Michael Gruber is Robert Tanenbaum, the Sequel

Jules Older writes in San Francisco Magazine this month that he was a huge fan of lawyer-turned-novelist Robert Tanenbaum’s thrillers, often re-reading favorite passages again and again. But Older was more than a little shocked to discover the author he admired wasn’t Tanenbaum at all…but his cousin and ghostwriter Michael Gruber (a story I’ve talked about here before). Tanenbaum didn’t write his own books.

Gruber says that though the arrangement was financially rewarding — they split the earnings fifty-fifty — it felt increasingly wrong. Says Gruber, "We started getting very gnarly around 1998 with the 11th book, ACT OF REVENGE." Was it envy that led to the breakup? "No, I wasn’t envious; I was kind of sorry for him. He took total credit for books he did not write."

Gruber says felt his teeth grinding when he heard his cousin telling a radio interviewer how terribly difficult it was to be a hugely successful lawyer, a teacher, a mayor, and a brilliant writers all at the same time. "Especially since he wasn’t."
…Which one is the scoundrel? Tanenbaum for pretending to be the only writers? Or Gruber for spilling the beans?

I think it’s Gruber, who knew going into the deal what being a ghostwriter means. All ghost writers grind their teeth when they hear the person they are ghosting for take all the credit. But that’s the deal and he knew it. Gruber claims in the article that he’s not the one who revealed the secret, that one of those intrepid, hard-driving investigator reporters from Romantic Times broke the story:

"[She said] I understand you are the author of Robert Tanenbaum’s novels’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’"

He could have said no, or no comment. Instead, he chose to reveal the truth. But all of this means little to Older, who is more concerned about the quality of their books in the wake of the scandal. Older says the Tanenbaum books now are amateurishly written and bland. Gruber’s solo books are, Older says,   hot, wild, smart, sexy and intriguing, but tinged with the supernatural.

Tanenbaum really doesn’t have the chops for first-rate fiction and Gruber’s enchantment with the supernatural isn’t my idea of an asset…if I ran the world, the Beatles would have reunited. Simon and Garfunkel would have reunited. And Gruber and Tanenbaum would still reunite. Lost that clunky dialogue! Cast out those convenient demons!

4 thoughts on “Michael Gruber is Robert Tanenbaum, the Sequel”

  1. I think it’s difficult to say who the bad guy is here unless you know more about the dynamics of the relationship itself.
    This isn’t the case of a publisher hiring a writer to ghost for Tanenbaum. It’s cousins striking a deal back when neither of them had anything at stake.
    That the publisher was never told by Tanenbaum that he was using a ghost is a real problem, if you ask me. And I can understand Gruber’s frustration.
    I once ghosted a couple of television episodes for someone and still feel a bit frustrated that I can’t claim those credits. This was also a personal arrangement that the producer did not know about.
    Then again, I have no plan to ever reveal it because I have respect for the person involved. But who knows how I’d feel if I was in Gruber’s situation.
    Bottom line, this isn’t a black and white issue and it’s not for any of us to judge who the scoundrel is without REALLY knowing exactly what went on.

