Words after Death

I’m not so sure about this trend in publishing work posthumously.

It’s one thing if an author was planning to finish a work, or maybe was almost done, and was intent on publishing the story or novel. (As in, already got in touch with a publisher about printing it!)

It is another to explicitly state, as Vladimir did, that you did not want a certain novel, or notes about a certain novel, published. Ever.

Here’s how Esquire explains it: “Vladimir Nabokov…clearly instructed his wife to burn the unfinished first draft of “[The Original of] Laura” — as if hand-writing the novel on 138 index cards wasn’t enough of a sign. But she didn’t. She kept it. And then she died. And then his son Dmitri, after thirty years of deliberation, gave in….And then Knopf jumped on dusting off Laura from its thirty-year rest in a Swiss bank vault and set about printing it for next month.”

I know the publishing industry is desperate. It’s repugnant but they are just after profits.

But his son (and wife before that) should be ashamed. But really, why didn’t Nabakov just burn the cards himself?

Ahhh. It’s one thing to “kill your darlings” one word or paragraph at a time. It’s another to light the match yourself to something that holds part of your soul.

Which explains why I am still carting around drafts of at least two novels that I know will never see the light of day. But I guess I should throw them in the fireplace, lest one day, after I win the Pulitzer, one of those drafts is published and they take away my Pulitzer – posthumously.

4 thoughts on “Words after Death

  1. It’s something all successful writers seem to face. Should a scribbling of notes from Michael Crichton that could be cobbled together into a book be discovered fifty years from now, they’ll be on Amazon.com within a month. I often wonder how the most famous writers in history would react to their half-finished stories and notes being published. Flattered? Furious? As writers, we often want to be remembered for our words — just make sure you control which words. I like Jen’s advice. Should you be fortunate enough to be a writer of note, with the potential to become one of the writers of your generation, and you don’t want that shabby attempt at a novel you wrote at twenty-three being published by your heirs, then burn, erase, delete, overwrite, and otherwise destroy all physical and digital copies and take it to the grave. Or not. What does it matter? You’ll be dead.

  2. They did it to Hemingway also. And it was no good. We are all hungry for the writer’s great words, and if they turn out to be … “not great” … well, we only have ourselves to blame. If he really wanted it destroyed, he should have done it himself. But they do become our children. We always hope they will redeem themselves, don’t we?

  3. The reality is if you don’t want it published, burn it. Assume some idiot (a relative or not) will find a way to make a profit with anything left over once you are gone, whether you are famous or not.

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