Davin Seay: The Collaborationist

Davin Seay is a professional co-author. His name typically appears in smaller type and lighter ink next to a more famous author's name on a book cover. But Seay (pronounced SEE) is not a "ghost" writer. He gets credit.

And he deserves it. He's co-authored the life stories of Snoop Dogg and Al Green, Erik Estrada and Dion Dimucci (of Dion and the Belmonts, the doo-wop group that sang "The Wanderer"). Last year, he co-wrote In Justice with David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico whose political firing helped trigger the scandal that brought down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Seay's 14th book -- Mission: Black List #1, The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein as Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture -- will come out in December. It's written with Eric Maddox, a former Army interrogator in Iraq.

Seay, 59, lives in Los Angeles. I spoke to him this week as he celebrated the completion of his latest collaboration, which will be published in the spring. Called Crystal Clear, it's the story of former Olympic hockey player Eric LeMarque, who got high on methamphetamines, went snowboarding at a ski resort and was lost for a week in the Sierra Nevada.

AC: As a perennial co-author, always getting second billing, which vice president do you most identify with: the secretly powerful Dick Cheney, the honorable loser Al Gore, or the get-no-respect Dan Quayle?

Seay: I would have to say Cheney, the power behind the throne. These books would not be possible without me. What I do is not rocket science, but it's very specialized. It takes a particular kind of writer to step out of the way and make it work.

AC: How'd you get into the co-author business? They don't teach that in college.

Seay: I didn't go to college. . . I've been writing all my adult life. I used to work in the music business, as a publicist for Warner Brothers. I used to write artist bios and press materials. I did hundreds and hundreds of interviews with musicians. I just carried that technique over, to listen and listen until you find the thematic core.

AC: Dramatic core?

Seay: Thematic core. There are thematic cores to people's lives, and you try and find them.

AC: Tell me about the financial side of the co-authoring business.

Seay: I don't want to talk money. Are you asking about percentages?

AC: Sure, percentages.

Seay: These deals are pretty straightforward, anywhere from 50-50 to 40-60. Sometimes it's a flat fee. If it's a percentage, I get a share of the revenue stream. It looks like Mission: Black List is going to be a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, an audio book and there's some movie interest. If those pan out, I'll get a portion of the revenues.

AC: If you were a ghost writer working anonymously, would you earn more or less?

Seay: I don't know. I never do uncredited work. Nobody that I've ever worked with has insisted that I be anonymous. They know there's a lot of value-added in what I do. I tell people that I'm trying to render their story in their words; they're the final arbiter of what's on the page. I'm not trying to prove anything in the literary realm. I'm trying to render their story in the best way that I can.

AC: Who comes to you with a book proposal: a publisher, an agent or a famous person who wants help with a book?

Seay: I have an agent, he brings me some material. Sometimes I find the material on my own. [One of those was] about a former FBI agent, Charlie Hess, who was working cold cases for the sheriff's department in Colorado Springs as a volunteer, just to stay busy in retirement. He resolved a serial murder.

AC: Who's the toughest character you've worked with: FBI agent Charlie Hess, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox or Snoop Dogg?

Seay: Eric Maddox. Eric had very specific criteria for the range of language he could use. It took me a while to understand how he wanted to express things in simple terms, no elaboration. I had to develop an entirely different style of writing to meet his specifications. He knew what he wanted when he saw it. . . a particular kind of military language, unadorned.

AC: Who told you the most jaw-dropping story?

Seay: Eric LeMarque. He was lost in the wilderness for eight days. He went in with four pieces of bubble gum, an MP3 player and a hooded sweat shirt. Eight days later, he was still alive. He was chased by wolves, he fell into a freezing river, he was almost swept over a waterfall. It was an astonishing story. . . . Did I mention that he lost both of his legs to frostbite?

-- Alan Cooperman

By Alan Cooperman |  October 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Alan Cooperman
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