency, which the Cuban government currently restricts.
In a separate announcement, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who arrived on the island on Thursday on an official visit, said the Cuban government has also green-lighted Russian banks to open subsidiaries to finance Russian businesses on the island and that the countries “will transition to ruble-based investment in our joint projects,” according to a Russian government statement.
On Friday, Chernyshenko announced that Russian state airline Aeroflot will resume regular flights to Cuba on July 1, the Russian news agency Tass reported.
“Relations between Russia and Cuba have historical significance,” Chernyshenko said upon arrival on the island, adding that he carried instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Russian government statement said. “We intend to do everything possible to help the Cuban economy reach a decent level.”
The flurry of announcements is the clearest sign yet of the Cuban government’s decision to move further away from opening its economy to U.S. investors, especially Cuban Americans, in favor of its old political ally as the island seeks a lifeline out of its economic crisis. It might also add tension to Cuba’s already strained relationship with the United States at a time when the Biden administration is moving to further expand sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Nothing and no one can stop it,” Cuba’s minister of foreign commerce, Ricardo Cabrisas, said of the economic ties with Russia, Reuters reported.
In contrast, the Cuban government has yet to respond to the Biden administration’s authorization to a U.S. company to offer a loan and invest in a small private business in Cuba last year, a first in several decades.
Cuba blames the island’s economic crisis on the U.S. economic embargo and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while refusing to make substantial reforms to its inefficient centrally planned economy, which restricts private property, market competition and investments. The government authorized Cubans to own small and medium-sized private businesses in 2021 for the first time in several decades. But factions within the government are divided on how far they want to go to boost the private sector, which Communist Party hardliners see as a threat to their grip on the population.
Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have tried to assure potential U.S. investors, in particular Cuban Americans, that they can do business on the island. Still, the lack of Cuba’s response to the U.S. license and the increased ties with Russia signal that hardliners are winning for now.
Allowing Russian companies to lease land might be particularly controversial because American citizens and companies still hold certified property claims over lands confiscated by Fidel Castro shortly after he took power in 1959.
The land-lease measure, which was not reported in Cuban state media, might also add to the population’s discontent with the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel.
The Cuban government is the country’s largest land owner after Castro ordered the confiscation of most land through a so-called agrarian reform. Excessive government control over lands, farming, food distribution and prices has caused agricultural production to plummet, and economists have advised the government to let more Cubans own or lease land for agriculture.
For Russia, finding new markets for its products has become more crucial after its invasion of Ukraine led to financial and economic sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union. Several officials have traveled in recent months to the island, which Putin sees as a key ally only 90 miles away from U.S. shores.
Russian officials in Havana touted a number of deals in the works, including Cuban hotels accepting Russian Mir payment cards, increasing the number of charter flights connecting the two countries, opening a trading house in Havana and establishing a direct route for freight transportation. Officials also said Russian trade with Cuba has grown to $452 million, three times the amount in 2021, with oil accounting for most of it.
But some experts doubt Russian companies’ real appetite to invest on the island and take advantage of the promised benefits, given Cuba’s long history of defaulting on creditors and fears of litigation over property rights.
These concessions “are not representative of a robust government-run economy; it is almost a message of desperation,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, whose company received the U.S. government license to invest in a private business in Cuba.
“Given Cuba’s financial history, it is quite likely that the Russian experience may not be long-lived,” he added.
But Pale Male stuck around Central Park and continued to inspire nature lovers and photographers until his passing at more than 30 years old, Horvath wrote in his tribute.
While Horvath believes the red-tailed hawk that died this week was Pale Male, others aren’t so sure.
As Hell Gate and the New York Times first reported, many experts believe Pale Male likely died years ago. Wild red-tailed hawks typically live 20 years, they said, which would make Pale Male perhaps the oldest known.
The hawk that ceased to be this week was likely one of Pale Male’s many descendants, one expert told the Times.
Horvath, however, maintains Pale Male defied the odds.
“He lived at least 30 years in a challenging environment that NYC poses and there will never be another hawk as well known and loved as he was,” Horvath wrote.
“We feel it was better he was found and cared for than if he passed somewhere never to be found and unknown circumstances. Hopefully it was simply age related issues and it was just his time after an amazing unmatchable lifespan.”
Regardless, New Yorkers can raise a glass — or a dead rat — in honor of Pale Male, a bird that hit it big in the Big Apple.
I subscribe to Air Mail by Graydon Carter, formerly of Vanity Fair. I thought you would enjoy this piece—LWH.
Claudia Cardinale, Paul Schrader, Shirley MacLaine, and others reflect on the genius, charm, and enduring influence of an icon of French cinema
Alain Delon in 1963’s The Leopard, directed by Luchino Visconti.
Alain Delon is probably the most recognizable Frenchman in the world, and an icon of 20th-century international cinema. He’s been called the male Brigitte Bardot, the “silver-screen siren,” and the “sexiest actor alive.” Over his six-decade career, he’s inhabited a wide range of roles, from Burt Lancaster’s upstart nephew in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963) to a sex-crossed lover in Jacques Deray’s La Piscine (1969), to a calculating art dealer in Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein (1976). He’s appeared in nearly 100 films, including 1960’s Purple Noon—an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley—which he starred in at just 25.
After being awarded a César (France’s equivalent of the Oscar), the Légion d’Honneur, and an honorary Palme d’Or, Delon announced he was officially quitting the screen. Now, at 87, he’s decided to sell his 81-piece art collection, which includes a portrait by Eugène Delacroix and paintings by Paolo Veronese and Raoul Dufy. —Elena Clavarino
MICHAEL HAINEY: A former waiter and navy veteran, Alain Delon tagged along with an actor friend to the Cannes Film Festival in 1956, where a colleague of the American film producer David O. Selznick noticed him; Selznick offered him a contract if he learned English. Rather than go to America, Delon stayed in Paris, and three years and a few small roles later landed the lead in René Clément’s mesmerizing adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s masterpiece of suspense The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Purple Noon was not Delon’s first film. Be Beautiful but Shut Up  and Women Are Weak —titles that could be interpreted as the Frenchman’s acting notes—came before. But it was the film that catapulted the 25-year-old to stardom.
PAUL SCHRADER: I screened Purple Noon for Richard Gere before American Gigolo. I said, “Look at this guy. The way he walks. He knows the room is a better place because he just entered it.”
HAINEY: “You can’t take your eyes off him” is an overused phrase when it comes to judging a performance. But with Delon’s performance in this film, the words are completely true. From the moment he first appears on-screen, as the young American Tom Ripley, he casts a spell on us—his eyes shimmering bright and blue as the Mediterranean in the August sun. You’re not only seduced by him, you find yourself being pulled beneath the surface, longing to know what is behind those eyes. What is he thinking? Delon made the role entirely his own.
He’s stylish, seductive, mysterious. In quick succession he’d be sought by the titans: Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni, Melville, and Malle. He would own the 60s, defining international stardom and a new generation of leading man.
CLAUDIA CARDINALE: The first time I acted with Alain Delon was in Rocco and His Brothers , by Luchino Visconti. Alain was a perfect blend of delicate, feminine beauty and masculinity. He had both sweetness and danger within him.
