Ghostwriter Carries On V.C. Andrews' Gothic Legacy
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
For 26 years, Andrew Neiderman has been ghostwriting for Virginia Andrews — also known as V.C. Andrews, author of the bestselling novel, Flowers in the Attic. Under his watch, Andrews' name and gothic style of storytelling have spread to 95 countries in dozens of languages.
But Neiderman has also been busy writing under his own name, including the book, The Devil's Advocate, which was made into a popular movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.
"While I was publishing, my wife started to read Flowers in the Attic, and was driving me out of mind, because she was talking constantly, telling me how great these books were," Neiderman tells NPR's Rachel Martin. As it turns out, he and Andrews had the same agent, and over lunch one day, the agent let Neiderman know he might need to step in and take over.
He thinks he developed the ability to mimic other writers in college, during a fascination with William Faulkner. "I had this intro to composition class, and I wrote my composition in the style of William Faulkner. I got a D, but I loved it."
Though the style comes easily to Neiderman, writing the Andrews books is also a lot of work. He takes copious notes, and constantly refers back to earlier books. "Not only that, " he says, "but the fans pick up if you change eye color. [If] in the third book one of the minor characters, instead of having blue eyes has brown eyes ... they jump all over it."
He's also found it challenging to capture the female point of view, and often turns to his wife and granddaughters for help. But he's had some fun with it, too. Neiderman remembers once waiting in a green room for hours for an appearance on the CBS Today Show in New Orleans, then being rushed to the set with no time to warm up with the host, who opened with a question about how he writes as woman, for female readers.
"I was a little angry," he says, "and I said with a straight face, I said well, in the morning, I put on my wife's nightgown and high-heeled shoes and start to type. She looked at me like she had a lunatic on the show." After counting to three, he said he was kidding... and adds that credit for the joke goes to his wife.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
ANDREW NEIDERMAN: You know, in the beginning, I used to use two different computers, one for my own books under Niederman and one for the V.C. Andrews books. I actually spun my chair around. It was kind of weird. And then I almost feel as if V.C. Andrews channeled me, you know.
MARTIN: Maybe we should have warned you. If you're a diehard fan of the best-selling book "Flowers in the Attic" and the special brand of gothic fiction that followed it and you don't know that V.C. Andrews didn't write each of the more than 70 books that followed, brace yourself. The voice you just heard was that of Andrew Neiderman, and he is the ghostwriter for Virginia Andrews, also known as V.C. Andrews. He's been doing it now for 26 years and he has carried her legacy into 95 countries and dozens of languages. Oh, and he's pretty busy writing his own stuff too, like "The Devil's Advocate," which became a popular movie almost 20 years ago. So, in honor of Halloween, we present the ghostwriter. Andrew Neiderman is our Sunday Conversation.
NEIDERMAN: I've write 44 thrillers under my own named - the biggest being "The Devil's Advocate." But while I was publishing, my wife started to read "Flowers in the Attic" and was driving me out of my mind, because she was talking constantly, you know, telling me how great these books were. And so, you know, while I'm writing my own novels, my wife is carrying on about "Flowers in the Attic." So, I really didn't get into it yet until my agent, who happened to be the same agent as Virginia Andrews, told me one day at lunch that there's a possibility I may have to finish one of the books.
MARTIN: Did you get to work with Ms. Andrews?
NEIDERMAN: Actually, we never met. She had gotten into - her illness was more severe. However, as soon as I began writing the books, I became, obviously, I was working with the family because the estate owns the franchise. There were two brothers and three children and the mother was alive at the time as well. And I met her. And the last thing I remember her mother saying to me was be sure you do a good job. So...
MARTIN: That's a lot of pressure.
NEIDERMAN: Yeah, it was. But, you know, it was a challenge. And I think I had the tendency to be able to mimic, in a sense, other writers. Because when I was a college student - I remember I was fascinated with Faulkner, you know, and his writing style and I had this intro to composition class, and I wrote my composition in the style of William Faulkner and got a D. But I loved it, and so it just went on, you know, and on and on.
MARTIN: So, these stories - these are complicated family sagas. There's a lot to keep in your head - family trees, half-relatives. Did you ever lose track of all of that? What was your strategy for remembering all the complicated relationships?
NEIDERMAN: Yeah. I have to take a lot of notes and I have to be always, you know, referring back to what the first book has in it and who the characters were. And not only that, but the fans pick up if you change eye color. In the third book, one of the minor characters, instead of having blue eyes has brown eyes; you'd be surprised at how they jump all over it. I mean, they're just there. So, it's scary, you know, and basically, for that reason I am very careful about it.
MARTIN: What was it like to try to capture this voice, which is so different from yours? I mean, you're writing for adolescent girls passing these books around at summer camp, hidden in their backpacks.
NEIDERMAN: Grabbing the female point of view was always a challenge. I rely on my wife for a lot of details, you know, like what should she be wearing at this point, you know. And then I have granddaughters now and I'm always using them, asking them their expressions and what they're wearing and what's important to them. And so it helps to have that. But the funniest story I can give you is once I was on a CBS "Today Show" in New Orleans, and you know how when you're going to be on a show, you're sitting in a waiting room?
NEIDERMAN: And nobody came out to get me. I was going on at 7 A.M. live, and it was about 5 to 7, and I was getting nervous. And at about 2 to 7, they came out and finally said come on in. And they sat me down on a sofa and on the setting, and the woman who was going to interview me was doing the weather and then finished. And it was a commercial - came running down. Said I'm going to ask you lots of questions. We're going to be on in 30 seconds. And the first question when we came on live was, how do you write from a woman's point of view. And I looked at them and I was a little angry. (Laughing) And I said with a straight face, I said, well, in the morning I put on my wife's nightgown and high-heel shoes and start to type. And she looked at me like she had a lunatic on the show. And then after like a one, two, three beat, I said I'm just kidding, of course. Actually, it was my wife's line. She told me to say it.
MARTIN: (Laughing) It is a unique relationship you have with this woman, Virginia Andrews, someone you never even met, but I wonder if you do feel a peculiar kind of closeness to her, having assumed her life's work?
NEIDERMAN: Yeah. There is that and there's also a moral sense of obligation, you know, not to do a bad book in her name and not to write a Neiderman novel and call it V.C. Andrews novel. I mean, in that respect, I guess I hear her all the time.
MARTIN: Andrew Neiderman is a novelist. He is also the ghostwriter for V.C. Andrews. Mr. Neiderman, thanks so much for talking with us.
NEIDERMAN: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.