Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The $1,244,910.84 Question

Since this piece deals so heavily in disclaimers, here's one of my own:  the following post is not some brilliant piece of investigative journalism, believe me.  It's all available in legal records, although those records suffer  from being really boring, full of legalese, and in the main irrelevant to our interests here.  For a fascinating few hours' reading, however, go to The Estate of Virginia C. Andrews v U.S.

The Official Fiction: In the Faces of Fear* interview a year before her death, Andrews claimed to have notes for sixty-three future stories, although she was a little vague about whether or not these were individual novels or full sagas. While I wouldn't be surprised by either, I'm guessing she meant novels (if only because the idea of anyone having notes for sixty-three five-book series intimidates the bejeezus out of me).

After Andrews's death, her publishers actively perpetuated the idea that Andrews left behind an unspecified number of completed novels, which they planned to publish one by one.  A little later, the story evolved that Andrews's estate was working with a carefully selected writer to "complete" Andrews's unfinished novels.  Still later, the claim was that the estate was working with that same "carefully selected" author to write stories inspired by Andrews.

The Problem: If there is any grain of truth to the Official Fiction, then by the date of this writing her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman, has produced very nearly seventy novels under Andrews's name, meaning that either we are fast approaching the end any potential leftover Andrews-fodder or we are in the "inspired by" stage and have been for quite some time.

The $1,244,910.84 Question: when, exactly, did V.C. Andrews stop writing?  Which books are hers, which were written by the ghostwriter, and which are a posthumous collaboration between the two?  What became of the mythical sixty-three future novels?

As it turned out, the only person who could answer that question was the IRS.

Dramatis Personae:

V.C Andrews: Our Heroine
Anita Diamant: The Agent
Ann Patty:  The Editor
Jack Romanos: The Publisher
Andrew Neiderman: The Ghostwriter
The IRS as itself

Andrews was dying of breast cancer in 1986.  Being an extraordinarily private person, she allegedly kept this a secret from almost everyone, including her professional publishing contacts.  Her long-time editor, Ann Patty,** knew that Andrews was unwell around 1985, because Andrews was too ill to assist in editing Dark Angel (which came out 1986).  Patty, it seems, did all the editing on that book without any input from Andrews.  This is actually not uncommon between an author and an editor with a good relationship.  What it does establish, in the face of the events to follow, is that maybe Patty didn't know Andrews was actually dying, but she knew Andrews was ill enough that she could no longer participate in the editing process.

In October 1986, Patty sent Andrews a contract for two more books: Fallen Hearts (to be published in 1987) and Garden of Shadows (1988).  There was a shitlode, and I do not use this word lightly, of money riding on these two books: this contract carried a three million dollar advance, a large chunk of which was payable immediately, the rest upon publication.  It was a figure that suggests that no one had any clue just how sick Andrews really was.  You don't pony up three million dollars if the author might die before she can deliver.

Even though she knew she was not much longer for this world, Andrews signed the contract in November 1986.  My baseless speculation in this case is that she wanted to make one last sweep of cash to make certain her family and final affairs would be taken care of; it seems a reasonable conclusion to reach.  Perhaps she was even optimistic enough to believe she could finish the books before she died.  Andrews then wrote about one hundred pages of what would have eventually been Fallen Hearts.  According to legal records, none of this material was actually used in the book.  However, for some strange and totally unsuspicious reason, her publisher did not receive the signed contract until late December, after Andrews's death.  Therefore, no money changed hands.

Almost immediately after Andrews's death, the publisher hinted that maybe the editor might like to approach Andrews's family regarding allowing a ghostwriter to continue writing, under the terms of the same enormous contract originally proposed to Andrews before her death.  (Actually, the publisher sent Patty to Andrews's funeral to hit up the family "should appropriate circumstances arise."  Nobody ever said the publishing industry was classy.)  Patty selected Andrew Neiderman, an "obscure" author (and I've always wondered how he felt about that classification) to write a sample chapter of Garden of Shadows.

Neiderman promptly read all of the Andrews's previous novels, then entered the text of the novels onto a computer and analyzed them for syntax and word usage.  Whether the chapter he produced at this time was the same as the published first chapter is not known, but it was good enough to convince the publishers that they'd found their ghostwriter.

