Ghostwriting-And I Don't Mean Letters from Casper

There is a underground subset of authors who take on the job of writing for someone else, with no credit to show for it. They get paid for the privilege but that’s all. There have been quite a few throughout the years–most ‘celebrities’ have no talent for creating sentences, so turn to the publisher to provide someone to take their life stories and make sense of them on paper. This is especially true, I would think, of the kind of ’15 minutes of fame’ individual. The Snookies, (I’ve no proof she didn’t write her ‘novel’ but hey, come on!”), the mistresses of various politicians, the occasional slaughtering husband, etc.

An ABE.com article threw me some surprises–not that I’d heard of most of the books, but a few of the ghostwriters were famous for their own work. The social commentary writer, Sinclair Lewis ghosted a book on golf, for heaven’s sake, while pioneer crime fiction writer, Katherine Ann Porter wrote as a Chinese wife. The title above was penned by Walter B. Gibson, the man responsible for The Shadow pulp stories.

I’ve always known that after a certain point in time, the two men who wrote the famous Ellery Queen novels gave way to a series of ghostwriters. This one instance isn’t quite as underhanded, in a way, since Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee never advertised themselves as the real Ellery Queen, and the public probably didn’t know the difference.

But loads of other ghostwriting exploits irritate me. A lot.

I don’t like reading something I believe was written by a certain person, then later find I’ve been reading an entirely different individual’s outlook on the subject.

James Patterson, a extremely lovely man in person, has recently been using ghostwriters en masse. But, to give him some slack, he credits said ghost as his co-author. Chances are, the ghost is responsible for most of the content, if not all, but the Patterson name sells, not Joe Smoe Ghostie. After a period of ‘co-writing’ the ghost, now with a larger recognizability,  turns single and produces his own work under his proud name.

Another sweet gentleman, Dick Francis, took credit and numerous awards for a series essentially written by his wife. The fact finally surfaced after a unauthorized biography was written.  I was quite angered by this. Maybe I was the only one. Why should someone win prestigious awards such as Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, when they never put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard? Yes, he had the racing background needed, and supplied those facts and special knowledge to his wife, but *she* did the word into sentences into paragraphs–what writing is. After around 6 years with no output, another title came from Francis, this time with his son’s name included. The publishers must have recognized that a book with only Dick’s name as author, wouldn’t seem legitimate any more.

Another writing collaboration not disclosed early on, is the author mother and son duo making up Charles Todd. They write an excellent historical post WWI mystery series. However, when first arriving on the scene Charles Todd consisted of just the son, and huge denials regarding a partner in writing continued for years, including to me personally. I wrote an interview with Charles for a newsletter where he categorically denied a collaboration. So when they finally came clean and acknowledged the deception, I was steamed. This in no way lessens the quality of work, but I personally have a more difficult time wanting to read someone who has deceived. Plus, it calls into question signed copies from that period. Who signed which books? Was it just one of them, or did the mother sign the first name, and the son the last name? Will this make a first edition of A Test of Wills, their debut, less valuable in the hypermodern market?

Some mystery ghosts are ‘co-authors’ with credit on the jacket. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, had a spirit listed, the TWO weatherman from the Today show also co-authored mysteries. But surprisingly, a man who wrote many books, songs, skits etc, Steve Allen, also used a ghost writer. Koch’s ghost was the wonderful Wendy Corsi Staub, author of the juvenile Lily Dale spiritualist books–ironic, yes? Steve Allen had two authors–one started the series,Walter J. Sheldon, and the other finished it up, Robert Westbrook. Neither of those authors ring a bell for me. Willard Scott had the accomplished novelist  Bill Crider write his books and Al Roker turned to Dick Lochte, a well known author in his own right. Recently, Jerrilyn Farmer, a wonderful mystery author and former Jeopardy question writer, worked with Joan Rivers to create a book about red carpet shennanigans. These are the celebrities that openly acknowledge their hauntings.

The ghosties themselves manage to squeeze reference into an otherwise uncredited book. The golden age movie star, George Saunders, supposedly wrote two books, however, the famous humor mystery author Craig Rice was responsible for one, and dedicated it to herself! Other ghost writers have done similar things to get the word out. There is a disputed ghost involving Gypsy Rose Lee, the infamous stripper and subject of the musical, Gypsy. She wrote 2 mysteries in the 40s, which many people claim the aforementioned Craig Rice ghosted. Others vehemently deny it. Jeffrey Marks, Lee’s excellent biographer, does not believe they were ghostwritten, nor do I, having read both Lee and Rice. Lee had a very distinctive way of speaking within her books, and the voice wasn’t like Rice’s. But, it’s still in question.

There are ‘tells’ in some collaborations–such as a crime novel written by the unlikely Patricia Hearst–yes, that Patty Hearst, the one kidnapped and ‘turned’ radical in the 70s. Cordelia Frances Biddle co-authored Murder at San Simeon about Patty’s grandfather, mogul William Randolph Hearst and the real life murder of film director Thomas Ince. Most people strongly believe that Hearst was the culprit. I’m sure Patty’s family loyalty had her cast his mistress, actress Marion Davies in that role. But the bricks and mortar of the book was obviously Ms. Biddle’s. How and why do I believe this? I read the book when it came out, and noticed that a story set completely in CA referenced a snack cake only found on the East coast–specifically Philadelphia, where Biddle was sited as being from. So, Tasty-Kake spoiled the deception!

