V. C. Andrews’s books have become cult classics, but when they first came out, her publisher wasn’t sure how to classify them so they were labeled horror and actually outsold Stephen King’s work at the time. Andrews was born Cleo Virginia Andrews in Portsmouth, Virginia, and lived there most of her life—much of it while ill and confined to bed and a wheelchair.
Andrews fell down a flight of stairs when she was in high school, and after she had surgery, she began to suffer from arthritis that fused her spine. She was only able to complete high school with the help of private tutors and then worked as an artist, drawing portraits of apple-cheeked girls and still lifes of flowers that are quite at odds with the dark portraits later used to illustrate her series. She lived alone with her mother Lillian until she died of cancer at sixty-three.
Her editor, Ann Patty, bought the ninety-eight-page manuscript of Flowers in the Attic in 1978, though it needed a lot of editorial guidance. Before she offered to buy the book for a $7,500 advance, one publishing insider said the manuscript had been rejected more than twenty-four times by various editors. Patty told a marketing director who complained about Andrews’s stilted dialogue, “It’s her style—it may be awful, but it is a style, and it will be read as original.”
Patty had already gone through two revisions with Andrews (the first one causing the manuscript to increase to six hundred pages), and in her second editorial letter, she said, “I’ve frequently noted where you start sentences with adverbs or reverse the natural order of a sentence. It’s good to do this sometimes, but you do it too much, and it often makes for rather awkward reading.”
Andrews was influenced by fairy tales when she was young. “I loved the fairy tales. But there is an element of horror in fairy tales, so that when I would go through the woods, I was always looking for something—a witch, an ogre, something scary—and it was never there, and that was a little bit disappointing. I didn’t want a real horror, liked a rapist or a murderer, but I wanted a fairy-tale horror,” she said.
Youth is an obsession in Andrews’s books and it appears to have been a topic that was always on her mind. After an unflattering article ran in People magazine, where she said her age was inflated and photographs portrayed her as an ancient recluse, Andrews rarely gave interviews. “The first interview I ever had was with People magazine,” said Andrews. “And they told me, quite frankly, that they come to get dirt. They ask all of your friends and everybody they can find, ‘Tell us the dirt about V. C. Andrews.’ And when they don’t find any, they make up things. For instance, I wouldn’t tell her my age. So she went around and found somebody who told them I was older then I was. I said, ‘You must have found an enemy.’ And the reporter said, ‘What are you trying to hide?’”
Andrews was so angry about the interview and pictures printed that she wrote her relative: “How dare you say those photographs in People’s magazine are good? They were awful! I don’t look like that old woman peeking out of the window! I hated the photo of me in the chair! I refuse to allow pictures of me sitting in that thing—but they sneaked in one, and I couldn’t tell when the photographer was shooting the entire time she was here—about six hours. We were taken out to lunch in a nice French restaurant, then back home, and all the time I was interviewed. Taped too. Dolly Landon wrote thirty pages and it was edited down to that short amount you read—thank goodness. From now on I am demanding editorial and pictorial control or NO interview! I showed the magazine to my photographer friend and he said the one in the window had been airbrushed to make my face shadowy and spooky—all to sensationalize the type of books I write. No wonder movie stars hate journalists! I’m with them all the way! They snoop, pry, question, when my life is none of their damn business!”
Andrews said a lot of people assumed her work was autobiographical—that she was a victim of incest and had been locked away by relatives who wanted her unseen, as happens in her famous Dollanganger series. “They see me as an abused child who has really suffered. They feel sorry for me, terribly sorry that I have gone though this awful abuse and was then locked away. A lot of them say, ‘Don’t be ashamed that you are in love with your brother.’ All of these kinds of things,” said Andrews.
Instead, Andrews said her family was very nurturing and supporting. “A lot of people think I was tortured, but my parents didn’t do anything. They didn’t beat me. They didn’t whip me. They didn’t lock me away. I didn’t even go hungry. And I had a lot of pretty clothes,” she said.
Her editor says that the Dollanganger and Casteel series, which make up the authentic V. C. Andrews canon, along with stand-alone My Sweet Audrina (numerous other series are written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman hired by the Andrews estate), are both based on true stories. Andrews heard them when she was in the hospital for surgery. It was “some doctor there,” says Patty. “So I’d guess that some aspects of it were true—at least the aspect of kids being hidden away. Whether the twins were real, the sex, the time frame, probably not. I think it was just the concept of kids hidden in the attic so the mother could inherit a fortune. The idea for the Heaven series is also based on a true story and how that all came about—I will write about that in the memoir I’m writing about my relationship with Virginia and her books.”
V.C. Andrews: A Critical Companion by E. D. Huntley