This was a huge business risk for everyone involved.  While it was not exactly uncommon for a long-running series to continue under a ghostwriter, no one had ever tried it with an author of Andrews's distinctive stature.  The Andrews estate in particular was afraid of what a bomb could do to their royalties.  It wasn't so much that old, loyal fans might not buy the new book, which was, after all, only one book.  But with each new book Andrews published in her lifetime, uncountable numbers of new customers would read it, enjoy it, and then go on to purchase all of the previous books.  If Neiderman's ghostwriting couldn't keep a new reader's interest in the way Andrews's writing could, the reader was likely to give up after one book.

But Garden of Shadows was spot-on.  People loved it.  They bought it in droves.

Over the next few years, three contracts were written up for the ghostwriter.  One was the original contract given to Andrews for Garden of Shadows and Fallen Hearts.  The second contract was for three more novels, presumably the final two Casteel novels (Gates of Paradise and Web of Dreams) and Dawn, the first novel completely unrelated to anything Andrews herself had written. 

On the third contract, the Estate laid down the proviso that future novels would use no characters previously created by Andrews herself.  This essentially shut the door on any future Dollanganger novels about Bart and Jory, any potential sequels to My Sweet Audrina, and--presumably--any characters from any unpublished novels.  Interestingly enough, it also marked the beginning of that weird moment in the Casteel Saga where the stories themselves began to move away from central Andrews characters: In Gates of Paradise, Heaven dies, leaving the story to be carried on by a relatively new and obscure character, Heaven's adult daughter.  The main character of Web of Dreams was the hitherto largely absent Leigh, who was dead for the original four books.  Dawn of course introduced a completely original cast.

Everyone behind the scenes knew that Andrews had made this famous statement in Faces of Fear about the closet full of novels she presumably had locked away.  The public didn't know much about V.C. Andrews to begin with.  Andrews was adamant about keeping her private life private.  Hell, even her publisher didn't know she was dying until after she was dead.  And the public never got the news at all.

It's not that they out-and-out lied and told the public she was still alive.  It's just that they wouldn't exactly tell them she was dead.  Therefore, all they had to do was keep the news quiet and let the consumers make the reasonable assumption that you have to be alive to write a new novel.  It was, in fact, not until 1990 before the publishers formally announced that Andrews had died--by which time she had been dead four years but had "written" five books.

The books began to bear this statement:
When Virginia became seriously ill while writing the Casteel series, she began to work even harder, hoping to finish as many stories as possible so that her fans could one day share them. Just before she died we promised ourselves that we would take all of these wonderful stories and make them available to her readers.
In spite of these PR precautions, word about the ghostwriter began to slip out, although, as I recall, no one had specifically pinned the job on Neiderman.  Moreover, their worst fears had come to pass: once the public found out that Andrews was no longer the one behind the wheel, sales began to fall off (no one, as far as I know, cared to attribute these flagging sales to the quality of the later books).  Frantically, they changed the disclaimer to cover their asses:
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.
That's a brilliant piece of subterfuge right there.  It sells the idea that the Andrews estate, in their grief, went through the country with a lamp looking for a poor-but-honest writer to organize some of the many, many manuscripts Andrews left scattered about after her death.  It makes it sound as if they hired this other writer to do light housekeeping--just dust her desk and straighten up all these stacks of papers.  More importantly, it makes it sound as if this was something the family wanted to do for the sake of Andrews and her many fans, conveniently leaving the publisher (and any vulgar matters of money) out of the whole mess.

Neiderman himself was--and still likely is--under a hella non-disclosure agreement.  To this day, if you write to Neiderman and ask him which books he wrote, he'll pretend it's a super-funsie guessing game.  If you outright say which book you think he wrote, he will tell you you are correct, probably whether you are or not.  But back at the beginning, where the line between them blurs, the publishers wanted to keep his name completely out of it.

