Maybe it’s the season, but I’ve been thinking about ghost writers lately. Not the kind Wikipedia describes as “a person who is hired to author books, manuscripts, screenplays, speeches, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.” The ghost writers I’m thinking about are those writers who, although they have passed from this world, continue to write stories from the grave.
I’m certain you’ve seen them in book departments; newly released books by authors you know are no longer with us. Of course sometimes they are simply reissues of older titles, and a check of the copyright date will confirm this, but many times they truly are new stories supposedly written by long-gone authors. I know V.C. Andrews continued to write best-sellers long after her demise, as did western author Louis L’Amour. More recently, one of my all-time favorite authors Janet Dailey, who passed a few years ago, has had new releases on the shelf. At first I thought it might be these were stories written before the author died and just hadn’t been published yet, but as the years have gone by and new titles have continued to appear, I have to figure the publisher knew a good thing and wasn’t ready to let it go.
In the case of Mr. L’Amour, he not only published but did leave behind a vast body of work that was never published, or had been published in his early author days. From what I gleaned in reading articles about him, they were stories he did not feel were worthy of publication or reissue. Yet the money to be had from bringing them out after he was gone was apparently too much to resist.
I was a huge fan of Janet Dailey and back in the day read her Harlequin Presents Romances that were set in all 50 states, as well as many of her single titles and the Calder Family books. I recognize those books when they are re-released, but others do have new copyright dates. I’ve bought one or two titles, just to see how closely they adhere to Janet’s writing style, but something tells me they won’t be the same. Anymore than those old stories written by a young struggling author in the days of pulp fiction are the same as the sagas and classic westerns Louis L’Amour wrote in his heyday.
While fans are happy to see these new titles (how many people even realize the author is gone?), I have to wonder, how would the authors themselves feel about others writing under their names? Would Louis L’Amour be upset that the stories he never wanted to see the light of day are now published? How would Janet Dailey like it that someone else is writing about the characters she created and trying to emulate the stories she crafted? Should we have respect for authors so that when they do pass their work is protected from imitators? Should we honor the wishes of authors who do not want their earlier efforts subjected to the public eye? I do remember that the great mystery author Agatha Christie killed off her main character, Hercule Poirot, when she no longer would write about him, to prevent another author or publisher from discovering his marketability.
Not that I will ever put myself in the same category as these writers, but I would like to think any stories I banished to the bottom drawer of the file cabinet would remain there after I’m gone (and perhaps even go to the shredder). Neither would I want my characters, the ones I labored to create, to become the property of another writer. In the end, it should be about respect and not how much profit can be made from putting books out there after an author has gone to that great bookstore in the sky.