The Death of the Author

One of the nice things about being an author is the knowledge that even after you’re gone, your books will still be out there. But some authors continue to put out new books even after they’ve died. In most cases, this is because the family of the author (or whomever owns the copyright, I suppose) hires a ghostwriter to continue to write under that author’s name. ‘

A famous example of this is author VC Andrews. In 1979, Andrew’s debut novel, Flowers in the Attic became a best seller. She wrote a few other successful novels before her death in 1986, and more than 70 bestsellers since! The vast majority of her work has been written under her name by Andrew Neiderman. Initially Neiderman was hired by Andrews estate to finish Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic that she’d been working on at the time of her death. He later finished her unfinished Casteel series and continued from there.

A biography of VC Andrews by her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman

Andrews wrote mostly 4-5 book series (with a single stand alone title) that were mostly non-supernatural gothic horror. But literary markets change. So Neiderman has written trilogies, standalone and duologies in her name. And sometimes a lot changes: for example the duology Daughter of Darkness and Daughter of Light introduces vampires to Andrews’ world. Obviously no one can know what Andrews would have thought of this: she may have been all for it, or she may have hated it! But the Andrews estate is pretty open about Neiderman’s work. In an open letter included in the book Dawn in 1990 they announced that a ghostwriter had been hired to “organize and complete Virginia’s stories and to expand upon them by creating additional novels inspired by her wonderful storytelling genius.” It was another several years before it was revealed that Neiderman was the ghostwriter. Since then, he has been interviewed a number of times about the gig, and written a biography of Andrews under his own name.

Tilly Bagshawe is credited alonside Sidney Sheldon as the author of the “Sidney Sheldon” series (image credit: goodreads)

Tilly Bagshawe is another writer whose work frequently appears under a different name. Sidney Sheldon had sold hundreds of millions of books when he died in 2007. Bagshawe, who has written books under her own name as well, has a Sidney Sheldon page on her website where she reveals that she’s taken “up the mantle of this late, great author, writing in his inimitable Sheldon style.” All of Bagshawe’s work in Sheldon’s name has titles like “Sidney Sheldon’s Mistress of the Game” and “Sidney Sheldon’s The Silent Widow” whereas Sheldon’s own work is just called by the novel’s title. Additionally, Bagshawe is listed as an author on all the “Sidney Sheldon” books she wrote.

An interesting case is romance writer Janet Dailey. Dailey died in 2013 having written a number of romance series. However, over on the Topaz Literary Blog, Lyndsay E Hobbs wrote that as a February 2021 Dailey’s website made no mention of her death, and even seemed to make an effort to make it sound like she was still alive and writing. You could subscribe to the “author’s” newsletter, follow “her” on Facebook, and read a bio written in the present tense with no mention of Dailey’s death. When Hobbs sent a contact email to the website about this she received this in reply: That’s a good question and one I get asked frequently. Before she died, Janet mentored a young author and taught the woman how to write in her style. Janet also left outlines of future books and outlines for the characters to work from. I guess Janet knew how beloved her characters were and how heartbroken readers would be if no one ever knew what happened to the Calders, or her other characters. We like to think the writer is doing a good job of keeping to the spirit of Janet’s writing, and she is acknowledged in every book.” However the website admin she’d been corresponding with didn’t even know the name of the ghostwriter. After she’d contacted the publisher and been told they don’t give out any info about ghostwriters, she said that it did seem as if the publisher was trying to be deceptive about Dailey’s death. She received no response.

In 2017, Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone mystery novels died. She’d started the Kinsey Millhone series in 1982 with A is for Alibi. At the time of her death, her most recent novel, Y is for Yesterday had just been published. In a Facebook post, her daughter wrote: “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” In an interview, her husband Steven Humphrey added that she’d been struggling to think of an ending for the series when she became ill, so there’s no manuscript to work from. “Nothing’s been written. There is no Z.”

