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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GHOST WRITER

         Today my special guest is Larry Cavanaugh who has two blogs:  DiscConnected, which is about music and recordings, and Back in the USSR, which is a blog about politics.   They both have much to offer and are well worth your time, so make sure you stop by to read some of what Larry has to say and follow if you aren't doing so already.  Today Larry poses an interesting question for you.

Ghost Writer


          I did not want to feature this post on my blog, DiscConnected, which is all about music, but thought that the review of this book and the topic of posthumous ghost writers might generate some discussion among regular readers of Tossing It Out due to the writing topic. Thanks to Arlee Bird for giving me the microphone. Or the spotlight. Or the keyboard. You know what I mean.

          Now I suppose technically, this is not a ghost writing situation, as the publisher does not try to conceal the fact that the author who created the characters is dead and that someone else wrote the book.

         I have mixed feelings about the practice of having relatively unknown authors write novels continuing the serialization of a deceased popular author's character.  But since the books of Robert B. Parker were always a guilty pleasure for me, the simple existence of a new Jesse Stone novel piqued my curiosity.   Michael Brandman, who collaborated with Parker on the Jesse Stone TV-Movies, was given the nod to produce the first posthumous novel featuring a Parker character.

         Killing The Blues feels like one of those "tv tie-in" books, since Brandman has made adjustments to settings and characters to make the books more closely resemble the movies. The novel tells an entertaining story of obsession and redemption, touching on all the themes Parker always made resonate so well while weaving a few compelling plot-lines together pretty seamlessly.

        Stone attempts to solve a wave of car thefts that appears to make Paradise a new source for chop-shops, and the Paradise Board of Selectmen do not want the crimes to impact the summer tourism trade, creating opportunities for Jesse to display his aversion to authority.

        In another plot thread, Jesse hears that a man from his past has been released from prison, and word has drifted that Jesse will be his target. The cat-and-mouse between Jesse and the ex-convict form the core of the book's narration. The other threads of Brandman's story weave around it, and provide nice balance.

       Parker wrote dialogue better than almost anyone. The best Brandman could hope for is to suffer by comparison, and he seems to write the dialogue for Tom Selleck, who stars in the films. There were many lines that seemed like they may have been lifted from films that had already aired. While this did not necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the book, dialogue was one of the joys of reading a Parker novel that was somewhat lacking here.
      Brandman also seems to marginalize the supporting characters, where under Parker's hand, while they were often not deeply developed, they were necessary foils to the main character to provide an insight into his behavior. Parker always seemed to have something on his mind, and used his characters to flesh out those thoughts.

       In literature, characters sometimes outlive their creators.   Parker wrote a Philip Marlowe by himself (Perchance To Dream), after finishing Chandler's Poodle Springs, and Jeffrey Deaver just published a James Bond novel. Next spring, Ace Atkins will pick up the Spenser series. The trick is to stay true to what made the characters worth continuing in the first place.

        All that said, how do you feel about characters continuing on after their creator's death? Do you have any favorite series that received this treatment? If so, how did you like the posthumous books?



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41 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. If the characters are good enough then they deserve to live on past their creators don't you think? Their creator would probably hold no grudge against them for continuing as it's really just paying homage to how good a character it was.

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  2. I think sometimes a new author could put a fresh spin on a character if it's done right.

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  3. Hi Lee and Larry .. I think we've a couple of tv shows where the detective lives on .. and over time people have reproduced others' works that have lain hidden collecting dust - one such is Sherlock Holmes first story ..

    I've subscribed to your USSR site .. music and me = no mix!! Cheers Hilary

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  4. I think it's amazing when characters out live their creators. In my opinion, artists (writers)aren't appreciated to their fullest until they are dead.

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  5. I don't like the idea. It's no so much that I don't want he character to live on, as I don't want the original author's "stuff" to be tampered with. I know it's not really his stuff but it feels wrong to me somehow. Even the strongest among us will cease to exist someday...in earthly form. Let he character reside with his author and creator.

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  6. When I was younger I loved the Rocky Ridge series by Roger Lea MacBride. But then in the fifth book, a message from his daughter appeared after the title page that Roger had passed away. So that book and the 3 after it were based on Roger's notes. The publishers did what they could with what they had. It kind of bummed me out. I was glad they continued the series, but it's obvious different writers took hold of each book. I guess they tried to imitate MacBride, but it wasn't the same.

    "Gone with the Wind" is one of my favorite novels and I really think everyone should've let it be! I read the sequel (Scarlett) and though it's entertaining, it's fluff compared to Mitchell's masterpiece.

