These days, the shelves are full of children (and sometimes nieces and nephews) of famous writers carrying on the torches for their famous parents. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s booming. Dick Francis’ son Felix started collaborating with his father on novels, and after his father died in 2010, Felix carried on — he is now listed as the sole author rather than the co-author on more recent books. Clive Cussler’s son Dirk Cussler is now the co-author on the more recent Dirk Pitt novels. Fans who avoid books with a “Dreaded Co-author” seem more likely to pick up books co-authored by a relative. My father is a big Clive Cussler fan, but he isn’t crazy with the series written with less well-known co-authors. However, he has no problem with the Dirk Pitt novels co-written by Dirk Cussler. I’m sure many other fans feel the same way when the co-author has the same last name.
Like Dirk Cussler, Todd McCaffrey has also carried on the family torch. He collaborated with his mother, Anne McCaffrey, on Pern books, starting from about 2003, and he has been listed as both sole author and co-author on Pern books since, with the latest collaboration coming out in 2012. Before this, Todd published SF on his own, as both Todd Johnson and Todd McCaffrey. Like Todd, Brian Herbert was writing before the death of his famous father, Frank Herbert, in 1986. Now, Brian is best known for co-authoring Dune sequels and prequels with Kevin J. Anderson. And in October of this year, Anne Hillerman (Tony Hillerman’s daughter) will be coming out with a new Leaphorn and Chee novel.
It’s easy to see why both readers and publishers like doing this. If you’re looking for a Dune book, you’ll find Brian Herbert’s books right in the same spot on the shelves. Some readers might pick up the books on the fly, not realizing they’re getting something written by a relative at first. This is not without its controversy. How do we know these family members are really writing these books? For example, Western author William W. Johnstone died in 2004, but his death was not confirmed for several years despite on-line speculation. Later books were published as “by William W. Johnstone and J. A. Johnstone” and eventually published under the J. A. Johnstone name. According to the official Johnstone site, J. A. Johnstone is WWJ’s nephew, but some readers speculate that these newer books are really ghostwritten by other authors.
Some relatives of authors write in their own worlds, but in the same genre as their famous kin, and keeping their famous surname. Recent examples include Jesse Kellerman, son of Faye Kellerman and Jonathan Kellerman; Carol Higgins Clark, daughter of Mary Higgins Clark; and Mary Jane Clark, former daughter-in-law of Mary Higgins Clark. Like their famous relatives, these newer authors all write mysteries. This can backfire. Someone who doesn’t like Kellerman might pass up his son’s books as well. Bucking the trend is Joe Hill — son of Stephen and Tabitha King. Rather than using his famous surname, he decided to write under a pen name (a short form of his full name, Joseph Hillstrom King). He kept his secret for about a decade.
So it’s easy to see how an author with a similar name to a big name author can confuse readers at first. Is this a child? A cousin? A niece or nephew? Or maybe it’s a new pen name by that author? Heck, it could also be someone with the same last name. A July debut novel is shedding light on the “dark side” of publishing under a famous name. For a while, I thought I was trapped in a romance novel with a “Silly Big Misunderstanding” plot.
This month, Big Girl Panties, the first book by author Stephanie Evanovich came out in hardback from Harper Collins. This got the attention of fans of Janet Evanovich. Not only was this new author using the famous Evanovich surname, but she also shared the first name of Janet Evanovich’s most famous heroine, Stephanie Plum. Was this a new pen name? Was this a co-author? Fans started asking about this, particularly on the Janet Evanovich Facebook page (which is run by Janet Evanovich’s daughter).
That’s when the plot took its “Silly Big Misunderstanding” twist. On Janet Evanovich’s Facebook page, the first post in response to reader questions about Stephanie Evanovich said, “It seems there is an author using the name Stephanie Evanovich. Janet has no association with her work.”
The response was as predictable as those books where the hero sees the heroine hugging another man and doesn’t stay around long enough to find out it’s only her cousin. Support from fans. Posts about Morelli versus Ranger. Anger toward Stephanie Evanovich. Even suggestions that Janet Evanovich should sue Stephanie Evanovich for ripping her off. After all, this is the Internet. Trying to stem the tide of confusion, other posters pointed out that Stephanie Evanovich was in fact Janet’s niece and not some kind of imposter. Others remained dubious, or kept calling Stephanie Evanovich “cheesy” and “rude” and the like. Yet both Publisher’s Weekly and the Heroes and Heartbreakers site refer to Stephanie as Janet’s niece. (The official bio of Stephanie Evanovich, which is on the Harper Collins webpage, does not mention the relationship.) So confusion piled on top of confusion. Any moment now, I expected a romance novel hero to storm out of the room because he thought the heroine was sleeping with another man.
Later, another official post went up, explaining, “Janet is not related to Stephanie Evanovich Gaspich by blood. Evanovich is Janet’s married name. We wish Stephanie the best in her writing career…” It then went on to explain that Janet Evanovich wanted to make it clear that she and Stephanie Evanovich are two different authors because she has always been clear about co-authored novels.
So everything was cleared up, right? Not really. The Big Misunderstandings still kept going. Some fans speculated that Stephanie Evanovich was taking advantage of the Evanovich name. On top of that, at least one fan was upset at Stephanie Evanovich ‘s publisher for “claiming” that the two authors were related. Some wanted to read the book, others thought there should only be one Evanovich. Again, I was thrust into a Silly Big Misunderstanding plot, and my heading was spinning. Wait. Surely a big publisher like Harper Collins is not going to lie something like this. So when is a relative not related by blood? Oh, wait. I think I get it.
On her own Facebook page, Stephanie Evanovich cleared up some of the confusion at one point, confirming that Janet Evanovich is her aunt — as Janet is married to Stephanie’s father’s brother. However, those posts seem to have fallen into Internet oblivion, whereas the Janet Evanovich posts are right there. Stephanie Evanovich is now married, so some fans have said that she should have published under the name “Stephanie Gaspich” instead. To which I say… Meh? Plenty of women prefer to publish under their maiden names, for a variety of reasons. (Right off the top of my head, I thought of P. D. James.) You can argue that she and her publisher are “cashing in” on her famous aunt’s name. Why not? You can say the same for Dirk Cussler and all the rest. On the other hand, it’s kind of hard to criticize someone for publishing under her own name. We also don’t know what part the publisher had in this. Did they suggest it? They would have been crazy to ignore the marketing potential of the Evanovich name.
I’ll admit that I’m not nevessarily going to run out and buy books from relatives using a famous last name when they become writers. How many of them would have gotten so much publicity attention if they weren’t related to someone famous? I’ve lost track of how many Tolkien relatives are writing, and now we even have a Dracula sequel co-authored by Dacre Stoker, the great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker. But heck, somebody’s name is their name. Even if it’s a maiden name or a famous name. Surely Stephanie Evanovich has the right to publish under her name if she wants to. Surely the publisher has the right to suggest it.
And what of authors who have the same surname as someone famous, yet aren’t related? Some forge through and use their surname. Others use a pen name to avoid confusion. It comes down to personal choice, as well as what the publisher recommends.
It all made me wonder how I’d react if I became famous, and one of my younger relatives published a book using the Marble surname. My first reaction would be “Yay!” As long as it wasn’t called That Crazy Woman with Too Many Books.
– Anne Marble