So, it's time for a rant or two . . .

on April 8, 2010

I rarely comment about reviews I receive for my books because reviews are generally one person’s opinion. I can take the bad reviews with the good, and while I don’t like to get a bad review, I just suck it up and repeat what Stephanie Laurens said at the Orange County Romance Writers meeting a couple years ago: “They’re just having a bad reading day.”

There are a few things that irritate me about reviews, however–good and bad. The first and foremost is spoilers. I’ve had good reviews where the reader obviously loved the book and wants to talk about it with everyone (I love people like that!) Except they get a little carried away and share a bit too much in a public forum. Or the bad reviews where the readers wants to prove what an idiot the author is by telling the world who the bad guy is and why it was “so obvious” from the beginning and listing every major turning point in the book. The only review I asked Amazon to remove was where the reviewer did this and more–not only identifying the killer, but also revealing that one of the main characters died at the midpoint of the book.

I’ve had more than one bad review, but a recent comment on Amazon related to ORIGINAL SIN had me scratching my head.

“This book seems to have taken bits and pieces from the show Supernatural and was made into a book.”

I had to think about that for a long time, because I am a fan of SUPERNATURAL–a huge fan. I’ve seen nearly every episode twice. I’m also a fan of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the old classics FRIDAY THE 13th THE SERIES and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

I started OS in the summer of 2003, though I called it THE COVEN at the time. I knew the basic premise, the heroine (Moira), but had no idea who the hero would be, other than a tormented ex-seminarian. I didn’t know Rafe Cooper or his backstory or how my hero would come to the scene. I originally planned on having the hero be the brother of a missing girl (Lily) but it didn’t work out, and Lily didn’t stay missing for long in the final draft. I had over 100 pages drafted when I sold THE PREY and put this story idea on the back burner. SUPERNATURAL aired in September of 2005. I didn’t watch it until the DVD came out the following year, then I was addicted. My daughters originally discovered the series but I was on a tight deadline before the release of my first book.

I wrote the proposal for OS in early 2007 and gave it to my agent. She wanted to hold off a bit because we wanted to build me in romantic suspense first, and I agreed. The proposal outlined a seven book series (I use the term “outline” very loosely–the proposal was only three pages) and listed the main characters and the premise: the seven deadly sins released from Hell as incarnate demons. Believe me, when the Season Three opener of SUPERNATURAL aired in September of 2007 called “The Magnificent Seven” — yes, about the Seven Deadly Sins as demons — I nearly flipped. My daughters will tell you that I stomped around the room declaring that I had the idea first!

But as we all know, it’s not the idea but the execution that matters, and the episode was nothing like my idea.

Whenever we write, especially when we write stories that by necessity have a lot of research put into them, there are bound to be similarities between other works of creative art–unless it’s a completely made-up world not relying on human facts and theories.

I have dozens of books on criminal psychology, true crime, forensics, serial killers, weaponry, crime scene investigations, and the like. Dozens. I’ve read parts of all of them, and all of some of them. There are certain truths in criminal investigations that I use–and most other crime writers use as well to varying degrees. I like forensics and psychology, so I tend to write more detail about those subjects. Medical stuff? Not so much. In fact, most of my errors have been when I take my characters to the hospital, so I try to skip those parts now 🙂 No one has accused me of copying from CSI or CRIMINAL MINDS. And did anyone else notice the similarities between the CM episode “Outfoxed” as a compilation of both THE RED DRAGON (where Harris’s killer targets families who he gets to know through home movies his company develops) and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (where Harris uses a convicted killer to help the FBI find the active killer–and both incarcerated murderers want to see the photographs of the victims.) Still a good episode. They made it their own with their own twists and motive for the killer.

So I was thinking, why SUPERNATURAL? Is it because it’s fantasy/supernatural/horror? That by definition it’s not real and thus I must have copied?

Truth be told, I have more books on witchcraft, religion, black magic, spells, exorcisms, and mythology than I do on crime and forensics. I immersed myself in these books for the year before I really started writing OS. I wanted to get a feeling of all the possible directions, but ultimately I gravitated toward books and ideas that supported my vision and my characters. I read more about the dark arts and exorcisms and speaking in tongues and Jewish fairy tales.

Would it surprise you that virtually every single episode of SUPERNATURAL has some written lore about it? When Sam talks about, “Lore says A,B,C” he’s taking that pretty much directly from the show’s research books. Funny thing–I have many of those same books! In the SUPERNATURAL companion guides they dissect each episode and talk about the lore that went behind it–Eric Kripke, the show’s creator, was adamant that there needed to be a grounding in the mythology, so wanted “proof” of a lore — which means research.

None of us came up with the idea that Holy Water was like poison to demons, or that salt protects against evil spirits, or that a devil’s trap (or spirit trap) can protect both a magician or trap a demon. Those ideas have been around for hundreds of years. Salt, in fact, as a protection pre-dates Christ. Every major world religion has a devil-like figure and theories related to demons or evil spirits. None of this is new, not to SUPERNATURAL or to me. There’s one SUPERNATURAL episode (the scarecrow) that is so much like an episode in FRIDAY about a scarecrow that I nearly laughed. But they were still different enough because in television, characters are the voice. They make the show unique, just like a writer’s writing voice plus characters make a book unique.

So the bad review didn’t bother me specifically because I wonder how well-read the commenter is on matters of the supernatural. Because if you read just a little, you quickly learn that it’s all been discussed before.

There have been a few things that have popped up in the show that have me banging my head because those concepts are in my books, but honestly? They no more took the ideas from me than I took the ideas from them. We all took them from the lore out there–and created our own stories from it. There are some things that, if you’re trying to stick with ideas that have been written about historically or theoretically, have become “facts” and when you’re writing a real-world paranormal story, you need to stick to the basic common understanding. No suspending the laws of physics — unless you find a good spell for it.

Rant Number Two . . .

Since this post has gone on a bit longer than I planned, Rant Two will be posted at Murderati on Sunday. It relates to the so-called NYT ethicist who stated that if you buy a hardcover book, while it’s illegal to download a pirated copy of the book, it’s not unethical. My response? If that’s the case, they he should go tell people that if they buy a ticket to a movie, they have every right to illegally download a pirated copy of the movie.

So my question to you: what are some other movies or books that explore very similar ideas–and what do you think about it? If we’re all drawing from the same pool of facts and mythology, what makes the final creative product unique? The author’s voice or director’s vision on screen? The characters? The tone? The rhythm? The little plot twists and turns? When do you get frustrated by similarities and when do they not bug out–or maybe, make the book even more enjoyable?