Publishing: A Friendly Ghost

Pablo Fenjves first made a name for himself as the ghostwriter on "If I Did It," the hypothetical confession by O. J. Simpson in which The Juice explained how he might have killed his ex-wife and Ron Goldman, if he actually had. Talk about a mess, what with Simpson denying that he'd confessed anything, the publisher dropping the book entirely and months of legal sparring over who owned the manuscript and whether the thing should be published at all. So you'd think that Fenjves might shy away from high-profile controversy for a while. Right. His latest book project, "Vindicated," is Jose Canseco's sequel to "Juiced," in which the former baseball star threatens to spill the beans on who really was using steroids in Major League Baseball. But the radioactive subject matter wasn't what worried Fenjves when he agreed to do the book. He had never met Canseco, so he'd never asked him one ticklish question: "Does Jose know I ghost-wrote his ex-wife's book, too?"

"Famous ghostwriter" is something of an oxymoron, but Fenjves now has a surprising visibility in an invisible calling. He has mixed feelings about that. It's certainly juiced his own career. "Vindicated" publisher Jen Bergstrom calls Fenjves "the best in the business," and he has plenty of work lined up; after the Canseco book he's got two books coming out in April, including one with TV psychic Lisa Williams. But semi-fame has its price, too. Fenjves wasn't very happy when a Miami Herald columnist blasted him recently by saying, "All you need to know about Jose Canseco's book sequel on steroids is that the ghost writer, Pablo Fenjves, is the same guy who ghost-wrote O.J. Simpson's stillborn If I Did It." Even worse: he frets that all the attention for being what he calls "the go-to ghostwriter for bad boys" will pigeonhole him as a writer with no range—and few interests beyond celebrity trouble.

Fenjves (the J is silent) got started in 2001, when Judith Regan—the publisher of "If I Did It"—approached him about helping the model Janice Dickinson write a memoir. Regan and Fenjves had met at the National Enquirer in 1978, where Fenjves spent a year writing stranger-than-fiction yarns: the man who fell from an airplane—and lived!, etc. He had sold more than a dozen unproduced screenplays and had 10 made-for-TV movie credits, but screenwriting was slow, so he did the Dickinson book, then one on the comedian Bernie Mac. Since then he's produced books for convicted murderer Scott Peterson's half-sister Anne Bird and girlfriend Amber Frey. But he doesn't just do flash and trash. He helped "Kosher Sex" author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach write a book on how to talk to kids. He also wrote a parody of James Frey's ersatz memoir that he called "A Million Little Lies." "I'd like to think I'm more than the Hemingway of trash," he says.

Fenjves comes across as smart, funny and more eager to chat about his 10-year-old son than his celebrity acquaintances. He was briefly famous during the Simpson trial as a neighbor of Nicole's who testified that he had heard the "plaintive wail" of a dog that prosecutors claimed was her Akita the night of the murders, but soon lapsed back into "the comfort of my relative anonymity." (O.J. recalled Fenjves's testimony, but didn't hold it against him.) He accepts that the name in lights has final say over the contents. Even Simpson: when they got to the murder chapter—in which Simpson talked about standing before Nicole and Ron holding a knife—Simpson balked at narrating the killings and said, "I don't give a s––t what you write. You can write I blacked out if you want to." So Fenjves inserted a bizarre fade-out. "Then something went horribly wrong … and I know what happened but can't tell you exactly how."

Despite the unsung nature of his job, Fenjves does have his pride. He points to a framed copy of the March 20, 2005, New York Times best-seller list in his office showing the Bird book at No. 1 and Frey's at No. 14. "How many writers can say that?" Fenjves asks. And he takes exception to critics who complain that his books aren't literary enough. "My job isn't to make Amber Frey sound like Jane Austen or make O. J. Simpson sound like Marcel Proust," he says. "My job is to make them sound as much like themselves as I can." And sometimes under difficult circumstances. He met Canseco on Jan. 2—Fenjves's work on Jessica Canseco's "Juicy" hadn't bothered her ex-husband—and had just four weeks to put together the 60,000-word manuscript to meet a March 31 publication date. "He knew what he wanted to say, and we just focused on the book," says Fenjves, adding only that the book is "full of rich anecdotes" about the steroid era. "I don't think anybody is going to be disappointed." Still, he's itching to work on more creative projects, too. He's thinking of writing a novel about a fictional ghostwriter. "There could be a person he writes about who may or may not have committed a murder," Fenjves says with a smile. C'mon. Who would believe a story like that?

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