Obviously there are a number of ways to handle someone else writing in the name of a dead author. Personally I’m OK with the idea, as long as the author would have been OK with this (I think in Grafton’s case her family did the right thing), and as long as they are open and forthcoming about the fact that the books are being written by a ghostwriter. Would I want someone writing in my name someday when I’m gone? I don’t know…

What do you think of this practice? Are you comfortable with ghostwriters taking over from popular authors?

I’ve Been: Thinking About What Feels Like Work Edition

  • Working, working working (by which I mean day job stuff.) Which unfortunately doesn’t leave much left for writing. Maybe it’s less about time than about mental space. I feel like I’m using the part of my brain that I usually use for writing fiction elsewhere right now. I’m hoping that some distance from my writing helps a bit. I’ve been experiencing some frustration with this book lately. I think it needs some more worldbuilding, but I’m not sure how to incorporate that into the action of the story.
  • Thinking about my writing “career.” I put “career” in quotes because I’m not sure that’s the word I want to use. I don’t really have financial goals for writing, beyond not losing too much money. I write because I love it, and I want to publish to share it with people. If I were legitimately going to go into business publishing, I would need to write at a much faster pace than I’m capable of right now. But, as I said, my goals aren’t really financial. A lot of literature aimed at self-publishing seems to be disparaging of writers who treat writing as a “hobby.” I don’t call it that, because I don’t think of it that way. I put a lot into writing emotionally, mentally (and, to some extent) financially. And yes, I do get a few dollars from it here and there. But I don’t think “career” or “job” is the quite the right word either.
  • Working on a series of posts for this blog. I’ve been working on them for a while actually and they’re almost ready. For some reason blogging doesn’t take as much from me mentally/emotionally as work and writing (fiction) do. It’s interesting how we perceive similar tasks differently. Blogging just seems like a more “for fun” category, whereas fiction and work are for other reasons.
image credit: travel.earth
  • Trying to watch Dark on Netflix. I think I run into the mental space issue here too. When I’m verging on overwhelmed with other stuff, I want my TV mindless and escapist. Dark is good, but it’s very demanding. With family trees and multiple timelines I have to use the wiki summaries and the official site to keep track of everything, sometimes pausing in order to do so. I’ve made it through season 1 and I’m invested enough to want to keep going, but it’s hard to summon up the energy when I just want to relax.
image: ign.com
  • Really enjoying binging iZombie. I’m so not usually a fan of anything to do with zombies, usually. I’d read something good about this though, and I was in the mood to watch something silly so I gave it a shot. It’s silly. But also fun and even clever occasionally. It’s about a young doctor who is turned to a zombie at a party (you get turned when a zombie scratches you). She gets a job with the medical examiner, because easy access to brains not being used. But when she eats a brain she gets memories of the brains owner. So she helps the police solve their murders. Her medical examiner boss/friend is working on a cure for zombie-ism. Her family and friends are struggling to deal with some unexplained changes in her personality recently. Oh yeah, and while she gets the memories of the brains she eats, she also gets some of their personality traits. It’s the kind of mindless (but brainy!) entertainment that I’ve been needing lately.
  • Reading Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches. One of my reading highlights of last year was The Ten Thousand Doors of January. The Once and Future Witches proves (at least so far, I’m only a bit more than 1/2 of the way though, more on that in a bit) that her first book wasn’t a fluke and that Harrow is an author who will be an auto-buy for me in the future. But as much as I’m liking it, I’m not reading it as quickly as I usually read. I don’t know why. It seems to be engaging more of my critical brain than fantasy sometimes does (the fantasy is very tied to history, and it’s worth thinking about where they diverge and why).

Frost Update: Or, What “Done” Means

Before I’d ever written a book, I thought “done” meant writing the last sentence of a manuscript, maybe followed by a dramatically written “The End.” Now I know, that’s only the beginning…

For several years now, I’ve been setting the goal of releasing my second novel, Frost. But unexpected things have come up in the world at large, as well as my work life and my personal life.