NICOLAS RAPOLD: Looking great, feeling blah: it’s a paradox of Antonioni’s cinema that characters bear the full weight of the modern world but are also incredibly stylish and seductive. L’Eclisse , starring Delon and Monica Vitti in a doomed romance, might even excel the rest of the director’s 60s alienation trilogy, L’Avventura  and La Notte , in this regard. Delon cuts a dashing figure as a Rome stockbroker with an Alfa Romeo, the actor in his youthful prime right after Rocco and His Brothers and Purple Noon. Vitti, playing a literary translator post-breakup, balks at the postwar materialism around her, yet the sensitivity of her gaze, her poise, is simply heart-stopping.Delon and Monica Vitti in Italy in 1961. They would star in 1962’s L’Eclisse, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
The two, Piero and Vittoria, keep circling one another during their many rendezvous, and it’s hard not to marvel at the lovely rhythms of their choreography just as much as the haunted, off-kilter backdrops of the city. But so often their courtship seems on the verge of not happening. Vittoria’s summing-up of their affair is rightfully a classic: “I wish I loved you more, or not at all.”
In the end, both Piero and Vittoria don’t show up to their usual meeting place. L’Èclisse concludes with a celebrated montage of deserted streets and palazzos, building up to portraits of distrait Romans—a woman waiting for a bus, another looking exhausted, a man obscured by a newspaper [headline: THE NUCLEAR ARMS RACE]. You feel the profound absence of Piero and Vittoria—and Delon and Vitti, stars who could shine through the clouds.Delon and Claudia Cardinale on the set of The Leopard.
CARDINALE: Alain was a magnetic being, both in terms of his beauty and his aura. He infused everything with strength and intensity. Working with him meant absorbing some of that intensity. We were immensely fortunate to portray a couple that entered into the collective imagination, that of Tancredi and Angelica. Sharing the adventure of The Leopard bound us forever.
The filming was unlike any other filming. It was hot, we were in Sicily, in period costumes, and the locations were breathtaking. Luchino Visconti left nothing to chance. For him, every detail contributed to the whole. He pushed it to the point of the invisible. Alain and I were both very close to Luchino even before filming began. He had a very affectionate regard for us. Both Alain and I came from humble backgrounds, and Luchino brought us into an unknown world.
I remember magical moments outside of the film, too. The intensity of the work was such that moments of relaxation were true paradises. And then we were in Sicily, by the sea…. We were young, we laughed, we had fun.
MARINA CICOGNA: In 1963, Alain left a note under the door of a hotel room that I was sharing with Ljuba Rizzoli in Megève. The note said: “I’ll be waiting for you in room 104.” The recipient was missing. I snatched the note from Ljuba’s hands and hurried there myself. I was the infatuated young girl captivated by a legend, floating suspended in another dimensions.
“Alain was a perfect blend of delicate, feminine beauty and masculinity. He had both sweetness and danger within him.”
SHIRLEY MACLAINE: While we were filming The Yellow Rolls-Royce  around Europe, Alain was very—Europeanly—nice, polite, and very thoughtful. He was struggling with English, of course. But he was so nice, very nice and very professional. I once left my purse somewhere, and he went and found it for me. He was a caretaker on many levels.
I’ll tell you what will never die in my memory. After the picture, we were in … I’m trying to remember what country … and we needed to get to the South of France, and I had to be there in a day. Alain actually said, “Come on, I’ll drive you.” So we got in the car and we spent, I guess, five hours in the car overnight, him driving, me saying nothing at his command—you know, “You mustn’t interrupt me. I have to keep concentration,” he said. He drove well over 100 miles an hour through mountain passes.
CARDINALE: We played impossible lovers in The Centurions, directed by Mark Robson . Alain used his beauty in the service of diligent and attentive work. He was always fully involved in his roles.
ANOUCHKA DELON: Undoubtedly, my all-time-favorite movie with my father is The Sicilian Clan . During our childhood, our father was cautious about exposing us to his excessively violent films. Along with The Black Tulip  and Zorro , this one was among the ones we were allowed to see.
Directed by Henri Verneuil, this French-Italian gangster film stars the iconic trio Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and, of course, my father. To me, The Sicilian Clan embodies the essence of a true adventure movie. The gripping narrative of a daring plane heist that unexpectedly culminates with a dramatic landing on an American highway still fills my eyes with wonder to this very day! It serves as a precursor to later masterpieces like Goodfellas or Ocean’s Eleven,and is one of the pioneering French films centered around the Sicilian Mafia.
I must confess, I have seen it at least 350 times. This film will forever hold a special place in my heart.
JEAN PIGOZZI: In La Piscine , there’s the beautiful pool, the beautiful lights, the beautiful mediterranean. My experience is unique; I sleep at night on the sets of these films.
ALESSANDRA STANLEY: Imitation can be creative. Be it Sergio Leone and his 1960s spaghetti Westerns or Jean-Pierre Melville, who around the same time added French cool to the classic Hollywood 1930s film noir, something was gained in translation. Both directors brought a 1960s sensibility to their chosen genre, but, more interestingly, both relied on actors whose delicate beauty clashed with the sordid milieu and the brutal violence of their actions. Leone had Clint Eastwood. Melville had Alain Delon.Delon on the set of 1967’s Le Samouraï, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
In Le Samouraï , Delon is arguably at his bad-boy best, a rootless, enigmatic lone wolf, a hired killer who traffics in the criminal underworld of Paris, and who seems to care about nothing and speaks even less. But he has his own oblique code of honor, like a Japanese samurai warrior of old, and he ends up coming to the rescue of two beautiful women—at a terrible cost. Le Samouraï is considered a gem of the French New Wave, and it is. But it is impossible to watch Delon in this hard-boiled film and not feel a frisson of warmth: however cold and disconnected the role, Delon can’t help but be seductive in it.
FARRAN SMITH NEHME: Perhaps Delon cites Mr. Klein as a personal favorite because the movie shows off his underrated emotional range. Mr. Klein turns the clichéd relationship between Delon and his films—the icy star of the thriller—on its head. Losey’s direction remains chilly and enigmatic, even as the title character becomes ever more unhinged. Delon never gave a more disturbing performance.
CARDINALE: I remember that people queued up to see Alain. From aristocratic women to working-class women, even men … it was quite surreal.
Alain Delon’s art collection will be sold at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr, in Paris, on June 22
I went to Kosushi the other night with my client from Palo Alto, CA, because he said that Silicon Valley doesn’t have many Japanese restaurants. I was surprised to hear that because all of the people I know in the tech industry love Sushi. He added that if I love Chinese food then Silicon Valley is the place to live. The large Chinese population has attracted the best restaurants in the country.
Meanwhile, back in Miami, I want to declare that Kosushi is one of the best Japanese restaurants in the country. This amazing restaurant is located at 801 South Pointe Drive, a block away from the famous Joe’s Stone Crab.
I consider myself a sushi expert because I have been eating it for years, from every type of venue all over the world. I am telling you that the sushi from Kosushi melted in our mouths. I never tasted anything so good. My client, a lover of Japanese food, totally agreed with me. In fact, I think the meal bonded us in ways that you can only experience if you love sushi.
