Cashing in on the vampire trend: behold the offending book that’s by Virginia Andrews… and not. The word ‘ghost-writer’ never felt so ironic.
As a serious reader hoping to make the leap into ‘serious writing’, I am constantly on the look-out for different kinds of writers. This week my thoughts turned to the subject of author, the legacy they leave behind and the how that is preserved for future readers. Many state that writing is really a form of immortality, and as a semi-serious, sometime diarist I agree. The thought of death doesn’t frighten people half as much as the possibility of being forgotten. But words have a special kind of power; they can represent a small part of the soul, and can live on long after its’ author has passed on. From cave paintings to stone tablets, from papyrus to paper; people have always found ways to justify their existence and make themselves known. So it seems that our knowledge of history always passes irrevocably through the lens of some other person’s perspective. Personally, I have always found much comfort from reading the works of deceased authors. If we take it one step further; reading is really nothing but a way to contact the dead; a method by which we can access our ever-receding past, a way to rewind time and reach the impossible. Settling down with a copy of ‘Lolita’ is akin to having a conversation with Nabokov himself. Don’t believe me? Click here and just listen to the man speak!
Yet this week I was pretty much stumped when I came across a book that seemed to almost mock these notions. The book in question was the newly published ‘Daughter of Darkness’ by Virginia Andrews. Now, as you know I’m not the Romantic / Family Saga type, but I will admit to having read the Dollanganger series and found it to be surprisingly and even addictively
enjoyable. However, the beef I have had with her novels up till now is that she’s not the one writing them! Unfortunately Andrews died in 1986 from breast cancer having wrote only eight novels. Yet due to her massive readership and the success as a writer, her family decided to hire ghost-writer Andrew Niederman to write more stories bearing her name. Well, since then the name Virginia Andrews has continued to grace bookshelves fooling the less informed reader into thinking that she left behind a vast amount of unpublished material.
Granted, ghost-writing is a very big industry, what with more celebrities
now publishing their biographies through these services. But I can’t seem to agree with the notion of someone else taking all the credit; whether this be the person doing all the writing, or the one whose name is being bandied around for said work. From an ethical stand-point, it raises many questions that skirt along issues like plagiarism. In fact, here’s a very interesting and informative article on the pros and cons of ghost-writing for those involved with it. Looking around the internet a bit makes it clear that business-related subjects are a more acceptable field for ghost-writing, but not so much for fiction where a writer is trying to make a name for themselves.
In the case of Virginia Andrews, ghost-writing hasn’t harmed her sales figures at all, which makes her an anomaly and a success story at the same time. Her reputation as a writer is anchored to her name, which has become a commodity over the years. Ghost-writing in this instance has managed to turn an author into a ‘brand’, much like Kelloggs or Wrigley’s chewing gum. Readers still flock to buy the ghost-written material, even though they are obviously not her own work. However the latest addition to the Andrews books seems to be the final break away from the essence of Virginia Andrews the ‘author’. Having become famous for her sprawling family sagas; it feels like a desperate and wholly tasteless move to turn to the current
trend of vampire fiction. I’m not sure how that would sit with die-hard Andrews fans; but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to tamper with a writers’ legacy in this way.
Authors today rarely jump genres, and if they do, they use a pseudonym to avoid any negative responses affecting their established identities. Stephen King, who initially went by the name Richard Bachman and Nora Roberts who sometimes writes as J.D. Robb are both well-known for doing this. For King and Roberts, the use of a pen name was a choice they made not because of any great leap in genre. Roberts is a writer of romantic fiction, and erotic thriller was practically next-door to that. Same with King; the idea for the name Richard Bachman came simply because his publishers didn’t think readers would buy more than one story a year from an author. C. S. Lewis used two different names, one for a collection of poems and another for a narrative to avoid harming his reputation as a don at Oxford University.
So, taking the above into consideration, I see Virginia Andrews’ now ghost-written material of paranormal/ YA fiction to be the mother of all gambles as far as the world of publishing goes.
Andrews aside, I don’t know of any other author whose name has been used in quite the same way, and whose reputation has still remained in tact. Consider Jorge Luis Borges who, as much as he deserved it, was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (a grave injustice if you ask me). There are many like me who mourn the fact that he never wrote a novel. What would it be like if his estate hired a ghost-writer to fulfill this universal desire for all Borges fans around the world? I shudder at the thought!
Novels like ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ and ‘The Last Tycoon’ are famous for being the last unfinished works of Dickens and Fitzgerald. To literary enthusiasts they are just as precious as their completed works, even more so. So how would it feel if someone was suddenly hired to complete these works?
I suppose what I’m really trying to get at is the idea that an author’s mind, their pattern of writing can be mimicked for the sake of making money up to a certain point. And while I find this assumption offensive, I do also acknowledge the fact that it can be terribly enticing too. Yet the mind of a person is like a fingerprint. No two are ever alike. The act of creating is fuelled by a whole slew of mental and psychological ingredients beginning with the first impressions of childhood and the influences of growing up with a particular ‘cocktail’ of people and ideologies.
There is much to be said about the issue. What do you think? Is ghost-writing ‘fair’? Does it cheapen literature? If you are a Virginia Andrews fan who has read her ghost-written work, what do you think of the quality of it? Does it really matter? Are we conscious readers?