Sunday, November 29, 2009

Good Question

Carolyn Kellogg of The Los Angeles Times asks a good question at the end of her article, Publishing From the Grave, Michael Crichton.

She starts the article off by admonishing: “If you're an author, be careful what you leave lying around.” Then she cites two examples. First is Vladimir Nabokov who died, leaving a pile of index cards. Those cards were published as The Original of Laura -- “so faithful to the original that part of the book are reproductions of the index cards themselves, which can be punched loose and stacked.”

The second example is a Michael Crichton manuscript, which has been published posthumously. Pirate Latitudes, from the description given in the article, sounds to me like an earlier manuscript he wrote and most likely had no intention of publishing (we all have a few of those in the attic, don’t we?).

The article ends with what I think is a good question and one which we writers might want to think about as we shove that first or second manuscript under the bed.

Are a writer's heirs really entitled to strip-mine his papers for every conceivable nugget of value?
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37 comments:

  1. Why would the writer care, after death? I wouldn't. I wouldn't come to haunt my relatives whatever they do with bad manuscripts and I am sure that my feeling wouldn't be hurt beyond the grave by any bad critics. Besides, the fact that it is a posthumous publication absolves the writer of many faults in the eye of the reader. And why not let the family make some money if they can, everybody wants to leave a valuable inheritance to their family, writers mostly only have manuscripts. Yeah, so it sounds all right to me.

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  2. If only I become famous enough that my heirs would want to publish my index cards!
    I'd have to agree with Lori. Why would I care?

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  3. That's a really tough question!

    I would hope that these authors (and others) had been forward thinking enough to specify in a will what they wanted done with their leftover works, works in progress, outlines, and so on.

    In a way, having unfinished works published can be seen as an honour, a tribute... imagine being so liked-respected that people want to read even the diamond in the rough works.

    Of course there is teh issue of voice and style and could another finish off what the author began and do so authentically? I think so - if the right person for the job is found.

    Interesting post...
    Cheers, Jill
    "Blood and Groom" is now in stores!
    www.jilledmondson.com

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  4. Since I'm a compulsive word saver, I have all sorts of hidious writing in my computer. I hardly throw away anything. I wouldn't be very pleased with those dirty undies being hung out to dry. Sorry. Not sure what to do though. I always think one day I'll have a chance to rehabilitate them so don't want to press delete- but then too what if I die in a car accident suddenly. I guess my only hope is a long illness that gives me a chance to accept I will never fix those little babies and they must be dealt with accordingly before anyone gets some funny ideas.

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  5. I have a lot of old stuff, but we are talking pretty old. I'd be amazed if anyone published after I was gone.
    Be funny if it did better than the stuff published when I was alive, too. LOL

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  6. Well, I'd be dead, so it probably wouldn't be too much of a big deal to me. :) But thinking about it *now*, it's hard to imagine that anyone would know what to do with that pile of mess that's in my closet!

    Eizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  7. On one hand, I'd be happy there would be an audience, that people would think enough of me to read even the really bad stuff I wrote when I first started.

    On the other hand, I'd be mad at my heirs that they so bungled their finances they had to strip my hard drive for every last word to refill their coffers.

    But I would hope it would be done in a tasteful way. Maybe to show young writers the progression of a Great Writer (said hopefully and with tongue in cheek).

    Michele
    SouthernCityMysteries

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  8. I don't have any problem with heirs publishing an author's ms after death. I would assume there is something in the will? Anyway, like one other person said, why would they care either way, and I might add, I should be so lucky to get so famous my as yet un-pub'd works would be so valuable!

    Marvin D Wilson

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  9. Included your interesting post in my Sunday post: http://southerncitymysteries.blogspot.com/2009/11/sundays-foreign-post-roundup.html

    Michele

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  10. Interesting question. On the one hand, who cares - it gives them some extra cash. On the other hand, that's a writer's reputation at stake. Tough call and fun post :)

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  11. As a dead person, I wouldn't care.

    As a living person who will one day be dead who is a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, the idea is terrifying.