I was so proud of myself. Even though the restaurant is pricey, I insisted on ordering every sushi selection on the menu. He wanted to share. I was hosting so I said I was ordering a double order of everything on the Signature Sushi menu. I have been working with this client a very long time and he deserves the best. I also didn’t want to miss a piece.
As it turns out my decision was a good one. We both said every piece was a magical delight. We can’t explain the taste other than it was delectable. We have both been to Japan and excellent restaurants in the United States but this was very exceptional.
We learned from the website that Kosushi started in
São Paulo, Brazil in 1988. Kosushi has been awarded with a Michelin Guide star in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Kosushi Miami is the first international location for the brand. Chef George Koshoji, and business partner Carlos Augusto Carvalho, are the owners.
“We marry traditional Japanese techniques with Brazilian flavors and what ties it all together is the quality of the food,” Carvalho says. “We have been well accepted in Miami. People who come into the restaurant appreciate the precision of the cut, unique spices, and the quality of the rice.”
By the way, the interior design at Kosushi is quite overwhelming. It’s a combination of Japanese architecture in a contemporary look. The design features white oak wooden cubes in a complex joinery arrangement with luminaires tied to it, contrasting the organic shapes of the sushi bar and the tables area bench, achieving visual balance and harmony.
J. R. Moehringer, the ghost writer for “Spare,” the memoir by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, which was released on January, 2023, wrote a story for the New Yorker that everyone who wants to write their memoir, or have a ghost writer do it, should read.
Moehringer talks about the life of a ghost writer and what is required to write a good book. He also goes into the relationship between the writer and the subject and how both folks have to focus on what the reader wants to read rather than their own agendas.
A lot of what Moehringer had to say was very beneficial to me for my recent assignments. I thought I was the only one who faced certain challenges while interviewing my subjects.
I am currently working on four books with clients. I have learned a lot about publishing best sellers just by talking to successful book authors who have shared the true recipes for success. Most didn’t surprise me. I learned the essence of a page turner years ago, but hearing it again was a terrific reinforcement. —LWH.
Work with Prince Harry on the book proceeded steadily—until the press found out about it. Illustration by Simone Massoni
I was exasperated with Prince Harry. My head was pounding, my jaw was clenched, and I was starting to raise my voice. And yet some part of me was still able to step outside the situation and think, This is so weird. I’m shouting at Prince Harry. Then, as Harry started going back at me, as his cheeks flushed and his eyes narrowed, a more pressing thought occurred: Whoa, it could all end right here.
This was the summer of 2022. For two years, I’d been the ghostwriter on Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” and now, reviewing his latest edits in a middle-of-the-night Zoom session, we’d come to a difficult passage. Harry, at the close of gruelling military exercises in rural England, gets captured by pretend terrorists. It’s a simulation, but the tortures inflicted upon Harry are very real. He’s hooded, dragged to an underground bunker, beaten, frozen, starved, stripped, forced into excruciating stress positions by captors wearing black balaclavas. The idea is to find out if Harry has the toughness to survive an actual capture on the battlefield. (Two of his fellow-soldiers don’t; they crack.) At last, Harry’s captors throw him against a wall, choke him, and scream insults into his face, culminating in a vile dig at—Princess Diana?
Even the fake terrorists engrossed in their parts, even the hard-core British soldiers observing from a remote location, seem to recognize that an inviolate rule has been broken. Clawing that specific wound, the memory of Harry’s dead mother, is out of bounds. When the simulation is over, one of the participants extends an apology.
Harry always wanted to end this scene with a thing he said to his captors, a comeback that struck me as unnecessary, and somewhat inane. Good for Harry that he had the nerve, but ending with what he said would dilute the scene’s meaning: that even at the most bizarre and peripheral moments of his life, his central tragedy intrudes. For months, I’d been crossing out the comeback, and for months Harry had been pleading for it to go back in. Now he wasn’t pleading, he was insisting, and it was 2 a.m., and I was starting to lose it. I said, “Dude, we’ve been over this.”
Why was this one line so important? Why couldn’t he accept my advice? We were leaving out a thousand other things—that’s half the art of memoir, leaving stuff out—so what made this different? Please, I said, trust me. Trust the book.
Although this wasn’t the first time that Harry and I had argued, it felt different; it felt as if we were hurtling toward some kind of decisive rupture, in part because Harry was no longer saying anything. He was just glaring into the camera. Finally, he exhaled and calmly explained that, all his life, people had belittled his intellectual capabilities, and this flash of cleverness proved that, even after being kicked and punched and deprived of sleep and food, he had his wits about him.
“Oh,” I said. “O.K.” It made sense now. But I still refused.
Because, I told him, everything you just said is about you. You want the world to know that you did a good job, that you were smart. But, strange as it may seem, memoir isn’t about you. It’s not even the story of your life. It’s a story carved from your life, a particular series of events chosen because they have the greatest resonance for the widest range of people, and at this point in the story those people don’t need to know anything more than that your captors said a cruel thing about your mom.
Harry looked down. A long time. Was he thinking? Seething? Should I have been more diplomatic? Should I have just given in? I imagined I’d be thrown off the book soon after sunup. I could almost hear the awkward phone call with Harry’s agent, and I was sad. Never mind the financial hit—I was focussed on the emotional shock. All the time, the effort, the intangibles I’d invested in Harry’s memoir, in Harry, would be gone just like that.
After what seemed like an hour, Harry looked up, and we locked eyes. “O.K.,” he said.
“Yes. I get it.”
“Thank you, Harry,” I said, relieved.
He shot me a mischievous grin. “I really enjoy getting you worked up like that.”
I burst into laughter and shook my head, and we moved on to his next set of edits.
Later that morning, after a few hours of sleep, I sat outside worrying. (Mornings are my worry time, along with afternoons and evenings.) I didn’t worry so much about the propriety of arguing with princes, or even the risks. One of a ghostwriter’s main jobs is having a big mouth. You win some, you lose most, but you have to keep pushing, not unlike a demanding parent or a tyrannical coach. Otherwise, you’re nothing but a glorified stenographer, and that’s disloyalty to the author, to the book—to books. Opposition is true Friendship, William Blake wrote, and if I had to choose a ghostwriting credo, that would be it.
No, rather than the rightness of going after Harry, I was questioning the heat with which I’d done so. I scolded myself: It’s not your comeback. It’s not your mother. For the thousandth time in my ghostwriting career, I reminded myself: It’s not your effing book.
Some days, the phone doesn’t stop. Ghostwriters in distress. They ask for ten minutes, half an hour. A coffee date.
“My author can’t remember squat.”
“My author and I have come to despise each other.”
“I can’t get my author to call me back—is it normal for a ghost to get ghosted?”
At the outset, I do what ghostwriters do. I listen. And eventually, after the callers talk themselves out, I ask a few gentle questions. The first (aside from “How did you get this number?”) is always: How bad do you want it? Because things can go sideways in a hurry. An author might know nothing about writing, which is why he hired a ghost. But he may also have the literary self-confidence of Saul Bellow, and good luck telling Saul Bellow that he absolutely may not describe an interesting bowel movement he experienced years ago, as I once had to tell an author. So fight like crazy, I say, but always remember that if push comes to shove no one will have your back. Within the text and without, no one wants to hear from the dumb ghostwriter.
