Ghostwriting is so Cliche

What a treat!  This week all you faithful readers essentially get two blogs in one.  We were going to talk about trends in fiction, and after doing some research we discovered that we had each found one trend that truly interested us.  These trends didn’t blend together very well, but we wouldn’t let something like that stop us.  So we’ve done it more like separate blogs together in one post.  I’ll start with a piece on writers who keep right on writing despite visits from the Grim Reaper, and then Christina will talk about clichés in young adult fiction.

Chris:  What happens when a beloved writer passes away?  Well, in some cases they keep right on writing!  You might say they are ghostwriters.

Ghost writer book Technically a ghostwriter is someone whose writing is credited to another person.  A common example of this is the autobiography of a celebrity or athlete who wants to tell (or sell) their story but aren’t very good at writing.  But I thought that ghostwriter sounded good for this subject as well.
Our first example is V. C. Andrews, who first achieved success in 1979 with Flowers in the Attic.  Her most recent book in our libraries is Into the Darkness, a teen vampire book.  It was released this year, and she has at least two books scheduled for release in 2013.  Not bad for someone who passed away in 1986.  That is not a typo: V. C. Andrews died in 1986 at the age of 63.  So where do the over 50 books with her name on them published since then come from?  From a ghost writer named Andrew Neiderman.  Neiderman, who has several dozen novels under his own name, was hired by Andrews estate to write books under Andrews name, and he continues to do so today.

Our next case involves Douglas Adams, who wrote the wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy five book trilogy series.  Again, not a typo.  His “trilogy” did consist of five books.  And interestingly enough didn’t start out as books but as a BBC radio comedy.  He suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49.  In 2009, with the full support of Adams’ estate, author Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) put out the sixth book in the “trilogy”.  And Another Thing… was released on the 30 year anniversary of the publishing of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  While And Another Thing… may not quite match up to the originals it does feature the eldritch horror Cthulhu going through a job interview.  The book is worth reading for that part alone.

And then we have Robert Ludlum.  Ludlum is best known for writing the Jason Bourne series of thrillers.  He died in 2001 at the age of 73 after suffering severe burns in a mysterious fire.  Following the success of the film adaptation of the Bourne Identity author Eric Van Lustbader received permission from the Ludlum estate to write more original Bourne novels, and has put out seven of them so far.  These books feature both Ludlum’s and Lustbader’s names on the covers, indicating that it is Ludlum’s character but Lustbader’s writing.

James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was the author of a very successful fantasy series.  I suspect that most of you have not heard of him.  Rigney used a variety of pen names in his writing, and the one he used for fantasy novels was Robert Jordan.  The series is the Wheel of Time, which has sold over 40 million copies to date.  He originally planned for it to be a six book series, but as time went on he expanded that idea to twelve books.  Unfortunately in 2006 Rigney revealed that he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, and he passed away in 2007 at the age of 58.  He was working on the final volume of the series at the time of his death.  Since he knew his time was short Rigney had shared his plans for the book with his family, and later in 2007 his widow, the poet and editor Harriet McDougal, chose author Brandon Sanderson to finish the series.  Reviewing all the notes that Rigney had left behind, Sanderson concluded that the series couldn’t be wrapped up in a single volume.  Instead the series has been expanded to a total of 14 books (plus a prequel), with Sanderson penning the last three of them, with the final one due out in January of 2013.

Skull on books

These sort of things have been happening for longer than you might think.  L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, starting in 1900 with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Following his death in 1919 publishers Reilly & Lee printed another 26 books based on Oz, written by a variety of authors.  And since the original Oz books have passed into the public domain many other writers have joined in the Oz party, perhaps most notably Gregory Maguire with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and its sequels.  Wicked has even been turned into a succesful Broadway musical.

Sometimes the writing stays in the family.  Brian Herbert, with collaborator Kevin J. Anderson, has continued his father Frank Herbert’s Dune series.  Felix Francis co-wrote his father Dick Francis’ last six books, and now that his father has passed is writing them on his own.  As Anne McCaffrey aged she started sharing writing duties for her Dragonriders of Pern series with her son Todd, who carries on the series after her passing.

