Monday, March 7, 2011


Hey! I was gunna write that book!

You know, I have heard of this phenomenon... a writer has an idea and maybe even gets started on it... and then they find it on a bookshelf by somebody ELSE. But up until Friday, this had never happened to me. There IS the case of my friend Liz and I both pondering Microbrew-based mysteries, but as she writes erotica and I am thinking almost Cozy, I doubt we threaten each other. But there is another idea I've toyed with... thought 'this should be done and I'm a great person to do it'... and NOW... it's been done...

A Little Background

I am originally from Idaho... wild huge Idaho with so few people... grand mountains, turbulent rivers... My uncle runs a whitewater rafting company (Salmon River Experience) out of a tiny town called Riggins on the Salmon River (check them out, if you ever think you might want to try a raft trip—they put on a classy, good time—that's him in the back).


The Salmon is the longest river in the US to start and stop within the same state.
The Salmon is ALSO the longest un-dammed river in the US.

Or such were the facts when, working for my uncle, I became a licensed Whitewater guide in 1986. I can't imagine they've un-dammed any previously dammed rivers since then, but I suppose it's possible. I am more solidly sure there are not any brand new longer rivers within a single state.

My time as a guide was brief, but my river time was significantly longer. It was my DAD who got my uncle into rafting... I grew up with it. My first REAL rafting trip (as in for days on the river, rather than day trips) was when I was 12. We were on the Main Fork of the Salmon while then-president Jimmy Carter was rafting the Middle Fork—seriously--same exact week, same river, just different parts. We'd canoed a lot before that—the St. Joe River in northern Idaho, mostly... I was a legitimate river rat from a very young age. And until I left home for good, it was a regular summer event.

The Writing Years

I had finished my first book but hadn't gotten much farther when it first occurred to me... those 5 day trips with no road access—where you are part of a group dependent entirely on each other because other than a check-in point here or there (part of the agreement when you get your license, and about 3 days apart) there is nobody else but your party... Talk about a GREAT set-up for a 'closed-room' murder mystery! I wasn't thinking Deliverance (though that is an excellent example of a river-based thriller and seriously probably STILL the freakiest book I've read because it is so vividly real), but it really seemed like a wonderful mystery set-up!

Beaten to the Punch

Friday I stopped by Patricia Stoltey's and she was hosting Beth Groundwater (one of the first authors I started paying attention to when I 'came out' and a fabulously nice person). Beth was talking about River Rangers—the specific brand of Forest Ranger that helps keep river people safe... to go with her new book Deadly Currents.

Now I hadn't gotten to my planning point... my experience as a guide is an interesting PoV, but as a SERIES... well who wants to book a trip with a company where murders keep happening, right? So I think Beth's call to write from a Ranger PoV is PERFECT (and possibly a conclusion I would have reached myself) but you know what... I'm THRILLED somebody as capable as Beth has taken this on. I think the setting is more suited to her style than a Cozy, which is the mystery brand I write, and these days I have more ideas than time, so honestly, I'm not sure when I would have gotten here... besides, there is still plenty of opportunity for me to feature rivers in my other stuff (my first book, in fact, Confluence, starred a pair of rivers)

So it's out tomorrow—I can vouch for Beth's brilliance in writing gripping mystery... I think you should check it out!

So what about the rest of you? Anybody nurse any great ideas, only to find it on the shelves?


Melissa said...

No, this hasn't happened to me yet.

That's a really cool idea you had though! I hope you use all that knowledge about rafting in a book some day. I think it would be so awesome!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

How cool that you were a Whitewater guide!

You know,the idea thing seems like it happens all the time for me, but in smaller ways than plot--character names (I think I have an unusual name and it comes out in someone's book just a month before mine, etc.), murder methods, motives etc. I think I've decided that my story is different anyway, and it doesn't really matter. (Although it does bother me a little when it's a friend's book..don't want them to think I'm copying them!) :)

Jessica Bell said...