I try not to sound didactic. A lot of what I’ve read about ghostwriting, much of it from accomplished ghostwriters, doesn’t square with my experience. Recording the author? Terrible idea—it makes many authors feel as if they’re being deposed. Dressing like the author? It’s a memoir, not a masquerade party. The ghostwriter for Julian Assange wrote twenty-five thousand words about his methodology, and it sounded to me like Elon Musk on mushrooms—on Mars. That same ghost, however, published a review of “Spare” describing Harry as “off his royal tits” and me as going “all Sartre or Faulkner,” so what do I know? Who am I to offer rules? Maybe the alchemy of each ghost-author pairing is unique.
Therefore, I simply remind the callers that ghostwriting is an art and urge them not to let those who cast it as hacky, shady, or faddish (it’s been around for thousands of years) dim their pride. I also tell them that they’re providing a vital public service, helping to shore up the publishing industry, since most of the titles on this week’s best-seller list were written by someone besides the named author.
Signing off, the callers usually sigh and say thanks and grumble something like “Well, whatever happens, I’m never doing this again.” And I tell them yes, they will, and wish them luck.
How does a person even become a ghostwriter? What’s the path into a profession for which there is no school or certification, and to which no one actually aspires? You never hear a kid say, “One day, I want to write other people’s books.” And yet I think I can detect some hints, some foreshadowing in my origins.
When I was growing up in Manhasset, New York, people would ask: Where’s your dad? My typical answer was an embarrassed shrug. Beats me. My old man wasn’t around, that’s all I knew, all any grownup had the heart to tell me. And yet he was also everywhere. My father was a well-known rock-and-roll d.j., so his Sam Elliott basso profundo was like the Long Island Rail Road, rumbling in the distance at maddeningly regular intervals.
Every time I caught his show, I’d feel confused, empty, sad, but also amazed at how much he had to say. The words, the jokes, the patter—it didn’t stop. Was it my Oedipal counterstrike to fantasize an opposite existence, one in which I just STFU? Less talking, more listening, that was my basic life plan at age ten. In Manhasset, an Irish-Italian enclave, I was surrounded by professional listeners: bartenders and priests. Neither of those careers appealed to me, so I waited, and one afternoon found myself sitting with a cousin at the Squire theatre, in Great Neck, watching a matinée of “All the President’s Men.” Reporters seemed to do nothing but listen. Then they got to turn what they heard into stories, which other people read—no talking required. Sign me up.
My first job out of college was at the New York Times. When I wasn’t fetching coffee and corned beef, I was doing “legwork,” which meant running to a fire, a trial, a murder scene, then filing a memo back to the newsroom. The next morning, I’d open the paper and see my facts, maybe my exact words, under someone else’s name. I didn’t mind; I hated my name. I was born John Joseph Moehringer, Jr., and Senior was M.I.A. Not seeing my name, his name, wasn’t a problem. It was a perk.
Many days at the Times, I’d look around the newsroom, with its orange carpet and pipe-puffing lifers and chattering telex machines, and think, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And then the editors suggested I go somewhere else.
I went west. I got a job at the Rocky Mountain News, a tabloid founded in 1859. Its first readers were the gold miners panning the rivers and creeks of the Rockies, and though I arrived a hundred and thirty-one years later, the paper still read as if it were written for madmen living alone in them thar hills. The articles were thumb-length, the fact checking iffy, and the newsroom mood, many days, bedlam. Some oldsters were volubly grumpy about being on the back slopes of middling careers, others were blessed with unjustified swagger, and a few were dangerously loose cannons. (I’ll never forget the Sunday morning our religion writer, in his weekly column, referred to St. Joseph as “Christ’s stepdad.” The phones exploded.) The general lack of quality control made the paper a playground for me. I was able to go slow, learn from mistakes without being defined by them, and build up rudimentary skills, like writing fast.
What I did best, I discovered, was write for others. The gossip columnist spent most nights in downtown saloons, hunting for scoops, and some mornings he’d shuffle into the newsroom looking rough. One morning, he fixed his red eyes on me, gestured toward his notes, and rasped, “Would you?” I sat at his desk and dashed off his column in twenty minutes. What a rush. Writing under no name was safe; writing under someone else’s name (and picture) was hedonic—a kind of hiding and seeking. Words had never come easy for me, but, when I wrote as someone else, the words, the jokes, the patter—it didn’t stop.
In the fall of 2006, my phone rang. Unknown number. But I instantly recognized the famously soft voice: for two decades, he’d loomed over the tennis world. Now, on the verge of retiring, he told me that he was decompressing from the emotions of the moment by reading my memoir, “The Tender Bar,” which had recently been published. It had him thinking about writing his own. He wondered if I’d come talk to him about it. A few weeks later, we met at a restaurant in his home town, Las Vegas.
Andre Agassi and I were very different, but our connection was instant. He had an eighth-grade education but a profound respect for people who read and write books. I had a regrettably short sporting résumé (my Little League fastball was unhittable) but deep reverence for athletes. Especially the solitaries: tennis players, prizefighters, matadors, who possess that luminous charisma which comes from besting opponents single-handedly. But Andre didn’t want to talk about that. He hated tennis, he said. He wanted to talk about memoir. He had a list of questions. He asked why my memoir was so confessional. I told him that’s how you know you can trust an author—if he’s willing to get raw.
He asked why I’d organized my memoir around other people, rather than myself. I told him that was the kind of memoir I admired. There’s so much power to be gained, and honesty to be achieved, from taking an ostensibly navel-gazing genre and turning the gaze outward. Frank McCourt had a lot of feelings about his brutal Irish childhood, but he kept most of them to himself, focussing instead on his Dad, his Mam, his beloved siblings, the neighbors down the lane.
“I am a part of all that I have met.” It might’ve been that first night, or another, but at some point I shared that line from Tennyson, and Andre loved it. The same almost painful gratitude that I felt toward my mother, and toward my bartender uncle and his barfly friends, who helped her raise me, Andre felt for his trainer and his coach, and for his wife, Stefanie Graf.
But how, he asked, do you write about other people without invading their privacy? That’s the ultimate challenge, I said. I sought permission from nearly everyone I wrote about, and shared early drafts, but sometimes people aren’t speaking to you, and sometimes they’re dead. Sometimes, in order to tell the truth, you simply can’t avoid hurting someone’s feelings. It goes down easier, I said, if you’re equally unsparing about yourself.
He asked if I’d help him do it. I gave him a soft no. I liked his enthusiasm, his boldness—him. But I’d never imagined myself writing someone else’s book, and I already had a job. By now, I’d left the Rocky Mountain News and joined the Los Angeles Times. I was a national correspondent, doing long-form journalism, which I loved. Alas, the Times was about to change. A new gang of editors had come in, and not long after my dinner with Andre they let it be known that the paper would no longer prioritize long-form journalism.
Apart from a beef with my bosses, and apart from the money (Andre was offering a sizable bump from my reporter salary), what finally made me change my no to a yes, put my stuff into storage, and move to Vegas was the sense that Andre was suffering an intense and specific ache that I might be able to cure. He wanted to tell his story and didn’t know how; I’d been there. I’d struggled for years to tell my story.
