Bourne to Write

There have been lots of interesting articles lately about the franchising/branding of authors alive (Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, etc.) and dead (V.C. Andrews, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum). Readers don’t seem to care who writes the books as long as their favorite author’s name is across the top. And those name-brands are attracting some big-name authors, like Sebastian Faulks, who is doing the new Bonds, and Eric Van Lustbader, who is doing Ludlum’s Bourne novels. Lustbader recently told Publisher’s Weekly:

"The toughest part is overcoming some people thinking that this is a marketing kind of book. That may be for the estate, but to me it’s not at all. For me, it’s a labor of love. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could continue what Bob did—create a very unique character."

He did that by killing off a slew of supporting characters and reinventing Bourne to make the character his own.

The New York Times reports that the franchising of authors is becoming very big business…and that  the Ludlum estate is exploring every possible angle. In addition to the Bourne books, the Bourne movies, the COVERT-OPS books (which Ludlum began when he was alive with Gayle Lynds), and rewrites of unpublished Ludlum manuscripts, even more Ludlum books are in the works.

The Ludlum estate is following the success of the Bourne books by reviving Peter Chanellor, the title character of THE CHANCELLOR MANUSCRIPT, which was published 30 years ago.

The first 100 pages of the manuscript — by a veteran science-fiction writer — must still be approved by the estate. In addition, a script based on the original “Chancellor” is being developed for  Leonardo DiCaprio. The estate is also looking at TV series deal surrounding the shadowy Treadstone agency in the Bourne books, but would exclude Bourne if it is produced. A Bourne video game from Vivendi is due out next year.

“It seems like more of a posthumous factory than anybody I can think of,” [Publisher’s Weekly editor Sara] Nelson said. “And more of a well-oiled machine than V.C. Andrews’s.”

I guess this means we’ll soon be seeing sequels to THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND (The Osterman Weekday, etc.), THE SCARLATTI INHERITANCE (The Scarlatti Probate, etc.) and every other book Ludlum ever wrote. (Does this mean even the novels he wrote under a pseudonym will soon be franchised, too?).

This isn’t new, of course. Hundreds of Sherlock Holmes books have been written, and there were new SAINT novels being written while Leslie Charteris was still alive. But somehow it seems to be much more blatant, crass, and widespread today than it ever was before. I am seeing more and more books "Created" by certain bestselling authors rather than new novels written by them.

But I am certainly not one to criticize the practice of writing or reading these books. Writing a book under the umbrella of a living or dead author isn’t so different than what I am doing by writing TV tie-ins. The only difference is that I have an actor’s picture on the cover rather than a famous author’s name…but I have had the opportunity.

Many years ago, I had a chance to write an EXECUTIONER novel, and passed. I was eager to make a name for myself as a writer and didn’t think it would happen if Don Pendelton’s name was on the cover of the books I wrote and not my own.

More recently, I was offered the opportunity to "co-write" a novel with a famous actor with a highly marketable persona (his name would be in big letters across the top, of course) and, after a lot of thought, I decided to pass. It’s not that the idea wasn’t good (it was), or that they wouldn’t sell (they probably will do quite well), or that working with the actor wouldn’t have been fun (it probably would have been), but I decided that I’m already doing books based on a pre-existing media property (Monk)…and that’s  enough.  If I have time to write any other books, I want them to be my own.

But I can certainly understand why an established novelist like James Webb would jump at doing  a Ludlum novel…or why John  Gardner, Kingsley Amis and now Sebastian Faulks would tackle James Bond novels. There’s the money, of course, and the pleasure of writing about a character that they love (or continuing the legacy of an author they admire), but it’s also an irresistable opportunity to reach a far larger audience than they are already reaching with your own novels. It was certainly one of the motivations for accepting the DIAGNOSIS MURDER deal…and later the MONK contract.

I also get the appeal to readers of new books continuing the characters created by a  dead author…and written in the same style….but I have a harder time understanding the appeal to readers of the branded books by "living" authors.

I love Larry McMurtry’s westerns and most of John Irving’s novels…but I doubt I’d rush to the bookstore to buy a novel "Created by Larry McMurtry and Biff Pevnick, written by Ian Ludlow" or  "John Irving’s THE UNIVERSE ACCORDING TO GARP by Ian Ludlow." Would you?

9 thoughts on “Bourne to Write”

  1. Another deceased author who’s been turned into a franchise is William W. Johnstone. Certainly he wasn’t up there with those names you mentioned. But his books have their niche.

  2. I think I would. I’ve been thinking about reading the Bourne novels but I hear they are so different from the movie, which I like, that I can’t see myself liking them that much. But, if they started the series again, after the movies, I’d read those. It’s the same with James Bond. I love the older movies but never thought of reading the older novels but I have some interest in the newer books.
    It’s all marketed to a younger generation (I’m 27) who might not know the old James Bond or want to start an older authors book, but like the new movies and might read a movie tied in book. I could also be that the studios and book publishers love to run with an old idea because something new, in their opinion, can’t be good because no one knows of it. Same thing with the branded books by living authors. People will buy from a familiar name. It’s easier to market.

  3. I really don’t get it from the perspective of watching readers say, “Hey, have you read the latest Ludlum?” (Or Patterson or Clancy, etc.). I keep thinking, but it’s not the same writer. If you like it, fine, but…
    I honestly don’t get why van Lustbader would have wanted to do it. He’s a successful bestselling author in his own right. Was Ludlum’s sales that much larger?
    Maybe if I end up having money thrown at me to write, say, a Lee Goldberg novel, then I’ll have a better understanding of the situation. (Or, you know, a Ludlum or Patterson or…)

  4. It’s sort of the same thing as a movie sequel. The original writer creates some characters and tells a story with them, then gets “Characters by” credit on future movies.
    The only difference here is that the estate of the original writer gets the money instead of the publisher/studio.
    Another example to add to the above: after L. Frank Baum died, Ruth Plumly Thompson took up writing Oz books, and is considered to have a down a good job. (I hope I’m remembering her name right) — and after her, I think the illustrator wrote three more. All of which I believe are considered canonical by the Oz fan community.

  5. I think doing an EXECUTIONER book would be kind of fun, just because I used to be a huge fan of that series, and really, “Don Pendleton” has become a house name, much like “Brett Halliday” did after Davis Dresser’s retirement.
    In general, though, I think that “factory” books tend to lack whatever made the originals unique.

  6. If given the chance I would write a .357 VIGILANTE novel and I would read (or write) any new TARZAN, JOHN CARTER OF MARS, CARSON OF VENUS or even THE MUCKER books from the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs…
    Sometimes it’s nice to play in someone else’s sandbox.

  7. Whether I would read one of these or not, I am not sure, but I am very happy that this practice includes the new author’s name, though perhaps not as prominent.
    There are some authors (Ludlum and Saunders for a while, and Harold Robbins – still, I think) whose works are/were released without letting the reader know that it was not the work of the original author. At least this is more open and honest.

  8. I love reading books done in series format. Two of my favorite authors are William Johnstone and David Gimmel. I’m glad someone had taken these series and ran with them. Sometimes the stories are more important than the person who writes them.


Leave a Comment