zeitgeist


Okay, so the plot of that novel is nothing like any of my vampire novels (all 3-1/2 of them), but there are certain elements in the worldbuilding which really sounded familiar:

  • A 1500-year-old vampire
  • A group of powerful supernatural being overlords called the Congregation (mine was the Covenant)
  • Vampires who can eat normal food but don’t, mostly because the smell is abhorrent (especially garlic)
  • Vampire growth spurts, in which the vampire gets larger and more of an apex predator after being “changed” from mortal
  • Other piddling things that slip my mind at the moment

Now, none of these elements are earth-shatteringly similar, but chances are that if any of my vamp novels sees some form of publication someone will surely think I’ve ripped off Ms. Harkness, even though I did this worldbuilding twenty years ago now. It no longer depresses me when this sort of stuff happens, no longer even irks me especially hard, because I have been through this same thing so many times before. Seriously, click on the “simultaneous invention” tag if you want to listen to more hardcore whining on this subject. No? Can’t say as I blame you.

The thing is, the concept of simultaneous invention is quite well-known in science. And if it’s true for the tech fields, it’s also true for creative fields. It happens all the time—to me, to my friends, to writers and artists of all sorts. It’s just the way the zeitgeist operates, propagating certain ideas into the culture when their time has arrived. Some individuals are quick to pick up on them and “get them to market,” while others (like me) are painfully slow about the whole thing or otherwise blocked from getting their version before the public eye time. As with Ms. Harkness and I, nothing sinister is involved, no one has stolen anything.

Most of the time. Ideas do get stolen. It’s happened (verifiably) to friends of mine, it’s happened to me—which is one of the reasons I decided I didn’t want to be involved with Hollywood anymore. But most of the time, I firmly believe it’s just a case of that ol’ zeitgeist playing with folks, hoping somebody will take the idea ball and run with it.

The strangest example of this for me happened about a year before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out. I started working on this idea about a guy name Roy who was a state trooper. One night when he’s out on patrol on a lonely stretch of highway, he has a close encounter with a bunch of UFOs that radically changes his life. He loses his job, his marriage breaks up, and he spends the rest of his time obsessing about and trying to solve the mystery of these strange alien craft. Sounds familiar, huh? I never heard a word about the movie in production until I was about six months into the worldbuilding on my own idea. The thing that is really freaky to me is that both my character and the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters had the name of Roy. The zeitgeist was working overtime on that one.

So, onward. If I do publish any of the old vampire stuff, I’m sure there are many elements in my books that have been used in other (and many) books since I first came up with the concepts. They can’t help but be labeled “derivative.” I guess the answer is to just keep writing new things, to keep moving forward.

Oh, and what did I think of A Discovery of Witches? I quite loved it, despite the cliffhanger ending. Which is all I’ll say about that ending—but you have been forewarned.

Ever since the Syfy Channel’s new series, Haven, debuted I’ve been in a slight funk. You see, the novel I’m doing revisions on is a contemporary fantasy which involves people in a quirky rural Southern California county where the paranormal is an everyday occurrence and the inhabitants take it for granted. Much like the quirky small town of Haven on Syfy. It was bad enough when their show, Eureka, premiered. That was about a quirky small town in which wild experiments in fringe science took place, causing paranormal-like events to happen all the time. Everyone there pretty much took it for granted, too.

I think the story of my novel is original, but it can’t help but be overshadowed by all this quirk and all these strange towns. I continue to polish the novel, however. It’s what I have; I will market it. It’s a stand-alone, but it’s also part of a trilogy, see, and I really want to write those other books. Maybe even more than I wanted to write this one.

I first came up with the concept of Dos Lunas County, my quirky entry, about eleven years ago. Formulating the concept, the characters, the plotting took awhile, and this novel had at least two false starts before I finally finished it. This is not an atypical pattern for me, unfortunately. For a time I was finishing a novel a year, but those individual novels were often years in the making. One would come on strong, then need restructuring so I’d work on another until I solved the problems. About once a year, one of them would finally click completely into place and I could push forward to the finish. This has, as you can imagine, sometimes worked to my disadvantage, marketing-wise.

If only I weren’t such a slow writer. If only I didn’t think so much. If only I didn’t think up perpetual if-onlys. This isn’t a whine, not really, because I know that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in my stars but in myself. I could get back to the novel a year pace, I think, but I seriously doubt I will be able to conceive, plot, and write a novel in a year. They surge and wane and surge again, so I’m always a beat or two behind the rhythm of the market.

I write on and continue to market my arhythmic novels. What else can I do? I am what I am, the market is what it is, and the zeitgeist is always pumping out ideas in multiple directions, hoping that somebody will take up the challenge and run (fast) with it.