Series Fiction and Authorship
Recently went to see Young Adult with some lovely ladies, the film in which Charlize Theron plays a woman who can’t quite get over her high school glory days. This extends to her career as a quasi-ghostwriter for a longrunning teen book series, Waverly Prep, where the heroine, Kendall, is amazingly beautiful and perfect.
So, obviously, y’know, there is a plot to the movie, but also we get to see snippets of Waverly Prep (always Kendall’s reflections about her own fabulousness – never any dialogue or action – it’s amazing). And there’s a great scene where the writer, Mavis, tries to sign books in a bookshop but her name is the tiiiny one on the inside cover, underneath the Creator name. But then again, at least her name’s actually on the book.
It got me thinking about my favourite series of that ilk and how they handle the whole authorship thing (because I am weird like that). You know, the ghost-written or half-ghost-written or speedily-written kind, where six or twelve or twenty-four books would come out a year.
Francine Pascal is obviously the queen of this (James Patterson is probably the king). ‘Created’ the Sweet Valley series, wrote none of ’em (except the ten-years-on sequel, which is generally acknowledged as deeply flawed). Each series was labelled as ‘written by’ a specific author – e.g. ‘Laurie John’ for the Sweet Valley University series, ‘Jamie Suzanne’ for the Sweet Valley Twins books, umbrella pseudonyms for a whole bunch of ghostwriters. Those names were drawn from Pascal’s own family. Pascal also created the Caitlin trilogies, the first of which was actually written by Joanna Campbell, who’d go on to create and write the Thoroughbred series, which was eventually taken over by ghostwriters (as far as I know these were mentioned in the acknowledgements).
Cherie Bennett created and wrote the Sunset Island books, and also wrote TV tie-in novels, sometimes with her husband, as C.J. Anders. (Several of the Dawson’s Creek tie-in novels are by her – her style comes through and there’s snarky dialogue, but inevitably because of the delay between writing and publication and how the series was going, the pairings-up of the characters are always slightly skewed.) Bennett can write quickly, but the continuity sometimes suffers.
There are two different stories of how Cecily von Ziegesar developed the Gossip Girl series, one which is very book-packager-esque and the other is very individual-author-presents-idea-based-on-her-own-high-school-days. It’s a packaged series but the idea of the author is a powerful one, marketing-wise, so the second version is played up. Von Ziegesar ‘created’ The It Girl spin-off but it’s ghost-written – I haven’t read any of the books so am not sure how the author is listed.
The Cheerleaders series (genius) and series like Point Horror, Point Romance etc tended to be written by who they said they were. Many of the writers – Diane Hoh, Caroline B Cooney, Christopher Pike – went on to write single-title novels or their own series under the names used for these series books. (Christopher Pike is of course a pen-name – named after the captain in the original Star Trek pilot – but as far as I know, Diane Hoh and Caroline B Cooney are Real Names.)
It seems to be more common to have multiple authors acknowledging straight-up that they are multiple authors in series like the Point ones, with different characters/storylines each book, rather than the Cheerleaders series. The more common tendency is to go the route of mystery series – Carolyn Keene or Franklin Dixon, umbrella names for the many ghostwriters of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.
Very often writers will create a series and write the books initially, then hand over the reins to ghostwriters – K.A. Applegate (Animorphs) or R.L. Stine (Goosebumps) followed this pattern. Or they won’t be the original creator of a series but still write the books (Ann M. Martin with The Babysitters Club). The pattern for series like this – the three I’ve mentioned are all Scholastic series, incidentally – is to have the author be reasonably open about the ghostwriter’s ‘help’. There’s no ‘written by’ credit, but there is a ‘The author acknowledges the help of [whoever] in preparing this manuscript’. It’s very clever – anticipates the possible sense of betrayal a young reader might feel when the ‘author’ (whose life is often shaped in such a way to make it seem like the books are very personally important to them) isn’t actually the one who’s written the books, because look, it’s right there and they’re being up front with you, and don’t worry, the author is still in charge of things. (It also means that the more obsessive fans of the series can make lists of which ghostwriter penned which books and assess if there are any that are better than others.)
Any other ghost-written or maybe-ghost-written books you loved or still love? Any series you loved as a child and then discovered were ghost-written?