Stealing the Fire of The Gods

Hey, buddy, want to buy a plot?  I got it cheap down at the corner, but it’s really good.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy recovers girl again.

When I was a beginner writer knee high to a pot of ink, I was obsessed with plots.  The reason was much the same that teen boys are obsessed with girls: They’ve never been close enough to one to grab her properly and aren’t even sure which bits they’re supposed to grab.  Besides everyone says they’re supposed to have one, but no one says how.

In my case, it was worse than that – everyone kept saying that I needed to learn to plot or that my stories needed more plot. They were wrong.  My stories had plenty of plot – what they lacked was even a hint of foreshadowing and occasionally more than a hand waved at explaining motive.  Being a child of the seventies I thought everything was supposed to be SURPRISE! And also so deeply buried, psychologically that no one fully got it, so it was “deep.”

Of course, I also had no clue of the foreshadowing, or that I was supposed to do it, until Dave Freer rubbed my nose in it, after I’d published my first three books. So the editors stand excused(ish.)

But because I had no more notion than they did what plot actually was, I obsessively bought books on stuff like “the twenty plots” and “ten basic plots” and…

Ignore that – this is not about plots or how to plot per-se, but something totally different – how to steal the spark of the gods, if you wish.  It’s as close to rational explanation as I can come.

The problem (or the joy) of stealing plots as such is that no one will ever know.  If it’s not obvious both from the opening and from the titles of the books on plotting, plots can variously be boiled down to twenty essential ones, or ten essential ones, or three essential ones, or whatever.  The key is in the “boiled down.”  You boil humans down enough, and we’re all skeletons that rather resemble each other.  (Note, this blog is neither endorsing nor condoning such activity.  It is, at the very least, improper disposal of human remains. In Other Words, Children, don’t try this at home!)  In ultimate instance all plots are one “creature with problem solves it/not.”

So go ahead steal that plot.  If you’re going that route steal good and old and be aware tons of people have done it before you.  Shakespeare has been ripped off more ways than Uncle Scrooge’s money bin in the Disney comics.  So have the Iliad and the Odyssey and pretty much every fairytale known to man.  However, these port within genre (except Shakespeare) by and large, to Science Fiction and fantasy.

What I’m talking about is something quite different.  I was recently converted – as you know – to Regency Romances.  Some of them are even on the “good book” category.  Most are in the “popcorn” category… ie. I can’t get enough of them because I half-read half-skim and don’t remember them afterwards.

I swear half the regency romances I read are ripoffs of Heyer.  And not at the level that I appear to have ripped off Heinlein, to an extent, for space opera.  Not at the level of “I grew up reading this and read it so many times there will be a similarity of words, of phrases, of ways things are justified.  I internalized that stuff, and it’s now in fact part of me.  No, these ripoffs of Heyer are, if not conscious, then ripped off from someone who CONSCIOUSLY ripped her off.  

The problem with doing this is that while it’s not plagiarism – you can write a story about a young girl kept in the country in ignorance of her circumstances, and the rake who wakes up her womanhood without really stealing anything.  You can even add an indifferent older brother or a lame younger brother without problems. – the story is still close enough that you know where they got it, at least if you’ve read Heyer.  The further problem is that NONE OF THEM – not one of the idiots – writes anything even approaching Heyer.

I like Heyer well enough that given the paucity of her books (she wasn’t immortal and couldn’t write forever) I’d welcome something I’d call “good fanfic” – stories that are close enough in spirit to hers, but twisted another way or spun differently.  The stories she would write if she were this person.  And there’s a lot of variety to that sort of thing.  The Austen fanboard I belong to (though these days time rarely allows me to go there) has at least 90% of its content be variations on Pride and Prejudice.  But they’re still interesting enough or different enough you read them.

Most of the Heyer imitations aren’t.  Some are okay.  While it still has most of the same bones of the original story, it spins differently so fast that you don’t mind it.  Some are honest fanfic and have the “If this crucial point had been different change” and that’s okay.

