I finally got my second short story done, The Combustible Cocksman. It took me over a month to finish because I kept tripping over plot holes and inconsistencies. For instance, I had Sir Ennock meeting someone “at the stroke of midnight” because I liked the sound of that phrase, but later on I said that the meeting was at eight o’clock. So much for the “stroke of midnight.” I also had Issilda going down to the study carrying a lamp. Very atmospheric, but when Sir Ennock shows up, he has to have a lamp, too. So he’s holding a lamp, and a book and a poker. Very awkward unless he had more than two hands. So I rewrote that part, so the mansion has electric lights. Problem solved. But just when I got all the plot holes fixed and the inconsistencies reconciled, I suffered an almost fatal blow. I was reading a novel called “An Inquisition of Demons,” by Gordon Reid, and I came across a scene where someone discovers a secret room.
“Huh,” I said to myself. “That’s a coincidence. I have a secret room in the short story I’m writing.”
And the character in the novel enters the room and finds a desk. “Good heavens, there’s a desk in my secret room too!”
With an old book on it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Written in a foreign language — or perhaps a code. “No!!!!”
I swear I never read “An Inquisition of Demons.” What the hell’s going on? I’ve written things in the past and later had them happen in real life, but this is the first time I wrote something and then found it in a work of fiction someone else had already written, a work I’d never read.
And it gets even weirder. One of my characters speculates there might be a chest of gold in the room. It turns out there isn’t, but in the novel, guess what else the man finds in the room? Yep, a chest of gold. But wait, there’s more. In the novel, there are some letters on the desk detailing alchemical experiments — “Cures for everything from baldness to impotence.” And guess what sort of experiments my character was conducting? The exact same ones!
Fortunately I’d already decided to eliminate the alchemy aspect from my story, because it didn’t quite fit. But still, the coincidences are uncanny.
I’m not very far into the novel so I have no idea if there are more similarities. I hope not. But I’ve decided to leave my story the way it is, for several reasons: For one thing, I worked too hard on the story to abandon it now, and I like the secret-door concept. And the scenes are radically different in some respects than the one in his novel. And besides, will Reid ever know about my story? Probably not. I labor in total obscurity. But if anyone does notice the similarities, I can point to this blog entry and say, “You see? I disclosed all this at the time of publication. And any similarities between my story and his novel are purely coincidental.”
But this is one of the many hazards of writing that make it such a pain in the ass — the fear of accidental, or subconscious, plagiarism. Ah well, I must get back to my torture now … I mean, my writing.