Ghostwriters in Disguise, Part I

So in a stray moment today, Tom Clancy came to mind. It has been years since his last novel, and in the light of Jean Auel emerging with the lastest in her Earth’s Children series, I wondered if Clancy might be up to something.

Turns out, he is. A couple minutes of Googling came up with a title, Dead or Alive, coming to us on (oh, the irony) December 7th of this year.

Next stop was the Amazon page for the book. And in casually scrolling down the page, my eye caught this interesting line, just below Clancy’s author bio:

Grant Blackwood is the author of the Briggs Tanner books and the co-author along with Clive Cussler of Spartan Gold. Blackwood is a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in Colorado.

Grant Blackwood? Who is Grant Blackwood?

I scrolled to the top of the page to look at the cover of the book again. Then I clicked into the bigger version. And sure enough, there below the title, in a microscopic grey font, all but invisible against the white billboard of Clancy’s name were the words

with GRANT BLACKWOOD

More Googling led me to this Wikipedia page. From there it was a short hop to this interesting article on NPR, all about the lives of ghostwriters.

So what’s the deal? Why is Clancy using a ghostwriter? This may actually posit the question Has Tom Clancy ever NOT used a ghostwriter?. After all, his friend and fellow wargamer (yeah, apparently at one time Clancy was a wargame geek like me) Larry Bond collaborated with him on Red Storm Rising, and he seems to have some connection to The Hunt For Red October.

Then there are those franchise novels (i.e., Clancy does the outline, ghost does the rest): Op-Center, NetForce, EndWar – but what’s this? Both the EndWar and H.A.W.K. franchises were written by David Michaels, which is a pen name for… Grant Blackwood. The last time I peeled away something with this many layers, I had tears in my eyes.

At this point, the question is no longer Has Tom Clancy ever NOT used a ghostwriter?, but rather Why aren’t more authors using ghostwriters – or for that matter, how many are?

First we have Clancy here, obvious busy with his part-ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. He had an early history of having a writing partner, and as the military-techo thriller (a genre he pretty much invented) exploded, there was a need for product on the shelves, and it might as well have his name on them. So the franchises were born. And hey, if it turned out that that Grant guy was a great person to work with, and well, the last novel came out in 2003… why not get a little help?

In recent years this has been happening more and more, especially with late-career authors: Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCafferey, and Clive Cussler all brought in ghosts to do the workhorse writing, and even gave them credit on the cover (although, like the Clancy, that credit size was diminuative in appearance). Dick Francis has recruited his son to help write his mysteries, although since they’re blood that may be considered “co-author” status (but to me that’s only when both author names are the same size on the cover). William Shatner even put his ego aside and gave credit to some of his literary “helpers.”

In some areas, ghosting has gone a little out of control. Robert Ludlum must have left lots of outlines laying around when he died, because he continues to publish – only these novels appear as “Robert Ludlum’s The (proper name as adjective) (noun)“.

While ghostwriting has probably been around since quills were dipped in dye, the recenty ghosty madness may have started with gothic horrorist V.C. Andrews, who published eight titles before joining the choir invisible in 1986. Death seemed to be a great career move for Ms. Andrews, because in the years since her death, 71 more novels have come out under her name, not counting omnibus editions and e-book only releases. All these were done by the skilled hands of ghost Andrew Neiderman (whose Wikipedia Page claims he’s penned 91 novels, so my count (and way of counting) may have been off.

But why would a writer put themselves through something like that – taking someone else’s outline and doing the work of turning it into a novel, probably without the prospect of getting mentioned on the cover while setting aside your own work at the same time?

Well, if you read the NPR article above, you’ll get a good idea. But if you don’t want to do that, stay tuned. In our next exciting episode, you’ll get the inside story from someone who ghosted 1 1/2 novels… namely me.

UPDATE 5/10/2011: It looks like after 7 years of inactivity, Tom Clancy is turning back into a lean, mean book writing machine. Or at least his ghostwriter is. I just saw news of Clancy’s new novel, Against All Enemies, scheduled for release on June 14th of this year. And featured in a thin, microscopic font on the cover is an almost familiar legend: With Peter Telep.

UPDATE 10/28/2011: Okay, now it’s getting crazy. Amazon announces preorders for another new Clancy book this year, Locked On, this one written with a gent named Mark Greaney. With a release date of December 13th of this year, it means that Clancy will have released three new novels in 12 months, each by a different ghostwriter. He is either trying to save the economy by putting writers to work or else his alimony payments have gone up.

UPDATE 4/20/2012: Okay, the pattern is set. Clancy is now releasing a new novel every six months. The forthcoming Search and Destroy will be his fourth new novel in two years. They’re dropping every June and December. Peter Telep returns to do the co-writing, ghostwriting, or whatever you want to call it writing honors on this one. Those alimony payments must be incredible.

2 responses

  1. […] in the world don’t actually sit down and write every word! Don’t be so naïve! Think VC Andrews (she died long ago and still manages to put books out on the shelves). That’s not to mention […]

  2. […] Mr. Clancy at the table with ghostwriter David Michaels a.k.a. Grant Blackwood. I should note that researching the ghostwriters involved in Tom Clancy productions reads like a le Carré novel: secretive, twisted, and somewhat sinister. That favorite corporate […]

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