Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ghosting

Ghosting

I've commented before on the business of one writer ghosting another writer's book. Writer one gets sick; falls off the wagon; wife dumps him. Something amiss anyway. He can't do the book. He asks a friend. Friend writes the book, it's published and is credited (unless it's a house name job) to the bibliography of writer number one.

Nobody will ever know. Well, almost nobody.

This is not a new process. It may well have gone on back in Shakespeare's time.

I bring this up because I admire a novel by Leigh Brackett called STRANGER AT HOME. I've been assured she didn't write it. I also admire a novel by Henry Kuttner called MAN DROWNING. Apparently it's an open secret that Cleve Cartmill wrote it.

I guess I have to accept this scuttlebutt as fact. But I wonder. Brackett's style--that sweeping almost mythic prose--is very much in evidence in Stranger. I grew up reading her. I know from Leigh Brackett. I find it difficult to believe that she didn't at least go through somebody else's first draft and make it her own.

As for the Kuttner, a man I admire as much as I admire Brackett, if Drowning is actually by Cleve Cartmill then Cartmill was suicidal when he wrote it. I also know from Cartmill. I can't recall a single Cartmill novel that displays this sense of loss and despair. Despite the fact that Harpers published this in hardcover, this is very much a true Gold Medal novel. And the grotesque woman who hires the protagonist is right out of Kuttner. Not Cartmill. Did Cartmill do the first draft and Kuttner the polish?

See the trouble you get into when you try to fool people?

12 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I've never read STRANGER AT HOME, but I read MAN DROWNING 40 or more years ago and never doubted that Kuttner wrote it. I heard the Cartmill story years later, but I didn't go back and read the book again.

RJR said...

Very often in these cases it is a case of First draft/Polish. In the 80's I did that kind of work for an author. I wasn't exactly a ghost, but I did first drafts so that all he had to do was polish and publish. In fact, maybe that's what Patterson and Cussler are doing now, POLISH AND PUBLISH. Although in those cases the co-author is getting a credit.

RJR

Todd Mason said...

Well, remember, Cartmill wrote all of Jack Vance's novels for Kuttner. That Vance was Kuttner was a staple of VERY RESPECTABLE bibliographic sources into the latter '70s...

And, of course, GoodReads wants to believe that I'm the Philadephia-based reporter named Todd Mason who wrote PEROT. That's a slightly more understandable confusion (particularly as I once published an account of writing my regular politics/etc. column for a magazine based in DC about Perot's first campaign--having just roared back to life after temporary suspension, shutting down my computer, walking into the next room and turning on C-SPAN to be informed that Next Up was Todd Mason speaking on Perot...a slightly surreal minute, but those C-SPAN bookers are quick, aren't they?)

Jerry House said...

Interesting, because at the back of my mind I remember reading somewhere that Cartmill also had a hand in writing STRANGER AT HOME.

Ed Gorman said...

Jerry, I've read a few books by Cartmill and I just can't hear him anywhere in Stranger In The HouseOn the other hand his kind of brutality is all over Man Drowning. If he did write that it's the best thing by him I've ever read.

Bill Pronzini said...

The long-standing rumor that Cartmill wrote MAN DROWNING has pretty much been debunked; more than one knowledgable aficionado of Kuttner's work swears he wrote it, and after reading the novel twice, I have to agree. It's much too dark and hard-edged, and much too polished, to have been Cartmill's baby. Terrific novel, in any case, that somebody ought to reissue.

Ed Gorman said...

I'm very glad you verified that, Bill, because I think Man Drowning is an excellent noir. The opening chapter is as horrorific as any crime novel I've ever read. As you all know by now I'm a stone Henry Kuttner fan and I'm glad to know that the novel was his. Any idea who wrote Stranger SAt Home, Bill?

Bill Pronzini said...

Ed: I always thought it was Leigh Brackett who ghosted STRANGER AT HOME; it's listed as hers in Hubin, and in her bibliography on Wickipedia and several other places. Is your source absolutely sure she didn't write it? If so...maybe Craig Rice had a hand in it, since she's the verified ghost for the other "Sanders" novel. Seems to me, though, that there's a difference in style between the two.

Bill Pronzini said...

One more comment on MAN DROWNING: What most convinces me that Kuttner did in fact write it is the psychological depth of characterization, particularly that of the narrator, Banning. Psychology, especially aberrant psychology, was one of Kuttner's interests, as demonstrated in the trio of suspense novels he wrote under his own name for Perma Books featuring psychoanalyst Michael Gray.

Jeff Baker said...

I think Kuttner's mystery novels are being re-issued in omnibus by (I think, don't quote me) Hafner Press.

Ed Gorman said...

Bill, I agree despite what I read on some blog the novel is to me--a long time Brackett reader and admirer--pure Brackett in style and tone. It's a fine novel and I hope Stephen Haffner reprints it some day.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't familiar with the Kuttner novel, but based on everyone's comments have just ordered a copy. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Ed.

~ Ron C.