They still all fail when the book they’re ripping off is one of my favorites.  It is a mistake to invoke Sylvester or Frederica or Venetia “Now with explicit sex” – You’re not Heyer, you’re not close to Heyer, and to imitate her close enough for me to recognize the book only sets the standard I now expect.  And you’ll fail.

However, since I read everything, I’ve come to realize that you can do this between genres with great success.  Say you read both science fiction and mystery, and you start reading something and feel that “spark” there somewhere, like a sudden excitement.  And you decide to steal the fire of the gods.

This works because you HAVE to change it.  Yes, sometimes you can do it minimally.  Say, the Maltese Falcon with aliens – and in that case, you’d best own up, because everyone will know.  But say you want to do science fiction Nero Wolfe.  Well, first you move them from New York City.  Then you make Nero a super intelligent something – robot? Bio-improved?  Alien? – and Archie a different species.  No orchids, so what does he grow?  And then there Fritz – what is he?  Mechanic?  A bio-engineer?

By the time you’re done, you could steal Fer de Lance and no one will ever know.  No, I don’t intend on doing this.  I love the book as a reader, but it doesn’t feed the WRITER spark.   

And that’s part of it – that tingle, that spark is not even often fed by a GOOD novel.  At least in my case, half the time, it’s likely to be pushed forward by something someone botched badly.  They start with an interesting character, then it goes down hill fast.  And as far as I steal the spark, these days, it’s usually a scene which gives me another and sets me up for a whole book.  I swear A Few Good Men attacked me when I opened a – turned out so so, but nothing to write home about – book that starts with someone unjustly accused of murder being transported to Australia.  I never read past page 5 – not for a while – because that situation sparked the voice in my head, with Lucius in jail, the break happening and well… what follows.

All this to say, if you’re a writer, you should be aware what’s plagiarism, and what isn’t, and also that no matter how careful you are people will find things in your stories you never put in there.  There was this editor of a now defunct magazine who routinely told me “you ripped this off from a tv plot.”  This was baffling, as when I was sending him stories, I didn’t own a TV, hadn’t even watched any in ten years, and frankly never watched much beyond cartoons and science programs when I was little, and the occasional mystery series since then.

The thing is Pratchett is right in that ideas rain from the sky and into your head, anyway.  (In bed, pull the covers on your head, and pretend that you are dead – the zeitgeist is gonna get you.)  For instance I had this story, written before the series, which not only reads like something out of Stargate, but I call the device to travel between worlds Stargate.  Fortunately I had done with getting it rejected (at that time more than likely unread) when the series came out.  In fact, they were probably written/conceived of at about the same time. (It has been proven tinfoil hats make the condition worse!)

So stuff is going to fall into your head.  There’s no avoiding it.  It’s best to know what you’re doing and where you stand.  And it’s best, of course, to let your sparks come cross-genre.

Stuck?  Don’t be.  Pick up a novel in a genre you normally don’t read.  Or ten novels.  Read them.  Something might ignite the spark of the gods.  Then al you have to do is make it yours.  (And watch out for liver-loving eagles)

229 responses to “Stealing the Fire of The Gods

  1. However, these port within genre (except Shakespeare) by and large, to Science Fiction and fantasy.

    A point of order! Dan Simmons managed to have a small robot transported to London during The Bard’s time and asked the man if he was gay. Bill drew a dagger on the little automaton.

  2. An editor asked to see my novel when it’s ready. I told him I was having difficulty finishing it without it sounding like an echo of Heinlein. He said, “What’s wrong with that?” Silly me, I forgot I was talking to a Baen editor.

  3. One of the best US movies of the Forties is a low-budget horror movie called “I Walked with a Zombie.” Val Lewton had worked on “Gone With the Wind” and they assigned him to do l-b horror. But they assigned him this awful title for the first one, and the writers were stymied. Lewton thought about it, said, “Jane Eyre. Previous wife is a zombie,” and the writer had no trouble after that.

