I’ve been thinking a lot about literary continuators for the past couple of days. Continuators are writers who take over popular series characters created by someone else. I saw somewhere that novelist Ace Atkins is taking over the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker, and I’m just not sure what to think of it.
Then Salon did an article on the practice here: The writers who keep popular authors alive. It specifically mentions Parker’s works, along with Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series and Jeffrey Deaver’s update of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
My initial, knee-jerk reaction is that I hate the idea of a continuator — especially in the instance of Parker’s work. He and his work will be forever tied to Boston, and Atkins, like me, is from the deep South. Atkins, despite attending Auburn University, turned out to be a pretty good writer (nominated for a Pulitzer for his reportage at the Tampa Tribune). But he’s not Parker; nor should he try to be.
I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction. The idea feels like a cash-grab by the author’s estate and/or publisher. But that’s an unkind view. While Parker’s work isn’t as popular as it was in, say, the mid-80s, Spenser and his crew are still read widely and much loved.
Maybe that’s the thing: We all want our heroes to live forever, right? Maybe this is the way (the only way) for them to live on for us. If I relate the idea to comic books, I realize that dozens (maybe hundreds?) of artists and writers have worked on Batman, or Superman, or Spider-Man. But comic books traditionally have been most closely tied to their publishing company, not their writers/artists. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong–it’s just a key difference between how the public perceives novelists vs. writers/creators in another genre.
It’s unkind of me, but I often think of a literary continuator as someone whose own work isn’t cutting it, who is riding the coattails of another author’s fame. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Deaver or Atkins. Both guys have carved good careers for themselves (bordering on great for Deaver). So I wonder why they’re doing it. Deaver, as I understand it, was a huge fan of Bond. Maybe Atkins was a huge fan of Parker. Maybe it’s just an easy payday. Who knows?
I likely won’t give Atkins a chance to impress in his forthcoming Spenser novel. For me, Spenser, Susan, Hawk and the rest of Parker’s beloved cast of characters died the same day he did. I may pick Atkins’ book up and read through a couple of chapters while I’m browsing Barnes & Noble, but I doubt I’ll buy it. It will have to be exceptional for me to even attempt to accept those characters written by anyone other than RBP.
The more I think about it, the more I don’t like the idea of a continuator. There’s a difference in, say, finishing someone’s final work. Creating whole new novels with someone else’s characters just feels like — well, it sort of feels like someone got paid to write fanfic.
Let the writer (and his characters) sleep when he’s dead. Everybody deserves a rest, right?
Edited to fix the link to Salon.com, which wasn’t working in the first post.