AT PLAY IN THE FIELD OF THE WRITTEN WORD PART 3

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?

16 thoughts on “AT PLAY IN THE FIELD OF THE WRITTEN WORD PART 3

  1. Catherine Shipton

    A few years ago I was getting to the point with this job at a software company… where I knew something had to change. I’d drive down to the coast each day listing positives to get me through, and yet secretly thinking how cool it would be to have some time to drink coffee and read again.

    I ended up having the type of car accident where no one is seriously injured, yet I was injured enough to not be able to work and had to as part of my recovery sit around drinking coffee and reading a lot. I got shoved off my former path, with a lot of time to think about what I really wanted from me, and the things that I need to drive me.

    I had some form of self belief that I would come out of it stronger, but there were times where I thought I would sink into the ennui state and not create again.

    I’d previously been able to flip situations to a positive before, but this time I had to reach really deep…and it took a long time to get the balance back.This time gave me a chance to learn to accept that sometimes I seemed to be blocking my own progress, but in actual fact I was giving myself time to self correct. I don’t feel as though opportunities that appear now are some accidental gift. I think I’m much more integrated now though. I feel much more able to revel in life. My response was to just keep at it, to keep looking for the gift.

    Reply
  2. karen from mentor

    “It was a great book…when I wrote it!” made me lol. I feel for you Brett and I’m so glad that you were able to turn everything around. I’m really looking forward to reading the stand alone.
    Hurry up and finish the damn thing already.
    :0) Karen

    Reply
  3. Dana King

    I don’t see why you started over. It’s not like Publishers Weekly was going to name the other author’s book to their Top 100 list, not being written by a woman and all. (It’s a joke ladies. I’m having a laugh at PW’s expense. Really. Don’t hurt me.)

    Reply
  4. Brett Battes

    Caherine…sounds like you went through a lot there, but came out better for it in the end. Excellent.

    Thanks, Karen. I’m writing as fast as I can!

    HA! Dana.

    Thanks, Dusty!

    Reply
  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Jesus, Brett, your post had my heart pumping! It was like reading one of your thrillers. It was like drinking a triple espresso.
    I’m so glad you found that book and that it inspired you to write an even more exciting story. What an amazing journey. And I can’t wait to read those "horrifying" pages!

    Reply
  6. Louise Ure

    What a wonderfully collaborative effort on your part … and your agent’s and editor’s.

    I found a similar book to my first right after I’d turned the book in, but the similarities were not as singular as yours were. I went ahead with my book but looked over my shoulder at hers for a long time afterward!

    Reply
  7. JT Ellison

    In my debut, the killer cuts off the hands of the victims. Imagine how shocked I was when there were four other books that came out right around the same time that had killers removing hands – one from my own house? Regardless of similarities, your spin on the story would have been different, but I’m thrilled that you found a solution that you’re happier with.

    Now if I could just figure out how the writers of Criminal Minds have downloaded a keystroke program to my computer, I’d feel much better.

    Reply
  8. Brett Battes

    Don’t worry, Stephen, you’ll be one of the first to read them.

    Louise, I sure this happens more times than we even realize!

    JT, yep, it would have been different, but the particulars made it impossible for me to continue. Ask me about it sometime and I’ll fill you.

    Reply
  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    Congrats on turning what could have been a big black hole of despair into a huge springboard instead. Staying positive and having belief in your own work is sometimes the hardest part of writing, I think.

    I hope you’re giving Bill Cameron a share of the royalties ;-]

    Reply
  10. Catherine Shipton

    Thanks Brett.

    I like that you were able to pull back from the argh in the situation and found ways to shift and sort and keep moving till you came out the other side.

    I think it takes equal measures of tenacity, and a certain bloody minded ruthlessness to navigate hiccups. An appreciation of the absurd also helps.

    Just finished ‘The Unwanted’ aka ‘Shadow of Betrayal’ last week…loved it. Also looking forward to the stand alone.

    Reply
  11. Wilfred Bereswill

    Brett, I’m impressed. I know a Romance author who refuses to read Romance novels on the chance that she’ll accidently do something like that.
    I have to say the saga has been an interesting read.

    Thanks Brett

    Reply
  12. PK the Bookeemonster

    That’s awesome that you came up with an even better story to tell. I wonder if you should do something like that in the future for all your books: after you’ve come up with an idea for a book you should imagine that another author has one too similar and then push yourself beyond your initial thoughts for it. I’m glad it turned out okay for you.

    Reply
  13. Jessica Scott

    I really love the posters here at Murderati. Y’all have walked where I’m trying to go and I love following your journeys. As a still unpublished writer (I can’t say prepublished in my own mind b/c I don’t have a book deal to imply that one is indeed coming), I’ll say that I had the exact same issue. Everytime I think I’ve got a slamming new idea, I’ll be half way through a draft only to discover, crap, something else is really close to what I read. Now I haven’t had the exacty syncronicity you had but I’ll share this. Several months back, I started working on my book Empty Valor. I posted the rough draft opening chapter on my blog and in it, I wrote the main character seeing visions of a small, dirty Iraqi girl.
    Then I read David Finkle’s The Good Soldiers. The opening page talks about one of the men seeing a girl every time he closed his eyes. I panicked because the worst thing for me would be to be accused of being a hack. I read TGS well after I’d gotten about a 1/3 of the way through my own work. I can say in good faith that I did not lift the idea from that book but I still had a sick feeling in my gut when I read it.
    I did not change the story, however. I asked the folks on my blog about it and they said continue with the book as it stands, let a future editor worry about it down the road. Truthfully, it’s all I can do. Like you, I have to keep moving forward. While I might sit still for a moment and feel bad, eventually, I have to pick up and keep going. It’s why I’ve changed agencies and why I keep writing: because I have to feel like I"m working toward something.
    Congrats on working through it and thanks for sharing your experience!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.