Tuesday, June 13, 2006

An Odd Literary Coincidence

I'm reading a wonderful novel by Cornelia Read called Field of Darkness. The story centers around a young woman, Madeline Dare, who stumbles across a clue in an old murder case and worries that one of her relatives might be involved. It's a great story, but even more impressive is Read's writing, which is delicate and poetic even when she is describing the grisly murders of two girls.

What surprised me, about a third of the way through the book, were several similarities that Read's book had with mine--and mine hasn't come out yet. My book, Pity Him Afterwards, will hit shelves in 2007 (although, as my agent will attest, I wrote it back in 1995, when my son was a baby). My character, Madeline Mann, has the following in common with Read's character: she is a reporter, she has a boyfriend who is distressed by her inexplicable behavior, she is often called Maddy. Read's Madeline has a friend who once or twice refers to her as "Madwoman." My character, Madeline Mann, has her name shortened to "Madman" by her brothers, and she is called that throughout the book.

I feel a bit uncomfortable, even though this is obviously a coincidence; after all, Madeline is a very common name. It's what I would have named my son, had he been born a girl. He was going to be Madeline Rose (much to his manly horror), and instead I gave that name to the first character I ever created. But I wouldn't want anyone to read my book, which will come out more than a year after Cornelia Read's beautiful debut, and think, "This author was so unoriginal she had to borrow several ideas."

My publisher tells me that these coincidences are surprisingly common; still, I am distressed to find that I am now an example of a literary coincidence. I would rather be an example of a literary success, or a literary coup, or a literary darling, or some wonderful thing with the word literary prefacing it. And in all honesty, coincidences are a lot easier to bear when your book is the one that came out first and was an instant hit for many well-deserved reasons.

Are there any other people out there who have found themselves a part of a coincidence of this nature?

No comments: