Author or Apparition?

           There’s
something strange in your neighborhood…bookstore, so I’m digging deep into my
eighties-baby memorabilia and pulling out my proton pack, not to eliminate, but to
illuminate a phenomenon that seems to be more prevalent or at least more
conspicuous lately: the use of ghostwriters. 
Call me crazy, but when I go into a bookstore (yes, I still go into
actual bookstores, at least I did until they all started closing) and pick up a
book with the name of an author whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, I kind of
expect that the book was written by…um, that author.  I’ve only recently discovered that is a naive notion.  Because only recently have some very
popular best-selling authors started actually giving credit to the writers
helping them write their novels.

            I
understand the use of ghostwriters is not new.  Politicians, entertainers, and sports stars have employed
ghostwriters to help them write autobiographies and other works for decades.  This makes perfect sense.  We don’t pick up a book by our home
team’s shortstop because we appreciate his sentence structure or
characterization; we want to read his book because of the way he plays ball, or
in my gramma’s case, because his buns look good in those tight white pants
(hey, she’s 87, she can get away with that).  But fiction is a different story.  Writing a novel involves craft, art, and creativity.  If the writer passes off one or more of
these aspects to someone else, who does the authorship truly belong to?  My seventh graders know that taking another
person’s characters or storyline and crafting their own story, without
acknowledging the original creator, is a form of cheating.  But does that mean that if they spend
weeks writing, editing, and revising such a piece, that their name shouldn’t
appear in the heading at all? 
Perhaps books should start having two bylines–a created by and a written
by. 

            It’s
a slippery slope and one that, at least in some cases, seems to stem from the
pressure for some popular authors to produce more books in a year than is
feasible.  Instead of writing fewer
books themselves, they hire someone to help them write novels in the style for
which they are known and loved.  If
that’s the way they want to work, great. 
But it seems to me at that point the second writer should stop being
treated as a ghostwriter and simply be considered a co-writer.  It’s very clear from the book jackets,
though, that this isn’t the case. 
While the names Clancy and Patterson dominate the front covers, their
partners’ names are hidden in microscopic font.  It makes me wonder what’s really being sold, their writing
or their name.  Are authors going
the way of designers, whose names on a product represent a style, or a brand,
and not an actual creation by the artist? 
And if the stories are still compelling and the style still palatable,
should we as readers care?

            Part
of me says no.  I’ve always read
what I liked, even if it was scorned for being commercial, or childish, or a
bit smutty.  Another part of me,
the part of me that’s spent more hours than I care to admit working on writing
two novels this year, screams yes! 
There are very few aspects of our culture that haven’t been cheapened by
commercialization.  It’s bad enough
we feel the need to take every great book and make it into a movie or
television series, but at least, for the most part, these are grounded in works
by authors who set out to tell a story through the art of their imagination and
the craft of their writing.  As
writer, English teacher, and bibliophile, I’d like to keep all books this
pure.  As an amateur, I may have no
place giving advice to authors who have had books on the best-seller list since
before I could read, but I going to anyways: if you want to write, write.  Write to entertain, to amaze, to
teach.  Write because it’s a
passion that resides in your soul. 
If you want to make over a hundred million dollars slapping your name on
things, go sell some expensive jeans.

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