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  7. Some authors have started making arrangements for their books to be written after they die, ensuring continuing income for their families. Robert Ludlum has already made the transition, and has reportedly outlined the stories he wants to see continued after he goes.

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  8. I'm always a bit wary when I see a posthumous book published or someone else take a stab at an old favorite.

    Speaking of which, I picked up a book by Bram Stoker's great-grand nephew which is a sequel to "Dracula". I haven't read it yet, I'm waiting for October and cooler weather. Do I think it will hold up to the original? No. But I do hope it will be fun.

    Cheers!
    Jen

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  9. When a new author picks up an existing series, it's never the same. If you loved the old characters, it might be enough just to have them live on but if it was the original author's style that drew you in, it's probably better to let it go.

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  10. I think that is what an author hope for, that their stories and characters will live on.

    I'm usually not keen on books written by others that include characters I love that are meant to be sequels eg. Pride & Prejudice sequels, but that's just me.

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  11. The only author I can think of is Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series. I'll be honest that I have not read any of the new books that have come out after his death. The reason I haven't is because the world is too big to follow. His series is the only work that I have skipped books and chapters simply to get back to the characters that interested me.

    If you look at Star Trek though, it is a good example of a creators work living well beyond.

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  12. If the writer made it known prior to the Grim Reaper's entrance that he/she wanted the character to live on afterwards (such as in the Robert Ludlum example presented by Kelly Robinson above), then I say: Follow the writer's instructions.

    But, in my opinion, barring that situation, when the author dies, the character should die too, and they should be buried together.

    The character was the author's creation and I don't believe anyone else should have a right to alter in any way how that character might later be perceived by future generations.

    If I dreamed up a popular character and after getting my eternal reward, someone else came along and wrote "The Further Adventures Of Stephen's Popular Character", I would return and haunt that interloper, that adulterer!

    I mean, just imagine that after making the first "Rocky" movie in 1976, Sylvester Stallone had passed away and someone else came along afterwards and made 5, 6, or 7 cheesy sequels featuring Stallone's character, Rocky Balboa. And thus, the great memory of that first "Rocky" movie became tainted in our minds due to the association with all the inferior sequels. Think what a shame that would be!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  13. I know a lot of people who use Jane Austen's characters. I don't usually like the remakes and read them but there are people who do.

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  14. Just to keep the dialogue going, Stephen, do you feel that after a certain amount of time it's less of an issue? Some really great things have been done with the Sherlock Holmes character (I mean Jeremy Brett, not Robert Downey, Jr.). If Rocky remakes appear in a hundred years, would that be different?

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  15. Robert Parker was always an enjoyable read. I'd read more "ghostwritten" because I buy into the characters. Though likely I'd be disappointed some in the writing, I'd be happy the characters were kept alive.

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  16. I always liked Robert B Parker's stuff - but I'm not sure! Part of me wants to read it and like it. The other part doesn't want to - wants to leave it all with Parker's words. Not sure on this one.

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  17. HiYa, KELLY! ~
    No, to me the time factor is really irrelevant.

    And you might be right about some good work being done later utilizing the same characters, a la Sherlock Holmes. I've read a couple of the original stories but none of the later ones, as mysteries aren't really my pipe of tobacco.

    But again, the degree of quality is, for me, also irrelevant.

    In fact, I am actually quite surprised that it is even a legal endeavor for someone to take another writer's character and put him/her into new scenarios. I view the character to be as much a "creative property" as is a copyrighted story, and I find it pretty much astounding that someone could come along decades later and write a whole new story for a character like, say, the aforementioned Scarlett O'Hara.

    I find the legality of that very disturbing and I'd like to see characters be considered as much the property of their creators as are the stories in which those characters were first "brought to life" (so to speak).

    My response to the "quality" argument would go something like this: I would think the writer who is capable of taking Sherlock Holmes and writing new, high quality stories for him, would also be creative enough to invent his/her OWN detective character and apply those same story ideas to new sleuth. Let him or her do so, rather than stealing another man's invention.

    Speaking for myself, I wouldn't feel fully satisfied if I took Sherlock Holmes and wrote a new mystery for him, even if it became hugely popular. Even if it made me fame and fortune, deep down I would feel as though I was really only half an author. (I guess that would be an "aut", eh?)
    [:o)}

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  18. As Hilary say we have a few TV shows where other actors have taken over from a person who is no longer with us or have left. sometimes although the format is the same a different person does play the part entirely different.

    Yvonne.

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  19. I'd have to go with let the characters die with their original author. One reason is I'm not a big series fan anyway. I prefer stand alone books. But then I'm not a soap opera fan either and that's kind of what series remind me of.

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  20. Nice post, Larry and Lee!
    I'd personally turn in my grave if somebody would try to continue my artistic work in such a way, after my death.

