dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #227

Gili Bar-Hillel abhillel at hotmail.com
Thu Oct 5 08:40:42 EDT 2000

=Ven wrote:
>>It reminds me that in
Delany's Empire Star there's a tortured young poet who suffers
from, among other things, the idea that another poet always
seemed to have had the same experiences before him and written
about them.  >>

This is begining to sound unbelievable, but I swear there's a short story 
just like that, which I once read in a collection. Maybe I still have it 
somewhere, I don't remember who wrote it. It's written in the form of a 
series of letters, correspondence between a would-be author and the 
publishers that keep rejecting his manuscripts. The publishers keep accusing 
him of plagiarism, because apparantly, everthing he's written has appeared 
before, verbatim, in the published works of a certain other author. The 
manuscript submitter is desperate to learn more about this mysterious 
author, as he most definitely has not copied his work from anything 
published, he has never heard of the other author, and is unable to find any 
of his works in print. The letters from the publishers grow increasingly 
nasty, threatening litigation if this guy continues to attempt to submit 
plagiarized manuscripts. Finally the submitter realizes the potential of his 
own incredible experience, and decides write a story about a man who 
mysteriously keeps writing stories that have been written before. The story 
ends with a letter rejecting this last manuscript, as well, because it has 
also been written before.

As part of my job, I read dozens of manuscripts a month for proposed picture 
books for children. The similarities between some of these manuscripts are 
sometimes startling, from plot down to character names, illustrations, 
formal elements. My pet theory is that people have a certain platonic ideal 
of what a children's book should be like - part of the cultural collective 
subconscious or whatever - and they're all trying to write the same book. 
(Unfortunately for them, but perhaps fortunately for me as it makes my job a 
lot easier, they're all trying to write a book I don't particulalry like.) 
With novel-length manuscripts, there's simply more room for variation. With 
kiddie books, there's a lot less room to stray from the imagined prototype.

This is painfully obvious in the manuscripts I read, but it turns up even in 
published books. I've just recieved two remarkably similar French children's 
books to consider for publication, one is called "The Battle", one is called 
"The War", both about the senselessness of war, both featuring warring 
tribes that look exactly the same in the illustrations, except that one 
group is always in blue and the other is always in red. And I don't believe 
there was any active plagiarism at work here.

Thank heavens for authors who are capable of breaking the molds and 
genuinely surprising us, time after time.


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