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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ludlum Writes From the Dead & Comedy

I'm fascinated by this New York Times article below. And am always just amazed that people don't mind buying books that're written by someone beside the author. Or rather, and maybe this is all ego and fear, but what amazes me is that most people don't even know the author is dead.

Also, for those who like their comedy, Tom Franck emailed me and says he needs your votes for the finals. If he wins the 10K, he'll buy us all ponies.

Plus he can quote Rocky II, so that's good enough for me.

So please vote for him at Famecast.

The Ludlum Conundrum: A Dead Novelist Provides New Thrills

Ludlum books written by other authors.


Published: July 30, 2007

Robert Ludlum died six years ago, but that has done nothing to slow the release of books published under the name of the actor-turned-novelist who specialized in thrillers built on a foundation of paranoia.

Twelve Ludlum books have been released since his death, with a 13th due out in September. The business is deployed now as a kind of film studio, presenting books completed by others or new ones written using his name.

Since early 2006 there have been three alone: “Robert Ludlum’s The Moscow Vector,” the sixth in the “Covert-One” series of paperback originals; “The Bancroft Strategy,” and “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal,” by Eric Van Lustbader.

Mr. Ludlum did not want to be forgotten or leave behind only an enormous backlist that started with “The Scarlatti Inheritance” in 1971. He had little reason to worry: he is now a brand extended far into his afterlife.

“This goes back to 1990 or ’91 when Bob had quadruple bypass,” said Henry Morrison, the agent for Mr. Ludlum. “One day we were talking about what would happen when he was gone. He said, ‘I don’t want my name to disappear. I’ve spent 30 years writing books and building an audience.’ ”

His estate has borrowed from the examples of V.C. Andrews, dead since 1986 but selling well thanks to novels in her name written by an uncredited author; Ernest Hemingway, whose estates issued several books after his suicide; and Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler (both quite alive) who diverted from their skin of solo thrillers to create series written in conjunction with, or solely by, others.

“People expect something from a Robert Ludlum book, and if we can publish Ludlum books for the next 50 years and satisfy readers, we will,” said Jeffrey Weiner, the executor of Mr. Ludlum’s estate. The estate’s post-mortem publishing game plan is reminiscent of licensing and other deals for dead stars like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Babe Ruth, and the film industry’s comfort with familiar franchises.

“Publishing does look to the past to see what will work in the future,” said Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. “Series and big-name authors have tended to work well. Publishers, like executives in other creative fields, want Nos. 2, 3 and 4 to work as well as No. 1. And instead of going off to find the new Ludlum, they figure they’ve got this formula and will continue to use it.”

Whether it is fair to readers to publish the Ludlum books posthumously — in the form of spruced-up old manuscripts or new novels written by others — is not a serious concern to the estate or to Grand Central Publishing, the former Warner Books, where the rights to all new novels moved from St. Martin’s Press.

“I don’t think anyone objects as long as you maintain the quality of the book,” Mr. Morrison said. “The Sherlock Holmes novels have been a business since ‘The Seven-Percent Solution,’ and some have been better than others. It’s the characters that interest people.”

Mr. Weiner and Mr. Morris have executed an aggressive plan that has perpetuated the “Covert-One” series of paperback originals that Mr. Ludlum created with the central character of Lt. Col. Jon Smith. He oversaw the first three (two by Gayle Lynds and one by Philip Shelby) before he died, but three more have been published since. A seventh, “The Arctic Event,” by James Cobb, the fifth writer in the series, is due in September.

Three other books have been polished by an uncredited writer (Mr. Morrison said he sought no credit) and editor (also unnamed) from unpolished manuscripts left behind by Mr. Ludlum, including last year’s “The Bancroft Strategy,” which sold 102,000 copies in hardcover, making it to the ninth spot on The New York Times best-seller list, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail book sales.

That book, Mr. Morrison said, “sat around in the safe awaiting its turn. There are others that will be finished, as suitable.” He insisted that there are no ghostwriters in a bunker with a laptop writing books in Mr. Ludlum’s name.

Two best sellers by the veteran thriller writer Eric Van Lustbader have lengthened the troubled double life of Jason Bourne, Ludlum’s C.I.A.-handled assassin who had amnesia when readers first met him and whose memories have returned in glimmers like the scent of a certain Scotch.

