It’s common knowledge now that Michael Gruber has been ghosting Robert Tanenbaum’s legal thirllers… because Gruber is telling everybody about it. This week, Gruber is interviewed in Publisher’s Weekly, the industry trade magazine, and discussing his ghosting days in detail.
Gruber and Tanenbaum’s mothers are sisters and raised their sons in New York
together. Tanenbaum went on to become a successful trial lawyer, and when one of
his cases became nationally famous, the publishing house Franklin Watts (now a
division of Scholastic) asked him to write a novel about his legal adventures.
Knowing his cousin could write, Tanenbaum contacted Gruber. "He called me up,"
Gruber remembers, "and said, ‘I’ve written a hundred pages. Would you have a
look at it?’ " Gruber hesitates before explaining his reaction to Tanenbaum’s
hundred pages. "It was the kind of novel by somebody who doesn’t know anything
about writing novels," he says diplomatically. "So I called him, and I said,
‘This is unsalvageable. It’s not a novel, it has no characters, no plot,
nothing.’ He said, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘Look, for half the advance, I’ll
write your novel.’ On the basis of that we got another contract, for a lot more
money. And so I went into business."
In the acknowledgements of Tanenbaum’s bestselling "Butch Karp" novels, he always thanked Gruber, who ghosted over a dozen novels for his cousin. The partnership began to fall apart when Gruber tired of sharing the cash and not the credit.
The cousins became "somewhat estranged" when Gruber said he wanted to have a
relationship with Tanenbaum’s publisher (previously, Gruber didn’t interact at
all with any editor or publisher). This didn’t go over well with Tanenbaum, and
when, thanks to Gruber’s pressuring, Tanenbaum revised his contract so that it
would have Gruber’s name in it, Gruber had to agree that he wouldn’t make any
claim for copyright, and tensions increased.
"It’s very sad," Gruber laments. "You can imagine, being a writer, you write
all these books, but you never experience the life of a writer." He lays out one
scenario: "You’re at a party, and you say, ‘I’m a writer.’ Someone says, ‘Oh,
have you been published?’ ‘Yeah, I have seven million books in print.’ ‘Really?
What’s your name?’ ‘Oh, I don’t publish under my own name.’ "
Resolved, published in 2003, was the last Tanenbaum book Gruber was
involved in (though Tanenbaum continues to publish books, the most recent of
which, Hoax, received mostly tepid reviews). Their relationship now?
Gruber answers, "Zero."
Gruber’s first novel under his own name was TROPIC OF NIGHT, a thriller that has sold 300,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. His new novel VALLEY OF BONES is getting a big push from his publisher (hence the profile in PW and full page ad) and a 100,000 copy first printing. Alerting the fans of Tanenbaum’s books that they were actually written by Gruber can’t hurt his sales, either. Although the publisher decided not to refer to Gruber’s relationship with Tanenbaum in any of their publicity material, that didn’t stop Gruber from making sure word got out.
Personally, I think Gruber should have kept his mouth shut. He made a deal with Tanenbaum to ghost his books and was paid handsomely for it… to reveal the arrangement now seems malicious, self-serving, and unprofessional to me. Everybody loses… Tanenbaum, his readers, and Gruber, who comes off as a jerk.
I wonder who is writing Tanenbaum’s books now…. heard any rumors?