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  21. I thought I'd go ahead and weigh in with my opinion until Larry gets here. I would imagine he'll put in his response after he gets off from work.

    Like C. Lee I'm not a fan of series books so I wouldn't be concerned with those characters. And as far as characters like in the detective books, etc I would lean somewhat toward authors creating their own characters. However, when a character or franchise is so popular that the audience continues to want more then I think it's a good marketing move. As long as the quality remains relatively good and people keep buying why not?

    I see the characters as a commodity just as much as an artistic creation. Especially if a publisher or an estate owns the character rights and wants to continue to generate income I guess that's their business so long as no one is being defrauded by being led to believe that the new books were written by the original author. I think Stephen's question of legality would be answered by that. For example, Scarlett was officially authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate and they got money from it. It's a business matter. In the end critics and readers make the verdicts.

    I think about things like comic books and the changes those characters have gone through after a succession of different writers and artists. A lot of those characters aren't the same as they used to be.

    Is Mickey Mouse still Mickey Mouse without Walt Disney's voice? Or other characters whose voices changed? What is Goofy? Oh wait, that's something else.

    For me the bottom line is that the characters are merely commodities of mental creation. So long as nothing is misrepresented to the public then anything goes as long as it's legally sanctioned. That's why we have book reviewers and such.

    That's my take on it.

    Lee

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  22. As sad as it is to say goodbye to a favorite character, I take issue with someone else continuing an author's stories. I haven't tried to read one of the posthumous follow-ups, and I'm sure there's the chance I'd enjoy the story, but it is not something I'm interested in trying. In this, I'm a stick in the mud.

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  23. Sorry it has taken so long for me to weigh in here. I had issued with my PC at work and the internet (we just moved buildings on Monday and the kinks are still being worked out).

    Since I'm coming to the table so late, my thoughts will echo some of yours, and I apologize for not taking the time to answer everyone individually. I truly do appreciate the discussion, and had things worked out a little differently today, I'd have been more involved in it.

    Thanks to Lee and Stephen for doing my job. And to all of you for giving them something to respond to. And more thanks to Lee for hosting me.

    Many of you raise a good point, that this has been done successfully. While Star Trek is not a bad example, I would point out that the original series was scripted by a stable of writers (as most television series are), so while Gene Roddenberry was the creator, less of his "voice" came through the scripts than an author's would through his books.

    Ditto for the Rocky sequels, although I cut Sly some slack since he's also from Philly.

    I was interested in how Lee's audience (as writers) would react, and there were many who felt that the idea of other writers continuing on borders on sacrilege.

    It has been done. As a child, I read the Hardy Boys books, and later learned that Franklin W. Dixon was a pseudonym-many people wrote those books. Of course, a child would probably not notice such things (I did not). There were several other book series for children that followed the same trend.

    I wonder how a Harry Potter sequel written by another author (I hear McCarthy has begun one) would appeal to those of you who found the originals enchanting.

    Alex, would you be open to someone writing a CassaStar novel?

    Stephen, to your question of legality, I think in most of these cases, the writer is selected by the estate (definitely the case for the Parker novels). And it's all about making money-which is not a bad thing in itself. But if the books stopped with the author's heart, it would certainly make the author's books even more valuable (in a literary sense).

    As for me, my feelings are mixed. I found the Pseudo-Parker novel entertaining, but not quite the same. Since the author is so involved in the TV movies, the book had more of that feel, which was not a bad thing. Just different.

    I just read "Crossroad Blues," the debut novel by Ace Atkins, who was selected by the estate of RBP to continue the Spenser novels. While their styles are very different, I'm sure I'm going to at least read that first one.

    So while I think the better answer is that Spenser had died with Robert B. Parker, I'm going to ante up the money that gets these decisions made. And I'm going to watch the second Star Trek movie when they get done making that.

    Tomorrow's topic-should musicians keep making albums after they die?

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  24. I'm ok witha character being carried on as long as it is well-written/ directed/ whatever. And that's a tall order if I liked the original series.

    ------



    Join me at the Rule of Three Writers' Blogfest!

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  25. How do I feel about characters being continued after the death of the author?

    'The best Brandman could hope for is to suffer by comparison,'

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  26. Thanks Larry for planting a seed for stimulating discussion.

    I am anxiously awaiting Stephen McCarthy's addition to the Harry Potter series. It will be the first book of that episode that I will have read.

    And thanks to everyone who weighed in on this so far.

    Lee

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  27. *getting to the party late*

    I think the only 'series' of books that I've ever read were Nancy Drew mysteries, back some, oh, a few years back. At that stage, I doubt that I'd have noticed much of a difference as long as a continuing author stayed reasonably close to the writing style of the books that I'd already read.

