Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No RIPping

"I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks, `Well, I'm gonna kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels. So it will end with me, and after I'm dead and gone they won't be able to bring back the character'." -- J.K. Rowling talking about killing off characters from an interview about the final Harry Potter novel.

Writers are definitely territorial about their work, some to the point of being unable to even collaborate with another writer. Whether it's overinflation of the ego or simply protecting the mojo, it's part of our nature to hang on to what's ours. Unfortunately, we can't take our work with us when we go, or most of us probably would.

I'm luckier than J.K., in that I don't have to worry about pissing off most of the civilized world with what I do with my characters. I seriously doubt any of my work will be profitable for long after I'm gone. Still, after observing just how much publishing and readers respect an author's wishes, I did take the precaution of destroying everything I didn't want published posthumously. You guys will just have to live without ever reading my sixth-grade rewrite of Romeo and Juliet.

That doesn't completely solve my problem. I have a hefty inventory of as-yet-unpublished novels, along with outlines and partials on more than thirty books yet to be written. Throw in 25+ years of hard copies and 10+ years of electronic copies of my notes, ideas, mind maps, novel notebooks, series journals and other secret writer junk that if decrypted, will reveal a stunning secret that will rock the foundations of modern religion I'd rather not have raided and pillaged by one or more yoyos who can't think up their own ideas.

I really don't want to take it with me, and I certainly do want my estate to benefit those who had better not squander it or I'll come back and haunt their asses big time. But there's a lot that I don't want grubbed through, artfully interpreted, or taken in the wrong direction, and I'm not going to apologize for that. I know I shouldn't worry, but then I think of all the lousy knockoffs and clumsy continuances and ghastly homages I've seen done and that place under my right eye starts twitching.

Do I save it all and hope my daughter picks writing over being a vet? Do I start shredding again? I don't know what the hell to do. Maybe I'll bury it all somewhere, along with my hoard of gold and jewels, and leave a cryptic poem or a map. Make whoever might want it work for it, at least.

What are you guys planning to do or are doing with work you don't want published, swiped or artfully interpreted after you buy the farm?


  1. I hadn't even thought about this. I think I need a bottle of aspirin...

  2. Anonymous1:07 AM

    At this point I'm not too concerned. After all, I'll be dead. What do I care? And we only have one kid who has no interest in writing but has a deeply ingrained sense of protecting family heirlooms. So, knowing all these things, I figure it'll be my great grand kids who discover the boxes and files tucked in the attic and think Cool! I can sell this crap on Ebay!

    Should I ever become more than a third rate hack, I might change my tune. While I'm alive they're mine and tresspass at your peril. After I'm gone... it's my daughter's problem, or her children's. Whatever they decide is fine by me.

  3. I'm a wasteful writer, in that I create a load of output which never appears in the finished work. In the past I used to give the files explanatory names and keep them all safe, but these days I regard it all as warm up exercises. Sure, there's a load of stuff in my WIP folders, but it can stay there as far as I'm concerned.
    Not that I'm deleting anything ;-)

  4. I am, I confess, a wretched hoarder. I have stuff dating back to when God was a boy and Jesus played scrum-half for the Brumbies.

    What will I do with it? Ahm... delete the porn (practice for writing sex scenes. No, really!) Everything else, my relos can sort through. Completed manuscripts go to those who are interested in wordcraft, no one else. Half-finished books, outlines that bored me, character sheets that were never used... I'll leave that to the relos too - but anyone who tries to embarrass my name, pseudonym or real, by the Goddess, I'll be back to make their life a misery!

  5. Oh man, I hadn't actually thought about this. Thanks, PBW, another worry to add to my list :). By the way, I strongly advise against trying to "bury it all somewhere, along with my hoard of gold and jewels, and leave a cryptic poem or a map." That's the sure way to get them published because whoever finds them will inevitably want to write a book based on his/her adventures!

    I don't think I'll need to worry about this too much, actually. Most of my work now is in soft copy only, all of which is password-protected. My high-school-angst-filled-masterpieces are not a worry either, because my mum has made it her mission in life to throw away my stuff (I have a lot of stuff) on a regular basis. She says it's bad feng shui to have so much paper lying around the house.

  6. Letting your characters or story world live on could be valuable gift for future generations of your family (think college fees).

    Destroy everything except your world-building notes. That way, no one can claim posthumous collaboration, and any continuators will have to be good enough to come up with their own ideas.

  7. Quite honestly, I'd be curious to see what people would do with my notes and ideas. Sure, there's the fear that they would horribly misinterpret everything, but I think the curiosity would outweigh that fear. Besides, I can never bring myself to get rid of any of my old work. (It's all on the computer, though, so that's okay; I'm not taking up any extra space with it.) So I'm going to leave it all hanging around on my hard drive.

  8. Anonymous8:25 AM

    My family has been given strict instructions that all of my unpublished work is to be destroyed - penalty of severe haunting if they fail to comply. My notes and such, I have said will be given to my sister (if I don't have children) for keeping as a family heirloom; all attempts to use/sell them prompt the same severe haunting - oh, yes, and threats to destroy her precious negatives in the process.

