Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Collaborating with the Dead

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Folks, it is no secret that I’m attempting to finish my late husband Michael’s work.  It isn’t an easy thing to do, partly because his writing style was quite different from my own and partly because I’m almost always pressed for time these days.

Because of my attempt to finish up my husband’s work (he left behind two novels and six or seven short stories along with one novella — novella two in the “Joey Maverick” series was drawn out of his novel, MAVERICK: LIEUTENANT), I’m interested in seeing how other authors have done in finishing up incomplete manuscripts.

Right now, the most celebrated writer to have done this is fantasist Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson was chosen by Robert Jordan’s widow, editor Harriet McDougal, because of Sanderson’s deep admiration for Jordan and his works.  Yet Sanderson’s writing style isn’t that close to Jordan’s — something Sanderson admitted freely in quite a number of interviews around the time THE GATHERING STORM (Book 11 of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series) — which means Sanderson had to decide how he’d approach finishing up Jordan’s monumental series.

What Sanderson did in my professional estimation was to split the difference between his own style and Jordan’s — making a “happy medium” between the two styles.  This is still quite difficult, because it means the writer may not be working in the way that’s comfortable, but it was much easier than attempting to write “just like Jordan” — especially when Jordan himself varied his authorial style to fit his mood, which is clearly apparent in several of the Wheel of Time epics starting with book 5, THE FIRES OF HEAVEN.

As I said in my reviews of books 12 and 13 of the Wheel of Time over at Shiny Book Review, Sanderson writes quite credibly and I fully believed in his writing.  As I recently finished up A MEMORY OF LIGHT (which I may well review at SBR, should I be able to make the time), I can say with all honesty that Sanderson — working closely with McDougal and with access to any notes Jordan left behind — was able to bring the Wheel of Time series to a rousing conclusion.

Another author who left behind a partially completed, yet long-awaited, novel was Dorothy L. Sayers.  Sayers wrote tightly plotted mysteries with all the features of a comedy of manners, many starring Lord Peter Wimsey and/or detective writer Harriet Vane, who became Wimsey’s love interest.  And when she decided in the late 1930s to give up on her last Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane novel, THRONES, DOMINATIONS, many mystery aficionados howled.

Then, in 1997 — a full forty years after Miss Sayers passed away — British mystery writer Jill Paton Walsh completed THRONES, DOMINATIONS.  From the 1998 review by American novelist Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times:

”Thrones, Dominations” is a literary sport, and for the most part successful, wonderfully written in its descriptive passages (a trek through the London sewers is vividly rendered) and provocative in its pointed discussion of detective fiction.

Mind you, Oates also pointed out that some of THRONES, DOMINATIONS really does not sound like Sayers to her — particularly the streak of feminism that may be a tad anachronistic to the time period (what I’d put as “we’re all girls together” moments between Harriet and Peter’s man Bunter’s fiancée) — but again, it’s a successful collaboration between a living author (Paton Walsh) and a dead one (Sayers).

Unlike Sanderson, Paton Walsh attempted to match Sayers as closely as is humanly possible, which I know in my own attempts to match my late husband’s style is incredibly difficult.  But like Sanderson’s last three books in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Paton Walsh’s efforts have largely been seen as worthy ones — albeit not the same ones Sayers would’ve written herself had she had the time and inclination.

I found THRONES, DOMINATIONS to be quite interesting, once I adapted to Paton Walsh’s style (which isn’t quite the same as Sayers for all Paton Walsh’s trying, even though it is  close).  It’s the study of a very interesting marriage between two highly intelligent people in a place and time (1930s England) where everyone with brains and sense knew that a Second World War was unlikely to be avoided.  There’s a great deal of witty byplay, the whole “comedy of manners” aspect is spot-on, and I had the sense — as in Sanderson’s continuation of Jordan’s work — that Paton Walsh treated Sayers’ characters with dignity, respect, and caring.

Anyway, these two authors are ones I’ve been studying for quite some time now — the past year, maybe two? — as there are very few models for me to emulate in my attempt to finish Michael’s work credibly.  But as I’ve seen with both Sanderson and Paton Walsh, these very well-known works have been able to be carried on with aplomb and fans have mostly enjoyed them.

My hope is that those who remember my late husband’s writing will be as happy with my attempts once I’m finally able to finish them up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

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