  4. Non-English novels and plays are also useful, if you can find translations (for those who do not read the original language). Set Karl May’s “Winnetou” in space, make it different species instead of a trapper and Indians. Or turn Effie Briest into an alliance between an alien or Sideh nobleman and a human woman, arranged because her mother was recaptured by humans but the Sidhe still cares for the mother. Or because when the mother wanted to marry the Sidhe, such alliances were illegal unless the Sidhe could prove his ability to support a human. On second thought, hands off that one. I’m staking my claim!

    And then there are histories – I’m kicking around a story, perhaps eventually a novel, based on Eugen von Savoy. He had a very adventurous life, left lots of mysteries because he kept his private life *gasp* private, and is unknown by most non-Europeans. I know that there are other figures like that floating around that I’m just not as familiar with. Say, oh, take Catherine the Great and Empress Maria Theresa, make them contemporaries, and have one be the Queen of the Sidhe, or have them control rival planetary systems.

  5. In one of my previous jobs I worked for a consulting firm which dealt in inventions; the firm would help people who had invented a gadget to put together some drawings, and get a provisional patent so that they could market it to potential manufacturers. (The odds were heavily against the inventor but they had a chance and some of our clients actually got their invention out there…) Any way, I saw the same kind of gadget over and over again, from people who couldn’t possiblyhave known each other, or lifted the idea. It’s just that there is a real problem that a little gadget will solve, there are probably a lot of rather clever people looking at ways to solve the problem and they will independently come up with pretty much the same solution.

    With plotting and characters, though … when I am writing a story set at a particular time and place, or concerning the same series of events, I try and avoid reading any other writer’s fictional take. Non-fiction? Oh, I’ll load up and read anything I can get my hands on, as long as it’s non-fiction, or an original memoir, or letters or a report. Because I will tend to seize on a particular incident, or a person, or even a discription and know that I want to work it into my own story. That’s how I plot and create characters – and I don’t want to run the risk of even unconsciously lifting another fiction-writer’s material.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Hmm… Sounds like a good company to work with. I’m a pretty good problem solver, and I’m sure that some of the things I’ve made in the past could have been patented, if I had thought that other people had need of such a thing. I need to be handed problems to solve, though. I seldom think them up on my own.

    • I find it interesting when a rash of similar type stories will appear all at once, from different and completely unconnected people, and I’ve always wanted to trace just what, in the collective zeitgeist (or whatever) managed to trigger it. (Or maybe these things are always there, but something causes all the New York editors to pick these particular ones out at the same time?)

  6. I don’t know why, but I don’t get the spark when I am reading. I get enjoyment, pleasure, a little envy, and absorption into the story. There are times that my stories are dictations. My ideas float down from the sky and hit me across the head and shoulders. When I was doing Nanowrimo last year one of the dares was to put a herd of goats into the novel. I took the challenge and now one of the goats has his own story.

    Story takes me on his shoulders and carries me around. Sometimes he sets me down and I take hours to write a few sentences and then all of a sudden I am being marched around on his shoulders again.

    BTW I enjoy input. When I am stuck I put the question to the hubby. He gives me some creative solutions and then I am back on the writing road again.

    Also for some reason, the desert gets me every time. I don’t read much about desert living in popular fiction. I find it sad. The desert has its own life and is very surprising.

  7. The one sure way to be safe against ideas falling out of the sky and into your head is to keep your head empty of all original thought. This way, when the ideas land in your head they don’t embed there, they just rattle around a bit then fall out of your mouth. This defense against ideas is commonly employed by many politicians (even some vice-presidents) and is generally considered a good thing by those who have noticed what ideas do take root in the fertile manure filling other politicians’ heads.

  8. Le Chevalier D’Eon is a Japanese Anime of the historical horror school. It starts from a seed of truth, that there was a Chevalier D’Eon who had some interesting characteristics, as set out to give an explanation within its genre.

    From Wiki:

    Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 Tonnerre – 21 May 1810 London), usually known as the Chevalier d’Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason[citation needed] whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman. Upon death, a council of physicians discovered that d’Éon’s body was anatomically male.

    Yup, truth can be stranger than fiction…

  9. Nothing is better than ripping off a bad work because it’s the work most likely to make you rip it off with many grumbles about how they just ruined or at best wasted that idea, which starts you on the serial number filing at once.