    I'm not doing anyone else's work for them. If they want to write something in the same vein as me, they're going to have to do so from scratch, the same way I did. Luckily, my family understands and has agreed to my wishes. *-*

  9. The thought that anyone would give a damn about any of my writing (other than the kids grousing about their mom the packrat) makes me giggle.

    Seems like a rather cool thing to fret about--readers loving you too much after death rather than forgetting all about you within a few weeks.

  10. ;o) I'll burn the stuff.

    There are a lot of handwritten journals with stories in them from high school and I don't want to toss them yet because some of the ideas have merit but sooner or later, I'll burn them.

    My daughter wants to be a vet or an archeologist~she's only 7. But she does love to write~ she could change her mind. If she does... hey, let her do what she will with them...that might work.

    I got a big thrill a few months ago. She sat down and wrote a one page short story about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was so cute~ and she's already got the basic understanding of suspense down. The first line was...

    Sleepy Hollow was a peaceful town... or was it?

  11. Good question. My mother has kept copies of everything I ever gave her to read. Only a few of those things are any good at all, so I cringe when I think about her keeping them. She thinks it's all gold, which is sweet. But I know that most of it blows chunks.

  12. Rowling will probably kill off Snape and Harry -- but Harry will be resurrected via wizardry. I love those books, by the way. Without apology.

    Re: continuances, other writers taking over for dead authors, etc. -- seems there are a few who are doing it while the author is still alive...

  13. Anonymous11:38 AM

    I wondered what your take on JKR's comments would be. I already have a strong paranoia about my private writings being read (courtesy of a rude conspiracy between my ex-husband and father), so I tend to keep things in electronic form and password protected. I also keep the most "important" stuff on a USB drive rather than stored on my hard drive. I guess if I kept that closer to my person than just my purse, there's a good chance it would literally go with me when I go...

  14. This is an interesting question. After spending half a life time (so far)world building and writing a series of novels set within this world I've created by tapping into that mysterious alternate-reality of creativity, I shouldn't be too surprised to discover (after passing on) myself reincarnated into the world that I've devoted so much thought energy.

    Who knows? Strangeness happens all the time.

  15. Anonymous12:36 PM

    If I get really, really famous, I'm going to take all of my unpublished material and put it in a lockbox. Then, I'm going to leave a series of clues around the world (or my neighborhood. I'm really a little lazy.) and then laugh from the beyond the grave at people going on a scavenger hunt for what will likely be a disappointment. I try to publish everything somewhere, so if it's not published anywhere, it's probably pretty bad.

    Yes, I totally ripped the idea off the Da Vinci code and I'm only joking a little.

  16. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Ack. Previous post was me.


  17. I'm one of those people who shreds everything but a copy of the manuscript once the book is published. All the rest of my notes for things I haven't written are written in longhand. Anyone who can read the notes is welcome to use them when I'm gone.

  18. As a courtesy to my heirs I hope to have all the detritus tossed before I go. As to killing off characters, that's fine,but what's to stop anyone from writing another Sargasso Sea creating a life for one of your characters before they entered your story?

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  20. Anonymous1:08 PM

    I expect all of my writing, whether fiction or academic, will be disposed by my relations. There's little point in keeping it, unless I end up truly blessed with a prolific and prosperous writing career someday. I'm amused by the notion that some graduate student might want to read my files, notes and related material to further understand authorial intent or some academic, literary critism nonsense. Oh, I indulge myself with that fantasy!

    The lone exception to the disposition of my writing material will likely be blog archives, especially the stuff that's personal or related to family. My son might want to read about the boring life I led while he was growing up, or the silly things he did and said as a child.

  21. Seems like an odd thing to worry about, seeing as I'll be dead.

    If someone uses something of mine and gets something out of it, more power to them! But then I'm an organ donor, too.

  22. I can take 'em with me. When I die, I want to be incinerated with all my unpublished stories. If they don't do it, I'll come back and haunt them. And trust me, they will NOT want me to come back. I'll make one heck of a great ghost. *evil grin*

  23. Burn it if you wish, but could I ask all authors to please describe who holds your literary rights after your death? "I name XZY as my literary executor." Just slip that in your will somewhere.

    Becuase my aunt's books have had two different offers of reprinting, along with a posthumous publication of her fourth book, but no one could figure out who is the literary executor.

    It would be very helpful to your decsendants. Thank you.

  24. Great point Suisan.

    If I ever get to the point where I think anyone will care, I decide to do something. But right now I figure if I'm dead, I really won't care.

    Except maybe to see if those haunting scenes I wrote really WILL scare someone that badly. Interesting experiment....

  25. Anonymous8:11 AM

    I wish I knew.

  26. I was thinking about that the other day. (I was in a morbid mood.) If I haven't managed to write my favorite ideas out, then I'll probably give them to two of my writer friends and hope they do them justice. I'd hate for the characters to die with me. :(

  27. Since I can barely make out my own notes and rarely knew what I was thinking with my partials and false starts, I 'spect I won't worry about it.

    But then, come tomorrow, who knows? I'll hafta remember the literary executor thing, anyway. Just in case.


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