Friday, June 22, 2012
Conversations Salutes V. C. Andrews
Anyone who has known me over the past 20 years is quite familiar with my fascination with V. C. Andrews.
I was in junior high school when I was first introduced to her novel FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, and since that time I have been a fan of the dark Gothic tales that seems to always reveal more of myself to me through each book. V. C. Andrews was truly ahead of her time in so many respects: discussing sensitive and even taboo issues like incest, abortion and the very challenges that plague all families that are sometimes swept under the rug. What kept me coming back to her was not just the ability to tell a great story. She was also able to get you into the characters, feeling and experiencing everything they did along the journey.
June 6th of this year she would have been eighty-nine years old. At the time of her death in 1986, V. C. Andrews had over twenty four-million books in print and her estate was worth more than eight million dollars. But her story and that of her characters didn't end there. Even death could not stop her impact on the reading community, as it continues to this very day. Already in 2012 there has been the release of INTO THE DARKNESS, another book that keeps not only the franchise alive but the memory of the woman who started it all.
Perhaps her writing career was cut short, but her impact on the literary world will never die. Therefore, from now until the time her novels stop making its readers gasp, laugh, and/or cry, she will always remain unforgettable in the eyes of her fans.
After her passing another bestselling author has been responsible for crafting tales inspired by V. C. Andrews' genius. His name is Andrew Neiderman, the name best known to movie-goers as the author of the book that inspired the dark tale THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE.
By the writing of this article, I have interviewed this incredible author almost a half dozen times for Conversations LIVE Radio, and each time it is like catching up with an old friend. He has always been kind, generous with his time as well as humbled by all that he has accomplished. In all Neiderman has published over 100 books. His is a remarkable career, showing his staying power in an industry that has changed dramatically since he first entered the literary scene.
Andrew, thank you for taking out the time to talk again with Conversations. You have provided a literary voice for years to different generations through your books. What do you feel accounts for your longevity and your appeal with readers?
I have always believed that the key to a good reader is the development of characters. Characters drive your stories. In my case I always begin with a what if question. For example, in NIGHT HOWL, I asked the question what if scientists were transplanting human brain cells into animals to see if they could improved intelligence and they did so with a German shepherd and that German shepherd got free and into population? The What if is there but now we need a character to drive the story and in this case, I chose a naturalist, a woodsman who is hired to track the dog and discovers quickly that it is a changed animal. He's angry science has created this creature, but he is likewise intrigued so he continues the pursuit. Stories, character and some edge or angle that will interest the reader is why I think my stories work well.
If you were asked, how would you define your style?
I began as a poet first so I always think about metaphor and love to write in a style that enables the reader to visualize, even if it is about feelings and thoughts. I am keen on the story moving along so I try to keep everything in the novel somehow related or key to the characters and the plot... no drifting... I always spend time on people, characters so the reader can see, hear the speaker. Worse thing is to overwrite.
One of the things that stands out to me about your career is how you have been able to appeal not just to those who read your books, but also those who watch your stories that are adapted into television movies and features films. Do you think it is important to your success to use every medium at your disposal?
In my particular case I taught film study for 20 years and I'm aware of the importance of visualization. My books lend themselves to other medium because of that and in today's competitive market, it is very good to have the opportunity to drive not only publication but sales with your variety of approaches. Nothing illustrates that as well as my novel, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE. The movie opened thousands of readers to my books.
When did you know that it was going to be a writing career that gave you the satisfaction in life that you wanted?
I was actually telling stories in Kindergarten. I knew early on that writing was for me. I loved the written word and I have taken on every possible writing assignment to be involved with it. I have written speeches for candidates, advertising copy, historical information, one-act plays, poems and short stories. I published my first poem when I was in the 8th grade and never looked back. To me, writing is who I am and not what I do.
Was your family receptive of your decisions in the beginning? Tell us about the beginning stages of your writing career.