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  2. You make your bed, you lie in it. It was a bad, dishonest deal, but they both agreed to it. Back when nothing was at stake, I guess it was easy.
    I was involved in a similar situation 10 years ago where I won a national contest sponsored by Forbes magazine to solve a treasure hunt leading to the lat/long coordinates of a buried treasure chest, somewhere in the United States, containing a voucher redeemable for $10,000 in solid gold coins. I suspected it was on this barrier island on the Gulf coast of Florida, and from the local Chamber of Commerce, got the name of an adventure charter operator in that area, whom I called and asked to check out the location for me. At the time I homed in on Florida, there were still 900 locations in the US that matched the lat/long coordinates I had solved. So I wasn’t willing to fly down to Florida to check it out myself because the airfare would have been $2000 and I wasn’t convinced the treasure was there. So, when the woman picked up the phone and I told her how much the treasure was worth, and she said “Would you split it with me if it’s there?” I said yes and didn’t bargain. Although something tells me ANYBODY would have agreed to go look for maybe $1,000, just out of curiosity. She drove out to the nearby beach with a GPS, her dog and a six-pack of beer and a half hour later she was $5000 richer. Then she wanted to keep the treasure chest and went around acting like she was a co-winner – she even had the nerve to declare “I wouldn’t have done it for less than half.” Even though I had solved all the clues and beat 2000 other registered players to find the treasure, and she had never heard of the contest until the day I called her with the coordinates! To this day, even though it wasn’t much money, I kick myself for the deal I made. And there’s one letter that irks me whenever I think about the article that came out in Forbes about the treasure hunt (complete with a picture of me and her on the beach on the island) … “Congratulations to the winners.” WINNERS? She was just an errand girl I hired to go get my treasure, and paid $5000 to – that doesn’t make her a WINNER!
    Although as I said, that was a trivial example, and nobody put a gun to my head when I made my deal with her (and I did honor it) … I can TOTALLY empathize with Michael Gruber. At some point, it’s not about money, it’s about credit for your life’s work, and he was cheated. He wasn’t credited as a co-writer. He was thanked, but authors thank people all the time, that doesn’t mean they wrote their books. He was invisible, and he gave something like 15 or 20 years of his professional life to this series. And for all anybody else knew, he’d been an unemployed bum the whole time – he had nothing to show for his life except money. What Tanenbaum did was intellectually dishonest, and to go on the radio and act like he wrote everything solo – that tells me all you need to know about Robert K. Tanenbaum. I couldn’t do it! I would feel like a fraud. After the first book, I would have said to Michael Gruber – cmon, let’s put both our names on these books.
    I do believe Tanenbaum contributed to the series – certainly the courtroom elements, legal angles, etc. But looking at how the series tanked after Gruber stopped writing the books, it’s so obvious that Gruber was the heart and soul of the Karp/Ciampi series. I felt sandbagged when the first crappy post-Gruber book came out, I found out Gruber had been ghostwriting them all along, and essentially the series was dead.
    I next went in search of Gruber’s solo books, hoping they’d be as magical as the Karp/Ciampi series, but unfortunately I couldn’t stand them. They were well-written but creepy. If I hadn’t know the same man had written them and the Karp/Ciampi books, I would never have thought so.
    Anyway I’m blathering so I’ll stop there!

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  3. I had to look up Tanenbaum after loving something like 14 of the Butch Karp series and loathing, absolutely LOATHING the next three. I don’t know when I have seen such clunky, amateurish, downright awful writing. It takes really bad writing to make me start to dislike characters I had come to love, but the Butch, Marlene and Lucy in Hoax, Fury and Counterpoint are the least likable, least interesting and least believable characters I can remember running into.

    Not only that, the books desperately needed an editor. The dog’s breed changed, the twins changed ages, Tran and Jojola were suddenly hanging out together, and the Taos segments were embarrassingly bad as they were so cliche-ridden and clearly depended on someone reading a description of Taos in a Chamber of Commerce brochure. Last rites were last “rights”—it just went on and on, one inexcusable mistake after another. Jojola died—Jojola LIVES! People just popped up out of nowhere when someone needed to, well, pop up out of nowhere. A shy young cowboy galloped across the prairie just in time to lasso his one true love as she fell into a chasm, after which she nearly swooned and he pulled an “Aw, shucks”. Next I expected her to be tied across some railroad tracks. It was all so barfworthy.

    The supposedly sexy banter was so cringeworthy it sounded like it was written by a high school sophomore who had read too many romance novels but never actually had sex. It was so juvenile I was embarrassed for the author.

    If Tanenbaum really did contribute to the first books in the series, it must have been in notes and outlines, to be put into decent prose by Gruber, because whoever wrote the three books I mentioned couldn’t even describe legal stuff well.

    I slogged through Hoax because I went in liking the characters and went on to Fury because I simply couldn’t believe that any publisher would print another book that bad and hoped the series would pick up again. Ditto for not learning my lesson and buying Counterpoint.

    The thing is, I happened onto one of the later books, somewhere in the 20s, and liked it so much I went back to Number One in the series, so now I need to find out if that was just a fluke or if Gruber started writing the series again. I know if the first one I read had been half as bad as Hoax, Fury or Counterpoint I never would have had any interest in following the series from the beginning. As it was, I should have learned my lesson halfway through Hoax, so appropriately named, and quit while I was ahead.

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