Wednesday, October 6, 2010

That's Not Fair

by Elizabeth

One of my favorite ways to find new authors is to peruse the "new fiction" shelf my local library kindly stocks directly across from the DVDs. I'll scan the spines, and when a title catches my fancy, I'll pull out the book, flip it over or to the inside cover to read the blurb, then check out the author's bio. Sometimes I read the bio first, and I always check out the acknowledgments to see if an agent is mentioned. I've learned that certain agents can be counted on to rep books I'll like. (And if I don't recognize the agent but love the writer, I'll add the agent to my to-research-for-queries list.)

That's how I found the book I'm reading now, Bird in Hand, by Christina Baker Kline. I'm only about forty pages in, but by the time I finished the prologue, I was already both hooked and depressed. Hooked, because this is a story I want to read. Depressed, because this is a story I want to write. That's not fair! my mind screamed when I recognized the bones of a storyline I'd been tossing around for a couple of years. Well, not really the exact story, but some of the same elements. Kline beat me to it. That's not fair!

I love it when my kids say this. I tell them they are darn lucky life's not fair, because if it was, their cushy lifestyle would go way, way down in quality. All it takes is a quick look at what Susan does every day of her life to realize that. Fairness goes both directions, and we Americans are almost to a man on fortune's A-list.

Still, even within our own circles, life is never fair. There will always be someone who is smarter, prettier, more successful, thinner, richer, healthier, stronger, taller, shorter, cuter, funnier, more serious, less serious, more flexible, a better mother or friend or sister or daughter. And then there is always someone who is less than us as well. Sadder. Sicker. More alone. Less alone. Hungry.

One of the things smart writers do when they get together but never publicly is gawp at some of the books that manage to get published. "This," we will say, but never write, never email, never ever blog or post, "found a publisher, and yet I haven't," or our friend hasn't, or the unbelievably talented guy at critique hasn't. "That's not fair!"

True enough, it's not. But it's also not fair that some people have a gift, some people don't. My dog can sing better than I can. And if you asked me to draw said dog, I doubt you'd be able to recognize the result as canine. When it comes to dancing, I'm possibly more pathetic than Elaine Benes. But I've always believed I could write pretty well, and the jury of my life would tend to agree. I'm honored to be included with these five women here at What Women Write, five women who are unfairly talented compared to the world, women whose work I believe I'll read in print, even if some other newer writer doesn't quite get their stuff and sees it as so. Un. Fair.

Life's not fair. Publishing is not fair, writing is not fair, talent is not fair, and there's not a lot we can do about it other than to embrace the good in our own lives and try to do our best with it.

So what if Christina Kline already published an idea I'd had in mind? Life is not fair, and one thing that is certain is the experiences that have colored how she sees the world and therefore what she wrote are different than mine. Which means that I can take that idea I had, use the unfair time I have when I'm not working a third job to put food on the table for my kids, use these undamaged hands on this computer I don't have to share, and write my own story even if the galvanizing event is similar. By the time my story unfolds, it won't be the same anyway. It might not be as good as what she wrote (how unfair). But it will be mine, and like every word on every page, it will be a reminder of the lack of fairness that allows me the luxury to write.


  1. Hi Elizabeth - I loved reading this ... I often find that a book I'm writing has been "scooped" by someone else - in fact, my novel The Way Life Should Be came out the same month as another novel with the same name AND the same setting! That freaked me out, but it turned out that we had entirely different audiences. Now I'm working on a novel about the orphan trains, and found out recently that another book is coming out on the same subject - like mine, featuring three generations of women. And that book is coming out in April '11; mine won't be out until Jan. '12. What can you do? What I've found is that the books are usually so different that it doesn't matter. Remember, it's the execution, not the idea, that counts. Let me know what you think when you finish Bird in Hand! And thanks for letting me know about your great blog.

  2. Christina, thanks for dropping by; it's so fun to see you here! I just finished Bird in Hand, and you're right--it is totally different than the idea I had in mind. I really enjoyed your book, and am definitely looking forward to the one on the orphan trains, something I have heard of but have never much looked into. I can't imagine what that must have been like, by the way, your debut having a name twin. I'm glad it worked out though, as it obviously did. Thanks again for checking out our blog.


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