Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

That Was My Idea!

Every writer has them: really amazing, original ideas that are just so clever it makes you want to dance in the radiance of your own astounding imagination.... at least, until you read a book with the exact same idea already in print.

That happened to me. Twice.

The first time I almost cried. The second time I threw a temper tantrum. Yes, I am that much of a queen. Well, sometimes I am.

Let me tell you, as a fantasy author it is really stupidly difficult to be original. Tolkien set the standard and now whenever you pick up a book it's almost always Elves, and Dwarves, and Wizards and Dragons. Perhaps the greatest exception (though not the only exception) to that is Steven Erikson, who, I think, is a brilliant mind and I just can't get enough of his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. So good! Read it!

But that is a digression. This is about great ideas that turn out to be not as original as one would have thought. The first time happened shortly after I had written my Prologue. Who can I blame for thieving my spectacular idea? None other than J. R. R. Tolkien himself, yesss precioussss. The Prologue in his book The Silmarillion was so similar to mine, I burst into frustrated tears and cried aloud: "I'll never be published now!"

I hadn't read The Silmarillion before writing my Prologue, I swear! I actually got the idea from The Bible. That's right, The Bible. John 1:1, to be exact. You know, the bit that goes "In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God." That bit. Only I thought it would be an idea to make the "Word" song, since music is universal and any one language is not. That was the idea and the inspiration. Tolkien had nothing to do with it.

Now, I am a Tolkien fan. I think he is brilliant. His worlds are so vivid and beautiful and terrifying. He is the sort of author authors everywhere hope to approximate, even in the smallest measure. So as frustrated as I am at this development, which will be a huge hinderance to my quest of getting published, I really can't hate him for it.

The other, perhaps more nefarious, "stolen" idea was my golden eyes - black eyes idea. Damn you Edward Cullen! Damn you!

This was the one that gave me my all-out, haven't-taken-a-turn-like-this-since-I-was-three, temper tantrum. I stomped my feet, I punched my mattress, I screamed into my pillow and I cried tears of frustration.

My main character has golden eyes. He was born with golden eyes. It's something I cannot change because it is hugely important to the story and my character's identity. His eyes turn black. This is something I also cannot change, because it is integral to the story.

Expletive! Expletive! EXPLETIVE!

To clarify though, the thing with my character's eyes is once they turn black, they stay black. He's not some good vampire (though there are some similarities there as well, damn it!) who feeds on wild animals rather than people, either. He's the unintended outcome of an ill-fated affair between a Keshaly'i Queen and the Overlord of the Sammonishy'i, and who just happens to be the only person in the world capable of stopping the fantasy equivalent of apocalypse. Intrigued? Well, you'll just have to buy the book. When it's published. If it's published.

Now to be fair to Stephanie Meyers, the idea wasn't stolen.... probably.

Paranoid much?

Joking aside, I know it wasn't. We just both had the same stroke of genius, that's all. My character had golden eyes long before Twilight came out and became hugely popular. I was fourteen years old when that idea came to me. I do not know how long Stephanie Meyers had Edward Cullen floating about her head, so I can't say which of us thought of it first and really, in the long run, it doesn't matter. She was published first, therefore it was, technically, her idea first. That's a huge problem for me.

The biggest frustration with these eerily similarities to already established authors is that I'm now afraid that my work is going to be seen as unoriginal and that will make it really, really, really hard to get published. My one consolation is that my series is not intended for a younger audience. Adult readers only. Viewer discretion is advised. The bulk of the Twilight fan base, therefore, aren't likely to pick my book up. The Tolkien fan base, however, is a different story, and that will be problematic.

I'm not quite sure how to rectify the situation, really, since both the eye colour and colour change are hugely important to the story and the Prologue provides the mythos and history of this world and is equally as important. What do I do now?

All I can do really is send in the manuscript and hope that a publisher sees past these eerie, upsetting, and frightening similarities.

I don't know. I'm scared now, despite all the positive feedback I've received from friends.
Getting published just got harder. Like it needed to....


Kendra said...

Having the eye colour change, or be golden, or go all black is not a new concept, and maybe it was made popular by Twilight, but it's not the first, or last, time it would be used. If the eyes going black signify a change to evil, it definitely is not a new concept. If it's signifies something different, then that's cool.

While I'm not as clear about the other thing being similar to Tolkien, I can say that Tolkien and you are not the first or only authors to take something out of the Bible and modify it.

Best bet, is ask someone who has read all the series you're concerned of copying, and then have them read yours. After, ask them specifically if they felt there was any such comparisons to make. If they feel it is too similar and is on the wrong side of that fine line of your own twist and someone else's idea, they may be able to give some concrete suggestions to change it.

You may simply be making a mountain out of a mole-hill with all the stress.

Tara Jones said...

I love you! I am deeply in love with this book... I keep telling anyone who will listen how amazing your story is!

Sonia.. I am your #1 fan!!!

S. M. Carrière said...

You are so lovely Tara! Thank-you so much!

And thanks Kendra for the perspective, although it'll have me biting my nails until the day I receive an offer!

Not-the-Buzz said...

Philip K Dick's The Golden Man, had golden eyes, and...well, everything.

It was one of his two defining traits, which when the story was made into the film "Next" was completely removed.

PKD's thoughts on this remain unknown...

S. M. Carrière said...

I'd be pretty ticked if I were P. K. Dick!