Words From The Afterlife

I know it's not the same as toiling in the mines, but writing is hard work. That's why it's so impressive to me when someone is prolific. Thriller novelist Robert Ludlum, author of "The Bourne Identity," among others, is an example. He has written countless books depicting intricate conspiracies, some were turned into movies, he has sold almost 300 million copies, and has had his books translated into 32 languages. But the really amazing thing is that he has published more than a dozen books in the last eight years. Why is that so impressive? He died in 2001.

Ludlum hasn't proved that there is life after death, but he's certainly shown that there can writing after death. It's not unique for previously unpublished works of a writer to be published posthumously. But the late Ludlum continues to crank these things out year after year. He has fans everywhere who anxiously await the next book written by a dead guy.

His executor and his agent say that some of the works have been books that Ludlum wrote, but just weren't published before he passed away. Others have been written by other writers including an old friend of Ludlum's whose name sounds a bit like a Ludlum villain - – Eric Van Lustbader. However, it's the Ludlum name that sells books. Van Lustbader wrote "The Bourne Betrayal," but on the book's cover, Ludlum's name is twice as tall as Van Lustbader's.

It was probably thirty years ago that I started reading Ludlum's page-turning books of intrigue where there was a new conspiracy in every other chapter. More recently, I often buy a Ludlum paperback at the airport before I fly somewhere. That's what I did on a recent trip. I feel it's fitting for me to read a mystery on an airplane since there is so much mystery involved in air travel these days: Will the plane arrive on time? Will my suitcase be there? Or like the last time I flew -- will I be stopped by security for possession of yogurt with intent to eat?

The book I chose on my recent trip, "The Sigma Protocol" is thought to have been the last novel written entirely by Ludlum. I didn't know that when I bought it. I was a little suspicious, because on the cover it didn't say, "written by Robert Ludlum," it just said, "Robert Ludlumä." That's right. There was a little "trademark" symbol next to his name. I didn't know you could trademark your own name. Did his estate think that if they hadn't done this, millions of other people would be walking around the world calling themselves, "Robert Ludlum?"

Those who put out his books don't exactly announce that Ludlum is no longer with us. Believe me, it doesn't say, "A book written in the style of the late Robert Ludlum" on any of the covers. But this is not a conspiracy against the great conspiracy theorist. All of this post-death writing is being done with Ludlum's permission and blessing. He wanted his life's work to go on after his life. Well, who doesn't? Wouldn't you like your heirs to continue to receive your paychecks after you pass away while someone else does the work for you? These days, it's hard enough for a living person to make a living, and here's a dead one who's doing a lot better than most of us.

However, there's no reason to be envious of Ludlumä and Company. The good news is that he has set a precedent for the rest of us. We can all decide that our careers will continue after we pass away. So, if you don't feel like going into work next week, all you have to tell your boss is, "Don't worry. I owe you a week, and I'll make it up the first week after I die." If your boss doesn't buy it, just claim it's a conspiracy against you. And then write a book.