The celebration of V.C. Andrews 100th birthday in June with the Gallery Books publication of my biography, The Woman Beyond the Attic, and the broadcast of a screen adaptation of the Cutler series on Lifetime has focused new attention on the 40-year-old book franchise, which still has a large, devoted fan base.
Many started reading Andrews when they were 12 with Flowers in the Attic. You can just imagine the wide demographic these novels command by attracting new readers while holding onto the older. It is also reasonable to say that there is a V.C. or Virginia Andrews title in almost every country that has a publisher, including mainland China. How did this happen and go on decades after her passing?
I came aboard as the ghostwriter largely because I had the same agent as Andrews, Anita Diamant, who knew many of my novels had young characters similar to those appearing in The Attic. When in 1987 I was asked to complete Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers, I was an English teacher at Fallsburg High School in upstate New York and had introduced a new class, Creative Writing.
I fully understood what a writer’s style or voice meant. I had already published more than a dozen of my own titles, and anyone comparing them to V.C. books I’ve worked on has acknowledged that there’s no way to tell the same writer wrote them: my highest compliment.
No one knew what the result would be with Garden of Shadows, but sales were strong enough that I was enlisted to complete three more novels in the Heaven series. All the books I wrote for the first 15 or so years landed high up on mass market bestseller lists. The franchise lived on.
The more successful I was at it, the more responsible for it I felt. I began to promote the titles in the international markets with personal visits. The publisher changed editors, but I vigorously held onto what I considered V.C. Andrews to be. What is that?
In the beginning, her books were difficult to place on store shelves: horror, terror, YA, romance sagas? The truth is V.C. Andrews became a genre onto herself. In her style, young people suffered adult problems, but the heavy accent on familial ones predominated. The weaving of a desperate need for love amid sibling rivalry and unusual parental relationships, tightly tied to family secrets, and elaborate influential settings struck a note with young people regardless of nationality or race. There is no greater tie an author can have to their readers than the thought, I once felt like that or I feel like that, but secretly.
These books were passed around under desks. Their forbidden nature helped make them a bigger success.
The secret to longevity in the arts is to constantly reinvent yourself. When mass market paperbacks took a hit and bookstores began closing or being absorbed, I pushed harder and harder on Hollywood to adapt a title. I succeeded in attaining many options with different studios and producers, but it wasn’t until 2013, when I and producer Dan Angel pressed Lifetime to develop a new film version of Flowers in the Attic, that the phenomenon of V.C. Andrews movie adaptations literally exploded.
With the new Cutler series that just began airing, Lifetime has done 23 two-hour movies, accompanied by Gallery Books movie-tie-in editions. One of the biggest viewer successes to date has been Flowers in the Attic: The Origins, adapted from the first Andrews title I had written more than 36 years ago.
Because I absorbed her style and voice and wrote new characters and plots inspired by the ones she wrote, I truly believe I am a conduit for her creativity. I guard her style vigorously, and as a consultant for the Lifetime movies, I identify whatever I sense is not true to the books, to her.
To conclude, here is an anecdote—an experience at an early ABA. Anita and I met with some South Korean publishers, and one of the editors was staring at me intently. I leaned over and whispered to the publisher, “Why is she staring at me so hard?”
“Because she can’t believe you’re ‘her,’ ” he said.
Therein lies the secret of writing: an author must have a multipersonality whether or not he or she ghostwrites. He or she must get into the character. In that sense, all writers are V.C. Andrews.
It has been and will continue to be a wonderful gift she left. Happy 100th birthday, V.C. Andrews.
Andrew Neiderman is the author of 46 thrillers, including The Devil’s Advocate. The Woman Beyond the Attic was one of this year’s Edgar Award nominees for critical biography.