    I loved Gone with the Wind, and I took a pass on reading Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People, so maybe that says something about my thoughts on tainting an original.

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  28. Hi Lee, thanks for introducing me to Larry.

    Hi Larry, nice to meet you. Robert B. Parker is a guilty pleasure of mine too, and it's great to have a new Jesse Stone book. It's sad to hear that the dialogue falls flat, but as you say... Parker wrote terrific dialogue. He's a hard act to follow. It does sound like an interesting plot though.

    As a general rule, I don't like the idea of someone else continuing a character after their creator's death. The new writer is never going to write the character the same way... or know them in the same way.

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  29. >>...Tomorrow's topic - should musicians keep making albums after they die?

    Well, it seems to have worked very well for many of them. Paul McCartney being perhaps the best example. And in the case of Keith Richards, he was dead before he ever waxed his first track.

    Yeah, I'm hard at work on the first non-Rowling "Harry Potter" book. It will probably come as a pleasant surprise to find the new direction I'm taking it in - which was pretty much inevitable seeing as how I've read none of the previous books and seen none of the movies.

    But I'm confident that old fans of the series will get on board with the new direction, especially when they find that Harry is joined by Mickey Mouse (in his persona as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", of course!) and together they team up with Sherlock Holmes and Spenser to discover that Scarlett O'Hara and the Rhett Butler did it!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  30. I have mixed feelings about this. If it is classic literature that has been around forever, I think it's fantastic. If someone is trying to write something in Harry Potter's world, I've got a problem.

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  31. Well dang. I'm sitting here, stunned, because I'm not sure I knew Parker died. Perhaps I should try and get my head out of the barn and off the farm more often, ya think?
    As to someone carrying on the characters after the author passes, only if it's done really, Really well. And that hasn't happened too often, imo.

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  32. To have the world love my character so much that they want to keep continuing his stories after I'm dead would be the ultimate compliment! I would also love to have a new writer write my stories because I'm all for the under dog!

    Joyce
    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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  33. Nope, when the author dies, the character must die - who else can really understand that original character? Take the James Bond movies for example - the scripts not based on Ian Fleming's original books became a joke in the end...until Casino Royale. Wowie! Daniel Craig really took James back to his original character as portrayed in Fleming's original books.

    Judy, South Africa

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  34. The James Bond franchise is a great example how a character continues to live in with multiple actors playing him. I think this works best with action stars and superheroes. I never quite understood how Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, but there will always be new actors to take over as long as the writing and special effects are top notch. Thanks Lee and Larry!

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  35. I don't think I'd like to see a character I really cared about being written by someone other than their original author - I just can't imagine it would be the same and would only ruin it for me, kind of like when an actor leaves a TV show and they get a new actor to play that same character - it's just never as good as the original.

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  36. Judy and Empty Nester-

    Interesting that you mention James Bond-I thought of that series after I'd logged off last night.

    I think with movies, like TV, it's a little easiere to pull off.

    I never read any of the Bond novels by Fleming, but had been told that the writers hired to keep the torch burning were not so good.

    I have read a couple of the Bourne novels written by Eric Lustbader after Ludlum died.

    I liked these books, but I've been reading Lustbader since the early eighties, and his Bourne novels read just like one of his Nicholas Linnear novels.

    And since I never read the Ludlum books, I didn't know the difference.

    There is no right answer, but I think we can all agree on one thing...

    The Stephen T. McCarthy Harry Potter sequel will NOT be on our Wish Lists!

    Larry

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  37. Oh, I almost forgot-

    Doralynn-hello back atcha! The Stone book is still worth reading-I do not regret the purchase. It just reads a little more like the Selleck TV films than the Parker prose style.

    Beth-I think you allude to this, but the Nancy Drew series, like the Hardy Boys, was written by many authors. Carolyn Keene was just a pseudonym.

    Larry

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  38. Well, I'll read Stephen's Potter book. Then it will probably be on my wish list--I wish I hadn't read it.

    Larry and all who commented--it was a great party with some lively conversation. Of course it doesn't have to end here, but hope we can do something like this again.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  39. I almost forogt again!

    Thistle Cove Farm-

    RBP died in January 2010.

    He was at his typewriter and suffered a heart attack.

    He had been very prolific in the last decade, so several books were published after he died. The Jesse Stone novel released this month was the first attempt by another writer to carry on a RBP character's exploits.

    Larry

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  40. The few ones I've read I've not enjoyed as much as the stories written by the original author. Mainly because I've noticed a change in the writing style.

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Lee