The Man Behind the Incest: An Interview With V.C. Andrews' Ghostwriter

V.C. Andrews is practically an institution. Her young adult gothic horror novels have sold more than 106 million copies, been translated into 24 languages, and educated generations of adolescent girls about consensual incest. Hers is the longest-running literary franchise in history and she's one of the most popular authors working today—except that she's been dead for 27 years.

Andrews actually only wrote about 7 of the more than 80 titles attributed to her name. Just before her death in 1986 of cancer, novelist Andrew Neiderman was brought on to complete two different series that would've otherwise been cut short due to her illness. He proved to be adroit in mimicking Andrews' particular dark, soapy style, hitting that YA sweet spot where innocence mingles with salaciousness. The transition between authors was seamless, and the books were such a huge success that he began creating new family sagas under the now trademarked name.

To say that Neiderman is prolific is like saying Whitney Houston could carry a tune. He's published 70 novels as V.C. Andrews and 44 under his own name, seven of which have been made into films (most notably The Devil's Advocate starring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino). He's written several screenplays and a version of Flowers in the Attic for the stage.

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Neiderman's identity had been something of an open secret in the industry, but at the request of either the estate or the publisher, he would decline requests for interviews. However, "things have changed now," as he said when he reached out to Jezebel. After over 25 years and more than 100 million books sold, Neiderman is "out of the closet" as the man who is V.C. Andrews.

He spoke to Jezebel about his career as a successful female writer, his plans for new books in the Flowers in the Attic series, and of course, the hallmarks of V.C. Andrews' novels.

Why has incest and rape proven to be such a winning literary combination?
V.C. Andrews once said that the most interesting thing is: why do people who love each other hurt each other so much? And I think in all the family sagas we see examples of that.

[But] it used to be that when [I] wrote a V.C. Andrews novel, it was really fiction. I mean, Flowers in the Attic was challenged all the time because people would say, "How could those teenagers stay in there for three years or more?" [But now] it carries over into the real world [with] headlines like the three women locked up for 10 years and now there's something come out of London of people being enslaved for 30 years. It just seems like there's nothing you can create that isn't real, in that strange sense of the word.

But there were new topics that were explored. For example, in the most recent book Roxy's Story, a young girl becoming a high class New York escort was a whole new world for the readers to explore. The Unwelcome Child, coming out January 20, deals with a story about a rape where a child is born and the mother leaves the child with her parents who think that the child has inherited evil from the rapist.

That's a one-off, right?
Yes. Essentially what we discovered in the market is that the four- or five-book series were just not being tolerated by the retail markets as well, so the one-two punch is basically what it looks like right now. For example, Daughter of Darkness has a followup: Daughter of Light. And that's it—those two. It could go on, but basically that's what the market kind of sustained. That's series, by the way, is in development with MarVista Entertainment. It's a whole new take on the vampire thing—a V.C. Andrews girl in that world.

And the next two books after The Unwelcome Child will also be one-off books. Bittersweet Dreams and Gypsy Eyes.


Were there ever any plans to serialize My Sweet Audrina?
No, never. It was always a one-off. You know, the thing about these books that's wonderful is that you can take off on them later on. For example I'm in the middle of creating Christopher's Diary, [which is] Flowers in the Attic told from the point of view of Christopher, the [older brother].

It's about a girl whose father is in construction. [In Petals on the Wind] Foxworth Hall burns down to the ground. Her father's job is to evaluate the foundation of the property for a new buyer and in the course of doing that, they discover this metal box, and in the metal box is Christopher's diary. So it's both the story of the girl and how the diary affects her life, but also new insight into what happened up in the attic in Foxworth Hall. It's turning out that it's just too big to be one book.

Dawn was the first in an entirely new series to be published after V.C. died. I remember it was prefaced with a letter from the Andrews family about how she'd left unfinished works and they were working with a writer to have her stories completed. Were there really all these unfinished works, or did you just come in and start fresh? How did that work?
Well, there was a lot of unfinished material. Even the editor didn't know that I had been given a package of floppy discs from V.C. Andrews' computer [containing] ideas and thoughts and storylines and character sketches. She was also a pretty good artist. The characters she created in her art easily become characters of the books. For example, Butterfly, you can see in one of [her illustrations]. So I've been inspired by her visual work, too.

The style of V.C. Andrews novels are so different from the style of the books that I write under my own name, so I had to just research it like you would have for a term paper in a graduate level course. I had been a teacher for 23 years and I taught creative writing, so I was very familiar with style and all that. The wonder of V.C. Andrews, which makes it hard for people to duplicate, is that it's not just one genre. It's not just horror stories or love stories—it's a recipe, a mixture of these genres in the books that makes it work, that people have not been able to emulate, because a lot of people have tried.

They even tried to copy the covers once. Another publisher was even sued for it. You know the ones with the hole in the middle? They called them stepback covers in those days. That was kind of a trademark concept. V.C. Andrews is a trademark name, by the way.

So, you've never met V.C. Andrews, but you've met with her family.
Oh yeah, I'm very close with her family. I met her mother, who was in her 90s at the time. But V.C. Andrews had the same agent and the same editor I had at the time and she actually endorsed one of my novels. That's before I even got started with [ghostwriting for her]. So we had a relationship in that regard, but we never physically met because she was very sick by the time that I got involved. Very sick. And it just didn't work out.

But I'm very, very close with the family. They shared everything with me, their lives and their relationships. I have some wonderful letters that she wrote to them and things like that.

Are you aware of just how much of a cultural touchstone the V.C. Andrews novels have become with women in their 20s and 30s?
Yes, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot of feedback. On the V.C. Andrews Facebook page that I created, they break it down for you by demographics, and I'm always amazed by the fact that between the ages of 18 and 55 we have about 83% of the page. When it first started it was the seventh most explosive fan page on Facebook.

I think the demographic for V.C. Andrews books is outstanding. Kids are reading them at 14, 12, and then you have people in their 60s reading the same book! So when you see something like that, that's really exceptional. How many writers have a fan base that spreads over so much of a demographic?

That's the thing that I was going crazy with in Hollywood [when trying to get the books made into shows or films]—trying to get them to understand they had a wide range of audience here to play to.

Do you think that the difficulty you've had gaining Hollywood's attention has anything to do with gender? Because the stories are such a chick thing?
I think with feature films, yes, that's definitely true. You could probably count on your hand how many female stars can open a movie—big names that can secure financing—whereas there are dozens of men.

In television, that's not so true because you have what they call the TV Q. The awareness of the females is much bigger in television than the awareness of men. So in trying to get a television series going, the production companies know that if they can get an actress interested in [a project] then they could probably get it made. So it's not so bad in television, but it is hard in feature films.

Did you have any involvement with the Flowers in the Attic Lifetime movie?
I read the script and it's very close to the book.

Is it? Because the original isn't.
No, the original is a disaster. The original is terrible. The stupidity of the original is that they took the ending of Petals on the Wind [in which the house burns to the ground and the mother dies] and put it in Flowers in the Attic, which is beyond my imagination, why anyone in Hollywood would want to do that. They eliminated a sequel by doing that. But the remake is really close to the book, and I think all the fans are going to love it.

You know, the first time I ever heard the word "quadroon" was in a V.C. Andrews book that you wrote. Is it still printed like that?
Oh sure, yeah. You're not gonna change the words. You know one of the things I believe, as a writer, is that you should have things in the book that educate as well as entertain.

Well, as an 11-year-old girl, I definitely learned a thing or two about the world from V.C. Andrews books.
Good. I think when people finish reading a book, they should take something away from it besides just the pitch line of a story.