Mr. Lustbader’s newest novel bears the title “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal” in which the agency believes he has gone rogue by killing two of its own and orders him terminated. The title underscores the franchise and the hope that readers will buy a Ludlumesque book that he only inspired but which displays his name in letters twice as tall as Mr. Lustbader’s.

Mr. Lustbader, who was a friend of Mr. Ludlum’s and is a client of Mr. Morrison’s, was enlisted to refresh the literary Bourne after the success that Matt Damon had in playing the character in the 2002 film, “The Bourne Identity,” very loosely based on Mr. Ludlum’s first Bourne novel of the same name. That and the 2004 film, “The Bourne Supremacy,” have grossed nearly $500 million. (The third film in the franchise, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” opens on Aug. 3.)

The writers met at Mr. Morrison’s annual Christmas party in 1980, the year in which “The Bourne Identity,” and Mr. Lustbader’s “The Ninja,” were published. Mr. Lustbader said that they sat rapt in each other’s company in a corner at the party.

“We talked for hours about characters and story arcs and how to fashion a book in three acts, where one act outdoes the next one. We talked about being the only thriller writers who knew anything about characters and wrote about characters in our books.”

Mr. Weiner suggested to Mr. Lustbader that he write a Bourne novel, but he didn’t take the offer seriously until the plot for “The Bourne Legacy” (St. Martin’s Press) came to him while showering. He admired Bourne and believed that he understood what motivated him; he agreed to a deal with the estate in which he had no obligation to copy Mr. Ludlum’s italicized style, although his pacing and plotting are eerily similar to Mr. Ludlum’s. “The Bourne Legacy” has sold 272,000 hardcover and paperback copies, Nielsen BookScan reported.

“I wanted to preserve the essence of Bourne and his sense of honor,” Mr. Lustbader said. He refreshed Bourne by killing off characters who were central to Mr. Ludlum’s creation and made him ageless, which conforms to the possibility of the Bourne films continuing. James Bond, after all, doesn’t turn into an on-screen geezer; he gets replaced by a younger actor.

Mr. Ludlum sent Bourne into action three times between 1980 and 1990.

“He never intended Bourne to be a series,” Mr. Lustbader added, “so he gave Bourne a wife, Marie, and kids, and made him older. But you can’t have that with continuing characters. So with the O.K. from the estate, I wanted to kill off Marie by natural causes and have the kids shipped to her family in Canada. He needed to start the next chapter of his life.”

Mr. Lustbader’s “The Bourne Betrayal,” has sold 86,000 copies through July 20, and is currently No. 8 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list.

Mr. Ludlum worked with Ms. Lynds and Mr. Shelby on the “Covert-One” books but never met their successors, Patrick Larkin, or Mr. Cobb, who said that Mr. Morrison, who is also his agent, asked if he had any possible “Covert-One” plots.

“I had one drifting around the back of my head,” Mr. Cobb said by telephone from Tacoma, Wash. “I could file off the serial numbers and bend it to fit the structure. I banged out an outline, and in a few days, they accepted it.”

He added: “I do not pretend to be Robert Ludlum. That would not be fair to him and it would not be fair to me. I just hope it will satisfy readers.”

The estate, which benefits Mr. Ludlum’s heirs, will put that standard to the test with the planned revival of another of the Ludlum characters, Peter Chancellor, who first appeared in “The Chancellor Manuscript” 30 years ago in “The Chancellor Letter.” 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,” Ms. Nelson said. “And more of a well-oiled machine than V.C. Andrews’s.”


Jared Rourke said...

"always just amazed that people don't mind buying books that're written by someone beside the author."

I'm really not trying to be smart here, but this coming from the guy who just finished up a run on the Justice League comic. I can't see much difference between that and someone writing a new "Bourne" book, especially since it appears to have been the author's wish (not particularly for Bourne, but for other books of his). I do think there's a major dishonesty in putting Ludlum's name larger than the actual author's... but what else do you expect?

Full disclosure: I've never read a Robert Ludlum book. But I do enjoy a good Meltzer book, Justice League or not.

Martin Maenza said...

Brad, my wife is a Ludlum fan - but she really does shy away from the books that have the name but are written by others. Much like some of the Tom Clancy-linked series books. She likes the authors she likes - and won't be pulled in by the banner name over the book. I'm that way too - I like who I like, including your stuff.

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Anonymous said...

I do mind buying a book that is not written by an alive author.
It is an insult to his fans to give a cat for a rabbit.
Shame on them.

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