Every attempt failed, and every failure took a heavy psychic toll. Some days, it felt like a physical blockage, and to this day I believe my story would’ve remained stuck inside me forever if not for one editor at the Times, who on a Sunday afternoon imparted some thunderbolt advice about memoir that steered me onto the right path. I wanted to give Andre that same grace.
Shortly before I moved to Vegas, a friend invited me to a fancy restaurant in the Phoenix suburbs for a gathering of sportswriters covering the 2008 Super Bowl. As the menus were being handed around, my friend clinked a knife against his glass and announced, “O.K., listen up! Moehringer here has been asked by Agassi to ghostwrite his—”
“Exactly. We’ve all done our share of these fucking things—”
“Right! Our mission is not to leave this table until we’ve convinced this idiot to tell Agassi not just no but hell no.”
At once, the meal turned into a raucous meeting of Ghostwriters Anonymous. Everyone had a hard-luck story about being disrespected, dismissed, shouted at, shoved aside, abused in a hilarious variety of ways by an astonishing array of celebrities, though I mostly remember the jocks. The legendary basketball player who wouldn’t come to the door for his first appointment with his ghost, then appeared for the second buck naked. The hockey great with the personality of a hockey stick, who had so few thoughts about his time on this planet, so little interest in his own book, that he gave his ghost an epic case of writer’s block. The notorious linebacker who, days before his memoir was due to the publisher, informed his ghost that the co-writing credit would go to his psychotherapist.
Between gasping and laughing, I asked the table, “Why do they do it? Why do they treat ghostwriters so badly?” I was bombarded with theories.
Authors feel ashamed about needing someone to write their story, and that shame makes them behave in shameful ways.
Authors think they could write the book themselves, if only they had time, so they resent having to pay you to do it.
Authors spend their lives safeguarding their secrets, and now you come along with your little notebook and pesky questions and suddenly they have to rip back the curtain? Boo.
But if all authors treat all ghosts badly, I wondered, and if it’s not your book in the first place, why not cash the check and move on? Why does it hurt so much? I don’t recall anyone having a good answer for that.
“Please,” I said to Andre, “don’t give me a story to tell at future Super Bowls.” He grinned and said he’d do his best. He did better than that. In two years of working together, we never exchanged a harsh word, not even when he felt my first draft needed work.
Maybe the Germans have a term for it, the particular facial expression of someone reading something about his life that’s even the tiniest bit wrong. Schaudergesicht? I saw that look on Andre’s face, and it made me want to lie down on the floor. But, unlike me, he didn’t overreact. He knew that putting a first serve into the net is no big deal. He made countless fixes, and I made fixes to his fixes, and together we made ten thousand more, and in time we arrived at a draft that satisfied us both. The collaboration was so close, so synchronous, you’d have to call the eventual voice of the memoir a hybrid—though it’s all Andre. That’s the mystic paradox of ghostwriting: you’re inherent and nowhere; vital and invisible. To borrow an image from William Gass, you’re the air in someone else’s trumpet.
“Open,” by Andre Agassi, was published on November 9, 2009. Andre was pleased, reviewers were complimentary, and I soon had offers to ghost other people’s memoirs. Before deciding what to do next, I needed to get away, clear my head. I went to the Green Mountains. For two days, I drove around, stopped at wayside meadows, sat under trees and watched the clouds—until one late afternoon I began feeling unwell. I bought some cold medicine, pulled into the first bed-and-breakfast I saw, and climbed into bed. Hand-sewn quilt under my chin, I switched on the TV. There was Andre, on a late-night talk show.
The host was praising “Open,” and Agassi was being his typical charming, humble self. Now the host was praising the writing. Agassi continued to be humble. Thank you, thank you. But I dared to hope he might mention . . . me? An indefensible, illogical hope: Andre had asked me to put my name on the cover, and I’d declined. Nevertheless, right before zonking out, I started muttering at the TV, “Say my name.” I got a bit louder. “Say my name!” I got pretty rowdy. “Say my fucking name!”
Seven hours later, I stumbled downstairs to the breakfast room and caught a weird vibe. Guests stared. Several peered over my shoulder to see who was with me. What the? I sat alone, eating some pancakes, until I got it. The bed-and-breakfast had to be three hundred years old, with walls made of pre-Revolutionary cardboard—clearly every guest had heard me. Say my name!
I took it as a lesson. NyQuil was to blame, but also creeping narcissism. The gods were admonishing me: You can’t be Mister Rogers while ghosting the book and John McEnroe when it’s done. I drove away from Vermont with newfound clarity. I’m not cut out for this ghostwriting thing. I needed to get back to my first love, journalism, and to writing my own books.
During the next year or so, I freelanced for magazines while making notes for a novel. Then once more to the wilderness. I rented a tiny cabin in the far corner of nowhere and, for a full winter, rarely left. No TV, no radio, no Wi-Fi. For entertainment, I listened to the silver foxes screaming at night in a nearby forest, and I read dozens of books. But mostly I sat before the woodstove and tried to inhabit the minds of my characters. The novel was historical fiction, based on the decades-long crime spree of America’s most prolific bank robber, but also based on my disgust with the bankers who had recently devastated the global financial system. In real life, my bank-robbing protagonist wrote a memoir, with a ghostwriter, which was full of lies or delusions. I thought it might be fascinating to override that memoir with solid research, overwrite the ghostwriter, and become, in effect, the ghostwriter of the ghostwriter of a ghost.
I gave everything I had to that novel, but when it was published, in 2012, it got mauled by an influential critic. The review was then instantly tweeted by countless humanitarians, often with sidesplitting commentary like “Ouch.” I was on book tour at the time and read the review in a pitch-dark hotel room knowing full well what it meant: the book was stillborn. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand. Part of me wanted to never leave that room. Part of me never did.
I barely slept or ate for months. My savings ran down. Occasionally, I’d take on a freelance assignment, profile an athlete for a magazine, but mostly I was in hibernation. Then one day the phone rang. A soft voice, vaguely familiar. Andre, asking if I was up for working with someone on a memoir.
Andre sighed. Founder of Nike?
A business book didn’t seem like my thing. But I needed to do something, and writing my own stuff was out. I went to the initial meeting thinking, It’s only an hour of my life. It wound up being three years.
Luckily, Phil had no interest in doing the typical C.E.O. auto-hagiography. He’d sought writing advice from Tobias Wolff, he was pals with a Pulitzer-winning novelist. He wanted to write a literary memoir, unfolding his mistakes, his anxieties—his quest. He viewed entrepreneurship, and sports, as a spiritual search. (He’d read deeply in Taoism and Zen.) Since I, too, was in search of meaning, I thought his book might be just the thing I needed.
It was. It was also, in every sense of that overused phrase, a labor of love. (I married the book’s editor.) When “Shoe Dog” was published, in April, 2016, I reflected on the dire warnings I’d heard at Super Bowl XLII and thought, What were they talking about? I felt like a guy, warned off by a bunch of wizened gamblers, who hits the jackpot twice with the first two nickels he sticks into a slot machine. Then again, I figured, better quit while I’m ahead.
