Early Friday morning, a reader dropped this comment in a thread about ghostwriting:
Second, I don’t know how concerned the publishing industry really is about the sanctity of authorship. There are new Jason Bourne and Hitchhiker’s Guide books coming out and the original authors are dead.
I honestly wasn’t surprised to hear that these authors and their works were being recycled by their respective estates. Whatever loyalty an author’s relatives or heirs might have to the author’s original material, and whatever reverence they might have for an author’s original voice, it’s awfully hard to leave a vein of gold in the ground. And particularly so if the person you might be insulting is already dead.
Maybe the authors in question (Robert Ludlum and Douglass Adams, respectively) would have no issue with these development. Maybe they even told their heirs to exploit their works in any way possible; I don’t know the details. And if I think about it long enough, I can see how it might seem like the right thing to do to authorize additional works as a means of keeping the originals alive.
Relative to the question of ghostwriting — meaning the intentional misrepresentation of authorship — I didn’t think too much about these examples because I assumed the books would not carry the names of the deceased as author. And in these instances that’s true. The new Bourne book cover includes the dead author’s name in large type at the top, but in the possessive: “Robert Ludlum’s.” The title is also large type, then in smaller type at the bottom the name of the actual author appears: “A New Jason Bourne Novel By Eric Van Lustbader.”
And I don’t really have a problem with that. As long as the new author’s name is prominently displayed and does not qualify as ‘fine print’, I think it’s fair to use Ludlum’s name to help sell books based on characters he created.
As for the new Hitchhiker’s Guide book, it’s the opposite of the Borne book, but still passes muster. Douglas Adam’s name appears in small print at the top of the cover, then the title and new author’s name (Eoin Colfer) appears below in larger type. Again, no real intent to deceive.
On Friday afternoon I happened to be lingering near a television when I heard that a new Winne the Pooh book was coming out. As a staunch (as in blood-oath loyal) Winnie the Pooh fan, this was a bit disappointing to me. I’m not a purist by any means: I actually like the original Disney cartoons voiced by Sterling Holloway. But somehow a new book seemed like a crime.
Again, I didn’t follow up at the time, but I did say in passing that I didn’t really care as long as A. A. Milne was not being credited as the author. Here the publishers (or estate) choose a third option: the title is very large, then at the bottom of the cover the new author and illustrator receive credit in smaller type, followed by equal-sized type which says, “In the Tradition of A. A. Milne & Ernest H. Shepard.”
And you know what? I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m more fine with that than I am the blizzard of Disney merchandise which is credited to A. A. Milne, when Milne obviously did not write the coloring book or sing-along book or coffee mug. For that I think the possessive would have been a better choice.
On Saturday afternoon, incredibly, I was in the library and happened to be introduced to the works of V. C. Andrews. When I inquired as to the genre of the books there was some uncertainty as to the answer, so I picked one of her paperbacks up (Secrets in the Shadows) and looked at the copyright page, where I found this odd note:
Following the death of Virginia Andrews, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews’ stories and to create additional novels, of which this is one, inspired by her storytelling genius.
To which I say…no. That’s not okay, and particularly not when the front cover makes no mention of the fact that Andrews is dead, and was therefore unlikely to have written the book. In fact, in small type below the title the cover states: “From the Creator of Flowers in the Attic.” But of course it’s not: it’s from the prolific Andrew Neiderman, who either completed or wholly ghostwrote several of her books.
This is ghostwriting, and it’s why ghostwriting is wrong. Authorship of a book should not be falsely attributed, even by a writer’s heirs, any more than should the authorship of a painting or sculpture. If an author is a brand, the possessive may suffice, as I think it does with the new Bourne books. But telling your readers that their favorite author wrote a book that they did not write is lying. And including small mention on the copyright page to clarify a falsehood you created yourself does not excuse the lie.
Which these loyal readers of V.C. Andrews seem to have figured out for themselves:
This has to stop, seriously. When Neiderman first ghostwrote for VCA, he did a decent job. I liked the Cutler series, and he did a good job of finishing up the books that VCA had started but didn’t finish for the Dollanganger and Casteel series. The Landry and Logan series, while not the best, were still very decent, and I enjoyed them. However, it all started to go downhill with Orphans. That was not what VCA would have written. I endured the Hudson and DeBeers series with disgust. The April Shadows and Broken Flower series are making VCA spin in her grave right now. Mr. Neriderman, please stop writing for VCA and go back to your own work. You’re a old man, stop writing as if you were a young girl. Put the VCA name to rest, did you know there’s a online petition circulating around demanding that you stop writing for VCA???
I have no idea, and don’t really care, why they still publish books under the V. C. Andrews name, besides to make money. This book has a lot of classic V. C. Andrews ideas going on, but they lead absolutely nowhere.
The Secrets-series might hit Neiderman’s peak of madness. I always felt kind of sick imagining that an old man actually writes from a young girl’s perspective, but whatever. I figured with the Cutlers and Landrys he was carrying VCA’s ideas further – but hello, all this pervert-lesbianism in the Shadows-series? Written by a MAN? Sick!! And the Early Spring and Secrets novels weren’t better either. Lack of character, lack of story, lack of everything, just throw in some self-pity and teenage sex and everyone will like it. One lousy, contradicting plothole, what Neiderman did to VCA’s legacy is unforgivable.
While I’m sure these deceptions have been lucrative for the estate, note the diminishment of the brand and the anger being voiced by Andrews’ most loyal readers. (Here’s the petition referenced in the first reader quote.)
Ghostwriting is lying, and it’s not benign. Even if the fraud allows you to dig deep into people’s pockets you risk damaging the brand value of an author’s name, and in the end that may cost you as much with the readers you should care the most about.
— Mark Barrett
As the person who was obsessed by “Flowers in the Attic” when I was a girl (leaving aside what it says about me that I was a V.C. Andrews fan instead of “Little House on the Prairie” or “Little Women”) I’m glad you found the petition and I will sign it and stand up for Ms. Andrews. 😉
Great series of posts.