    Then, my views on removing serial numbers are — lengthy. (As in this long:
    marycatelli.livejournal.com/10574.html)

    • On the flip side of that is the writers who are convinced they have a Great Idea, but lack the courage to attack it not believing they possess the skills to do the Idea justice.

      • Good God. Please overlook my awful verb conjugation. I am new to the spoken word.

      • In No Plot, No Problem, Baty reports hearing from, every year, writers who are dropping out of NaNoWriMo because they have a splendid idea, and they want the time to do it justice.

        Invariably, if he checks back, they’ve stopped writing.

        • I invariably drop out of NANO WRI MO because I’m going gang busters and suddenly think, “Hey, this doesn’t suck.”

          I suppose I might make the excuse of “I want to do this justice” except that I know better and know I already hit the wall.

          • Synova if you didn’t get package, please leave me a comment with three links (It doesn’t matter what) and your address — the three links means it won’t post, so it won’t be public. I tried to find your address in comments at MGC, and of course couldn’t, So I sent to same address I used couple of years ago. If that’s wrong, leave a comment with three links, and it will not post, but I’ll see it — and embed your address in it.

            • I got the package. :) I had a suitably fan-girlish squee-fest and teased my husband by goo-ing… Oh, look what she used to pack it all… and carefully smoothing out all the crumpled papers. Granted, I was being silly for his benefit, but only a little bit.

              • LOL. If I knew that, I’d have used a short story.

                • Heh – I ALWAYS used to uncrumple newspapers used by family members to pad shipments. Especially valued were comics sections, but it was always interesting to read articles from other papers.

                  OTOH, I am a recognized and admitted readaholic. Books, especially when I can get the hard stuff, but in a pinch any dead tree will do. Foreign papers may be the after-shave guzzling of readaholism, but they are better than cold turkey.

          • I wrote in NANOWRIMO one year, then decided it was too much trouble to try to keep up with all their administrative necessities and dropped out. I’ve written five novels since then, and completed two of them. The idea for two of them just didn’t gel correctly, and I dropped them. I’m still working on the other, along with two or three more.

            I write in spurts – a couple of sentences today, maybe a whole paragraph tomorrow, then three days with nothing. Then I’ll catch fire, and write two or three chapters without stopping. Then it’s back to a sentence or two. can’t do that in NANOWRIMO.

  10. Another way of liberating a plot is to focus on a little known historical character and write the story from his POV. Make your character an amoral con man with a little military training, transport him to Valley Forge (appropriately disguised for literary purpose) and make him have to justify his presence when caught where he had no business being by concocting an unbelievable story about being sent to train the troops. Even though he speaks scarcely a word of the troops’ language, the commanding general makes him Inspector General and voila: Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben in Space!

  11. Interesting point about the spark not coming from good novels, but more by something botched. I’ve noticed the same thing – I think it’s that the good novel is complete and left me completely satisfied. I don’t need more (unless I want a sequel, in which case, yes, the spark can come). But the botched story or the story that didn’t satisfy, that left me wanting, that sparks me a lot. (A friend put it that most fanfic is caused by an itch that needs to be scratched.)

  12. A minor point, but don’t worry about Stargates if the muse strikes again. The Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh came out in 1976, which predates the Stargate movie. In the book and others in the Morgaine stores they were just named “Gates”.

    • Gates have been used a lot. It was the name “stargate” and the fact they worked exactly the same way…

      • How about a gate using Sumerian writing? and cubic instead of round? ummm….

        • Not a cube — make the gate a Klein Bottle.

        • ppaulshoward

          IIRC Andre Norton had a book titled _Star Gate_. It was set on an Earth-like planet with the “Star Lords” not wanting to return home but decided to go to an alternate version of the planet. Oh, it’s implied that the “Star Lords” are earth humans.

          • Yup, I forgot all about it because Andre Norton wasn’t a favorite of mine, no matter how many friends told me I was an idiot not to like her writing.