I still plan on releasing it. I hope in the near future. But I’m not setting anymore “I want it done by…” goals. Because what does “done” really mean? I now have a complete novel with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s been through numerous drafts and several edits. But the quality still isn’t what I want it to be. So now I’m going through the manuscript, yet again. This time my focus is on worldbuilding more than plot/character. Frustrating? Yes, but also necessary.

I reached a point this year, where I could have published it. I gave it a lot of thought. But I don’t want to publish something and then regret it. I wrote about this a bit in my How Prolific Do I Want to Be post several years ago. At the time, it seemed like I had another year or so of work on this book. Actually what I’ve said about the status of this book then is similar to what I’m saying now: a number of drafts, several edits, and still not done.

Does that mean I haven’t made any progress in the last few years? I hope not! It’s easy to fall into that trap, but I’m trying to remember that Frost is a better book now than it was when I wrote that post (also it was called Frozen Heart then. I like Frost better.)

In some ways it feels like posting this is a failure to finish my book. I compare myself to other indie authors who seem able to publish three books a year, while working full time, raising five children and training for the Olympics. But I’m not them. I can’t produce quality writing at that pace. I hope someday I can, but I’m not there yet. That’s not a failure on my part.

The book is coming.

I’m just not sure when.

So to all my many fans eagerly awaiting my next release (kidding!) it’s going to be a bit longer. I don’t know how long. But hopefully the book will be better for it.

2021 Year in Review

I’ve Been:

Those We’ve Lost This Year

TV Talk

Thoughts about writing, genre, stories and more:

Readathons:

Best of 2021

I’m hoping to get one more post in this year, but if I don’t, have a happy and safe New Year!

I’ve Been (Starting to Think About Publishing Edition)

image credit: techadvisor.com
  • Really enjoying Amazon’s Carnival Row. Has anyone else seen it? It’s a fantasy-mystery set in a sort of steampunk Victorian England called the Burgue, where humans and mythical creatures live side by side (though not without significant problems…) It’s definitely not perfect, but I really like it. It was renewed for a second season but production halted due to the pandemic. Then it resumed, then it stopped again. As of now there are five episodes for season two filmed, and Amazon plans to release those and then film the rest when they can. I’m hoping that’ll be soon!
  • Also really liking Netflix’s The Chair.
  • In a bit of a reading slump. For me, reading slumps don’t make me read less (nothing makes me read less!) but I enjoy it less. Probably because I’ve read several “blah” books in a row. Here’s hoping I find something good soon!
  • Getting lots of ideas for posts. I don’t know why that is, but my drafts folder is bursting. So stay tuned for more.
  • In the stage of editing hell where every word I write seems absolutely unpublishable and I start to wonder if I was crazy thinking that I could write another book.
  • Trying to make my internet presence a little more author-y (since I’m starting to work on actually publishing Frost. Ahhhhh!). I’m looking at new templates for my website, updating information, making logos… In some ways my blog/social media presence is all over the place. I know it’s supposed to be targeted to my potential audience and I should be focusing on read alikes for my blog, and similar genres in terms of film, tv, etc. But I’m not a focused person. My interests run far and wide, and I’d rather be myself online than focus and build a business. Besides you never know what will turn up in my writing someday.
  • Starting to think about getting some advance reviews for Frost. When Beautiful was published, one thing I wish I’d known is how much having advance reviews help with pre-orders and initial sales. So I definitely want to think about it for this release.
  • Wondering how on earth some authors are able to write and release several books a year! (see this post for more about that) I want to get to the point where I can do one book in two years, but it takes me four years per book to write/publish at the moment. Who knows if/when I’ll get there? I keep telling myself that’s OK: writing and publishing any books is an accomplishment! But I feel like I have a lot of stories I want to tell….
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Am I A “Writer?” Am I A “Published Author?”

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Let me make one thing clear:

If you write, you are a writer.

Full stop.

You don’t have to be published.

You don’t have to be paid.

You can write anything, anywhere.

I believe that completely. But it’s only in the last few years that I started to feel comfortable calling myself a writer. Really, the thing that changed was the publication of Beautiful. So why, if I believe all of the above, was I uncomfortable calling myself a writer before I’d published a book?

