About Elisa Ung

There’s this great part in “Hamilton: The Musical” where Alexander Hamilton has just learned that George Washington is stepping down from the presidency. Hamilton peppers Washington with questions about his reasoning, then embarks on the process of helping Washington bid farewell to the nation. 

You can see the collaborative writing process at work: Hamilton thinks out loud as he nudges Washington’s words into a lyrical story of humility and pride. As he does, Hamilton steps back into the shadows and Washington walks forward into the spotlight, delivering his famous farewell speech.

That’s how collaborative writing works. You’re Washington, I’m Hamilton — minus the appetite for duels. 

I spend a lot of time geeking out on musicals. They’ve taught me to listen for rhythms and cadences in authors’ voices and to translate those to compelling text. They help me understand how to respect readers by telling the most powerful story possible in the least amount of time. Most of all, musicals provide entertaining case studies in how to turn pain, humor, disappointments, and victories into memorable lessons.  

My professional writing career began in America’s birthplace, Philadelphia. As a news reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I covered the early 2000s Oxycontin epidemic in Philadelphia. I reported from New York City after Sept. 11, I tracked development along the waterfront in Camden, New Jersey (the country’s poorest city) and I put my political science degree to use covering New Jersey state government. I won several regional awards for public service and breaking news. I also learned that it can be very hard to hear public officials in a crowded room even when you are smashed right up against them.

At a press conference with U.S. Sen Robert Menendez and then-New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2005.
Photo credit: Keith Meyers © 2005 The New York Times Company

I was also an Arthur F. Burns Fellow at Deutsche Welle in Berlin, Germany, where my most memorable moment was interviewing the American commander who was on duty when East Germans began constructing the Berlin Wall

A 2014 lunch with Mary Higgins Clark at Aldo & Gianni restaurant in Montvale, New Jersey.
Photo credit: Carmine Galasso

I then spent almost a decade as a restaurant critic, dining columnist and food writer for Northjersey.com and The (Bergen) Record. Out of hundreds of meals eaten on the job, my favorite was spent with the bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark, quizzing her about the role of food and cooking in her mystery novels. I still think of her each time I eat linguine with clam sauce, one of her characters’ favorite comfort foods. 

“Getting paid to eat — that sounds like a dream job!” People told me this over and over, and they were right, but not for the reason they assumed. Writing about food became a dream job because food is such a powerful vehicle to find and tell stories of hard work, personal expression, immigrants sharing their culture, relationships deepening over a meal. The longtime diner owner and the celebrity chef both have stories; so do the farmers who grew their food, the waiters who serve their dishes, and butchers who supply their meat. Actually, some of those butchers are more famous than the chefs.

In celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda’s dry-aging room, surrounded by steaks in progress.
Photo credit: Leslie Barbaro 

The best compliment I got as a journalist was from profile subjects who told me I understood them on a much higher level than other reporters. I was also frequently told, “no one’s ever asked me that question before.”

That dynamic is at the root of my work as a ghostwriter and collaborator. I ask questions to help authors zero in on their most telling moments. I listen. I point out connections and dynamics they might not have recognized. I listen some more. I help them present their story in the most effective way possible. 

In addition to my collaborative work directly with authors and companies, I also freelance as an editor and writer for Scribe Media. I am proud to be a member of Gotham Ghostwriters, the Association of Journalists and Authors, and Women’s Media Group, and an alum of the Westport Lighthouse Writers Retreat Ghostwriting Masterclass. 

I am also the author of a young adult book on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Coping with ADD/ADHD and ODD

I am based in the vibrant town of Montclair, New Jersey. I grew up in the Los Angeles area, and I graduated from the University of Southern California.

I am the descendant of Asian immigrants. My maternal great-grandparents were born in Kumamoto, Japan, immigrated to California, and became farmers in the Central Valley. My maternal grandparents met in the Gila River Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Meanwhile, my Cantonese paternal grandparents immigrated from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, where my grandfather opened a stand in the downtown Seventh Street Produce Market. They are at the root of my passion for telling and amplifying diverse stories.

Gwi Fong Ung, my paternal grandfather, at work at the market.