Fiction by Fictional Characters

ransommyheart Recently I came across the Castle books, thrillers ostensibly written by author Richard Castle, who is the hero of TV series Castle but in reality penned by a ghostwriter. I read that several chapters of the first book, Heat Wave, were published on ABC’s website for promotional reasons, until the whole book was released under the Castle name in 2009, and reached #6 on the New York Times bestseller list. Its sequel, Naked Heat, was released in 2010. I haven’t watched that many episodes of Castle, but when I did I always found the scenes in which Castle’s writing is discussed, either by himself or other characters in the show, amusing and interesting.

I own a number of other books written by fictional characters, because the concept fascinates me. To write such a novel, an author must slip behind the mask of a character she has created herself. If the primary novel is set in the past, or an alternate world, or if the secondary novel is a historial text, the author must take this into account and change her voice accordingly.

The first time I came across stories “written” by a fictional characters was in A. S. Byatt’s Possession. The novel (I recommend it most highly) is partly set in the present, partly in the 19th century, where is centers on two Victorian writers, poet Randolph Henry Ash and fairy tale author Christabel LaMotte. In the text included are several poems by Ash and tales by LaMotte. They are beautifully written, capturing the tone of the period, and at the same times they illuminate the characters of their “authors” marvelously. Two “LaMotte” tales were later republished under Byatt’s own name in the collection The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, but for me they will always be linked to Christabel LaMotte.

More recent, but also using fairy tales to comment on the plot and characters, are Elizabeth Hoyt’s novels. In both The Raven Prince and The Legend of the Four Soldiers series, snippets of fairy tales are used as chapter headings, each of them a reflection of what hero and heroine are experiencing in the novel proper. In the series, these tales are actually contained in a book that plays a role in the whole of the series, as it is translated from the French, then transcribed and made into a book by the heroines. Now I did not check all chapter headings, but it seems to me the tales are more or less complete. Although the tales are not written by a character within the novels, they are discussed as tales by the characters, and their tone is much different from that of the novel itself, so I include them here although they do not meet all the criteria. I enjoyed the tales, and not just as comments on the plots. May I say, were they on sale in complete form, as an ebook for example, I would be glad to buy them and read them just as tales?

J. K. Rowling wrote three spin-offs to the Harry Potter series. Two purport to be Harry’s books: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander (and annotated by Harry), a Hogwarts textbook, and Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworth Whisp. They were first published in 2001 (after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) to benefit a charity. Although they do not play a major role, they are alluded to repeatedly in the series, and it is understood that they were written by eminent authorities in their respective field, who are still alive during Harry’s time at Hogwarts. A more pivotal role is played by The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry and his friends receive vital information from this book, which was left to Hermione by Dumbledore. Within Harry Potter’s world, the tales are a historic text, comparable to Grimms’ Fairy Tales for our world. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a collection of five stories, were first given by Rowling to close friends, with one copy being auctioned off for charity; a later edition was made available to the public, with the proceeds also going to charity.

When Meg Cabot published the final installment in the Princess Diaries, Forever Princess, the same month saw the release of Ransom my Heart, a historical romance allegedly written by Mia Thermopolis, the series’ heroine. The novel is Mia’s senior project, which only her teacher knows about (Mia being too at embarrassed people knowing she wrote a romance). Throughout Forever Princess, we hear about the novel, the process of writing (in restrospect), telling people about it, receiving rejection letters, which are hilarious, and I don’t doubt true to life, and – finally – finding a publisher. Ransom my Heart is a humorous medieval and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read The Princess Diaries. But reading the novels next to each other, and relishing the insight provided into the publishing business, enhanced the fun for me. As with J. K. Rowling’s spin-offs, the proceeds from Ransom my Heart went to charity, in this case Greenpeace, supporting a cause close to both Mia’s and Meg Cabot’s hearts.

My newest successful novel-cum-spin-off read is by Donna Lea Simpson: Love and Scandal and The Last Days of a Rake, both published by Carina Press in June 2010. Love and Scandal is a Victorian historical about a spinster who has written a scandalous novel depicting the decline of a rake, and published it under a pseudonym. Now the novel is attributed to a real rake, Charles Jameson, and Collette is deeply dismayed. The plot of Love and Scandal hinges on the authorship of the The Last Rake Days of a Rake, and the book is at the center of proceedings. Donna Lea Simpson also wrote The Last Rake Days of a Rake, and for promotional reasons it is available at no cost from Carina’s site and other booksellers. It is no more than a novella really, but I read it with huge enjoyment. Simpson cleverly uses Victorian style and Victorian morals to create a parody of the romance genre that manages to be both witty and profound.

So, for me, fictional texts written by fictional characters are an unmitigated success. It’s fun to read an author’s comment on her own writing and her own characters, to hear about the thorny way to getting a book published, and how their nearest and dearest react to the writing. Do you know of any other texts that fit in this category? Do you like texts like this?