Back to magazine writing. I also dared to start another novel. More personal, more difficult than the last, it absorbed me totally and I was tunnelling toward a draft while also starting a family. There was no time for anything else, no desire. And yet some days I’d hear that siren call. An actor, an activist, a billionaire, a soldier, a politician, another billionaire, a lunatic would phone, seeking help with a memoir.
Twice I said yes. Not for the money. I’ve never taken a ghosting gig for the money. But twice I felt that I had no choice, that the story was too cool, the author just too compelling, and twice the author freaked out at my first draft. Twice I explained that first drafts are always flawed, that error is the mother of truth, but it wasn’t just the errors. It was the confessions, the revelations, the cold-blooded honesty that memoir requires. Everyone says they want to get raw until they see how raw feels.
Twice the author killed the book. Twice I sat before a stack of pages into which I’d poured my soul and years of my life, knowing they were good, and knowing that they were about to go into a drawer forever. Twice I said to my wife, Never again.
And then, in the summer of 2020, I got a text. The familiar query. Would you be interested in speaking with someone about ghosting a memoir? I shook my head no. I covered my eyes. I picked up the phone and heard myself blurting, Who?
I agreed to a Zoom. I was curious, of course. Who wouldn’t be? I wondered what the real story was. I wondered if we’d have any chemistry. We did, and there was, I think, a surprising reason. Princess Diana had died twenty-three years before our first conversation, and my mother, Dorothy Moehringer, had just died, and our griefs felt equally fresh.
Still, I hesitated. Harry wasn’t sure how much he wanted to say in his memoir, and that concerned me. I’d heard similar reservations, early on, from both authors who’d ultimately killed their memoirs. Also, I knew that whatever Harry said, whenever he said it, would set off a storm. I am not, by nature, a storm chaser. And there were logistical considerations. In the early stages of a global pandemic, it was impossible to predict when I’d be able to sit down with Harry in the same room. How do you write about someone you can’t meet?
Harry had no deadline, however, and that enticed me. Many authors are in a hot hurry, and some ghosts are happy to oblige. They churn and burn, producing three or four books a year. I go painfully slow; I don’t know any other way. Also, I just liked the dude. I called him dude right away; it made him chuckle. I found his story, as he outlined it in broad strokes, relatable and infuriating. The way he’d been treated, by both strangers and intimates, was grotesque. In retrospect, though, I think I selfishly welcomed the idea of being able to speak with someone, an expert, about that never-ending feeling of wishing you could call your mom.
Harry and I made steady progress in the course of 2020, largely because the world didn’t know what we were up to. We could revel in the privacy of our Zoom bubble. As Harry grew to trust me, he brought other people into the bubble, connecting me with his inner circle, a vital phase in every ghosting job. There is always someone who knows your author’s life better than he does, and your task is to find that person fast and interview his socks off.
As the pandemic waned, I was finally able to travel to Montecito. I went once with my wife and children. (Harry won the heart of my daughter, Gracie, with his vast “Moana” scholarship; his favorite scene, he told her, is when Heihei, the silly chicken, finds himself lost at sea.) I also went twice by myself. Harry put me up in his guesthouse, where Meghan and Archie would visit me on their afternoon walks. Meghan, knowing I was missing my family, was forever bringing trays of food and sweets.
Little by little, Harry and I amassed hundreds of thousands of words. When we weren’t Zooming or phoning, we were texting around the clock. In due time, no subject was off the table. I felt honored by his candor, and I could tell that he felt astonished by it. And energized. While I always emphasized storytelling and scenes, Harry couldn’t escape the wish that “Spare” might be a rebuttal to every lie ever published about him. As Borges dreamed of endless libraries, Harry dreams of endless retractions, which meant no end of revelations. He knew, of course, that some people would be aghast at first. “Why on earth would Harry talk about that?” But he had faith that they would soon see: because someone else already talked about it, and got it wrong.
He was joyful at this prospect; everything in our bubble was good. Then someone leaked news of the book.
Whoever it was, their callousness toward Harry extended to me. I had a clause in my contract giving me the right to remain unidentified, a clause I always insist on, but the leaker blew that up by divulging my name to the press. Along with pretty much anyone who has had anything to do with Harry, I woke one morning to find myself squinting into a gigantic searchlight. Every hour, another piece would drop, each one wrong. My fee was wrong, my bio was wrong, even my name.
One royal expert cautioned that, because of my involvement in the book, Harry’s father should be “looking for a pile of coats to hide under.” When I mentioned this to Harry, he stared. “Why?”
“Because I have daddy issues.” We laughed and got back to discussing our mothers.
The genesis of my relationship with Harry was constantly misreported. Harry and I were introduced by George Clooney, the British newspapers proclaimed, even though I’ve never met George Clooney. Yes, he was directing a film based on my memoir, but I’ve never been in the man’s presence, never communicated with him in any way. I wanted to correct the record, write an op-ed or something, tweet some facts. But no. I reminded myself: ghosts don’t speak. One day, though, I did share my frustration with Harry. I bemoaned that these fictions about me were spreading and hardening into orthodoxy. He tilted his head: Welcome to my world, dude. By now, Harry was calling me dude.
A week before its pub date, “Spare” was leaked. A Madrid bookshop reportedly put embargoed copies of the Spanish version on its shelves, “by accident,” and reporters descended. In no time, Fleet Street had assembled crews of translators to reverse-engineer the book from Spanish to English, and with so many translators working on tight deadline the results read like bad Borat. One example among many was the passage about Harry losing his virginity. Per the British press, Harry recounts, “I mounted her quickly . . .” But of course he doesn’t. I can assert with one-hundred-per-cent confidence that no one gets “mounted,” quickly or otherwise, in “Spare.”
I didn’t have time to be horrified. When the book was officially released, the bad translations didn’t stop. They multiplied. The British press now converted the book into their native tongue, that jabberwocky of bonkers hot takes and classist snark. Facts were wrenched out of context, complex emotions were reduced to cartoonish idiocy, innocent passages were hyped into outrages—and there were so many falsehoods. One British newspaper chased down Harry’s flight instructor. Headline: “Prince Harry’s army instructor says story in Spare book is ‘complete fantasy.’ ” Hours later, the instructor posted a lengthy comment beneath the article, swearing that those words, “complete fantasy,” never came out of his mouth. Indeed, they were nowhere in the piece, only in the bogus headline, which had gone viral. The newspaper had made it up, the instructor said, stressing that Harry was one of his finest students.
The only other time I’d witnessed this sort of frenzied mob was with LeBron James, whom I’d interviewed before and after his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat. I couldn’t fathom the toxic cloud of hatred that trailed him. Fans, particularly Cavs loyalists, didn’t just decry James. They wished him dead. They burned his jersey, threw rocks at his image. And the media egged them on. In those first days of “Spare,” I found myself wondering what the ecstatic contempt for Prince Harry and King James had in common. Racism, surely. Also, each man had committed the sin of publicly spurning his homeland. But the biggest factor, I came to believe, was money. In times of great economic distress, many people are triggered by someone who has so much doing anything to try to improve his lot.