I think the reason my have something to do with how other people respond. Usually the first question that someone asks when you say you’re a writer, is “What do you write?” (or “What have you written?”)

I could have answered that before I published my book. I could have pointed to short fiction and articles in various publications, as well as the novels and novel fragments sitting on my computer while I tried to figure out what to do with them. But I didn’t feel comfortable answering that question until I was able to point to a book (or a link to a book) and say “that.”

My standards for myself have always been different from what I expect of other people. I’m harder on myself, and I demand more of myself. I think that’s probably fairly common. So while my criteria for other people is “you have to write to be a writer,” my criteria for myself was “you have to write and publish a novel to call yourself a writer.” Is it fair? Perhaps not. Is it hypocrical? Maybe. But it’s what made me comfortable.

Once I managed to call myself a writer though, I was surprised to find another mountain behind it. I’m still struggling to call myself a “published writer.”

Yes, I have a book out. It’s available to purchase. I’ve held a physical copy in my hands. The ebook is on amazon. But there are still a lot of prejudices about self publishing vs. traditional publishing. There’s also a lot of incorrect information. Note: I’ve addressed some of this in the past here. I see traditional publishing and self publishing as different means, to the same end- a published book.

But in spite of that, the words “published author” have a glamorous connotation. I picture book tours, hotels, signings and release parties. I think TV and film rights. In other words, I picture the complete opposite of my daily life! So I’m still trying to reconcile the difference in my head between being a “published author,” and the glamorous, high flying image, that I think depicts very few real-life authors, whether they’re self published or traditionally published.

As of right now, I’m calling myself a “published author” even though it does make me uncomfortable.

Because I know that the image that I have of the glitzy, beguiling author is completely fictional.

Because I know that self publishing is just as valid as traditional publishing.

Because I probably shouldn’t have waited as long as I did to call myself a “writer,” and I don’t want to make the same mistake with “published author.”

I’ve Been… (Vaccinated Edition)

  • Yes, I’ve been fully vaccinated! Yay! But still a bit anxious about returning to “normal” life, minus the masks and social distancing. It’s really amazing what you can get used to!
  • A bit conflicted about Sanditon being brought back. While I enjoyed season one of the show, the fact that Theo James won’t be returning takes it even further from Jane Austen. I was ok with it being left open ended after the first season, because Sanditon is, in fact, a novel fragment. However, Jane Austen wrote happy endings as a matter of personal policy, so it’s fair to say that Sanditon was intended to have one. While Theo James says in his statement that he likes the “broken fairy-tale,” Austen didn’t, saying of her novels: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”
  • Speaking of Jane Austen, I’ve recently stated reading Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelly DeWees. It’s interesting so far, but I was turned off by DeWees’ claim in the introduction that the reason that the work of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte are so popular, while other female writers have been forgotten, is that they paint a “pretty” picture of a sort of romantic idealized English lifestyle. That’s true of Austen to an extent, but she does much more than that. She’s also a satirist, and a social critic. This book gets into some of the social and political implications of her work. Charlotte Bronte also engaged in social criticism including commentary on the position of women in a patriarchal society. And Emily Bronte’s work isn’t pretty or romantic in the least! On the contrary it’s very dark and subversive. It can be downright “ugly” at times! I think the aim of the book, to look at the lives and work of several lesser know female writers is worthwhile, but that’s not because Austen or the Brontës lack depth.
  • Reading a lot of fantasy in May for #WyrdandWonder’s Challenge. Check out some of my posts here:
  • Really loving author Katherine Harbour’s blog. Harbour wrote the Night and Nothing trilogy, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago. I look forward to more of her work. Her blog is sort of a treasure trove of book recommendations (with some nice hidden gems!) and writing tips.
  • Enjoying the Britcom Miranda. I’ve blogged about my love of sitcoms before, but this one isn’t my usual style. But it’s really funny nonetheless, and is great comfort viewing. “Such fun!” Supposedly there’s an American version called Call Me Kat. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ll check it out at some point. I’m a bit skeptical though. For every one American version of a British TV show that translates well, there are about five that are just horrible!
  • Through an edit and several rounds of beta reading for Frost. I found this point in the process difficult with Beautiful too: how to tell when it’s “done?” And how to get from the “done writing” point to the “it’s a book!” point? Like is my next step a copy edit? Proofread? I thought that with my second book I’d know how to do this more, but it still seems like I’m sort of feeling my way through.
  • Reading more short fiction that usual, in both novella and short story format. I suppose that’s because I’m more interested in short fiction for my own writing, but I’m still in the process of working out how it’s done. It’s very different that a novel which develops over time. But most of my novels (as if I’ve written so many! We’re talking 2 out of 3 here!) have started as short stories and gradually expanded. I think what I’m trying to figure out is how to keep a short story a short story and make a novel a novel.

