By Jeanne Sager
FALLSBURG August 19, 2005 If the setting for that paperback thriller you brought to the beach seemed eerily familiar, perhaps its because it is.
If they didnt already recognize the author as a longtime teacher at Fallsburg High School, county residents who picked up The Hunted, published in July by Simon and Schusters Pocketbooks, will recognize his hometown brought to life as Centreville on the pages of this mass market paperback.
Andrew Neiderman was raised in Woodridge the village many may recall was once known as Centreville.
He graduated from Fallsburg High School and returned from college to take a post alongside his teachers and mentors.
In the early 1970s, Neiderman shipped out his first novel to a list of literary agents and got lucky.
Legitimate literary agents were still accepting what they call unsolicited manuscripts, Neiderman recalled.
A man named James Brown liked what he saw in the creative writing teachers work.
He shopped it to publishing houses, and a year and a half later, Sisters was on the shelves of major bookstores across the country.
In the years since, Neiderman has become a household name.
Hes published 38 novels under his own moniker and seen many of the 50 books hes penned as V.C. Andrews climb the charts of the New York Times bestseller list.
Hes watched his tale of a young lawyer whose boss is none other than the devil himself be turned into a hit movie with Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron (The Devils Advocate).
And it all started with story hour back in kindergarten in the Fallsburg school district.
Born in Brooklyn, Neiderman moved with his family to Sullivan County when he was just a toddler.
His first brush with storytelling was in his early school days, when the students were asked to craft their own tales.
The other kids were always clamoring for him to share, Neiderman recalls.
He had his first poem published in eighth grade the title, Destiny, was suggested by Monticello resident Jack Leshner, then a Fallsburg teacher.
And quite a destiny it was.
Since taking over the V.C. Andrews franchise when Flowers in the Attic author Virginia Andrews became ill and subsequently died, Neiderman has seen his ghostwritten novels published in 95 countries, in 22 languages.
Its the longest-running living franchise, even longer than James Bond, he said. Every one is still in print.
Thats 57 V.C. Andrews books, 50 of which Neiderman wrote himself.
His thrillers, many based in the Catskills, have drawn rave reviews.
Besides The Devils Advocate, which grossed more than $200 million, five other books have been adapted for films or TV movies.
His decision to leave teaching, and eventually leave Fallsburg, came after Pin, the story of an overprotective brother and a ventriloquists dummy, was optioned as a film starring Terry OQuinn.
The story, also set in the Catskills, spawned a movie that gave Neidermans career a major push.
Suddenly, he said, he was getting multi-book contracts, and writing became his full-time job.
He and wife Diane, another Fallsburg grad, moved to Palm Springs, Calif.
There hes continued to put his pen to paper, continuing the work he assumed when Andrews passed away and he completed one of her works at the behest of the agent and editor the two writers were then sharing.
And hes continued to put his past into play while writing many of his books are set right here in Sullivan County, including last Augusts Deficiency, which centers on Monticello life, and this summers The Hunted.
You always should write what you know best, Neiderman explained. Sort of like Faulkner, you pick your area and make it mythical.
Neiderman uses the old names for Catskills towns in his novels, and describes places he haunted as both a child growing up and a teacher in the area.
For The Hunted, Neiderman uses his memories of the important part deer season plays in the lives of county residents during the fall to tell the story of a killer on the loose in the woods of Centreville.
Reporter Diana Brooks of the Middletown Post is sent to cover the story when hunters begin turning up naked, with bullet holes in their foreheads.
It seems like a serial killer novel, but its not, Neiderman explained. It becomes a terrific whodunit.
Intertwined with the mystery is a love story and true-to-life concerns about the effect these grisly murders will have on the tourist-driven economy.
It becomes urgent to solve this because of what it will do to the Catskills, Neiderman explained.
Although not all his novels focus on his hometowns (Neiderman lived in both Woodridge and Mountaindale), his knowledge of the Catskills is obvious in his work.
Its important to have fiction resemble fact, he said. Readers are a lot more sophisticated.
If there are mistakes, they pick up on it, Neiderman explained.
Once people lose that, they lose their suspension of disbelief, he added.
Neiderman believes in the importance of research.
When he assumed the role of V.C. Andrews, he researched it like it was a research paper, he said.
I was a creative writing teacher that helped, he explained.
Readers will recognize the towns in The Hunted because of that attention to detail and because of Neidermans intimate knowledge of his subject matter.
His goal, he said, was to make the world where the novel was set as alive as his characters.
Neiderman is still alive in the minds of Fallsburg natives.
He left teaching in 1987, but he still visits New York once or twice a year, and hell be back in town in October for Dianes class reunion.
These days he still gets mail from students.
After 23 years of teaching . . . you wouldnt believe it, he said.
The Hunted is on shelves now, published by Simon and Schuster. Next up for Neiderman is the publication of April Shadows, the next segment in the V.C. Andrews series which will hit stores in September.
Hes currently working on another movie.
Rain, another of the V.C. Andrews books, is being produced by Merv Griffin Productions and will start shooting later this year.
Actor Robert Loggia has already signed on to the project, and singer Alicia Keys has been approached to play the lead female role.
And, of course, Neiderman is still writing.
Hes putting the finishing touches on Finding Eden, a novel he describes as one of the first thrillers to make allies out of sciences and religion in the search for Satan.
If it sounds intriguing, keep your eyes out it will be hitting store shelves soon.
For more information on Andrew Neiderman, visit his Web-site, www.neiderman.com.