Within days, the amorphous campaign against “Spare” seemed to narrow to a single point of attack: that Harry’s memoir, rigorously fact-checked, was rife with errors. I can’t think of anything that rankles quite like being called sloppy by people who routinely trample facts in pursuit of their royal prey, and this now happened every few minutes to Harry and, by extension, to me. In one section of the book, for instance, Harry reveals that he used to live for the yearly sales at TK Maxx, the discount clothing chain. Not so fast, said the monarchists at TK Maxx corporate, who rushed out a statement declaring that TK Maxx never has sales, just great savings all the time! Oh, snap! Gotcha, Prince George Santos! Except that people around the world immediately posted screenshots of TK Maxx touting sales on its official Twitter account. (Surely TK Maxx’s effort to discredit Harry’s memoir was unrelated to the company’s long-standing partnership with Prince Charles and his charitable trust.)
Ghostwriters don’t speak, I reminded myself over and over. But I had to do something. So I ventured one small gesture. I retweeted a few quotes from Mary Karr about inadvertent error in memories and memoir, plus seemingly innocuous quotes from “Spare” about the way Harry’s memory works. (He can’t recall much from the years right after his mother died, and for the most part remembers places better than people—possibly because places didn’t let him down the way people did.) Smooth move, ghostwriter. My tweets were seized upon, deliberately misinterpreted by trolls, and turned into headlines by real news outlets. Harry’s ghostwriter admits the book is all lies.
One of Harry’s friends gave a book party. My wife and I attended.
We were feeling fragile as we arrived, and it had nothing to do with Twitter. Days earlier, we’d been stalked, followed in our car as we drove our son to preschool. When I lifted him out of his seat, a paparazzo leaped from his car and stood in the middle of the road, taking aim with his enormous lens and scaring the hell out of everyone at dropoff. Then, not one hour later, as I sat at my desk, trying to calm myself, I looked up to see a woman’s face at my window. As if in a dream, I walked to the window and asked, “Who are you?” Through the glass, she whispered, “I’m from the Mail on Sunday.”
I lowered the shade, phoned an old friend—the same friend whose columns I used to ghostwrite in Colorado. He listened but didn’t get it. How could he get it? So I called the only friend who might.
It was like telling Taylor Swift about a bad breakup. It was like singing “Hallelujah” to Leonard Cohen. Harry was all heart. He asked if my family was O.K., asked for physical descriptions of the people harassing us, promised to make some calls, see if anything could be done. We both knew nothing could be done, but still. I felt gratitude, and some regret. I’d worked hard to understand the ordeals of Harry Windsor, and now I saw that I understood nothing. Empathy is thin gruel compared with the marrow of experience. One morning of what Harry had endured since birth made me desperate to take another crack at the pages in “Spare” that talk about the media.
Too late. The book was out, the party in full swing. As we walked into the house, I looked around, nervous, unsure of what state we’d find the author in. Was he, too, feeling fragile? Was he as keen as I was to organize a global boycott of TK Maxx?
He appeared, marching toward us, looking flushed. Uh-oh, I thought, before registering that it was a good flush. His smile was wide as he embraced us both. He was overjoyed by many things. The numbers, naturally. Guinness World Records had just certified his memoir as the fastest-selling nonfiction book in the history of the world. But, more than that, readers were reading, at last, the actual book, not Murdoched chunks laced with poison, and their online reviews were overwhelmingly effusive. Many said Harry’s candor about family dysfunction, about losing a parent, had given them solace.
The guests were summoned into the living room. There were several lovely toasts to Harry, then the Prince stepped forward. I’d never seen him so self-possessed and expansive. He thanked his publishing team, his editor, me. He mentioned my advice, to “trust the book,” and said he was glad that he did, because it felt incredible to have the truth out there, to feel—his voice caught—“free.” There were tears in his eyes. Mine, too.
And yet once a ghost, always a ghost. I couldn’t help obsessing about that word “free.” If he’d used that in one of our Zoom sessions, I’d have pushed back. Harry first felt liberated when he fell in love with Meghan, and again when they fled Britain, and what he felt now, for the first time in his life, was heard. That imperious Windsor motto, “Never complain, never explain,” is really just a prettified omertà, which my wife suggests might have prolonged Harry’s grief. His family actively discourages talking, a stoicism for which they’re widely lauded, but if you don’t speak your emotions you serve them, and if you don’t tell your story you lose it—or, what might be worse, you get lost inside it. Telling is how we cement details, preserve continuity, stay sane. We say ourselves into being every day, or else. Heard, Harry, heard—I could hear myself making the case to him late at night, and I could see Harry’s nose wrinkle as he argued for his word, and I reproached myself once more: Not your effing book.
But, after we hugged Harry goodbye, after we thanked Meghan for toys she’d sent our children, I had a second thought about silence. Ghosts don’t speak—says who? Maybe they can. Maybe sometimes they should.
Several weeks later, I was having breakfast with my family. The children were eating and my wife and I were talking about ghostwriting. Someone had just called, seeking help with their memoir. Intriguing person, but the answer was going to be no. I wanted to resume work on my novel. Our five-year-old daughter looked up from her cinnamon toast and asked, “What is ghostwriting?”
My wife and I gazed at each other as if she’d asked, What is God?
“Well,” I said, drawing a blank. “O.K., you know how you love art?”
She nodded. She loves few things more. An artist is what she hopes to be.
“Imagine if one of your classmates wanted to say something, express something, but they couldn’t draw. Imagine if they asked you to draw a picture for them.”
“I would do it,” she said.
It occurred to me that this might be the closest I’d ever come to a workable definition. It certainly landed with our daughter. You could see it in her eyes. She got off her chair and leaned against me. “Daddy, I will be your ghostwriter.”
My wife laughed. I laughed. “Thank you, sweetheart,” I said.
But that wasn’t what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was “No, Gracie. Nope. Keep doing your own pictures.”
Very few people are aware that the oceans are filled with plastic bags. The bags are discarded from boats. They flow into the sea from rivers. I first saw the severity of the situation when we took a river cruise along the Siene in France 10 years ago. This was supposed to be a scenic trip in one of the most gorgeous countries in the world. Eliot and I had a suite with a big picture window right at the surface of the water. You couldn’t have asked for a better view. I was aghast when I witnessed the river covered in plastic. It looked like a garbage dump. Plastic bags were floating in the river, or hanging from bushes along the borders of the water. I spent a good portion of that trip staring at the river in disbelief. Since then I have learned that the oceans all over the world are in the same condition. Friends of mine, who swim in Biscayne Bay in Miami, spend time several times a week collecting trash out of the water in an effort to clean it up. The trouble is the garbage is building up faster than the cleanup. I came across this article in Wired magazine that describes just how awful the situation is today—-LWH.
Patches of floating plastic are teeming with life, and cleanup companies hauling trash out of the water risk destroying a marine habitat.
IN THE NORTHERN Pacific Ocean, two sky-blue ships are sailing parallel to one another, several hundred meters apart. Pulled behind them is a giant U-shaped barrier, which almost looks like a fishing net. You could be forgiven for thinking they are trawlers. But they’re aiming to catch something else: plastic.
The Ocean Cleanup (TOC) is the world’s largest organization working to remove floating plastic from the ocean. Since 2021, the nonprofit has recovered 200 tons of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area between California and Hawaii that is notorious for its floating waste, which is concentrated there by ocean currents. In this area, which is roughly three times the size of France, at least 400 times the amount of plastic extracted by TOC remains, to which more is added every day as it is discarded from boats or flows into the sea from rivers.
