Reviving Defunct Fictional Heroes

The Financial Times recently ran an interesting piece by Esther Bintliff about how publishers are commissioning prominent authors to revive “defunct” fictional heroes such as Phillip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot, and Bertie Wooster. Mainstream publishers and literary estates are seeing how Hollywood’s franchise-building pays off. And you can’t grow a franchise without new product coming out on a regular basis. That’s a problem when the creator is gone. Apparently, even a huge name such as Agatha Christie loses attention with a static catalog.

Of course, the JDM estate is firmly on record against having any other writer touch Travis McGee. That’s their prerogative. But I’ve got to admit that I hope some day they change their mind. What are your thoughts?

Here’s the link:

You should also be able to get to the FT article by Googling: Dead men’s pens: reinventing Wodehouse, Austen and Chandler


12 thoughts on “Reviving Defunct Fictional Heroes

  1. I’ve been thinking plenty about just this sort of thing as I pursue my Travis McGee clones project. I’ve even contemplated a McGee fan fiction project.

    The key is to get the style right. You’ve reported that Stephen King proposed writing an original McGee story titled “Chrome”. I think this title betrays a possible misapprehension of JDM’s use of color in his writing and the resulting story might have been unsatisfactory in recapturing the essence of JDM’s story telling. JDM uses color to sketch emotion/mood in a stroke like a plein air painter. The titles of many of the McGee novels are phrases lifted from the prose: the deep blue goodbye, a purple place for dying, a dreadful lemon sky. There are other distinctive aspects to the writing in the McGee novels, like dialogue, that need to be grokked by anyone attempting to recreate the McGee experience. If I was representing the JDM estate, I’d be leery of even Stephen King missing the mark.

    Having said that, I would, of course, like – desperately – to read more McGee stories. In my reflections on the possibility of fan fiction, I’d be interested in stories set in the time before “The Deep Blue Goodbye” more than I’d like to know about what happened after “The Lonely Silver Rain”. I think Sherlock Holmes kept bees in retirement – and, of course, McGee can never die, so so much for “Black”.

    Merry Christmas, D.R.

    • Kevin, thanks so much for your comment. I agree that finding the right writer for a new McGee is key. You may be right about King. But if I were to do such a thing, I would privately audition several qualified writers and figure out who best captures Trav’s voice. As for pre- or post-series stories, I say neither. McGee operated for two plus decades. There should be plenty of gaps in there for new adventures. About pre-Blue stories, one concern: Could Meyer be in them? I would miss Meyer.

    • I believe I read some time ago that Stephen King approached JDM’s son and literary heir about doing a sequel. The son turned him down and King went on to writing more classics of his own. Since this was some time ago, the son might reconsider other offers from contemporary mystery / horror writers.
      Everyone has the right to change their minds; let’s hope his
      son might reconsider so we can continue to enjoy more contemporary Travis adventures which would, of course, include dollops of social and political commentary.
      I’d love to read what Travis says about the ’08 financial crisis, political misadventures that bogged us down in Iraq / Afghanistan, the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, and a fellow named Snowden.
      And of course, we need Meyer’s commentaries as well.
      Let’s hope . . .

  2. That’s a very good point about Meyer, D.R.; their banter is one of the treasures of McGee, and Meyer wasn’t much of a factor in the first half dozen or so novels. Okay, initially, any new stories would have to include in Meyer, which would preclude prequels. Those can come later.

  3. I’d love the gift of new McGee tales told in the JDM style, and thats the problem…JDM can be imitated in a short pastiche, but plotting and scripting a full length novel is much more elusive.
    The licensed James Bond sequel series shows how difficult that is. Try as I might I can’t feel any Ian Fleming in them.
    I’d hate to see that done to JDM or to TMcG.
    Stephen King (for example) writes so unlike JDM I can’t imagine him assuming that voice for 200+ pages. Just sayin’.
    Meyer is indispensable.
    Personally I would prefer any TMcG stories to be set in the 60s/70s. Travis should not have to contend with 2014’s indignities.

    For Holmes, it should always be 1895. For Travis, I like to think it is always one fine day in 1966…

    • I agree with Another Admirer. Because McGee is written first person, JDM’s style really is Trav’s voice and it is distinctive.

      And, I couldn’t have put it better, “it is always one fine day in 1966”.

