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!