            • She is a writer that I loved as a teenager and wasn’t as excited (except her older works) when I grew older. Some of her collaborations are really good.

              • I think that her Witch World series were about a young boy or girl who was too Odd and how she/he made a place in a new life… it really helped me out as a teenager and young adult.

                • Witch World? I would say that the canonical Andre Norton plot is:
                  A character (usually young, but not always) is in a place where he doesn’t fit and lacks friends and connections. He gets precipitated — usually with some element of free choice, but certainly with some pressure — into a new place, which has something wrong with it. Either it’s not a fit,either, and he must go on to another place, or he has to help fix it. He may make a romantic or other connection in one of these locations. The story ends when the last place, which he helped fix, is the place where he fits, or he sets out with the person with whom he has a connection to find a place where they fit.

                  • Okay – you have more elements, but pretty much the same ;-)

                  • Don’t forget a certain premise that Evil Feels Bad And Wrong, and Good Instinct Should Be Followed. (The trope I like least about her work, really. I can handle it in small doses, and some of her books I love (Breed to Come! Year of the Unicorn!), but it’s in EVERY SINGLE BOOK that I can recall. Evil Doom Miasma. Compulsions. Mysterious Powers Awaken. Her short stories, not so much of that.)

                    • Actually – her evil feels bad and miasma feel like my alarm bells so it didn’t bother me that much. I do know that to some people evil can look and feel attractive. Since I have lived with manipulations and charisma, I am less affected by it.

                    • Silmarillion, Sauron, the ruin of Númenor, original body destroyed, yadda-yadda
                      = I don’t think Tolkein would have agreed with Ms Norton.

                    • I’ve lived with manipulation and charisma as well (though… backstage of it, as it was rarely used on me), and… I dunno. The slow realization, suited to an Evil Overlord’s Innocent Daughter might describe how I see it.

                      I think that some of my objections is that it was never “by their works, you shall know them,” with Evil. Whether outwardly fair or scary, it was (almost) always MIASMA! DOOM! Evil magics! Evil precursors! You can ALWAYS TELL. (Like, you look at the tag over the thing’s head, in WoW, and if it’s red, you’ll have to kill it, and if it’s yellow, you can often leave it alone…)

                      Even Duane flipped the Entropy Ethics on its head once.

                      (Which, I hasten to add, doesn’t mean I don’t like Norton’s stuff. Some of my favorite, best-loved books are by Andre Norton. I just OD on the theme fast.)

                    • In defense of this — not that I ever read Norton. Oh, I might have, but I don’t REMEMBER. You have to understand, she simply wasn’t in Portuguese and when I came here I was too busy tracking down my old favorites and rebuilding my library — Beth, I’ve known evil of both kinds. I’ve known evil you simply don’t see as such — evil that’s like a honeyed trap (but that’s rare and in a sense puts me off.) The most common evil seems mundane and… almost accidental. You keep wondering if the person is having these evil results on purpose, and it’s only the slow, slow accumulation that causes you to wake up one day. OTOH I’ve known one person who was EVIL (let’s just say it involved child abuse and other, worse stuff) who SMELLED BAD TO ME. I don’t think he smelled bad to anyone else (or the evil might not have been done) but I could smell him across the block and it made me sick to my stomach, and the smell was sufficient that I couldn’t ignore it or think everything was fine. I don’t know if the smell was physical. As I said, no one else smelled it. But whatever it was my brain interpreted it as “evil.”

                    • Warning kids about evil that doesn’t seem evil is pretty complex. (Although some of her books start with a kid just having realized that X person is up to no good, even though nobody else realizes it.)

                      However, warning kids not to ignore their instincts is important, because kids often need to pay attention to such cues, and often are urged by peer pressure to ignore obvious good sense.

                    • Also true, that. Instincts are important. (But so is “you know, even if you aren’t getting the instincts triggered, there are some things you might want to look at…”)

    • I might look askance at “stargates” using ancient Egyptian themes and with hordes of enslaved Egyptian descendants on the other side, but other than that, doorways through space-time are fairly common.