To Boyan Slat, the founder of TOC, this cleanup work “signifies an age in which we’re starting to correct the problems we ourselves have created.” To TOC’s critics, the project is costly and inefficient—a distraction from the root of the problem, which is too much plastic being discarded and not enough preventing it from getting into the sea. But more recently, new charges have been laid at the door of TOC: that its cleanup efforts are capturing not only plastic but also sea creatures that live among it. That they are, essentially, disrupting a marine habitat.
According to a new study, floating marine life, known as “neuston,” often ends up in the same places as plastic. It’s not that the plastic is somehow creating an opportunity for life to emerge, says marine biologist and corresponding author Rebecca Helm, but rather that plastic debris and organisms tend to float up and clump together in water, like cereal in a bowl. Add to this wind and swirling ocean currents, which bring plastic and neuston in from afar, and “patches” form.
Back in 2019, a rare occurrence allowed Helm, who is an assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, to study the contents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A sailing crew accompanied long-distance swimmer Benoît Lecomte as he swam right through the patch. Behind them they towed a small net along the surface of the water every day to take samples of floating marine life and plastic debris. They did the same in the periphery and outside the patch for comparison. They then photographed 22 of these samples.
Working with colleagues at the University of Hull in the UK, Helm then set about analyzing them, using image-processing software to flag different kinds of neustonic species and plastic debris in the photos. The team found that concentrations of both plastic and neuston were higher inside the patch than outside. Jellyfish-like species known as by-the-wind sailors and blue buttons were particularly visible. So too were violet snails.
It was far from a perfect method. Twenty-two photos is not a lot, and an examination of the actual samples rather than pictures of them would have been more rigorous. Plus, using “surface tows” to sample the ocean’s contents “is an imperfect art,” says Helm. Sometimes the net bounces above the waves, other times it goes below, missing some water and the plastic and organisms floating in it. But, she adds, it’s pretty clear from the photos that there’s a lot of neuston present in the garbage patch.
Helm has not shied away from publicly criticizing TOC, pointing out that the nets it uses to collect plastic could inadvertently trap neuston. Many species are not capable of swimming. By-the-wind sailors, for example, have a small stiff sail that sticks out of the water to catch the wind, while blue buttons and violet snails rely on currents to drift through the ocean. They are small creatures, but so are the meshes in the nets. And if neustonic species were killed in large numbers, it could have an impact on the turtles, fish, seabirds, and other animals that eat them.
TOC says it is well aware of the potential harm to marine life and that it has adapted the design of its plastic-catcher in recent years. The U-shaped barrier that guides the plastic into a retention zone at its far end has a net that is 3 meters deep below the surface, and it moves slowly through the water to allow mobile species to swim away. There are lights and acoustic deterrents, underwater cameras to detect protected species such as sea turtles, and escape hatches on the underside of the nets for animals that get caught. Before hoisting the nets aboard, the crew leaves them in the water for up to an hour to give animals time to escape. Nonetheless, fish, small sharks, mollusks, and sea turtles have been caught accidentally, although they make up a tiny fraction of the catch weight compared to plastic, TOC says.
In addition to collecting plastic, TOC conducts its own ocean research, as well as environmental impact assessments that determine and describe the potential damage of the cleanups. But as a private player operating in international waters where few rules apply, TOC is not required to publish these. “We do much more than just clean, which is difficult enough. We also actively contribute to the understanding of an ecosystem that we barely know,” says Matthias Egger, whose role is to conduct research that helps TOC engineers further develop and scale up its cleanup system. In recent years, neuston have become a particular focus.
Egger and his team have been sampling the surface water in front of and behind the cleanup system on a weekly basis to compare the composition of neuston, to understand which species to look out for, what effect the cleanup system has, and whether there are seasonal differences in how many neuston are present. The data is currently being evaluated and is due to be published this year. “But for the initial results, we are really happy to see very little impact,” says Egger.
Egger stresses that TOC wants to make sure its plastic-cleaning efforts are helping marine life, not harming it. But it’s more complicated than simply trying to minimize the amount of marine life taken out of the ocean along with plastic, he says. If crustaceans or sea anemones from other regions cling to plastic debris and hitch a ride to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they could feed on neuston there. Is it then right or wrong to remove these invaders, who may be disrupting the local ecosystem? “There is always marine life associated with the plastic,” says Egger. “But very often, it’s marine life that does not belong there, because the plastic does not belong there.”
A study published in mid-April offers some clues as to which traveling species could pose a problem. Researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center examined 105 pieces of plastic debris they had obtained in frozen form from TOC. They found traces of species normally found in coastal waters that had used floating plastic as rafts and ended up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—in particular nets, ropes, buoys, boxes, and cylindrical eel traps from the fishing industry. Some species also appeared to reproduce in their new offshore home. For example, some shrimp-like amphipods were carrying eggs in their brood pouches.
This isn’t surprising, says Martin Thiel, a professor of marine biology at the Catholic University of the North in Chile. Marine organisms have been found colonizing all sorts of floating materials in the ocean, including volcanic pumice, seaweeds, and wood, at least until these items start to degrade and sink. Whether it’s organisms that settle on more durable plastic debris or that float at the surface next to it, Thiel says that they can’t simply be separated from plastic. “What’s out there, we better leave it in peace, because by removing it, we may do more harm,” he says.
Lanna Cheng, professor emerita at the University of California, San Diego, is somewhat less concerned. Sometimes neuston are floating among plastic, sometimes not. Some neuston are able to swim up and down. And storms can come along and mix things up. Because neuston aggregations appear to be so patchy, accidental catches would likely not significantly affect their populations, she says. And because TOC invests so much time and resources in offshore trips, she welcomes the organization’s contribution to science by offering marine biologists like her opportunities to collect samples. “The surface community [of marine life] is a community that was hardly studied until plastic pollution became a problem. Part of the reason was that there was very little economic value,” she says. Cheng herself has spent her career studying insects that have evolved to literally walk on the open ocean and survive.
Helm, however, remains critical, in part because she believes that studies should first show that there is no impact on neuston, before cleanups are carried out. “If they really do the work and demonstrate that their efforts have no impact on ocean surface life, then I will be excited to see that they took the criticism and made changes,” she says. One change crucial to neustonic species was made recently. In May 2023, TOC more than doubled the length of its net barrier, which now extends to 1,750 meters. As part of the upgrade, the mesh size of the nets in the retention zone, where plastic is held before being hoisted onto the ships, has been increased from 10 to 50 millimeters square. This should allow very small creatures like blue buttons and violet snails to pass through the nets, but by-the-wind sailors, for example, can grow larger than this. However, increase the mesh size any more than this, and pieces of debris could start to seep through.
The two sky-blue ships are currently cruising across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch again, testing the updated barrier in the hope that they can collect more plastic per trip. Ridding the open ocean of plastic remains a Sisyphean task. As more plastic enters the patch, and scientists learn more about the creatures living there, TOC still has many obstacles to overcome before it can scale up its operations. “Our purpose is to help those organisms out there, but you need to make sure that the way you help is actually helping them,” says Egger. “And that’s what we’re trying to figure out