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Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters

It’s almost like learning the truth about Santa Claus: Once you know, it’s so obvious, but you're still a little heartbroken when you discover that your favorite author didn’t really pen most of the work with his or her name on the cover. Take comfort, though, in the knowledge that many of those ghostwriters are talented enough to be successful under their own names. Here are a few of them.

1. Peter Lerangis

If you know young adult novels, you probably know Mr. Lerangis. His 140 titles include books in The 39 Clues series, two series of his own (Watchers and Drama Club) and the critically acclaimed historical fiction Smiler’s Bones.

Millions of us of a certain age, however, are most familiar with Lerangis’ undercover work masquerading as a bunch of tweens from Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Lerangis wrote approximately 40 books in The Baby-Sitters Club series, including Mary Anne’s Makeover. He also did a little ghosting for the Sweet Valley books (Twins and High).

2. Andrew Neiderman

V.C. Andrews was just a few books into her empire when she passed away from breast cancer at the age of 63. The last book in the Dollanganger series that made her famous, Garden of Shadows, was started by Andrews but finished by Andrew Neiderman. With the blessing of her family, Neiderman took over in 1986 and is still writing under the V.C. Andrews name to this day.

Between his V.C. Andrews work and writing his own novels, Neiderman has had more than 100 books published. The most well-known is probably The Devil’s Advocate, a 1990 novel that was made into a film starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. Hallucinations, mental institutions, and insanity, all wrapped up with a Gothic bow ... kind of makes sense that a V.C. Andrews-style author was involved in that story, don’t you think?

3. H.P. Lovecraft

The father of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon dabbled in ghostwriting for none other than Harry Houdini. Lovecraft had long been a contributor to the pulp magazine Weird Tales when the founder, J.C. Henneberger, contacted him about ghostwriting for the famous escape artist. The magazine was in a little financial difficulty and Henneberger felt that “true” stories from Houdini would help sales. For $100, Lovecraft churned out “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs" in less than a week and earned himself a big fan in Mr. Houdini, who offered him more ghostwriting opportunities. The piece was later retitled "Under the Pyramids," and Lovecraft was given a byline.

4. Raymond Benson

Raymond Benson is probably best known for his work with everyone’s favorite secret agent: He wrote 12 James Bond novels between 1997 and 2002, including the novelizations of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. It's not surprising, then, that he’s also the man behind another spy-thriller franchise, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.

Though a glance at the cover might lead you to believe that the novelization of the video game was written by Tom Clancy, a closer look will reveal that it was written by “David Michaels,” who doesn’t really exist. Benson used the Michaels pseudonym for the first and second book in the Splinter Cell series, and after that another author was hired to use the same moniker.

Benson has also written novelizations of the video game Metal Gear Solid, computer games based on Stephen King’s The Mist and Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, and the 2011 thriller novel The Black Stiletto. He also wrote The Pocket Guide to Jethro Tull.

5 & 6. Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz

Like Ann M. Martin, Francine Pascal didn’t have much to do with the huge hit series bearing her name. The final Sweet Valley books were penned by a gaggle of ghostwriters, including Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz.

So how did a couple of dudes in their 20s get into the minds of a bunch of teen girls clamoring to hear Elizabeth and Jessica’s latest exploits? “I had to smoke a lot of weed. I’m kind of kidding, kind of not,” Nerz told The Hairpin in August. He also admits to consulting his sister when he needed detail for scenes that included, say, makeup application.

Interestingly, Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) was Nerz’ editor; Cecily von Ziegesar (Gossip Girl) was an editor during the same time period.

Nerz now writes books that are decidedly adult, including Eat This Book (a first-hand account of the competitive eating circuit) and MARIJUANAMERICA (perhaps the reason he decided to investigate the competitive eating circuit).

Ehrenhaft has stayed in the YA genre and has quite a few titles under his belt, including the recently released Americapedia. He’s also a member of Tiger Beat, a band made entirely of Young Adult authors.

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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