And finally we have Robert B. Parker, the renowned crime novelist.  He died in 2010 at the age of 77.  In 2011 his estate, in agreement with his publisher, decided to continue two of his popular series.  Michael Brandman will write new Jesse Stone books, and Ace Atkins will pen new Spenser novels.

Christina: All awesome stuff. Now, ghostwriting isn’t a cliché, but if you’ve readGirl reading a few Young Adult novels, you’ve come across some things that seem to keep popping up. It could be a coming-of-age story, an angsty drama, a hilarious comedy, a romance, a horror, etc., but these things sprout up like weeds.

They are the dreaded clichés of YA books.

I’ll list them for you here, but don’t despair! I have some suggestions after the list that avoid these tropes.

1.) Love triangles – This probably started with the King of YA books: Twilight. It seems to show up in every single YA book with a romance; the self-proclaimed “plain” main character suddenly has two guys vying for her affection. The problem is that they’re often there to serve up conflict in an otherwise boring story.

2.) Insta-love – Some people believe in love at first sight, but even if you do, you have to admit that love grows over time. Having things in common, respecting each other’s views, admiring positive qualities…all traits of love.

Young couple in loveInsta-love, however, is when two characters fall in love for no real reason, except that they find each other attractive. “But he’s seriously hot” only goes so far, and doesn’t make up for a love interest who’s actually a huge jerk.

Even if he’s a saint, however, the book suffers from lack of a realistic romance, meaning one that grows into a loving relationship. Just as a car chase scene in an action movie is so much more exciting when you care about the people involved, a love story means so much more when you believe that these two are in love.

3.) Mean cheerleader/popular girl – If you haven’t seen Mean Girls yet, you should. It’s a hilarious, fantastic movie, and it’s pretty accurate in depicting how evil high school can be. Still, it’s a bit much to see the main character of a YA novel (often a girl) being bullied or taunted by the perfect, popular, often blond cheerleader/queen bee. Sure, this happens in real life, but the mean girl in question is usually one-dimensional. Miss Mean Girl has one mission in life: to make the main character as miserable as possible. Again, bullying is an unfortunately real experience, but having the future prom queen devote all of her spare time to such a cause seems unrealistic at best. What’s worse, she often exists in the story as someone out to steal away the heroine’s boyfriend.

Which brings us to…

4.) Non-human love interest – Obviously, vampires are still all the rage, but lately the otherworldly creatures that fictional girls are crushing on are werewolves and angels. All three are “dangerous”, “misunderstood”, and only have eyes for the protagonist.

Oh, and they’re not human. And they have powers. Plus they might be decades – or even centuries – older than their girlfriend. Gross.

This cliché has been done to death, and hopefully it won’t lead to scores of teen girls pining after a hunky version of The Swamp Thing.

5.) Funny best friend – Patton Oswalt has pointed out that the “fat, funny best friend” you often see in romantic comedies and sitcoms are always going to be in vogue, and he has a point. Plus the main character should have a friend, as even the unpopular kids in high school had their own clique. Still, I find myself often wishing that the book was about this friend, as s/he is funnier/more interesting/more intelligent than the main character. (If you feel the same way, check out The D.U.F.F. on the upcoming list)

And finally…

6.) Mary Sues –

Mary Sue definitionOh, the dreaded Mary Sue. If you’re not familiar with this term, here is an explanation, but it basically describes a character that’s too good to be true. She’s beautiful, modest, kind, intelligent…any positive trait you can think of, she’s got it (The male counterpart is a Gary Stu). The problem is that what makes a character interesting is his/her flaws, and therefore Mary Sues make for a boring story.

Your head might be reeling at all this negativity, but rejoice! There are great YA books out there that stand out. Here are just some of them:

Let us know if you can think of another great YA book that deserves to be on the list!

Find a list of the books mentioned in the Ghostwriting section here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Find a list of the books mentioned in the Young Adult cliches section here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

(Edited 10/31/14 to fix/replace broken links, correct typos, and add bookbag)

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