Friday, May 03, 2013
“They copied all they could follow, but they couldn’t copy my mind,
And I left them sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.”
Rudyard Kipling was my father’s favorite poet. I have Daddy’s old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Verse. It’s well-worn. My father committed a large number of poems to memory.
While I never could match his phenomenal memorization skills, some verses were seared into my brain. The lines above from the epic poem ”The Mary Gloster,” apply to life in general and publishing in particular.
Whenever someone comes up with an original work that makes a lot of money for the writer and a publisher, there’s a flood of pale imitations on next year’s list. To cite just a few, Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October, sparked a new genre–techno-thrillers–novels based on war and technology.
Lonesome Dove inspired a plethora of pathetic epic westerns by writers who barely knew one end of a horse from another. Harry Potter clones hit the market like a cyclone. And as to Stephen King! What did we do, dear readers, to bring on the flood of sleazy horror novels that were produced in the wake of his success?
Imitative fiction and knock off books usually aren’t very good. By anyone’s standards. I’m not talking about the limitations and guidelines for genre fiction. Mystery writers are bound by subtle contracts with the reader and we violate those to our peril. No one wants to read a who-dun-it where the villain comes out of nowhere. I’m criticizing the poachers who promptly imitated The Girl With Dragon Tattoo, and the Mickey Spillane knock-offs that gave a new meaning to hard-boiled.
I refuse to read books that are a “continuation” of a famous literary book.
I wouldn’t even read Scarlett, which was an story authorized by the family that followed Gone With the Wind. There’s a book based on Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
After an initial viewing of Sherlock! on PBS, the show was off my list. Although I loved the dramatizations of Doyle’s “real” books.
It seems especially dishonorable to pirate someone’s characters. The victor is the writer who had the bright idea to begin with.
I imagine there’s a number of writers smiling all the way to the bank because they know the secret of the Mary Gloster. No one can copy their mind. Rivals are left “sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.”