The story finally broke wide open when the IRS realized that everyone involved--the Andrews estate, the publisher, and the ghostwriter--was clocking crazy loot off this deal due solely to the fact that the Official Fiction remained in place, the Official Fiction being that Andrews herself was in any way associated with the current novels . . . which she was not.  The IRS decided that the name, reputation, and mystique of "V.C. Andrews" was itself a taxable asset, and that its value, based upon the advances offered to the Estate for the three contracts following Andrews's death, was $1,244,910.84.

Beyond this point, Estate of V.C. Andrews v U.S.*** gets incredibly boring and deals with what a "reasonable buyer" would know at the time of purchasing a V.C. Andrews novel.  Seriously.  The IRS had a lawsuit to determine what goes through your head and mine when we see a V.C. Andrews novel at the bookstore****.  Your tax dollars at work.

They may have a point there.  From my experience as a reader with limited marketing insight, I know plenty of people who believe that Andrews is still alive and/or that all the current novels were either written by her or based on her notes.  These people can be found with limited effort on almost any Internet group where Andrews novels are discussed. One of the favorite guessing games of such groups is who-really-wrote-what.

The upshot is simple, and a little sad: the books that Andrews had published at the time of her death are all she wrote.  And the way things are looking, we may never see those sixty-three stories Andrews claimed to have written just before she died.

*Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror is required reading for anyone interested in this period of horror writing, featuring conversations with such titanic names as Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Stephen King, and Michael McDowell (who is a favorite of mine).  In addition, it contains one of the very few interviews V.C. Andrews ever gave.

**Yes, she DID have an editor.

***With a few small but notable exceptions: V.C. Andrews v U.S. mentions two novels that were rejected because they didn't fit Andrews's "children in jeopardy" genre:  All the Gallant Snowflakes and--oddly--The Obsessed.  The Obsessed is often given as the title of the first novel Andrews ever wrote, the one that was eventually revised into Flowers in the Attic.  But in the records, it is a completely separate work that doesn't even fit into the genre established by Flowers in the Attic.  It's an intriguing little mystery.

****In my case it is "What relative does she sleep with THIS time?" 


  1. That explains so much. It explains why there are characters whose names get changed (Mel to Mal, for example--I just thought it was careless editing), and DEFINITELY the style. It's obvious, from when you read between Dark Angel and the one right after--Fallen Hearts, I think? I don't know. The characters change personalities so drastically.

    The first few series after she passed were OK. Dawn and the Ruby ones. After that, I don't know.

    Also, when you get to Dawn, you'll notice a line lifted directly out of Flowers in the Attic. Exact same line.


    1. Not just in Dawn, but during an intimate scene between Dawn and Michael in Secrets of the Morning was lifted word for word from Petals.

      In my opinion, the cutler series plot sounds likes something V.C would have came up with. But the stories themselves...are not.

  2. I loved this! I knew nothing about her ghostwriter prior to reading this. Very informative & entertaining. I didn't know if the blog's on Twitter, but I gave the post a shout-out there.


  3. The IRS determined the dollar value of a dead woman's name.

    So when will they be pricing love and happiness?

    Seriously, though, this is really interesting, especially the bit about the publishers simply not informing readers about Andrews' death. That just wows me, and not in a good way.

  4. This is actually when / why I quit reading "V.C. Andrews" books. I loved My Sweet Audrina and the first four books in the Dollanganger Saga. I was thrilled when Cathy finally got together with Chris. Bless his heart, he deserved the happiness - and he was a better husband and father than any of those other douche bags.

    I read Heaven and Dark Angel - really enjoyed them. I didn't love them nearly as much as the FITA series, but they grew on me (gotta love Troy Tatterton!) - I was reading each book as soon as it came out. And when Fallen Hearts came out - I remember reading it and thinking to myself - That's not her. Something about the writing - it didn't sound like Andrews to me.

    I made myself finish the rest of the novel - but when Gates of Paradise came out - as soon as I began reading it - I knew immediately that Andrews hadn't written it. She has such a distinctive voice / writing style - and it was missing.

    Because I knew she HAD written Heaven and Dark Angel - I read the rest of the series out of respect for her - and to tie up the loose ends because I did want to know how that series ended.

    When Garden of Shadows came out - I read it - because I wanted to see what kind of explanation their ghost writer had come up with to perhaps explain why Olivia and Corrine ended up being a couple of @#$$%$^*.