      If you’ve read Rex Stout, the otherwise wonderful Nero and Archie are unchanging over 5 decades as the world changes around them. It gets undead-ish. A believable character has a prime of life. Travis ruminates on his passing prime more and more in the later stories – and I appreciate that this is JDM, himself, peeking out at us through Trav’s eyes.

      I did have a couple of thoughts though about new stories. What about a story told by Meyer or one of Trav’s damsels in distress? There is a chance to create something new while keeping McGee, et al, alive. The possibilities intrigue me, although nothing would be better than first person McGee.

  4. > What about a story told by Meyer or one of Trav’s damsels in distress?
    Good point. Meyer could be fun, reflecting on Trav.
    I’ve written one near-Trav vision of the Gulf coast, a novella “Dark Heaven”–and in trying to do a semi-JDM piece saw how hard it was.
    I agree King prob’ly couldn’t sustain voice for 100,000 words, too.

    • “reflecting on Trav.” – exactly.

      You get 3rd person Travis and first person Meyer.

      Meyer would certainly be a wry observer.

      Meyer could be writing in memoriam – although that would be sad.

      Stories could be set in any time during Travis’ residence at Bahia Mar not occupied by an existing story.

      Could tell the story of McGee winning The Busted Flush and coming to Bahia Mar. McGee meets Meyer.

      Must capture quality of friendship/trust/partnership and banter between Meyer and McGee.

      Action sequences might be a challenge. Meyer isn’t involved in much action, except when he is getting hit on the head or beaten up or collapsing a ledge of Yucatan limestone while wounded. One thought that occurs to me is for Meyer to use the third person as Randy Wayne White does at times to describe third parties and their actions in Doc Ford stories that are otherwise predominantly first person Doc.

      Stories could involve complicated criminal financial/governmental shenanigans, a JDM hallmark.

      Not to get too excited…

  5. I think the biggest problem these continuations of series have is that the new authors can sometimes get close to echoing the original voice, but never fit so seamlessly that you forget whose words you’re reading. The ones I’m most familiar with, the Sayers continuations, (written by an author who has done good work on her original books) grate on me terribly. I’d prefer honest fanfic, where you can take things or leave them as you wish.

    • That’s a good point. One I’m familiar with is Lawrence Sanders’ Archie McNally, which was continued by a writer named Vincent Lardo for about 6 books. Sanders’ own novels were a kind of mashup of Philip Marlowe and Bertie Wooster in Palm Beach; frothy, fun souffles. Lardo was a pretty good writer, but his style was to bake chocolate bundt cakes–sweet and tasty in their way, but heavier and nothing like the originals. Tony Hillerman’s daughter has revived Chee and Leaphorn, and I’m waiting on the library for a copy. Has anyone read it yet?

  6. I grew up reading the TM series. While my contemporaries scoured the pages of Marvel Comics I was hunkered in on cold New England nights under the covers with a flashlight and the sounds of the Bahia Mar sloshing at the sides of the Busted Flush while Trav and Meyer sat on the moonlit deck sipping Boodles and ice. A writer would be hard pressed to reproduce the exactness of any iconic literary figure where the characters still inhabit the hearts and minds of their fans. But I believe if the writer devotes their attention to what it is the reader is seeking as well as what it is the character/s bring to the table a careful blending of the two might be the solution.

    We don’t need to jump Trav several decades ahead of where he left off. Let him keep his polyester sport jackets and V8 engines and all the undeveloped marshland he can cling to. Let him scratch and claw his way along as he attempts to save that damsel in distress guided solely by his guile and wit and the strength in his two bare hands. That’s the Travis we know and love. Leave the cell phones and PCs for future generations of sleuths unburdened by the personal touch of an ever changing world. Trav does not belong there and he as well as we, know that.

    I hope the JDM family has a change of heart and takes the chance that someone can bring Trav out of his self inflicted exile. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a new generation of readers had the opportunity to discover Trav and Meyer and their eclectic band of Bahia Mar party goers.

    Us old hands still await that next installment, that next adventure where a broken down beach bum tips the scales of justice in the right direction.

    I just happen to have a manuscript sitting in a drawer in my desk collecting dust. I guess I’m just not ready to say that goodbye to my childhood hero, blue or otherwise.

  7. The one Travis McGee I would love to see would be the prequel: the story of his return from Korea and the destruction of the dreams of his brother and him. JDM hints back at this adventure, and a few others, throughout the series. Some of Travis’s best tales went untold (in this, Travis McGee is much like Flashman).

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