What better place to begin than the book that started it all? Flowers in the Attic, also known as "Deflowered in the Attic" (but only because I just called it that OH MY WIT), is the book that introduced us to the incestuous genetic cesspool that is the Dollanganger Saga.
V.C. Andrews shopped this book as a true story, and a couple of her relatives have backed up that story over the years. The legend goes that when V.C. was spending one of her several stays in a hospital, she was taken with a handsome young doctor who confided that he had belonged to a wealthy local family that locked him and his siblings in an attic for many, many years. V.C. always insisted that the family was much too wealthy and important for the story to ever be verified, but in her original pitch letter, she described the book as "the fictionalized version of a true story" and claimed it was "not truly fiction."
Yet in another story, which appears in an excerpt from an interview published in the front of later editions shortly after her death, V.C. also claimed that her inspiration came from a dream: "I dreamed I was rich and famous--and I saw flowers growing in an attic." Based on certain details about Andrews, I am inclined to believe that this was literally a dream.
Andrews appears to have been--um. How should I put this? A very sensitive woman. Of the kind that straddles the line between genuine mysticism and New Age kookiness. Like your aunt who gets those weird newspapers. You don't have to look much further than her fiction to see that. She even seems to have been a bit of a mystic, in a thoroughly conventional, late-seventies/early-eighties Linda Goodman's Sun Signs sort of way. In her famous "Faces of Fear" interview, she stated her belief that she was an "old soul" who had lived many previous lives, and who often had precognitive dreams. I think likely what we're looking at is a combination of the two stories: that Andrews did meet her handsome young doctor, that he might have told her that he had had an unhappy childhood, and that she then had her dream and may have interpreted to mean that the doctor had been locked in an attic as a child.
Would she have believed her own interpretation? To the point that she would state it boldly and upfront to a potential publisher? Possibly; she appears to have placed great weight on her abilities. Did her publishers take her explanation as fact? Probably not. But I also think that if you're going to publish a novel in the lurid late 70s, with things like Mommie Dearest and Looking for Mr. Goodbar coming out only a few years before, the old based-on-a-true-story-so-shocking-I-mustn't-give-you-any-more-details line can't hurt your sales any.
Do I believe it's a true story? No way. If only for this reason: in this day and age of reality entertainment, open discussion of child abuse, Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer*, and talk-show culture, someone would have come forward by now. So far, there's been no one, even an obvious crazy trying to pitch a Lifetime movie. Andrews and/or her publicist seems to have cooled toward this claim over the years; once Andrews became a brand-name writer, the based-on-a-true-story angle was quietly shelved.
Therefore, I think we can get over our guilt that we are potentially lapping up the lifeblood of innocent children and dive right into this horror-show, don't you?
*No, I don't believe that was a true story either.