The Day I Realized There Really isn’t Anything New Under the Sun

For years, I’d been working on this idea intermittenly about a Southern woman wanting to write her memoirs and hiring a ghostwriter to help her. In this story, the ghostwriter ends up learning all of these things about herself, what she and the ghostwriter have in common, and it makes everything in her (the ghostwriter’s) world change. It was a novel idea, to me, in both that it hadn’t been done and it should be a novel length thing.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? It should. This is the basic plot, though not entirely, of Donna Sutterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I writing the first sketches of my novel, which at the time had nothing to do with a memoir, when I was in high school. The newer,Ā  centered around a writer version began taking shape in the fall of 2003, when I was a freshman in college. I picked up Sutterfield’s book in 2007 from the library. That’s when my literary world fell apart.

How could it be? Someone had already thought up (and written…and published) my idea! What was I going to do? I had spent years starting this story, submitting it to a writing contest at the university I attended, getting a teacher to read an excerpt for me, letting it lie fallow, coming back to it. In all of that time, I thought it was fresh and new and different, and it wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Some things haven’t been written about because they don’t make good writing material. Some things have been written about, but not in the way you mean to write about it. As long as I don’t tell the same story, the starting point can be the same. It’s why all of the writing exercises my creative writing teacher gave us led to such varied places when we read them out loud. No two people see things exactly the same. I can still add something to the discussion.

Once I got over my disappointment, I realized Donna Sutterfield hadn’t stolen my novel. ( šŸ™‚ ) Her novel was about a woman who worked in her father’s bookstore and an older woman with a secret she was dying to tell. It was about siblings and family pressure and identity. It was beautiful. But it wasn’t my novel. My older woman isn’t very old, and she is trying desperately to keep her own secrets while airing everyone else’s. Neither the older woman nor the younger have any siblings. Many other tensions and motivations are in play in my story. I’m not telling the same story at all.

I feel better about the story now. I know that it’s a story that still needs to be told, and get it told I shall.

Have you ever read a book that sounded like a WIP you were working on? Did you continue on with it? When did you realize, in a literary sense, that there was nothing new under the sun?

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Betty Neels & Formulas

Army Nurses in Santo Tomas Internment Camp, 19...

Army Nurses... in sickness and in health must have real meaning here. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve always loved the romance novels of Betty Neels. They weren’t trashy or crazy, the women weren’t supernaturally attractive, and no one had sex before marriage. Every man was a surgeon, most of the women were nurses. The women were mostly plain save magnificent eyes, the men tall and handsome. This all appealed to me, mostly because a) I was the girl with the plain face, yet spectacular eyes (really…my eyes sparkle, so folks say) b) I loved reading about love gently growing instead of quickly sated lusts, and c) even though you know the ending, she still tricked you into being willingly yanked from high to low on this delightful rollercoaster.

There’s a certain amount of comfort in telling the story that’s closest to your heart. We’ve all been to dinner parties or other gatheringsĀ  where our family members or acquaintances drag out the same stories of their former glories year after year, as if life hasn’t went on and they haven’t done anything else. Betty was an English nurse and her beau was a Dutchman; almost all of her women are English nurses (certainly all the ones I’ve read are English) and they fall for Dutch surgeons. How lovely to be able to tell ones own love story over and over again, making it fresh and new each time.

My boyfriend once asked me if I’d ever write for Harlequin, since I read so many of their books, know the formulas, and have such a fondness for them. I would. I don’t quite have a love story of my own yet, at least not one that’s gotten to “and they lived happily ever after,” but I love the idea of helping two (fictional) people fall in love. I also love “literary” fiction, and writing poetry, but I believe there’s at least one by the book romance in my romantic heart.

Another story that I want to tell that’s out of genre is a memoir of the year in between my junior and senior year of college, and when I’d lost my job and apartment a week apart. I don’t usually write creative non-fiction, butĀ I feel like I have a lot to say that could help someone who finds themselves where I found myself. But this would be a one time dalliance away from my true loves of fiction, poetry and romance (which is itself a dalliance, it could be argued).

What’s the one story you’d like to tell that’s outside of your usual writing genre? Why do you want to write it?How close are you to telling it?