      • well, there were no egyptians — but the design was roughly the same, it was ancient, just rediscovered tech — and it well… took you to other worlds. And they were called stargates.

        • I wouldn’t worry about it :) I’ve got guys with guns that shoot light beams. I’m not sure anyone else has ever done that before, but I’m not all that worried about it.

  13. Nice post — thanks. And just to complete the circle, of course Shakespeare — from whom much is stolen — also lifted plots from elsewhere. There were several versions of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, before he wrote take on the story.

  14. I’ve found it useful to go to a bookstore and read the back cover of several novels, then I’d combine the various elements into a new story and see if it led anywhere. It didn’t always do so, but the journey was never dull.

    • That’s an interesting ploy. I’ve gone to the various image purchasing websites like Dreamstime and put in a random sci-fi word. Looking through the various artists’ work can really fire the ol’ neurons.

      • Under the new Federal guideline it is no longer permitted to fire the old neurons. They must be offered the option of early retirement or buyout, with generous pension and benefits. Failure to comply can result in severe penalties and accusations of murdering the neurons’ wives.

      • The Evil Overlord devises a plot:
        http://www.sff.net/paradise/plottricks.htm

        Using those classic lists of Things Not To Do.

        • What if the evil overlord really is a lord, but not evil by his own morality? What if the character he plays is so honorable, helpful, and downright likable to the protagonist and his/her people that by the end of the third novel in the series, when the truth is laid bare, the realization is so jarring that you have to set the book down and look around for help before you collapse into a heap of inconsolable mush?

          • Actually, that just happened with one of my villains and I ended up changing the entire last half of the novel, shifting around a whole bunch of plot, and, well, it would have been easier if the bad guy had stayed the bad guy.

            • My Bad Guy is never not the Bad Guy. It’s just that he’s playing 3D chess while the humans he’s with barely understand the concept of checkers by comparison. Everything he does to help them is plausible given his story, but it also forward his own goals to the point at which he can monologue about it, at which point the aforementioned collapse should occur to the reader’s psyche.

              • I really hate it when I realize that the only person who can solve the story problem is the Bad Guy, and I have to rewrite him. And find a new Bad Guy.

          • How about a libertarian evil overlord, who takes over the government in order to make it leave people alone? Even crueler, he forces them to learn to stand on their own two feet and aid each other directly rather than wait for bureaucrats?

          • Childhood’s End — longer.

    • WARNING: Bookstores can be dangerous and expensive places.

      • Tell me about it! DW and DD went to a book signing at the Tattered Cover three nights ago, and my budget will NEVER recover! And they forgot to buy the book I wanted… 8^(

        • The last time I was at the Tattered Cover (original location), I decided that that is where I’ll go after I die, if I can just be good enough for long enough.

          • Should I ever find myself on 16th street in Denver I shall have to check it out. That is after makeing sure I lock up the necessary funds to get myself and all the goodies home. But, as The Spouse no longer up to much travel I suspect all I can do is dream. (When he could travel we found an incredible book store, a full city block and three stories high, in London. We returned with our full customs allowance in books…which led to much fun, as the agent who checked our luggage could not believe that almost the entirety of what we were bringing back was books.)

            • Foyles! I’ll bet you found Foyles in London! I spent some lovely hours there myself, when I was a mere slip of a child of sixteen, and doing the youth hostel and rail-pass tour of Britian and Europe on 5 dollars a day! I also came home with books; mostly a collection of Nevil Schute’s novels which I have to this day. Any of y’all ever read Nevil Schute? (Besides A Town Like Alice?) Fantastic storyteller … his day job was as an aeronautical engineer. I’ve always been convinced that someone with an interesting day job had a leg up on being a writer of interesting stories …

              • I read his autobiography. He was one of two aeronautical engineers working on the private challenge to the British airship competition. I’ve also read most of his fiction, but not “A Town Like Alice”.

              • Daddy speaks well of Foyles. The will do rare book searches. ;-)

                • Foyles is a mecca for all English and Literature teachers on the planet. It is totally disorganized, non computerized, and crazy. However, the clerks know where everything is, or what floor it is on anyway. Super research department filled with books on all sorts of things.