Call For Betas

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I’m trying to find some beta readers for my new book, Frost. It’s a stand alone sequel to Beautiful  (you don’t need to have read Beautiful to understand anything here. It follows different characters). It’s been through about 3-4 drafts and one edit at this point, and I’d like a better idea of what it needs next.

In the past, I’ve found betas in this goodreads group and on twitter, but I’m not having any luck this time around. Does anyone else know where beta readers can be found? Also if anyone wants to beta read it, please let me know!

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Resolutions and Hopes for 2021

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 12: Resolutions/Hopes for 2021 (bookish or not!)

I decided to keep this mostly bookish (or at least related to books/writing/blogging), but not be totally rigid about it. So if something non-bookish strikes me as appropriate, I’ll include it.

1. Finish writing and publish Frost. I’m about 3 drafts into it. It’s been through several beta reads and one edit so far, so I’m getting there. I’d wanted it done by now, but 2020 came with some delays and distractions, so I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked. I hope to finish it this year, but I’m trying to be understanding of the fact that unanticipated things sometimes get in the way of writing projects.

2. Read some of the books on my 2020 TBR that I didn’t get to yet.

3. Read more nonfiction. Fiction will always be my first love, but I’m trying to expand my interests, open my mind and learn new things. I’m also becoming more interested in creative nonfiction like memoirs, essays, etc. A few on my TBR

  • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman et al–  I’m a big fan of Anne Fadiman, who edited this, and I love the idea. I’m curious about how and why these writers decided what to reread. I’m totally conflicted about rereadings: there’s a lot I want to reread, because I suspect I’ll read it differently now. But I also don’t want to ruin any memories of books that might not live up to them. Plus can I justify rereading when there are so many books out there I haven’t read? I have no answers to these questions, but I’m curious how these writers answer them. Plus, I always love a good book about books!

4. Write more original blog posts. I wrote about this a little bit earlier. I love lists, and tags, and readalongs, but I do want to use my original voice more often. I want this blog to be a sort of combination of original posts/musings on life and literature, a way to share my writing, and a way to get to know other readers and writers.

5. Read more poetry. I think reading poetry makes me a better writer. I’ve never been someone who dives into volumes of poetry for hours. It’s not something I write naturally, but I appreciate the way it helps me see language a bit differently. I want to get to know contemporary poets better. Some favorites are Richard Siken, Jeannine Hall Gailey, the recently departed Mary Oliver, and Ada Limon.

6. Make more of an effort to write and publish short fiction. I think most of my literary efforts are spent on novels and nonfiction. I feel like that’s where I get the most feedback. But I also think that short fiction is worth the effort, even if I don’t get the most feedback from it.

7. Remember that reading goals, bookish resolutions, etc are are for fun. If I don’t hit a target or follow through on a goal, it’s not a failure, because it’s not something that matters. It’s something that’s supposed to be fun, pure and simple.

8. Be willing to DNF books. I have a lot of trouble with this. I feel like there’s a virtue in “sticking with something” even when I’m not enjoying it. Of course I know on a rational level that that’s not the case, but it’s hard to remember and believe. I sometimes act as if there’s some sort of prize to be won for sticking through something I’m not enjoying. I won’t say that there’s nothing to be gained by pushing through initial difficulty at times. I think that’s why I have so much trouble with this. There is something to by said for making an effort! But how much of an effort is necessary?