And then there are the children of presidents writing novels. Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son, supposedly wrote a whole series of mysteries starring his mother, Eleanor, as the detective. Trouble is, even after Elliott died, books kept a’ coming! St. Martin’s found away around this–they wrote on the book jacket that Elliott was such a prolific writer,  he had stacks of manuscripts at the ready to be published. The true writer, William Harrington, finally received his due, when he literally (no pun intended)  became a ghost. After Harrington died, he received credit on the last book, thus ending Mr. Roosevelt’s amazing production.

The other well known offspring of a president, Margaret Truman, denied to her death anyone other than herself writing the Washington set books. Rumors swirled constantly, but no name was put forth as to who may have penned them for her. When I met her for the first and only time, I asked about her next plot, and she answered in detail of what  she wanted to write. Either she was delusional, a good actress, or she wrote the books–I think it was closer to good actress melding into delusions! Donald Bain is considered front runner for the Truman writing honors.

Carolyn Keene, however, is largely dismissed as a bunch of different ghosts writing the Nancy Drew series. Not entirely true. Keene didn’t exist, Edward Stratemeyer created the name and gave the slight concept to Mildred Wirt Benson to flesh out. And so she did. Creating one of the most influential and inspiring female characters for young girls on paper. Margaret Sutton, at the same time, wrote of a strong female detective, Judy Bolton, under her own name, and continued to write the series until it ended. But she never quite reached the popularity of Nancy Drew, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Mildred Wirt Benson, created Nancy, in every way, and wrote 23 of the original books. She *never* divulged this fact–not until a trial between Grosset and Dunlap, the original publishers, and Simon and Schuster, who took over. She had been bound by law for decades from revealing the truth. (I believe she was bound by a contract, but this has been disputed) Another woman claimed authorship of all the books. Upon coming face to face with Mildred, the imposter said, “I thought you were dead.” During the trial, Mildred was able to prove her authorship. She was finally honored when she was given an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America. Unable to attend due to age, she sent a wonderful film interview to the Edgar dinner. I was present and it was a memorable night, one that reminded us that sometimes ghosts do appear even after years of being kept underground.

So what do celebrities owe us as readers? The truth as to who wrote what? Does it matter? Do you, as a reader care, so long as the book is good? As I said, it definitely makes a difference to me. I don’t like being taken, deceived, for any reason, and if I pay for a book thought to be written by a the son of a historically important family using his experiences in the White House as fodder for his book, and I am in reality reading a fictional account of a fictional life in a fictional White House, I’m being cheated. There is no grey areas for me. Am I in the minority?

http://www.abebooks.com/books/famous-ghostwriters-authors-jfk/top-10-ghostwritten.shtml

Here’s the link to the ABE site:

and another like to a wonderful article I found while writing mine, by author Jon L. Breen.

hhttp://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/886tuxmk.asp?page=1

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Comment (5)

    Nancy Ellis
    March 21, 2011 - 10:25 pm

    Tastykakes!! That’s great/stupid. I’m with you; I don’t want the deception. I’d lose trust in the publisher or perhaps the agent. (Not sure who controls this aspect of writing.)
    It’s funny you mention Patterson: one of my co-librarians sneered at his books the other day. I have to admit I defended him because it looks like he always credits his “co-author” (how much “co-” exists is another matter) and I assume it’s a springboard as you mention. I ignore the celebrity books as I’ve been out of touch with entertainment since about the time of I Dream Of Jeannie! Haha, no, not that long ago, but I haven’t heard of the Snookies.

    Diane Plumley
    March 21, 2011 - 11:29 pm

    LOL, Nancy! Snookie is a reality ‘star’ from a horrible show called Jersey Shore. I’ve gone to the shore all my life and never encountered a single individual as obnoxious and stupid as the people in this show. Maybe they only exist in North Jersey, ha.

    James Patterson is a superb gentleman, and I hate snipping at him, but I don’t like the idea of someone not writing his own work–however-he doesn’t deny having help, so technically, he hasn’t ghost writers.

    It’s the people who pretend to write something without a single sentence being theirs–and it doesn’t matter if the stories are told to the ghost writer, and they put them down. If you didn’t write it, say so.

    Jenn
    March 22, 2011 - 2:56 am

    Mildred Benson actually wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, not 28. And she did divulge that fact in articles and author bios long before the 1980 trial. There was no secrecy clause either–this is a “myth” that keeps getting perpetuated in the media over the years.

    Jenn:)

      Diane Plumley
      March 22, 2011 - 11:48 am

      Well hello Jenn, I certainly remember you. You weaseled charm info from me for the limited purpose of a Nancy Drew convention, remember? I’ve seen your website, impressive, nice jewelry. Not original, as we know, but nice.
      Anyhoo, Right–I confused the number–I will fix that. However, I distinctly remember her stating in the film, she was ordered not to disclose she wrote the books. She was asked that as a direct question. She was also asked if it bothered her, and she said no, that was the contract and she stuck to it.
      Unless I’m misremembering, which could be possible, she stated this herself. Did she tell you specifically that the secret clause didn’t exist during your interview?

    P. J. Grath
    March 22, 2011 - 8:39 am

    If we’re a minority, you can count me in as a third.

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