Looting the Graves: Resurrecting Dead Authors
I have to admit, I love a good, meaty (ewww!) zombie story. World War Z by Max Brooks had me at hello, and I think Shaun of the Dead is one of the funniest movies ever. And I very much enjoy a good historical romance as well, but when I saw the recent monster mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! , "by" Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, my jaw dropped.
It might be great fun. I have no idea. But did Grahame-Smith resurrect Austen and ask her to agree to this "collaboration"? Or, once in the public domain, can anyone exploit the author's work for any purpose? (Hint: Yep.)
Not cool, nor do I think it's cool to dig through a popular author's old manuscripts and/or hard drive looking for incomplete (and possibly ill-conceived) manuscripts, having them completed by a relative or hired gun and passed off as the author's work. (Hence, Michael Crichton has two posthumous books forthcoming.) Dicier still are situations where heirs treat the late author as a franchise and continue to produce "new work" in the "spirit of" the deceased while slapping his/her name on the new product. Or situations such as the one where Margaret Mitchell's relatives authorized the creative of an apologist "sequel" to Gone With the Wind.
In one particularly egregious example (sorry but I can't name this author because I'm allergic to lawsuits) I'm aware of, the family members of a dead author hired a publicist to occasionally plant "news items" making it appear as if their cash cow, er, beloved, is actually alive.
Seriously, seriously not cool.
The moral of this story? As an author, make your wishes crystal clear. And if you have old manuscripts lying around you wouldn't be "caught dead" putting your name behind, give some thought as to their final disposition.
I'm one of those writers who saves everything, at least electronically, as I often repurpose old ideas and like to have them around to look back on (even though they mostly make me cringe). And while I'm not nearly popular enough to warrant "grave robbing," I'm betting Austen never would've seen the zombie mash-up coming either. So I'm newly inspired to either designate someone to destroy certain files (this can be risky, especially when we're talking heirs, who might be convinced by those who stand to profit of the literary merit of the material), check into how I can prevent this legally, or destroy the most embarrassing old manuscripts myself.
So what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you believe an author's works should stand as published at the time of her death? Or are there exceptions? (For example, most of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson's masterpieces were collected and published after her death, and I for one believe the world would be a poorer place without their discovery.) What about your own work, for those of you who write? Do you like the idea of your work, ideas, or name going on to support your heirs? Or would you rather control your own literary legacy?