Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Resurrection of V.C. Andrews

A few weeks ago, I had the following conversation with my mother over the phone:

Mom: I have to go soon. We're going to watch Flowers in the Attic on Lifetime.
Me: Flowers in the Attic? Are you serious? Do you know anything about those books?
Mom: Well, I know your sister used to read them when she was in high school. (Which is true. My oldest sister went through a big horror stage at one time.)
Me: So, you know V.C. Andrews wrote the series. Do you have any idea what the story's about?
Mom: Abuse.
Me: Among other things.
Mom: What's that supposed to mean?
Me: Let's just say there's a relationship that develops between the older siblings.
Mom: Oh. Hey, it's on I gotta go.

The disturbing Dollanganger clan hanging out in the attic.

Who would've thought that all these years later a story like Flowers in the Attic would cut short my telephone conversation with my mother. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. My mother never showed a shred of interest in books like that when I was growing up.

But, this conversation got the wheels in my head turning. Like many of you out there, I've read a V.C. Andrews book or two. Okay, maybe only two now that I think about it. I was never much of a fan of hers. By the time I was in high school, her work was no longer popular among the kids in my class. For those of you unacquainted with her novels, Andrews' work had a flair for Gothic horror and strange family saga, usually mixing a forbidden, or should I say taboo, love into the mix. She was, in my opinion at least, one of the few writers back in the late seventies and eighties writing genre fiction for what is now considered the YA market. Her stories had those creepy, forbidden elements that are now found everywhere in YA literature.

V.C. Andrews with her
first novel
For whatever reason, I decided to take a crazy trip down memory lane. I visited the local library and perused the V.C. Andrews titles on the shelves. What I discovered was something as eerie and shocking as some of the story elements found in one of her books:  Although she died in 1986 from breast cancer, new novels by her are still being published today.

At first, I was thoroughly confused, because I was almost sure she had died quite a while back. On a whim, I pulled a book off the shelf and flipped to the copyright page. This is what it said:
"Following the death of Virginia Andrews, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews' stories and to create additional novels, of which this is one, inspired by her storytelling genius."
I was a bit gobsmacked after reading this. My first thought was, "What a ripoff!" Books are still being published under her name, but she's not even the author? My second thought was, "Why would any author want to publish under some other author's name?" The answer to that is probably a financial one, but that's just my opinion. I ended up checking the book out, because I wanted to see the style of this "other author" and how it supposedly translates to Andrews' style.

The book I chose, Delia's Crossing, is from a Mexican girl's point of view. We follow her from Mexico, after a horrific accident has claimed the lives of her parents, to California where she winds up being the household maid for her screechy, evil aunt. What I found is that although the ghost-writer, (how apropos for an Andrews novel) Andrew Neiderman, uses the same themes as Andrews did (i.e. rape, evil family members, questionable cousins, deep dark secrets, etc.) the story feels repetitive and really brings nothing new to the table. Delia's Crossing is a fast, easy read, but about halfway through, I was tired of the shrill aunt, the shrill cousin, and the almost paint-by-numbers approach to the plot. Maybe I need to be fifteen again to enjoy the salacious content.

For whatever reason, after I put the book aside, I couldn't shake the V.C. Andrews cult. That's kind of what it is really. Why do we cling the the way this author wrote to the point that we'd read a book that lures the reader in under false pretexts (i.e. Andrews' name)? Whatever it is, her estate found a lucrative foothold. Why would her estate continue to publish books that aren't even by her, but bearing her name, all these years after her death? Because just like the IRS figured out, her name alone is a valuable commercial asset. She is a business, plain and simple, plying the audience with inauthentic versions of the actual product, just like Walmart or McDonald's.

And this is what I find so disappointing about what's happened with V.C. Andrews' writing. As a writer, my story ideas come from my head alone. I don't care how many notes or half-written books I leave behind when I die, I have no intention of having posthumous stuff published unless it was already on its way out the door to the publishers. I don't want my work to be stripped to its bare bones, passed onto another writer to write as he/she wishes. I want my craft to be just that -- my craft. I have no idea what V.C. Andrews' wishes were concerning her work, but if this was not what she had in mind, then I find it very disappointing. Margaret Mitchell expressed how there would never be a sequel to Gone With the Wind, and look what happened there. J.D. Salinger, as odd as he was, viewed his work in the same light. His will states that none of his work is to be published until fifty years after his death.

So, here are my questions to you:  Are you a fan (or have you been in the past) of V.C. Andrews' books? Have you read the ones written by her ghost-writer? Do they stand up to Andrews' original works? Do you know of any authors whose work has received the same posthumous treatment?