            • CACS, I did that coming back from Germany, in the days before overweight penalties. “Do you have anything over $200?” I grinned and chirped, “Yes, sir, books. Translators dictionaries, novels, military biographies . . .” The customs guy waved me through after trying to lift my bag.

              • Our customs agent was simply baffled. He much better understood the excited little Italian grandma at the next counter who was, through an interpreter, trying to explain that no one told her she could not bring nice healthy salad goods with her.

                • um. After 9/11 we went to world fantasy in Canada. They’d counted on the usual 2k people. They had 800. All the books publishers had sent for promotionals were there, on tables, pile upon gleaming pile. Took us about ten seconds to realize that not only could we stock up on reading for a year, but we could also trade the repeated books that friends didn’t want for books we or they might want. We bought an extra suitcase. And yes, I remember the customs’ agents baffled expressions. Worse, we were the tenth such couple to come by with FIVE bags of books (this was, of course, before luggage charges.) We explained. They sighed. “Does that mean we’re going to have to lift these another fifty times or so?” We looked at the line behind us and nodded. They sighed again.

                  • My local books store is having a sale this weekend. $1 paperbacks, $2 hardbacks, $3 trade. Collectible – 50% off. I’m both excited and fearful.

                    Excited – more books, my precious!
                    Fearful – this may be a prelude to liquidation. :-(

                    Ahh, first world problems!

                    • That’s the reason Jean and I save for the semi-annual library sales. I’ve picked up hardbound copies of about half of Heinlein ‘s output in such sales, along with quite a bit more. We’ve had to watch what we buy — we’ve run out of places we can put bookshelves where they won’t fall over on top of an adventurous seven-year-old.

                      We went to a book fair in Birmingham, England, in 1988. My wife was looking for lace-making books. We came back with two large boxes full of different things. Bookaholics won’t let us in the door any more – we won’t – or can’t – stop.

                    • we’ve run out of places we can put bookshelves where they won’t fall over on top of an adventurous seven-year-old

                      It should be fine as long as you put the more complicated, literary stuff on the bottom and the romances or comedies on the top.

                    • Mike — bolt them to the walls. We did when the kids were little.

                    • Daddy’s shelves not only lined the wall but came out, true library style, out into the room. This mean there were neat private nooks to sit in while perusing whatever I had pick off the shelves.

                    • A local independent we loved had a program whereby they gave you a punchcard: one punch for every $10 spent, a full card (10 punches) redeemable for a $10 discount. We tried and tried to convince them to give a bookcase for ten cards completed.

                    • Fortunately Daddy built very strong book cases. I used to scale them to reach the books on the top shelves.

                    • One of the two things that I most regret loosing when a former computer died was a piece that The Spouse wrote re: I am __ and I am a Bookaholic. The other was a piece I had done — from who knows where the inspiration came — on Martha Stewart’s Christmas disaster.

                    • We, too, bolted the bookshelves to the wall, moving in with a brand new kid… (Who fussed and fussed every single time I laid her down to put books in said bookshelves. D: )

                    • The problem with wall-mounted bookshelves is the holes that require patching when time comes to move.

                      I have considered attaching the bookshelves (or cases) to struts — 2″X4″s or 1″X4″s — running floor to ceiling, requiring minimal attachments, keeping the patching/repainting down when time comes to sell the house (vacate the apartment.) If one is moderately handy in the shop, bookcases relying on a 4′X4′ piece of plywood (a 4′X8′ cut in twain), framed around by … oh, depending on your needs, 1/2″ X 9″ boarding, with adjustable shelving brackets mounted inside. You could even include doors for the cases if your talents extend that far. Keep the size down to what you can comfortably heave, add locks to the doors and come moving time you merely need latch the doors, dismount the cases and load them on the moving van.

                      I’ve not bothered to do the math to determine structural requirements of such a system. I confess to being a big fan of barrister cases but they can get a mite pricey (and reduce the cash available for purchasing books.)

