Saturday, August 11, 2012

Same Characters, Different Authors?

Scott D. Parker

Maybe this is sacrilege, but have you ever wanted to see Philip Marlowe written by another author? A Stephanie Plum adventure not written by Janet Evanovich? The Continental Op written by someone other than Dashiell Hammett?

I got to thinking about this idea in light of my reading choices for this summer: Gabriel Hunt and Batman. For the better part of four months now, I have been immersed in old Batman comics, primarily ones from the 1970s. Can't say for sure how this desire started, but I've run with it. In this re-reading of my old titles--this fun time in Bat-History a few years after the cancellation of the Adam West TV show and more than a decade from the mid-80s Frank Miller-penned books that permanently changed the way Batman was viewed not only by the public but by DC Comics--where Batman re-discovered not only his brooding nature but also his detective abilities.

I've also run with the neo-pulp adventures of Gabriel Hunt, a character created by Hard Case Crime co-founder, Charles Ardai, back in 2009. I quickly read the first two book in this six-book series, but the remaining four remained unread until this summer. Back in early June, I looked over the books I have on my Nook and, upon seeing Book #3, Hunt at World's End, decided to give it a quick review. It hooked me and I blew through to the end of the series in no time.

Why do I bring these up? Because different writers have penned stories about the same character. There's a basic bible of the Bat-verse and the Hunt-verse that contains all the fundamental characteristics of each respective world. From there, using a basic character arc outline, various authors have written stories set in that universe.

Often, with the Bat books, one has to be a pretty decent comic fan to discern the differences between authors. Not so the Hunt books. Each of the six authors of those books put their own, discernible stamp on the prose and character of Gabriel Hunt. I'll admit that one or two of them were more difficult to wade through even though all six books are action-packed. And I could tell, at the start of each book, whether or not I was going to like the author. It was a dreadful feeling when I struggled.

Bringing me back to my opening, you ever wonder why authors don't let other writers touch their creations? The easy answer is, obviously, that authors spend lots of time creating a character, a universe, and a brand for themselves. After that hard work, naturally, one wants to be protective. But just the idea of some "dream" cross-collaborations is nirvana for crime readers. Don Winslow writing a Travis McGee book, James Reasoner writing a Doc Savage adventure, or Louise Penny crafting a Hercule Poirot yarn. How about some more out-there pairings: Ken Bruen working on Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Anthony Horowitz writing about Wallander, or the aforementioned Evanovich taking on J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas.

The ideas are endless. Musicians collaborate, filmmakers collaborate, and television folk collaborate: why not authors?


sandra seamans said...

I think you're looking at two different things here, Scott. The Pulp Heroes, like Gabriel Hunt, Batman, and Doc Savage are a created world and you're there for the adventure with the character as your escort. With characters like Philip Marlowe, Travis McGee, and Stephanie Plum you're there for that "person", his voice that is unique to the author.

I think that's why we don't object to pulp stories being continued as much as a character series.

Scott D. Parker said...

Point taken, Sandra. But the more I thought about Batman last night, the more I wanted to hone the post. Frank Miller, for example, really did change the person of Batman, not the basic origin, but the style. post Miller, Bats was all grim, all the time, with little humor. All subsequent stories since 1986 have followed suite.

Even so, and I agree with you regarding the voice, does it ever make you wonder what a certain character might feel like under the reigns of someone else?

sandra seamans said...

Nope. When I'm reading a character series I trust the author who's writing to keep me in familiar territory, to keep the character true to who he/she is. I can't trust that a new author would do that.

Of course there are authors who have gone off that path. I quit reading Sandford's prey books when Davenport started making love to the furniture in his new house. He was no longer the Lucas Davenport I first read and admired. Sandford domesticated the wild beast inside Davenport, taking away what made him dangerous to the bad guy.

And I think this is what we fear from another writer taking over a series. That the character will lose that certain something that makes them real to us.

Diana said...

I know of one book that is a collaboration of authors. Naked Came the Manatee was written by thirteen Florida authors. (Dave Barry, Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Edna Buchanan, James W. Hall, Carolina Hospital, Evelyn Mayerson, Tananarive Due, Brian Antoni, Vicki Hendricks, John Dufresne, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen) Each author wrote one chapter of the book. If one of the authors introduced one of his recurring characters, the authors of the subsequent chapters could not kill off that character. It's a rather interesting book to read.

EA said...

Hi Scott! A franchise is commonplace in TV and film, where multiple writers are brought in write scripts or tinker with those already written. The Writers Guild has teams of lawyers toiling away on arcane rules that parcel out "written by" credits.

Book franchises are not as common. Busy, big-name authors have been doing a version of the franchise under "series" guise for decades by utilizing ghostwriters. An author gets a hit, a series will make money, but the original author can't crank 'em out as fast as the public wants them. Enter the ghostwriter.

Although there is no stigma when producers hire multiple writers for a franchise, there's a stigma in the book world. I've heard keynote MWA speakers drip venom over writers like James Patterson, who allegedly use ghostwriters.
Elaine Ash