Compleat In Feature And Mind

The Books Completed by Brad Strickland

The Ghost in the Mirror

Soon after his father's death, Frank Bellairs expressed an interest in someone completing The Ghost in the Mirror and one other book that his father was writing, as well as two other outlines John had sold shortly before his death. Frank himself was not a writer but thought author Brad Strickland might be one able to complete the job at hand, based on Frank's knowledge of Strickland’s work.

"I had read The Face in the Frost, the House trilogy, and some of the Johnny Dixons at the time John passed away," Strickland recalls. "When Frank broached the possibility of my completing the books, I immediately got hold of everything of John's that had been published, with the exception of St. Fidgeta and The Pedant and the Shuffly, which I couldn't find for ages." His first project was not as author but proofreader, checking the pre-published copy of The Mansion in the Mist for errors or typos and giving him direct access to Bellairs' style and creation process.

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder

After a meeting with Dial Publishers, Strickland agreed to complete The Ghost in the Mirror, already set for publication. Approaching his new role with a bit of hesitation, Strickland created an extensive document detailing the people, places, and things in the Barnavelt series to use as reference, noting details both obvious (Mrs. Zimmermann's passion for purple) and obscure (such as the heart-shaped lock that originally held the doors of the Izard tomb shut and the name of Aggie Sipes's brother - Leonard). Strickland, not wanting to do, in his words, a "slipshod job" found working with Bellairs' materials both frightening and exhilarating. Completing the book - and delivering a product that Bellairs' fans would support and, hopefully, accept - would not be easy. Trying to anticipate the thoughts of another person, mimic his unique style of storytelling. and staying true to the voice of the characters would be a monumental challenge for any person. Adding to the expectations was that the book was a departure from the usual Dixon-Monday titles Bellairs churned out: Ghost would welcome the return of Bellairs' first set of heroes, Lewis Barnavelt and Rose Rita Pottinger, unused and seemingly forgotten, since 1976. It certainly would be intimidating: Bellairs' latest draft was no more than one hundred pages and its plot was in dire need of resolution, originally ending with the destruction of the villain and Mrs. Zimmermann and Rose Rita instantly returned to their own time period.

Strickland would be required to greatly expand the story and attempt to work it into the existing manuscript. "Bellairs had told his editor he knew the ending had to be elaborated, but not precisely how. She and I made up a list of unresolved issues: the treasure was mentioned but not found. The villain appeared in only two chapters at the end. Mrs. Zimmermann was trying to get her powers back - did she? Did Grampa die? My first order of business was to extend the conclusion so these questions were answered. I wrote two brief scenes to put the villain, Stoltzfuss, earlier in the story. Rose Rita's late night stroll was just that; I suggested it a way for her to hide an amulet that would figure in Mrs. Zimmermann's recovery of her powers to motivate that stroll and rewrote earlier scenes to explain the crystal orb. I also came up with the terrible poem as a key to the treasure."

While the book was released to positive reviews and eager fans, Strickland noted the process was very frightening. "I dearly wanted to do a good job that would carry through John's concept of the book. I succumbed to the line editor too many times on this one; in later books I started to stand up for little matters of style."

is next writing assignment would be just as difficult, if not more so, because nobody knew the plot. Bellairs had begun what was to become The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder shortly before his death and Strickland was faced with two chapters and vague ideas about where to take its plot.

Strickland recalls the original text broke off when Jonathan and Lewis first caught sight of Barnavelt Manor. "I constructed the rest of the plot in as Bellarsian a fashion as I could and refined it with the editor. A funny thing about this book: a review of this one grumped that the first chapter - all John's - wasn't written as well as John's work and that it should have been thrown out of the book, as it was just 'a long digression about Sherlock Holmes. However, I had the feeling that the policeman Lewis meets in the chapter would certainly become important later on."

Both Ghost and Vengeance, a story detailing an ancient evil that put a Barnavelt ancestor on trial as a witch and how its spirit attempts to do the same with Lewis and his uncle, are unique in that Rose Rita and Lewis's stories occur simultaneously: they take place in the same year but on different continents. Released less than six months later, it too became a hit with fans, especially those who had longed to see Lewis back in action.