I grew up in South Fallsburg, New York about 100 miles from New York City. I went to Fallsburg Central Schools, where it took nearly 10 villages and rural towns to create a district. And in my junior year of high school, I convinced the school leadership to allow me to graduate a year early, and I convinced my parents to let me escape small town life for college.
The main requirement for early graduation was doing double English in my junior year. So I signed up for the required New York State Regents English course, and took a creative writing elective. I was neither creative, nor showing any potential as a writer, but I was always a reader. And my creative writing teacher, Andrew Neiderman, nurtured that love of reading with the eclectic novels he chose for his syllabus, among them, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, books that have stayed with me nearly 50 years later.
Andrew, (of course, he was Mr. Neiderman then) then an aspiring writer, was disciplined enough to teach by day and grind out short plays for Scholastic Magazine and write campaign speeches and radio ads in his spare time.
“I wrote every kind of thing I could,” he remembers, “I just wanted to write.” And write he did. During his 23-year high school teaching career, he somehow managed to complete 12 novels—while also serving as the school wrestling coach and directing numerous school drama productions.
Many readers will recognize Andrew Neiderman as the author of numerous suspense and thriller novels, including The Devil’s Advocate, which was made into a major motion picture starring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. But many more readers will surely be familiar with his work ghost writing as V.C. Andrews.
Following Andrews’ death in 1986, Neiderman stepped in to complete two unfinished works and continue writing under her name. Collectively, Andrew has published more than 100 novels and is listed in Wikipedia as a best-selling fiction author with sales of at least 100 million to date.
I recently caught up with Andrew, and the work ethic I remember from his teaching days has not been dampened by success. The Devil’s Advocate has been adapted for the stage, and is now contracted with a major production company to tour the U.K. He also wrote the stage play for Flowers in the Attic, which should be in theatrical production soon. And the latest V.C. Andrews novel, House of Secrets, was recently released and a sixth V.C. Andrews film for the Lifetime network, Heaven, is set to air mid-2018, with a seventh film now in production.
But I’ve always wanted to know—how did he do it? How did he go from small-town teacher to 100-million copy bestselling writer?
Amazingly, Andrew got his break after sending his work to an agent “over the transom,” an almost unheard-of opportunity today. Later, Sol Stein, his first publisher, introduced him to Tania Grossinger, a literary publicist and a member of the famed Grossinger Hotel family, and the two joined together to write Weekend, about a cholera epidemic in a Catskill hotel, published in 1980 by St. Martin’s Press. Tania later connected Andrew with Anita Diamant, the famed literary agent, who had discovered V.C. Andrews and sold Flowers in the Attic.
As a student and teacher of writing, Neiderman was able to study Andrews’ style and technique and successfully completed Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic, after Andrews died. And when Anita Diamant died in 1996, Neiderman moved the franchise to Writers House, where founder Al Zuckerman has been his agent on call. A complicated tax case between the IRS and the V.C. Andrews Estate during the early 1990s resulted in the big reveal that Andrew was V.C. Andrews’ ghost writer—perhaps the most famous ghost writer of all time.
Neiderman thinks of V.C. Andrews as a pioneer in young adult fiction, books he describes as centering on a young person dealing with an adult problem. And he wonders where V.C. Andrews might have gone with her work if she were still living. Her readership is now trending older, though the popularity of the books in V.C. Andrews’ name has never waned. And through Neiderman’s trademark discipline and hard work, he still satisfies fans with two to three titles per year.
While he says writing books remains his first love, pitching books to movie studios has also proven to be a great skill: Neiderman has had 13 films created from his novels. A great storyteller, he successfully pitched The Devil’s Advocate to a major studio with one sentence: “This is a movie about a law firm in New York that represents guilty people only, and never loses.”
Andrew told me he still loves to talk about writing and the profession with aspiring authors, although has no plans to reenter the teaching profession. He believes that the main purpose of a writing class is to teach people how to work, and that success as a writer is not only about talent, but perseverance. And he acknowledges that serendipity played a role in his success—but he says that he worked hard to be ready for when opportunity came his way.
Today, I can say “I knew him when.” Andrew has kept the V.C. Andrews franchise going for 31 years and has built fame and fortune in the Andrew Neiderman name as well. “Being able to do both has been quite a ride,” he says.
As my teacher, with his slightly irreverent classroom style, Andrew taught me many things, including the most important lesson of all: follow your dreams, with tenacity and hard work.
PW Libraries Columnist Sari Feldman is executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio, and a former president of both the Public Library Association and the American Library Association.