Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Michael Crichton Reboot

Are posthumous works a road to legacy or simply a belated gift for hungry fans?

Tom Clancy's recent death prompts Thriller Guy to wonder how long it will be before his publisher starts cranking out all the unpublished novels that are possibly sitting in Tom's desk drawer, how long before authors will be hired to write new novels under Tom's name. Then there's that treasure trove of ideas scrawled on the back of cocktail napkins that they're bound to discover when all the aforementioned books dry up. Here with thoughts on this phenomena, Guest Blogger Frank Zubek ponders this thorny question.

Frank is a Cleveland-based writer and is TG's eyes and ears onto the world of popular media, keeping him updated on what is going on outside TG's basement bunker. To find access to Franks writing, check out his bio information at the end of this post. Thanks, Frank.

A hopeful writer hammers out a handful of novels and despite the odds, gets published. Over time, if they get very lucky, they become a “Name” and enjoy the good life of fame and all of its fortunes and spoils. Then, inevitably, as what happens to us all, they pass on, leaving behind a number of works that, depending on their popularity, continue to be published.

Decades later, if the works continue to prove popular, the work continues to see print and becomes a classic, outliving the author ten fold. Sometimes, a forgotten manuscript is found and with the help of a ghostwriter, gets published. A final work by the author that may have been lost to history finds new life. Countless examples can be found here.

Or, thanks to e-books, forgotten books from several decades ago can find new readers today. For example, if you have enjoyed the work of author Michael Crichton, you’ll be happy to know that eight novels he wrote in the sixties and seventies have been re-released.

These were written under the name John Lange and the titles are: Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Zero Cool, The Venom Business, Drug of Choice, Grave Descend and Binary. They were released as e-books in July, through Open Road Media, and will be released as paperbacks starting October 29 through Hard Case Crime. The links to these books can be found on his official web page.

Now while this may be a lucky break for long-time Crichton fans, I find myself wondering if this is what he wanted?

Once he became a successful writer, he must have known that re-releasing the eight out-of-print books would be a happy discovery for his fans. But what if he figured that these eight books, having served their purpose back in the day -- helping him pay some bills while he studied to be a doctor -- should remain in the past? While they could no doubt still be found on a few dusty shelves of a used bookstore, the more recent works (Jurassic Park, Disclosure, Timeline and Prey), were written by a more skilled and practiced hand.

Granted, I have no knowledge of Crichton’s actual wishes for his intellectual properties, but is this truly the preservation of a legacy?  In fact, the market is ripe for additional work from a number of authors. The problem is, how do you continue the brand without the writer? The solution is to marry up a writer’s work with another writer who agrees to carry on the legacy beyond any known original work and this practice has been going on for decades.

V.C. Andrews continues to be a popular author of note despite the fact she died of cancer in 1986. Frank Herbert’s Dune series, which had originally been just six novels (the last book, Chapterhouse, Dune, was published in 1985), has grown into a successful franchise starting in 1999, thanks to his son, Brian, and noted sci-fi writer, Kevin J. Anderson.

While I have no problem keeping a popular brand in print after the author is gone (I myself buy some of these 
kinds of books), is it morally right to continue creating new work from the original stock? Does the success of a growing brand dilute the power of the original work? Arguably, the estate should be allowed to benefit as long as there is a market for the brand. And while most every writer would love to be remembered for at least a generation or two beyond his last breath, just how much is owed to the fan? If not for the fans and their devotion, where would the writer be? A book is published and the fan buys a copy and reads it. The unspoken contract has been fulfilled. Hasn’t it?

 And yet there is this popular business of keeping the name going through posthumous branding. Is it possible to know when to stop? And even once the inevitable happens and the brand sputters to a stop, there are several cases where, after some time has passed, it can be rebooted for a new generation of readers.

How much is enough? After all, as long as each generation of fans are willing to read and experience new material, who’s to say when the proper stopping point might be? As a brand builds its foundation, the long-time readers reap the benefits just as much -- if not more -- than the new readers do.

For example, the Ian Fleming estate continues to allow new authors the freedom to write new books, which not only work to feed the popularity of the ongoing films but also encourages new fans to explore the original Fleming classics.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this. Should a book series that ran out of time and lies buried in the past…remain there? Willing readers and commercial freedom can argue that point. Should a number of new books by different authors keep the name in the public eye until the readers move onto other names and brands? Ultimately, these are all questions that maybe one day, only the endless footsteps of time can answer.

If you wish to explore this subject further, here is a near complete overview of the most popular book series

Frank Zubek, a writer based in Ohio, has a number of short stories and novellas available on kindle or in audio format.

Frank Zubek
Cell  440-364-0628

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