                    • Robert, at one, atop the seven foot bookcase. Dancing. I’m sure I’m a zombie. I had a heart attack and died THEN.

                    • Momma used to tell this story. While my father was in the service — before he was posted in Texas — she lived in a second floor apartment on base. I was a barely a toddler. One day she had put me down in the crib for a nap and went to hang the laundry on the line. The woman who lived down stairs was there. She suddenly started staring mouth wide open at the building. My mother slowly turned to see me swinging in and out holding on to the open window frame.

                    • OMG. I WOULD have died on the spot.

                    • A friend of mine works at a mill, and I got a whole pallet of pine boards from him that they used as stickers (place between layers of boards to allow airspace while they dry them in a kiln). 1×7′s 6’8″ long, quite a few were broken or split on the end but there was still lots of good boards. I used them to make a set of floor to ceiling bookshelves the length of a 24′ wall, now they are filled and I need to make more bookshelves, but in the meantime I have used up all the boards on various projects, so I’ll have to get more somewhere.

                • Who are you YESing? ;-)

                  • I have no idea, now. I was answering someone, clearly it didn’t attach. So. We’ll just go “I’m Sarah A. Hoyt and I approve this comment thread. I see neither RES nor Scott have taken this to the gutter yet — YES!”

                    I’m going to go finish ironing. Carry on.

                    • If you are VERY careful and go extremely easy on the steam, ironing works well on crumpled newspaper.

                    • LOL RES – my grandfather used to wash and iron dollar bills to send to his grandchildren for their birthdays. He claimed they were crisp new bills. ;-)

                    • A bit of starch helps.

                    • You initially yes*ed TXRed re: I did that coming back from Germany, in the days before overweight penalties. “Do you have anything over $200?” I grinned and chirped, “Yes, sir, books. Translators dictionaries, novels, military biographies . . .” The customs guy waved me through after trying to lift my bag.

  15. This is an interesting topic. As a student and teacher of comparative literature, I pick apart books. Characters, plot, motive, inspiration, purpose, social issues, history, and continuity of action are all part of the process. Book plots seem to repeat themselves over and over in every genre, start to finish. Some are done on purpose, like my friends YA books series based on Grimm’s Fairytales combined with Nighmare Before Christmas characters. (Cinderskella is the first book due out) Some, writers, however, simply fall into the human desire to write about humanity and its enemies. The enemy can be aliens, ghosts, demons, evil minions, or simply political opposites. It can be poverty, slavery, ignorance, magic, or religion. But the opposite is always there to save the day, or future, or whatever. As long as humanity wins the battle, war, freedom, or love. Eventually, almost all stories become good versus evil, right versus wrong, love versus hate, or positive versus negative. The interesting thing is to see how the writer unfolds the story, how the characters drive the plot, how the motives change and develop, the purpose of the characters, and how it is all tied together with social issues and history – post or pre doesn’t matter.

    • More interesting than Good/Evil, Right/Wrong and the like might be Injustice/Justice — how do we know them, how do we achieve the latter, should we try to achieve the latter, can it be achieved? Of course, if your name ain’t Dostoevsky such a tale may exceed your grasp.

  16. Heck, I wouldn’t know if I stole a plot line or not – ten years of taking mind-altering (prescription) drugs, chronic pain that can leave me barely knowing my own name, and stuff just falling out of thin air have had their effects. Plus I DO read a lot. Not as much as I used to, because there’s less out there I like that I haven’t already read ten times. At least no one’s ever accused me of stealing a plot yet, but give them time… 8^)

    • It’s not stealing if you can file enough of the serial number off before they catch you. :-)

      Or: just find an expired writer – and redo their story with your vision. My memories a little Fuzzy on who did that, not so long ago.

  17. “boy recovers girl, again”

    1 where did it say he was an upholsterer,
    2 why did she let him cover herself in fabric, padding, and nail all that to a wooden frame, and
    3 why would she let him do it a second time?

    “course of true love runs through some strange lands” or
    “it’s only kinky the first time: after that it’s perverted?”

    “Momma, you’ll never guess what I read on the Internet today!”