    But I'm not going to go start trashing files on my computer quite yet. Have to go achieve super stardom first.

    Note: I was upset when C.S. Lewis' estate made changes to the order of the Narnia series after he died....

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  12. I believe it's Harlan Ellison who's put in his will to burn all his papers after he's dead.

    And yes, I have the drawer novel stuffed someplace, but can't bring myself to toss my first--besides, I've been cannibalizing it for years.

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  13. I have plenty of old stuff that I would not want published, but, like you Conda, I've cannibalized from it.

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  14. I agree--I have tons of stuff I wouldn't want published--like old diaries etc but then I doubt anyone would want them!

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  15. I think copyright should die with the author but that wouldn't protect him/her from next of kin picking through the trunk for novels.

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  16. Nah, I don't care. After I'm gone maybe my family will find something I never had the nerve to publish and do so. Cool. I hope they make a million bucks off of it if they do.

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  17. A.L. - I didin't know that about C.S. Lewis! I wonder in which order I read them? Any idea in what year the series was changed?

    Michele
    SouthernCityMysteries

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  18. My first instinct would be to start a bonfire, Diane. But then, I might be like Sylvia, make the money if you can. I'm dead anyway.

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  19. Practical Jokes for Rich and Famous Authors:

    Number One.

    Create a 300 page Word document full of gibberish.

    Encrypt it and don't tell anyone what the password is to un-encrypt it.

    Name the file "My next guaranteed million seller"

    Create a small text file with nothing but several thousand random words in it. Name it passwords.txt

    Either look down, or up, depending on your lifestyle, from where you're spending eternity as your relatives go through every password on the list trying to get into the manuscript.

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  20. First thought: Oh, that someone would want to publish that stuff! Second thought: How could I wish one more onerous task, sorting through it all, on my poor heirs?
    Third thought: I too occasionally cannibalize from those old hoards.
    Fourth thought: I'm dead. Do what you like.

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  21. Once my family gets over being devastated, LOL, I hope the demand for my work moves them to search through my files and put together one last great work. If the current economics continue, all that paper might be all I have to leave them in my will.

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  22. I don't know, if they didn't want anybody to read it, wouldn't they have thrown it away or destroyed the work? I'm with everybody else, what do I care what they do with my work after I'm dead and buried. Have at it. lol.

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  23. Personally I would consider it an honor that someone would continue to remember after I die. And from a scholastic standpoint it is interesting to see a writer in different stages of their career and to do comparisons with other works. Don't know the Crichton is particularly a scholarly subject, but if someone were doing a comprehensive study of his writing, everything available would be nice to have access to.
    Lee

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  24. Here's the thing though Helen, if you are dead do you really care? I will leave it up to those I leave behind to decide what to do with whatever they find after I am gone. I am hoping that I have moved on to a better place where publishing mayhem is far far far removed from my concerns. In fact I hope there are no concerns. Period :)

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  25. Now I'm going to start two files:

    * Never publish, EVER

    * If you can fix it, go ahead

    I wouldn't ask my heirs to burn the first file (mostly journal entries) because one day my great-grandchildren may be curious.

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  26. I tend to keep old writing because I think someday I'll look at it and maybe rewrite it. And you're right, once I'm gone, it doesn't matter to me one way or the other. But if it were something really bad (which I do have), I'd rather not have it out there under my name. That's how I feel now, but after I'm dead...I feel nothing.

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  27. Michele,
    Lewis' Narnia series originally started with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I grew up with an ancient bound volume of all the books in the original order, but now if you buy them they come with The Magician's Nephew first. I personally like the original order better!

    And, btw, thanks for finding my blog. :)

    Amy

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  28. What a wonderful set you have, Amy. Reading it, to me, would feel magical.

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  29. Thanks, Helen. Yes, definitely magical.

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  30. Seems like once you're dead, your heirs can embarrass the heck out of you despite anything in your will to the contrary. Me, I figure it it makes my family money, that's great. But I wouldn't want anyone else to make money off me that way. (I'm thinking of out-of-copyright materials like Jane Austen's being warped out of all recognition.)

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