Friday, February 7, 2014

Tribute writers

A Mamas and Papas tribute band
The Tampa Bay area offers many opportunities for live, big-name entertainment. Major venues in Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg attract some of the best acts you will find anywhere. Then there's little Largo Community Center, an attractive theater in a city park that books lesser acts like Jane Monheit, people who were once big names but aren't anymore like the former lead singer for Men at Work and mostly nameless entertainers who "pay tribute" to big names of the past by singing their songs and copying their costumes and styles.

Lately the tributes have been to the likes of the Mamas and the Papas, ABBA and Louis Armstrong. I confess to once attending a tribute to Jimmy Buffett, not in Largo but back in Ohio, but as a rule I avoid tribute bands. When I want to hear ABBA, I put on an ABBA album. I'm not interested in paying money to hear somebody else pretending to be ABBA.

I feel much the same way about what I think of as tribute writers, those people who, after the deaths of popular authors, continue writing books in the same style and using the same characters. The other day at Barnes & Noble I noticed Robert B. Parker's Bull River by Robert Knott and Robert Ludlum's The Arctic Event by James H. Cobb on the shelves. There are still plenty of Parker and Ludlum novels I have yet to read. Why would I want to read these imitations?

In a way, these "tribute novels" don't really pay tribute to dead authors at all. If Robert Knott and James H. Cobb, among others, can write like Robert B. Parker and Robert Ludlum, then maybe what Parker and Ludlum did wasn't so special after all. Maybe any competent writer could have written the same books.

Sebastian Faulks
Just as I once attended a tribute concert, so I once read a tribute novel, a James Bond adventure called Devil May Care, written by Sebastian Faulks. I enjoyed the book, although my reason for reading it had more to do with my interest in Sebastian Faulks than my interest in James Bond. I have often been tempted to read Mark Winegardner's take on Mario Puzo's Godfather characters, The Godfather Returns, although again I am more interested in Winegardner than in the Godfather. I would like to know how a man who grew up in northwestern Ohio, as I did, handles the Italian mafia.

Why would quality writers like Faulks and Winegardner stoop to writing tribute novels? Probably for the same reason William Faulkner wrote Hollywood screenplays. Serious novels usually don't make all that much money.

Undoubtedly there have been more Sherlock Holmes stories written by writers other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than were ever written by him. Do they really pay tribute to Doyle and Holmes, or are they, like the various tribute bands, just trying to cash in on somebody else's success?

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