Thursday, January 13, 2005

TV Tie-in Novels

My post a couple of days ago about the Diagnosis Murder novel I read, plus the comments from Lee and Bill, made me think some more about TV tie-in novels. I won't pretend to be an expert on this particular sub-genre, but I've noticed something in the more recent ones I've read: there's very little physical description of the regular characters and not much background about them, either. This is particularly noticeable in the Star Trek novels I've read. The reader is expected to know what Kirk and Picard look like, as well as who they are and many of the details of their characters, before they ever read a word of one of the novels. Which means that somebody who picked up a Star Trek novel without ever seeing an episode of the TV series might have a hard time figuring out who these people are and what they're doing. I know, the odds of somebody reading a TV tie-in novel who's not already a fan of the TV show are probably fairly small, but it must happen sometimes. I think it probably happened more often in the past, when tie-in novels were commissioned before the TV series they were based on ever debuted, in some cases. Which means there were tie-in novels for series that didn't last very long, like THE OUTSIDER by Lou Cameron and JOHNNY STACCATO by Frank Boyd (Frank Kane).

All this makes me think of the original King of the TV Tie-in Novel. Max Allen Collins probably has that title today, but in the Sixties it was Michael Avallone who turned out more tie-in novels (and movie novelizations) than anybody else. The first Avallone novel I ever read, in fact, was a TV tie-in: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. He also wrote novels for THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE FELONY SQUAD, HAWAII FIVE-0, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, MANNIX, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (some of Avallone's best-selling books, in fact, were Partridge Family novels), and probably other series that I'm forgetting at the moment. When I read Avallone's MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. novel (bought brand-new off the paperback rack at Buddie's Supermarket) as a 12-year-old, I realized for the first time that a writer could have such a distinctive voice that his work can't be mistaken for anyone else's. And I liked that voice well enough so that for a long time after that, I picked up every Avallone novel I came across. Before that I read books for the characters (the Hardy Boys, Rick Brant, etc.) but paid little attention to who the author was. After Avallone, I was always more aware of who wrote what, even when there were pseudonyms and house-names involved.


Lee Goldberg said...

Your dead-on comments prompted me to write a long post over on my blog

Your post naturally makes me curious about your own TV tie in work. And how much latitude were you given on the WALKER novels as far as delving into the backgrounds of the characters?

Anonymous said...

Ed Gorman here (I can't seem to log on otherwise)

Your mention of Mike Avallone's style is exactly right. My own feeling is that his best books were his Beacons and Midwoods because they were heavily edited. Left on his own...I was never a fan of his stuff because he was so damned sloppy and melodramatic, though he did write three or four books that I think enough of to keep. And I've had a couple of them for thirty years or more. And man you hit it--no matter what he wrote, you could spot that style after three or four paragraphs. If nothing else, his voice was unique, almost psychotically so. I don't say any of this in a demeaning way believe it or not. I had an inexplicable affection for him as a guy, though he constantly whacked Marty Greenberg and me in print for not publishing his various rants. He frequently addressed his letters to us as "The Boys From Brazail," which was hilarious at first but got tiresome after a couple of years. I wish his later years would have been happier. He seemed aggrieved 24/7. He faced the same kind of perils and snubs that most of us mid-listers do but I can't say he handed them terribly well. He dealt with them in letter columns in a sad and frenzied way that always made me wish--and as a lifelong depressive, I know whereof I speak--that somebody had gotten him to a doc and gotten him medicated.

Avallone said...

On the one hand, Ed, you might want to leave diagnosis to the professionals.

On the other, he fought the corruption in the publishing industry, at the height of his popularity and success, and got squashed like a bug and kicked out of his lifelong dream job. After that, only a few loyal friends threw him the occasional gig and kept us from ending up homeless.

You should try it sometime and see how it leaves your joie de vivre.

On the third hand (because why limit ourselves?), I think he did suffer from depression, but the 70s and 80s were not the aughts, and it went untreated in a lot of people. Particularly people who -- on the surface -- had good reasons to be depressed.

But his later years, particularly his last few, weren't quite as dark as you imagine.