by Brett Battles
I hadn’t actually intended to write a Part 3 of the saga, mainly because I thought the saga was all played out. But given what’s happened since posting Part 1 and Part 2 (and what’s happened is, well…just wait till you’ve read the whole post), I felt it was necessary. In fact, I think I might just continue this series until the book is done, reporting in every once in a while as to what has happened.
So, let’s begin. When I last talked to you about the stand alone I was writing, I said that I had written proposals for three different directions, and that my publisher had chosen one. With that I was off to the races!
And the races I hit. For the next two weeks I wrote my tail off.
(Aside: we all write at different speeds, and approach writing a book in different ways. My way is to write a first draft pretty much non-stop, warts and all, then go back and rewrite until it is presentable. What that translates into is that I plow through the pages. And given the fact that I’m doing this fulltime, it means I plow through A LOT of pages.)
At the end of this two-week period, I had a sizeable chunk of the draft done, and was excited about where things were going.
Then I did something we all do. I randomly visited a bookstore.
No. Wait. I need to back up a moment.
For my stand alone I chose a very specific location. One that was personally important to me, and one that has some very specific attributes. There is only one other writer I know who has written about the area in the past several years. Just to be safe, I read one of this person’s books to make sure we didn’t overlap. We didn’t. So I moved on, a happy camper.
Let’s flash back to that bookstore. While browsing around, I started looking around the thriller section, and came across more books by the author I mentioned above. (An excellent author, BTW, who writes equally excellent books.) On the shelf were four books from this person’s series, the first of which was the one I had already read. I was curious where she went with the series, so I picked up the other three books one-by-one to see what they were about. The first two were both set along the California coast, no where near where their first book and my new manuscript were located, and, even better, had nothing to do with the plot I was writing.
Then I picked up the last book. This one WAS set in same place as mine. Okay, no problem. Lots of books share similar locations.
Then I started reading the synopsis on the back.
“Uh-oh.” Though it was not entirely clear what the story was about, what was there sounded familiar. Immediately, I knew I needed to read the book. Still, I wasn’t too worried. I mean, how close could it be to what I was writing? When I got home that evening I started reading.
By 1 a.m., my eyes were wide, and my brain was reeling. What I discovered was that there WERE several things that were not just vaguely similar, but WAY too close to what I was working on. I got out of bed, and shot off a quick email to my agent saying I wanted to talk to her first thing in the morning New York time (I’m west coast.)
When I woke up…okay, I was already awake, unable to sleep for long…When 9 a.m. ET came around, I called. I explained to my agent what I discovered, and think I actually could hear the blood draining from her face. “Call your editor.”
That’s exactly what I did. Surprisingly, she was very calm about it. “Have you read the whole book?” “Not yet.” “Well, maybe it turns out that things are different.” “Maybe, but I doubt it.” “Read the book, then send me a short synopsis, and where the similarities are between the two.”
I spend the rest of the day (that would be two weeks ago last Monday), reading and doing a cross story analysis. And I came up with one very definitive truth – I could not write the book I’d been writing.
Similarity included: the triggering event, the fact that this event happened around 20 years in the past, the villain, deaths of old friends, and, of course, the location. I’m just being general here. Trust me, the core elements of the stories were very similar.
Granted, the way I was telling the story, and the way the other author told their story were different, but it didn’t hid the fact that there was too much the same.
I sent my notes off to my editor, and then realized I had a choice to make. I could just sit around and feel miserable, or I could be proactive and keep myself moving forward.
Those who know me know that being miserable is not a trait I know how to do well. I’m not of the “why-me?” variety, I’m of the “what-do-I-need-to-do-to-keep-moving-forward?” variety.
So in that vein, I took the finding of this book to be a fortuitous discovery. My God, how horrible would it have been if I hadn’t found it? The author had already agreed to read my book when it was done. Can you imagine if I had finished it and sent it off to them? (Rob suggested that if the author were to give me a blurb it may have been, “It’s was a great book…when I wrote it!” Hilarious, in a tragedy averted kind of way. But I have a feeling this author is too kind to ever write something like that. But they might have pointed out the similarities to me, and boy would that have been embarrassing!)
The next day (Tuesday), I returned to my favorite coffee shop determined to come up with an alternate plot that could save some of the elements from the original story. You might be wondering why I didn’t just suggest I do one of the other ideas I had proposed…well, my publisher really liked many aspects of the story they’d chosen, as did I, so I wanted to preserve what I could. Especially, for personal reasons, the location.
With the help of good friend and author Bill Cameron via iChat, I was able to brainstorm a new story. And guess what? It was even BETTER than the old one. Tons better. I wrote up a new synopsis and sent it off.
By Wednesday morning, I hadn’t heard back for my publisher. So, again, I had a choice. Sit around and wait, loosing time, or dive in and write like the new proposal was approved. The only downside there would be if it wasn’t approved I’d have to toss everything out, but if it was I’d be ahead of the game.
I’m not a sitter.
I wrote the opening two chapters that Wednesday, and sent those to my editor so she’d see the direction I was going. Then I wrote on Thursday and Friday. On the following Monday, I was expecting to hear from her, but she gotten busy so needed more time. I wrote on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. I wrote like a madman, hitting daily word totals that I seldom ever hit.
The only other communication I had with my editor that week was an email apologizing for the delay, but would need more time. That was fine. I was in a groove, and I was afraid to push her in case it jinxed things. (Yes, sometimes I worry about that.)
When this past Monday morning came I was ready to dive in again. Then, before I even started, I received an email from my editor. I was nervous to open it, but did so.
She LOVED everything. She also thought it was better than what I had been working on. And the chapters I sent? “Powerful and horrifying.”
That big PHEW!!! you heard Monday around 8 a.m. PT was from me just in case you were wondering.
Now that I had closure, I emailed the author of the other book to let them know what had happened. And, as I would have expected, the response back was completely understanding and supportive.
So everything’s on track again. And, as I write this, I have already written more pages of the new direction than I had of the original one.
Can I say phew again? PHEW!!
Similar stories happen all the time. There is no getting around it. As writers we can’t worry if someone has told a story like the one we’re working on…most of the time. But there are instances when things get so specific that you might have to adjust. I ran into one of those instances, Big Time.
But the real lesson here is that no matter how small or large a problem is, you can either wallow in your own self-pity, or you can do something to put it behind you. If that means you have to throw away 150 pages, 250 page, or even a whole book, then that’s what you do. Because option two is ALWAYS the way to go if you want to succeed.
Okay, ‘rati. What kind of hiccups have you experienced in your life that have required a change in direction? What was your response?