  1. Firstly, I devoured V C Andrew's novels in my teens, not recognising that they were Gothic, horror etc. I just found them creepily enjoyable and read most of them. I can understand the family wanting to cash in on the name, why, there's millions to be made. This is not unusual. I bought Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, but confess I haven't opened as it somehow seems a bit wrong. There have been some Hemingway books by his family, but they don't purport to be Hemingway's unfinished manuscripts, yet they still cash in on his name. I know I've read other novels that are supposedly the original author's unfinished work, but their names escape me - isn't there a Jane Austen or two?

    Good topic. I hope it engenders some good discussion.

    Hope you're well, sisters!


    1. It's good to see you stop by, Denise!

      I've heard a lot about posthumous works being published by authors who had unfinished work. What gets me about Andrews' situation is that there has been a constant slew of books written under her name (seriously, the only place in the book that states that this is not a real work by Andrews is in that short paragraph I found on the copyright page), but she hasn't been writing since the eighties. Does that really mean these other novels are from Andrews' creativity? Or is it just another writer, writing his version of her work as he interprets it, and being paid to use her name? I knew that both Scarlet and Rhett Butler's People were written by other authors, because their names are right there on the covers.

      Ghostwriting comes in many different forms. I just feel that what we see with Andrews' "work" comes off as duping the reading audience in order to make a buck off her name. It rubbed me the wrong way when I did a little research and found out what was going on.

      You probably would've gotten along really well with my sister! She loved reading these types of books as much as she loved eating candy! (She was quite the candyholic.) :)

  2. What a juicy post, Sister Mary!

    Let's see, I saw "Flowers in the Attic" when I was 13 or 14 with my best friend and we were both fascinated and horrified!! Years later I read the novel and noticed that the incest was more pronounced there. I only read that one novel of hers, but a girl I knew at the time was absolutely OBSESSED with all her books and told me the entire saga, which included other family members having incestuous relationships (in fact, I believe the Flowers in the Attic mother had married her brother or uncle or someone close to her and that was why her parents rejected her). I did see the commercial for this new version in Lifetime, but had zero interest in watching it, ha! Another thing, there is a girl in my daughter's class (10 years old) who is apparently reading this novel for a book report (!!!!) I couldn't believe the teacher thought it was a good idea!

    Like you say, there's different types of ghostwriting. I've heard Sydney Sheldon had assistants who wrote his novels after he told them the general idea (I don't know if this is true). There's also a Spanish romance writer called Corin Tellado who, I believe, did the same thing. To this day, her short stories are published in a monthly magazine (Vanidades) and the lady has been dead for a few years.

    1. "there is a girl in my daughter's class (10 years old) who is apparently reading this novel for a book report" Oh man. That did make my jaw drop.

    2. Yeah, mine did too on that one! I can't even fathom my daughter reading these stories. I'd say I was in the eighth grade by the time I read my first Andrews book. And it wasn't even Flowers in the Attic. I really can't remember which one it was, but it had similar elements that are found in Flowers in the Attic.

      I know that writers like James Patterson and Clive Cussler farm out their work, but they're still alive and have control of what's going on.

  3. P.S. What did your mom think of the movie??

    1. I don't know. I have yet to ask her. I'm a little worried that she liked it!

  4. I never read these books; my tawdry teenage tastes ran to Clan of the Cave Bear. (Paleo sex! And how!) It does seem like there's a difference between posthumous publications based on the author's notes (like the Silmarillion, edited and published after Tolkien's death) and this, which seems like a blatant misappropriation of VC Andrews' name.

    1. I read one of the Clan of the Cave Bear books, but was never overly taken with the story. Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out that Paleo sex one...

  5. I read all of her books when I was growing up. There was something so creepy about them that I would stay up all night reading them. My Sweet Audrina was probably my favorite (not in the Flowers in the Attic series). I think I read one or two by ghost writers, because I didn't realize it at the time. I remember stopping because something didn't feel right and looking at the back of the book at one point where there was a message like the one you mentioned. I finished reading the book, but that was the last one I read. She has been gone a long time now. If anything I can see someone finishing the last book in a series with her notes (if they were almost complete), but starting new series seems very odd.

    Did your mom like the movie? I didn't see it.

    1. Yeah, you know there is a different feel with the ghostwritten books than with the original ones. I think the one thing that's missing is that overall creepy vibe that you get right from the beginning. It's somehow just not really there.

      Okay, now I really do have to ask my mom if she liked the movie!

  6. Oh gosh I remember how BIG those books were in high school, such scary forbidden territory!! I've heard there was a ghostwriter but was never tempted to read more. What a trip down memory lane though. Some of those scenes from the Flowers series are emblazoned in my mind permanently!!!

  7. I hope you enjoyed the trip, Margo! :)


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