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?

{6} Thoughts on “Series Fiction and Authorship

  1. wow Claire, this is such a good post. I didn’t realise half of those books were ghostwritten – shows how naive I am lol. I think when it comes to ghostwriting for series etc. – both authors (creator & ghost writer) should be given equal billing. Plenty of books out there who have two authors names on the front cover!

    Now I’ll be going through all of my childhood favs to see if they are ghostwritten lol!!

    • Well, some of them deliberately make it difficult to find out that they’re ghostwritten – the exact authors of most of the Nancy Drews are still unknown, as far as I know. Part of the contract.

      The thing about series is often that the publishers still want to encourage the readers to identify with the author, with the one author (or series creator) – much harder to do that while giving credit to someone else. (e.g. with the Babysitters Club books, there are letters from the author at the back explaining how she came up with the particular plot of that book – even though the book itself would’ve been written or mostly-written by someone else. There is also a nifty analysis of the Gossip Girl creation story that Amy Pattee has done, in academic-land…)

  2. Do you how how deeply disturbed I would be if Caroline B. Cooney turned out not to be real? I do prefer her later, non-horror stuff in general though.

    Yes, Thoroughbred was good about crediting its ghostwriters, all except for the book where they killed off Wonder, which was written by “Brook James,” and no one’s ever fessed up to that one.

    Others, let’s see. The Boxcar Children (Albert Whitman) makes no bones about the fact that Gertrude Chandler Warner is dead (I guess that would be kind of hard to hide), but as far as I remember they don’t acknowledge the ghosties in any way. I don’t think it’s a big secret — IIRC, I once read on Candice F. Ransom website that she is one of the Boxcar Children writers — but they don’t make a big deal of it either. Possibly they think the target age group is too young to care.

    I’ve always assumed publishers are more transparent about it these days because it would be harder to keep it a secret (unlike Stratmeyer in the early 1900’s or even up through Ann M.). Or maybe authors are more demanding, and rightly so.

    • Caroline B Cooney being fake/multiple personas would be mightily distressing indeed. I like her non-horror/thriller stuff too – ‘Amongst Friends’ or ‘Don’t Blame the Music’ or the summer camp books (predictably).

      I don’t think I’ve ever read a Boxcar Children book. Though speaking of dead authors, am now trying to remember how the V C Andrews books acknowledge the writers, or if they do…

      Yeah, true, I think it’s harder to keep secrets with the magical internets. Though I still think there’s still a sense of ‘we’ll be upfront but… not obvious.’

      • I think they Virginia Andrews ones just say something about her family working with a specially selected author. Just checked and some talk about them being written by an “established author” and others say nothing at all, although the cover says “The New Virginia Andrews”, which I think is an admission that they are not actually written by her.

        One of the things that amuses me in Sweet Valley is that Olivia Davidson dies towards the end of Sweet Valley High, but appears in a Sweet Valley University.

        I was an adult when I realised the Nancy Drew books were written by ghost writers, though it shouldn’t have surprised me because the style of the Nancy Drew Files books, which I loved was quite different from the style of some of the older books.

        • Yes, remember seeing the ‘new Virginia Andrews’ thing – it is rather difficult to pretend someone’s still alive, I suppose!

          Ha, I remember the Sweet Valley mess-up too! It’s quite early on in the University books that Olivia appears, but I suspect that the writers only checked who was regularly turning up in the series rather than in the book set at Christmas when they’re back at home.

          I think how books are presented have a big impact on how we read them – if we know something is in a series, like Nancy Drew, we’re less likely to be reading it going ‘is this style/author one I like?’ and more ‘is this a good book for this series and what happens next?’

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