I’m certain it happens all the time

PLOUGHSHARES LITERARY MAGAZINE published an article this week by Rebecca Makkai entitled: “14 Ways to Tick off a Writer“. I won’t recap the whole thing here–the article is worth your time if the title at all interests you–but one of her points is that you should never compare too closely a writer’s work to something else:

Oh, that sounds exactly like that T. C. Boyle book that came out last year. Have you read that? You have to read it! Yours sounds exactly like it!

VIOLET EYES, now available at Amazon.com.

VIOLET EYES by John Everson, now available at Amazon.com.

I may have done this exact same thing to Bram Stoker Award-winner John Everson at a reading event in which we both participated last month at Barnes & Noble in Racine. Before I read from LOSING TOUCH, he read a chilling selection from his latest novel, VIOLET EYES, which involved spiders. A lot of spiders.

Afterwords, I told him that it reminded me of KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS starring William Shatner. The movie scared me as a kid, and it scared me again when I watched it recently with my wife and sons. No, it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, and hey, it’s the Shat, but I love that movie. Telling John Everson that his book reminded me of that was intended as the highest form of praise, and I think that’s how he took it. He was very cool and very gracious, but maybe that’s just how he treats rude people.

After the authors read their selections, we sat on a Q&A panel and one of the questions posed was: “Do you ever come up with an idea and then see someone else beat you to it?”

The majority opinion was “Of course. It happens all the time.” Stories are as much about voice and delivery as they are about plot. In music, a really good cover can pull this off. Take Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Is that anything like the Beatles’ original? You decide:

First, Joe Cocker…

Now, the Beatles…

Same melody. Same words. Both great songs, but hardly the same.

Now imagine the ideas were generally similar, but the words were different. Now you’re getting into new song territory.

So just because John Everson’s story and Richard Robinson and Alan Caillou’s screenplay were both about spiders, they’re totally unique stories. And one can remind you of the other without it being a ripoff.

At least, that’s the way I meant it.

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One Response to “I’m certain it happens all the time”

  1. Karen Larsen Says:

    I loved that post. So true. I think I’ve done some of that to you!

    Karen Larsen 847/824-4536 karen@generationconnection.net

    http://www.generationconnection.net

    Generation Connection

    Helping you touch future generations with the story of your life

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