I had a very supportive family. I grew up with my maternal grandmother from Hungary living with us and she spent hours and hours telling me stories about the Old Country and gypsies and the like. I had an aunt who typed up all my written works for me and I had parents that were very encouraging. My father was a great storyteller as well. I attended Hunter college in the Bronx first and wrote for their literary magazine and then transferred to the State University of New York in Albany and became the editor of the literary magazine. While there, I established, with another student, an underground paper for poetry and short, short stories as well. I then went into teaching and published my first novel in 1971, SISTERS (Stein and Day, Pocketbooks, Inc) and I was off to a writing career that now has 86 published novels and books and one collection of one-act plays attributed to it, as well as two made screenplays.
I think we all have defining moments in our lives where we see that the path we are on is going to work or not. When did you see things lining up the way you wanted them to professionally?
My career began with SISTERS, but it wasn't until the publication of PIN that I knew I was headed for bigger things. PIN was a major best selling thriller for Pocketbooks and eventually a feature film. That began my pursuit with more ambition and vigor. It resulted in a multi-book contract and then eventually, another with Putnam-Berkley.
Has there been a time, Andrew, when you look at the other books that are coming out in your genre and feel the need to compete in order to stay relevant? How have you remained true to who you are as an author?
You don't compete in the sense of an athlete, but you keep up with what is selling and you study what it is that makes other authors and their works successful. You can't change who you are, but you grow and develop and hone your skill and talent along the way. A major author with whom I had lunch one day told me he was jealous of me because one of my novels had become a studio blockbuster... The Devil's Advocate, which cost 67 million to make. He had never a major budget movie, but he was making ten times what I was. Still, that shows how people envy the guy next door and sometimes lose the way doing so. Write true stories, only stories that you have a passion to write, and you'll succeed, for yourself at least.
I think most people over the past decade or so have really gotten to know you as the ghostwriter behind the legendary V. C. Andrews novels that were published after her death. How did that opportunity come about and were you concerned how it would affect the titles that came under your own name?
I had the same agent and editor at the time and stepped in when Virginia was unable to finish the novel she was doing. It is so different from my own style and stories that I had no worries about it disturbing what I was doing.
How did you prepare yourself for such a challenge as finishing work that had been read by so many and was so different from your own writing style?
I taught writing for 23 years and I was able to emulate another style because of that and my writing skills. I also made it a research paper in the sense that I studied and studied the other style. I enjoy all kinds of writing and love the challenge.
Looking at the phenomenon that is V. C. Andrews, what do you think is the attraction to her titles after all of these years?
Many, many writers have tried to imitate V.C. Andrews. They have not succeeded because there is a magic formula. V.C. Andrews captures the hearts of young people especially because the works address their needs, thoughts and fantasies. But the style and the stories are characterized by elements of so many genres it's difficult to copy. It's like trying to cook your grandmother's special stuffed cabbage. She had the same ingredients but mixed them in her own special way that no one else had or has and so it remains one of a kind. It's this mixture, this addressing real issues and problems and putting them in the V.C. Characters and settings that makes it lasting.
Since it was discovered that you were the writer that the family of V. C. Andrews was working closely with, what has been some of the reactions?
Most have been very positive and supportive because they want the stories to continue and love the style. There are a great many envious people who want you to fail. That comes with any endeavor, but for the most part, everyone is supportive.
Can you give our readers some advice when it comes to following their dreams and finding their path in life?
When I was a teacher, I directed school plays and after a particularly successful one, a student came up to me and asked me if she should be an actress. I said, "NO," and she nearly cried. "Why not?" she asked. "Because you asked the wrong question," I told her. "What is the right question?" she asked. "The right question," I said, "is Mr. Neiderman, I want to be an actress. What do I do next?" The point is so many people have talent but not the determination or the perseverance. You cannot reach your goals without it and that's why I often say, "It's 40 percent talent and 60 percent perseverance. Prepare for rejection and defeat but if it's in you to succeed, you will. Simple as that.
Thank you again for this unique opportunity, Andrew. How can our readers keep up with your activities that are coming up?
You are more than welcome, Cyrus. They can visit http://www.neiderman.com/.