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It’s a sad fact that even our favourite authors are mere mortals, and whether we like it or not, they will eventually die. All hope is not lost however!  These days the death of an author doesn’t necessarily spell the end for our favourite characters. In some ways, the authors become characters themselves. 

 

On occasion, the author’s publisher or estate can contract another author  to continue a popular series or just keep publishing under that author’s name. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes live on in books written by bestselling author Anthony Horowitz; Hercule Poirot has continued solving mysteries under the skillful hand of Sophie Hannah; and Eric Van Lustbader took over writing the Bourne novels after Robert Ludlum’s death in 2001, having published 11 more books beyond Ludlum’s original trilogy. Even the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy continued beyond the death of Douglas Adams, when Eoin Colfer wrote And Another Thing... in 2009.

 

The first time I ever encountered this dead author trend was back in my teens when I noticed that the copyright of a V.C. Andrews book I was reading said “V.C. Andrews Trust”.  I learned that V.C. Andrews had died a few years before that, but her novels sold so well that her estate hired a horror writer Andrew Neiderman  to continue her books. Publishing this August is Beneath the Attic, a prequel to Flowers in the Attic, which will tell the story of the Dollanganger grandmother Corrine as a young girl. I haven’t read Andrews in years, but having read all of the Flowers in the Attic books growing up, I’m curious.

 

Tom Clancy, who died in October 2013, was best known for creating popular characters Jack Ryan and John Clark. At the time of his death, seventeen of Clancy’s titles had been bestsellers and several had been turned into movies, video games, or television shows. For at least the last decade, authors such as the New York Times bestselling author Mark Greaney, Mike Maden and Jeff Rovin have continued his series. The new titles continue to be bestsellers, and Jack Ryan lives on in an Amazon Prime series.

 

Swedish author Stieg Larsson died before any of his books reached publication, and never saw the international success that they would achieve. The first three books in the Millennium series were published posthumously in Sweden in 2005, 2006, 2007, and by March 2015, had sold over 80 million copies worldwide. The author had planned for ten books in the series, but died having completed just three full manuscripts. So what’s a publisher to do? Unlike the Tom Clancy and V.C. Andrews books, there wasn’t an immediate transition. It wasn’t until 2013 that Larsson’s Swedish publisher hired Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz to write a fourth book in the series.

 

The book was published in 2015 to mostly positive reviews, landed on international bestseller lists, and broke sales records. Book 5 was published in 2017, and book six, The Girl Who Lived Twice, will publish in August 2019. Lagercrantz has announced that book six will be the last book that he’ll write in the series, but whether or not that also spells the end for Lisbeth Salander is undetermined.

 

This is an interesting pheonomenon. Other than a movie/television series, which still continue with a new director, new writers, and new actors/actresses playing a main character (how many Bonds have there been?), there are few other industries that can do this. In cooking, music, or art, there is only one of that chef/musician/artist, and they can only claim to be in the style of the original. 

 

From a publishing perspective, it can be a huge risk. What if the ghost writer or new author fails to accurately recreate that character or isn’t as skilled at writing as his/her predecessor? An author can create a skilled imitation, but it may never be as good as the original or elicit the same reader/critical response. If Diana Gabaldon or George R. R. Martin were to unexpectedly pass away without completing their series, how easily could another writer jump in and finish what they started? For that matter, how easily would fans accept it if they did?

 

J.D. Salinger was so personally entwined with Holden Caulfield that he was as or more protective of him than his own children. While he was alive, he successfully managed to block the North American publication of a so-called sequel to Catcher in the Rye. He vehemently refused all pleas to adapt the book to film because in his mind, nobody but him could be that character (and he was too old to play him). I have no doubt that he’ll roll over in his grave when the book enters public domain and the character is fair game. 

 

As for Flemming, Doyle, Ludlum, or Larsson, would they be happy to know that their characters live on through these other writers, or would they be disappointed in what they have become? It’s hard to say what they would have thought, but as long as readers are still interested, their characters can continue indefinitely. 

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world. 

 

Happy Reading!

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