    But I didn't bother reading another book again. I've heard people talking about that Dawn series, or the Ruby series - but I have no desire to read any of those books because I know Andrews didn't write them. And based on conversations with people who have read the subsequent series - I clearly haven't missed anything because I'm told repeatedly that all of these newest series suck.

    PS - I'm looking for to another update on your critique of POTW. One of my cousin's is very sick, she loves Andrews books too - and your summaries are one of the few things that can still make her really laugh - you're hysterical!

  5. I remember when I got Garden of Shadows, there was a piece in the front about how Andrews had died, leaving behind a legacy of unpublished work that would still be coming out, and I still think that Garden of Shadows must have at least had an outline. It still felt like an Andrews book. Fallen Hearts, less so, Gates of Paradise not at all. Web of Dreams felt like an Andrews book. Then I got to Dawn, and no. Just no. I know that by no means was Andrews a good writer. Terrible prose. But there is a fascinating quality that can't be explained by just the type of plot she uses. Dawn was very much an Andrews style plot, but it was obviously a COPY. I stopped reading at that point. Recently, I picked up Ruby, and it's a little better. Not quite an Andrews book, but it has more of its own style, not a cheap copy of her style like Dawn was.
    In conclusion, I've always felt that even if Shadows, Hearts, and Web were written from scratch by Niederman (and they probably were) they were based on extensive notes, especially Shadows.

    1. I agree! This source all but states that you're absolutely right about Fallen Hearts and Gates of Paradise. With GoS and WoD, it definitely feels like more of a collaborative effort. The pacing and plot of the two prequels were definitely more Andrews-esque.

      The framing narrative of Annie finding Leigh's diary is almost certainly Neiderman, and honestly I don't know what that's even doing there because the book works much better without it. The characters also don't quite work, and the dialogue reads more like a parody of Andrews' dialogue (Tony moaning about "it's time to complete the portrait doll"?). There is also a scene right at the beginning of the novel (Leigh's nightmare about becoming fat) that is totally Neiderman, just because...um, he has a lot of body-issues in his stuff. Especially about women. Neiderman also likes for his characters to shout IN ALL CAPS, opposed to Andrews, who, at most, italicized for emphasis.

      Likewise with GoS, there were a couple of false notes that read like some of Neiderman's stuff--off the top of my head, the scene where Alicia tells Olivia she's preggo, and her dialogue is interrupted by Olivia thinking that she "could feel the shadows falling around her" doesn't seem like a stylistic device that Andrews would use, but it is very characteristic of Neiderman.

      Moreover, at the time both those books were written, the estate had not yet added the proviso that Neiderman couldn't use any previously established characters. It makes it sounds almost as if the estate was working more closely with finishing the final Andrews novels, but then washed their hands, creatively speaking, when Neiderman started to write what amounted to original works under Andrews' name. But if the estate was working with Neiderman, it's entirely possible that he really did have access to some rough drafts or outlines for those final books.

      All things considered, it seems more likely that Neiderman had some notes to go by with the prequels, rather than that he managed to hit it out of the park on those two books alone, while missing the ball on every other work he wrote under the same contract. There's just too much difference in tone for me to believe otherwise.

  6. This comment could also go to the next post, re: the movies, but...

    14 Movie Cameos by the Authors of the Original Books

    suggests that Andrews was in a split-second scene of Flowers in the Attic. If you look at the video, it would suggest that she's a maid cleaning a window.

    (Wasn't sure if you knew about this or not, but had to share. Thanks for your awesomeness; I love the recaps of the books that I snuck out of a friend's mom's collection when I was in middle school.)

    1. The last three novels of the Casteel series brought about an awareness with me that the writing had changed and not for the better.

      I've always heard that GOS was started by V.C and then later finished by Niederman, I agree with this idea in that the beginning of the book reads very well, it drew me in, made me feel less and less hate and prejudice for Olivia. I noticed a change in the novel BIG TIME when Olivia started nosing around the attic. Every word is lifted from Flowers. Pathetic pathetic pathetic. I finished GOS simply because I knew there was more to the plot of the dollanganger family, and I was correct, I also did it out of respect for Andrews.