Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What's the Lesson, Please?

So, I managed to talk my husband into watching the kids for three hours so I could take in a movie, right? Not something I do very often, but I've wanted to see The Skeleton Key ever since the first trailer hit the screens six months or so ago--mostly because I love a good scare, but also because the setting (New Orleans and the bayous of Louisiana) matched that of a novella I'd written two years ago, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could pick up in the way of detail to add to my own work.

A little background on this particular novella: it finaled in a fairly well-known contest, and the judge--a senior editor at a New York publisher--phoned me at home...let me repeat that...PHONED ME AT HOME...to request a copy of the full manuscript. A delightful woman. An individual of exceptional wit and taste. My new favorite person on the PLANET.


Anyway, I polished up that puppy and sent it in, and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Many months passed--fully twice the number I'd been told to expect. Finally, I worked up the nerve to call the office, only to be informed by the editor's very kind, gracious, and apologetic assistant that they'd either never received my manuscript (nope, got the return receipt, kept it, practically FRAMED the sucker) or had lost it. Would I please re-submit?

Absolutely. But, of course, first I'd have to give the manuscript a good read-through, because it was two years old, and I'd LEARNED stuff in the interim. And lo and behold...it needed tweaking. Nothing major. Nothing HUGE. I still liked my heroine and loved my hero. So I tweaked and polished the manuscript in preparation to send it out into the world again...

...and went to the movies.

And sat there, by myself, in the dark. And watched as the last twenty minutes of The Skeleton Key played out remarkably...nay...EERILY like the last three chapters of my missing novella, minus my happily-ever-after epilogue. There were snippets of dialogue I swear I could've written, and small plot details I swear I envisioned while sitting in my office chair two years ago.

Now, I'm IN NO WAY screaming 'foul' here. Nobody stole my story. It's just one of those flukes--a crazy pitch, and aren't I lucky I happened to be wearing a helmet? Because if the impossible had come to pass, and the witty and tasteful editor had purchased my novella? We might very well be staring at one another aghast at this moment. The basic paranormal premise of my story is just too damn close to that of the movie for somebody NOT to shriek 'rip-off' once they'd compared the two.

So now I'm left with a story I love and believe in that I can never sell. I have to decide if I should find a way to somehow change the premise, or just put the thing away and chalk it up to 'experience.' Or I suppose I could cannibalize it for characters, setting and dialogue for other work.

On one level, it's disheartening. On another, the irony makes me laugh out loud. There HAS to be a lesson here, somewhere. God, or the Universe, or Whoever just doesn't DO this stuff without a HIGHER PURPOSE, right?



In other news, RWA President-elect answers questions over at Smart Bitches. Some folks are concerned by her seeming to say that erotic romance and gay romance don't constitute 'romance' for the purposes of the organization. I've re-read her comments and have decided to take a 'wait and see' approach on the issue, because I'm not entirely certain how she meant what she said.

However, it's tough to miss the meaning behind this open letter from TPTB at Medallion Press. They're mad as hell and they aren't gonna take it anymore in respect to being asked to prove they meet RWA standards for recognition.

Now, I don't know what happened here. But having been on the receiving end of the 'kiss-mah-grits' attitude that sometimes comes out of the front offices down Houston way, and having heard numerous tales of others who've received less than stellar treatment despite being dues-paying Members In Good Standing, I tend to envision all sorts of outrageous behavior. But my imagination is a wild and an untamed thing, and I may very well be totally off the mark.

I do know the RWA needs publishers a whole bunch more than the publishers need the RWA. Medallion appears to be a going and growing concern, with good distribution and books stocked in the major chains. Alienating them was a dumb-bunny move, no matter how you look at it. I hope the rift can be mended. Otherwise, as I've said before, it's just another move in the direction of a tea party with a helluva high cover charge.


Blogger Donald Francis said...

Oddly enough, no one down Houston way has ever told me to kiss her grits.

Which is just as well, cause I might've...

And I still believe that you are most foolish to shelve the story just because a screenwriter stumbled onto some ideas and imagery from the same toybox you used.

8/16/2005 6:08 PM  
Blogger Selah March said...

Ah, darling. If only it were just "some ideas and imagery from the same toybox."

But it's not. It's the entire paranormal premise upon which the external conflict is constructed, and upon which the final crisis rests. Which is gonna take some serious work to RE-structure, from the foundation up.

But....shhhhh.....don't let Barb hear this....I think I can do it. Maybe not this month...maybe not NEXT month....but someday....someday soon....

8/16/2005 8:03 PM  
Blogger Donald Francis said...

I know you can do it, but before you get to hacking the whole thing apart, a few words here.

The themes of a story are only a framework. Each writer taking on those themes is capable of putting his or her own spin on the material, and in fact has to. There may have been some elements that were close to your work, some scenes that may need to be reworked a little, but to be honest, I don't think "The Skeleton Key" is going be a timeless work of art. It may well be that in a year or so, your story could come out exactly as it stands and nobody would notice a thing.

Although now you have me worrying about the possible implications this has for "Advent" which has some similarities to "Seven" or the novel "Messiah."

8/16/2005 8:09 PM  
Blogger Eva Gale said...

Ditto Don.

Htere is nothing new under the sun. Only the poeple who write it.

That's an original Briana paraphrase. :P

8/16/2005 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not submit it just like it is? Is it going to damage your career if they reject it and say it's too similar to something else? Is it going to damage your career if the book comes out and someone notices the similarities?

There have been times when I caught a hint that another author's plot or character had some similarities to one of mine. Yeah, it can be a little intimidating, particularly if he or she is a lot more successful than I am, but I deliberately tune that stuff out and forge ahead with the stories and people I believe in.

8/17/2005 9:50 PM  
Blogger Donald Francis said...

Right on, anon!

You sing the song. I'll be back here playing the bongos.

8/18/2005 4:30 PM  
Blogger Selah March said...

Okay, okay, I'm taking everybody's comments under advisement. Really.

For the love of all that's holy, STOP WITH THE BONGOS.

8/18/2005 4:34 PM  
Blogger Donald Francis said...

And you call yourself a hepcat mama.

Or...no...that wasn't you, was it? :p

8/18/2005 4:36 PM  

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