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.
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?"