– Rike Horstmann

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16 Responses to Fiction by Fictional Characters

  1. I do like texts like this; I think they’re a great way for authors to flesh out a fictional character readers really enjoy.

    One of the first examples I can remember coming across is a sub-biography in Marguerite Henry’s BORN TO TROT. This book tells the modern-day (well, 20th century) story of a boy who raised trotting horses. When he has a health breakdown, he reads a historical work about the first trotting horse while he recuperates. As a kid, I loved that book and wished the historical part was available on its own. I’d flip through and read all those parts together.

    Back in the romance world — Victoria Dahl’s written a novella as Holly Summers, the pseudonym of her writer heroine from TALK ME DOWN. She describes it on her website as “Victoria Dahl writing as Molly Jennings writing as Holly Summers.” Hilarious! It’s a wonderful supplement to the novel itself, since Molly’s writing is such a vital part of her character (and the plot).

  2. Nora Roberts did something similar in Loving Jack. The heroine is a romance novelist and she’s writing a western romance called Lawless. Nora published the book the heroine was writing later that same year.

    I thought that was really fun; I actually read Lawless before I read Loving Jack and was really tickled to see how it all fit together.

    It all kind of reminds me of when Julia Roberts played Tess playing Julia Roberts in Ocean’s 12. A very fun concept I think.

  3. willaful says:

    I tend to find them disappointing. The example that springs to mind is The Maze in the Heart of the Castle — Dorothy Gilman published this under her own name, but it was originally a fictional book in her The Tightrope Walker — best book ever, btw — where it was described in such glowing terms, perhaps no real book could ever have lived up to the heroine’s memories of it.

    I do have a book called Letters from Cecily, which is an epistolary novel of letters “written” by the characters from the t.v. show “Northern Exposure,” and that is really quite good and expressed the character’s personality perfectly.

  4. belize says:

    I had the same reaction as willaful to reading The Maze in the Heart of the Castle. When reading The Tightrope Walker, this mentioned tale sounded like it would be remembered as someone’s childhood and it just didn’t live up to that.

  5. Lilly says:

    One of my older brother’s prized possessions was a copy of Kilgore Trout’s “Venus on the Half Shell”.

  6. MMcA says:

    Don’t know if this counts, but in Pratchett’s ‘Thud!’ the main character, Sam Vimes, makes an absolute point of being home at 6 o’clock every night to read his son his favourite picture book ‘Where’s my cow?’.
    The book is described in some detail in the story, and Pratchett later released a picture book under the same title.
    I was all set to buy it, but didn’t, because looking at it in the bookshop, it didn’t seem to be the book described in ‘Thud!’ – it seemed to be a picture book of Sam Vimes reading that picture book – which, to my mind, is no fun at all. The fun would be in having a real copy of an imaginary thing, I think. (Also, the picture book described in the story seemed like a really good picture book, and this one – unfair as it is to review it on the basis of a skim through in a bookshop years ago – not a proper children’s book.)

    I think Laurie R King did something like that too, though I haven’t seen a copy myself – I’ve the impression it was a booklet she gave away as a promotional thing, perhaps? It was supposed to be a handbook Sherlock Holmes wrote on beekeeping, I think. Looked very nice. (Though that must have been an odd experience – to write in the persona of someone else’s fictional creation…)

  7. LinnieGayl says:

    I had no idea there was a real The Maze in the Heart of the Castle. I loved The Tightrope Walker, but it did make The Maze in the Heart of the Castle seem like the best book ever written. I guess I’m glad I didn’t get to read it.

    As a big fan of the Castle TV show, I’ll have to admit I’ve been mildly interested in the Castle book; just not enough to buy it so far.

  8. Cora says:

    Fantasy authors Tim Powers and James Blaylock created a fictional Regency era poet named William Ashbless. Ashbless plays an important role in Powers’ novel The Anubis Gates (which is an absolutely stunning Regency timetravel fantasy novel), appears in some other works by Powers and Blaylock and also published some works of his own.

    The diaries of two TV characters, murder victim Laura Palmer and FBI agent Dale Cooper, were published as tie-ins to the TV show Twin Peaks.

    And The Life According to Garp by John Irving contains a short story written by Garp.

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  10. When Carina editors suggested I write The Last Days of a Rake I was enthralled by the possibilities and alarmed by the time line. I had one month!

    My goal was to write a flawed text, one that would be a decent read in a Victorian voice, but would embody the flaws in the book that are pointed out by different characters in Love & Scandal. A difficult task! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. It was a true pleasure to actually write the book I had written so much about in L&S!

  11. Becky says:

    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton has wonderful fairy tales that are written by the main character in the book. The book is so good…now that I’ve started thinking about it again, I may have to re-read it. My fiance and I are great fans of the “Castle” TV series and loved the first book. He is currently reading the new book and thinks it was actually written by Michael Connelly.

  12. library addict says:

    The novel version of the film Romancing the Stone claims to be written by Joan Wilder (the character Kathleen Turner plays in the movie).

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