Sunday, August 07, 2011

The writers who keep popular writers alive

The writers who keep popular authors alive
Jason Bourne, James Bond and other heroes live on, despite their creators' deaths, thanks to "the continuators"


Robert Ludlum, Jason Bourne (as played on screen by Matt Damon) and Eric Van Lustbader.
Some call them "the continuators" -- choosing a term with appropriate Schwarzenegger swagger to describe the writers charged with reinvigorating aging heroes and keeping valuable franchises alive.

Critics sometimes use less charitable names. After all, literary respect and acclaim don't always follow for writers who step into the shoes of the late greats and revive old characters after their creators' deaths. (Robert Goldsborough, who continued Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries, playfully addressed the continuator's plight in a Wolfe meta-mystery about the murder of another, fictional continuator.) Expectant fans are often wary, too. If your name isn't Ludlum, Parker, Fleming or Spillane, it's not always easy to convince obsessives that you understand Bourne, Spenser, Bond or Hammer.

But the writers who embrace the task of continuing other authors’ series face a set of challenges all their own: adopting and modernizing familiar characters; respecting the voices of the dead; dealing with the demands of authors’ estates. And while they bristle at the term "ghostwriter," their books are clearly haunted by the beloved authors who first breathed life into the characters these continuators carefully but creatively resurrect.

As it happens, 2011 is a banner year for continuators, boasting at least five high-profile releases: Eric Van Lustbader's newest Jason Bourne volume, "The Bourne Dominion"; Jeffery Deaver's latter-day Bond book, "Carte Blanche"; Michael Brandman's "Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues"; a new Sherlock Holmes novel; and Felix Francis's "Dick Francis's Gamble," the latest in a line of horse-racing mysteries popularized by his father. Furthermore, last month, the mystery writer Max Allan Collins confirmed that he would complete three early Mike Hammer novels still unfinished when creator Mickey Spillane died in 2006.

So why do these authors -- many of whom have written blockbuster best-sellers of their own -- want the hassle and the pressure? Sometimes it's the thrill of writing a favorite character. Other times, as with Collins and Spillane, the writers are long-time friends and the younger one is eager to continue his mentor's legacy.

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1 comment:

Dan_Luft said...

One big difference is that Collins wasn't hired by the heirs to work on Spillane's manuscripts. He was asked by Spillane -- that difference puts their "collaborations" on a much more authentic plane.

And they read a lot better than those Beatles retreads sounded back in the 90s