A comment by Jim Schmidt to my recent blog entry on Jeff Shaara got me thinking more about so-called "FamFic," or Family Fiction, when a famous author's relative endeavors to pick up the slack following the death of the writer. Bookstores today feature many examples of this, from Christopher Tolkein's work in finishing The Silmarillion, to the multiple, pre-Dune novels written by Frank Herbert's son after his death.
Chris Suellentrop at Slate.com wrote an interesting summary of the phenomenon back in 2003, an essay that's still accessible here. In it, he quotes Frank Herbert's son Brian commenting on his mother "intervening from another world." But the Herberts were writing science fiction—in that genre, at least, otherworldly intervention can be accounted for as something outside the bounds of our limited, terrestrial understanding of the universe.
In the same article, Suellentrop gathers some Jeff Shaara quotes as well, and one hopes—if the quotes are accurate—that they're not to be taken as literally as they sound. On the other hand, if they're merely calculated for effect as part of a book tour, it's hard to say which is worse, the marketing ploy, or the sentimental superstition. Suellentrop wrote:
Jeff Shaara takes the [ghostly] conceit to new heights—or at least he did during the promotion of Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, the Killer Angels sequel he authored. Shaara frequently asserted that Michael Shaara was writing through him—that the son was merely a conduit for the completion of his father's literary effort. A sampling of quotes: "While writing Gods and Generals, I have often felt my father's presence, as though he were there helping me write and giving me his blessing"; "When my sister Lila read it, she said, 'This is being written by the ghost of Michael Shaara.' "; "Very often I would feel as though my father was in the room." He also attributed the "ghost of Michael Shaara" phrase to Ronald F. Maxwell, the director of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, saying that Maxwell told him of his manuscript, "I am awe-struck. The ghost of Michael Shaara."
Now, Jeff Shaara may genuinely believe that his father was writing through him, and for all we know, it could even be true. But as a practical matter, how far does the right of a descendant to continue his ancestor's literary work extend?
I'm not sure what to make of this other than that, apparently, ghosts make lousy collaborators. Once more, the whole article ("Dead Man Writing: How to keep writing your late father's books") can be found here.