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Authors Who Died Mid-Series

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  • Typewriter typing good bye

Jessica, Hespeler | June 1, 2019

Have you ever wondered what happens to a book, or a series, if the author dies before completing it?  Writing a book takes a long time, a series even longer.  Sometimes, despite a valiant effort the author doesn’t make it to the end.  What solutions have authors, publishers, and family members used?

Plan For Your Own Demise:

The Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie is known for her two popular mystery series, one featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and the other starring elderly detective Miss Jane Marple.  Christie wrote the final book for each series and locked them in a safe with instructions to publish them upon her death.  Fans had closure as each book finished the series.  Curtain is Poirot’s final story and Sleeping Murder is Miss Marple’s final story.

Have Someone Else Finish the Series:

Authors such as fantasy greats J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan left behind so much extra material that another person was able to complete their work.  Tolkien left behind reams of material concerning Middle-Earth.  His son Christopher Tolkien edited and published his work gifting fans with The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin to name a few.  Robert Jordan, known for the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time, also left notes behind for the end of his series.  Author Brandon Sanderson was able to complete the series (with the blessing of Jordan’s family and estate).

End the Series:

Mystery author Sue Grafton was well-known for her alphabet mysteries featuring heroine Kinsey Millhone.  Each title in the series began with a letter, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar and so on.  Grafton finished Y is for Yesterday and sadly passed away before she could start the final volume Z.  Her family, in accordance with Grafton’s wishes, will not let anyone else continue her series.  In their statement they said, “as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

Fight Over What to Do Next:

Sometimes when an author dies, it isn’t clear what to do next.  Let’s look at Swedish author Stieg Larsson, whose Millennium series starts with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  All his books were published after his death and quickly became international bestsellers.  However, because he wasn’t officially married to his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson, upon his death his brother and his father inherited his estate, including the rights to his books. Gabrielsson has a draft of another book in the series but his family authorized writer David Lagercrantz to continue the series, much to Gabrielsson’s dismay.  Both sides continue to fight over the rights and fans themselves are divided into camps that approve of the new novels and those that don’t.    

Is there an author you’re worried won’t finish their series?  Hopefully they have a back-up plan in place!

The girl who takes an eye for an eyeThe mystery of three quartersA memory of lightY is for yesterdayThe fall of Gondolin