Monday, March 25, 2013

What's your legacy?

A pet peeve of mine (and by "pet peeve", I mean something that has potential to send me into a ranting froth rage that nobody else cares about) is when an author writes somebody else's work. I'm not talking about plagiarism; I'm talking there even a word for it? Completionism? (Google says no. It also says "else's" isn't correct.)

An example: Frank Herbert wrote Dune. He created Arrakis, wrote six books pertaining to it, of varying quality (At the very least read Dune, if you have not). But those are, without question, Frank Herbert's. Frank Herbert passed away in 1986. Then his son, Brian Herbert, came along with Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have produced a number of Dune books that I'm not even going to count. I've heard tell that he had permission from his father, and I will tell you I don't give a single fuck. Because those are not his words. They are certainly not Kevin J. Anderson's words (and I'd in fact have more respect for Brian Herbert were he to have continued his father's legacy by his lonesome).

Another: Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. I wasn't terribly familiar with his works, having only read (yet enjoyed) Appaloosa. However, there are a number of people finishing Robert B. Parkers' series: Robert Knott, Ace Atkins, Michael Brandman. Maybe he wanted this to happen. Maybe he sold the writes to the characters. But it's weird. To me. From my side of the library counter, patrons aren't so pleased with this change in authorship. They wanted Parker's characters to be Parker's characters, not belonging to Knott, or Atkins, or Brandman. They're not concerned with copyright or anything like that, that I can tell. They're just concerned with the characters they once knew are not quite the same people.

The list could go on. Erik Van Lustbader with Robert Ludlum's books. Dirk Cussler with Clive Cussler's books. I fully confess my ignorance to the wishes of these authors. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe the ones whose sons have taken over gave the reins with well wishes and fondness in their hearts, that their sons carried on their legacy.

Do you ever wonder about your legacy? Are you published? Unpublished? I heard tell (perhaps apocryphally) that Emily Dickinson wished her papers burned upon her death. So private that she wouldn't even allow her doctor entrance to her chambers, she had any number of tiny book bundles of poetry that she'd sewed together. That somebody picked the stitches out and shared with the world.

Was this right?

Would Jane Austen have enjoyed peoples' interpretations and reinterpretations of her characters? Would she have cared?

Would Margaret Mitchell have cared that two different people wrote two very different companions to Gone With the Wind (one being Scarlett, by Alexandra Ripley, authorized by the estate and not so bad. The other was Rhett Butler's People, by Donald McCaig which I found ridiculous and didn't like at all though I wanted it to be not bad)?

Would Daphne DuMaurier have objected to two very different companions to Rebecca, one a direct sequel and one a bit more removed (Mrs. DeWinter, by Susan Hill and Rebecca's Tale, by Sally Beauman . The latter I quite enjoyed. The former was a bit too Patricia Highsmith in its building of dread in a helpless situation.)

I have any number of stories, half written, finished, barely started. I have a number of completed novels, and a number of partially finished ones, or opening gestures. Few of them have been seen by anybody, for any number of reasons: nobody asks. Or they ask and never read it. Or I ask and they never read it. Or I don't think it's good enough to see light of day. Or it's personal. Or my household really respects privacy. Or my filing system is entirely inscrutable.

Whatever the reason, should my "papers" (i.e., electronic files) be stumbled upon, and then organized, and then published, is that my legacy? What would it say about me? Albert Camus' last novel was published, unfinished by him though somewhat edited by his children. I found it unreadable, and felt they should have just left it in whatever trunk they found it. Something like that does no justice to the writer who went before, and to the work that they brought to the world. It's a shame, and I feel like Camus would have been embarrassed by it. Or maybe he wouldn't have.

But, bottom line? I don't care of the manuscript is in your hands. If it isn't yours, it isn't yours.


  1. I don't know, I've never been one to think that a new work has much power to diminish an older one. Worst case scenario, you just pretend it doesn't exist (Like I do with the second and third Matrix movies). I'm sure if I really dug around, I could find counter-examples for your examples above where it would really be a shame if the secondary work did not exist. But I trust you're smart enough to know that must be the case as well. All of our cultural output is built of the backs of the cultural output that came before it, whether directly, like your examples, or indirectly. I've heard the Dune books by Frank Herbert's son are terrible. But so what? He keeps writing them, people keep buying them, obviously some people like them. And if he had his father's blessing, then great. If they suck, don't read them. Problem solved. There's too much good stuff out there to get bogged down worrying about the stuff that's crappy, ya know? And I'm not too worried about the author's wishes after they're dead, either. It's nice if you can respect that, sure, but once they're dead, it's silly to keep something from the world because they didn't want people to see it. It would be a shame if no one ever got to read Emily Dickinson's works. I feel the same about Vivian Maier's photography (Look it up if you haven't heard of her, it's amazing, and the documentary coming out about her looks incredibly interesting). The world would be a little worse place without those works in them, and I'm glad we get to experience them.

    And hey, as far as your stuff goes, I was always happy to read it, and I'd still be happy to read anything you sent my way. You sent me a few short stories a while ago, and I really enjoyed reading them. Just throwing that out there.

    1. Yeah, good point about the Matrix movies. It's kind of how I feel about 2 and 3 of Pirates of the Caribbean as well. Interestingly, Brian Herbert and his Kevin J. Anderson are also writing a non-Dune series. So, maybe they've moved on.

      I haven't heard of Vivian Maier...wait, yes I have. Because I peruse this blog on occasion, and there is this post about her:

      When I have stuff edited to current spec, I'll see what you want to read ;)