What are your bookish and non-bookish goals for 2021?

New Year Reflections

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Wow.

This is a year I never expected to have, that has challenged me in ways that I never could have predicted. For many others those changes have been even more drastic.

I usually post a sort of resolutions check in at this point: I think of it as a way to hold myself accountable for last year’s resolutions before I make this year’s.

But this year I’m not going to do that. This year I’ve had my mind on things other than whether or not I was keeping a resolution I made back in January when the world was a totally different place. Instead, I’m going to do a New Year’s Reflection: where I look back on the past year and think about where I am now and how I got here.

One thing I haven’t done as much as I’d want is writing. I’d wanted to have my second novel, Frost, finished and published by now. It’s getting there, but it’s happening slowly. I’m going to try not to be disappointed in myself for that. I’m going to try to accept the fact that this is the pace it’s going. I made the choice not to rush it and publish something I’m not proud of. I hope to finish this project in 2021, but we’ll see what next year brings.

Actually, as I look at my posts on this blog from the past year, I’m seeing a lot of Top Ten Tuesdays. That’s partially because I like making these lists. I also find it oddly relaxing . When I’m worrying about something, it helps to engage my mind in something else. The other reason I’ve done them so much, is that I like having something to post. Believe it or not, my life isn’t always glamourous and exiting! But I enjoy posting on here. I like reading other people’s blogs. I like the people who comment on my posts. So I continue to make them, and TTT gives me a way to do that, even when I don’t have any brilliant ideas!

Another thing I’m seeing is the read along I did of Kushiel’s Dart, hosted by Imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More. I’d been meaning to read that book for years. It’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting for me. But I haven’t always been up for a 1000 pager. The read along gave me a way to read it that was supportive, and having the weekly check ins and schedule held me accountable. I’m still not quite sure if I liked the book, but I definitely liked the experience.

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But I am also seeing more “original” posts than I thought! Take a look:

Sitcoms in the Time of Covid (A look at something that’s helped.)

I’ve Been (2020 Hellscape Edition)

Novels That Would Be Great On Stage (not a TTT, but a list nonetheless!)

“Yet still I keep thinking that something wonderful is about to happen. Maybe tomorrow.” – A Patti Smith Reader (This pretty much what it says)!

“Need A Sitter” Why yes, I do (A look at the Babysitter’s Club; then and now)

I’ve Been

On Race, Justice, and Other Pressing Matters of the Day (and also books) (I’m glad I looked back at this one. It’s a reminder to myself. )

Favorite Non-Disney Fairy Tale Films (Again, exactly what it sounds like!)

Non-Disney Fairy Tale Movies: The Sequel (writing the first one was fun, so I did another!)

I’ve Been: Lockdown Edition

While You’re Isolated… (It was fun coming up with a list of events and resources during lockdown)

I’ve Been: Social Distancing Edition (This was only the beginning!)

Things That Make Me Happy (wow! I thought the first two months of 2020 were stressful. Little did I know… But I’m glad I read again. It’s always nice to have a reminder of the little things I love)

Why Self Publishing is Harder Than People Think (I had completely forgotten I wrote this! Most of what it says still stands)

What Does it Mean To Be A Successful Author? (I needed to reread this today. I’m glad I did)

On Relaxation (Back in January, when I thought I was stressed.)

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I didn’t include any posts that were part of TTTs or tags or readathons. But they are there. One thing that strikes me as I look back on them is how often I’d begin a post the same way I began this one: with some sort of mention of how hard this year has been. I think that’s partially because I still can’t believe it. But also a reminder to myself that this is something that everyone is going through together. Our experiences haven’t been the same by any means, but it’s affected all of us in some way.

So we’ll see how 2021 goes. Hopefully better. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I’m making a New Year’s wish: Better times. For all of us.

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