Not whole plots but I have had interesting notions or sentences snatched from me! LOL. I once wrote a really pretty paragraph about something which I thought was quite metaphorically uniique. That same night I started reading a new novel and they'd used the same mataphor. Damn! ;o)

Old Kitty said...

Not only are you thoroughly NAKED! You are also superwoman!!! Wow!! You're a licensed whitewater guide?!?!? My stars!!!!!

Congratulations to Beth Groundwater - an apt name for her book title!!!

Take care

Cold As Heaven said...

I have experienced the same ting, not in writing, but in geophysics research. Someone published my idea before I got time to investigate it properly.

BTW, your description of Idaho made me want to visit the state next time I'm in USA >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Melissa-I'm sure the rafting will come up!

Elizabeth-I bet it happens more over time. There is just the additive potential for coincidence. And I hear you on worrying about the APPEARANCE of copying, even when that has nothing to do with it.

Jessica-I actually think the sentences would be a little freakier... like someone had been channeling you, or vice versa. Funny on the metaphor, though!

Jenny-WAS a guide--those licenses only stay good for 3 years and then you have to renew them, and I only did it once. And that IS a great title, eh?

Hart Johnson said...

CaH-It happens with our scientific stuff, too. My boss keeps things very close because she worries about groups with better funding hitting her ideas and putting something out before we can.

And Idaho really is BEAUTIFUL--not hugely different from Colorado, I imagine (though I've only been in the airport in Denver) but the population is smaller, so it is easier to get CLEAR BACK into nowhere. I highly recommend the rafting trips, if that appeals to you.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I, personally, am horrified of white water rafting. So, the fact that you were a guide makes you like a hero. It's just not something I can do, which is odd because I surfed, and yet the rapids freak me out. But, I do see where it would be a great mystery idea because that is EXACTLY where my brain goes and why I won't brave it.

Has a plot of mine ever been on the shelves before? To some degree maybe and that goes back to there's "no original" idea, I suppose. There are only so many ways to handle Shapeshifters. So in some respect maybe, but I do feel I have a fresh take on my subject matter in the Mythical world. IT does scare me though, that someone my beat me to the punch line because I can be a slow writer at times. Urgh..

Also Deliverance still scares me. A lot. Creeeeeepy!

Hannah Kincade said...

This happens to me but I can still see the differences so I'm never too discouraged. I figure my book will be published when the time is right and that's all I can do.

Also, as much as white water rafting terifies me, I would try it in a minute. Fear does not exist in this dojo.

Katie Mills said...

I haven't found any of my ideas on shelves but I can't help feeling like there is some kind of interwoven consiousness throughout the blogosphere these last coulple weeks. Today's post is about similar stories and 'clichés'. I loved learning more about you!- Great post!

Jan Morrison said...

Yes. I started a play years ago based on the rollicking crazy life of Ann Bonney and Mary Reid, two pirates who roamed the sea with Calico Jack. Then the movie came out. I never went to see it - I'm still pissed at myself.

Sarah McCabe said...

This happened to me ALL THE TIME. Unfortunately, I set out to write in the fantasy genre without enough knowledge of what had and hadn't been done before in speculative fiction. So I would come up with an idea, love it, and tell my husband about it. Then he, who had read the genre more widely than I, would say, "Oh that's just like such and such." Then I would glare at him and go back to the drawing board.

He didn't do it for my current project though! Yay! And in the meantime I am working to become better acquainted with my genre.

Misha said...

So cool that you were a guide!

Of course, you couldn't pay me to even go on a trip like that.

I've never had someone else come up with the same idea as me, but my gran has had it happen many times. It's weird, really.


Vicki Tremper said...

Oh sure, I've seen books announced that seem very close to the book I've spent years researching and writing and revising. But luckily, they were different enough that I didn't feel I had to abandon my own project.

You may still find a way to use your guide experience in a book. Good luck!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not yet, but I'm sure it's coming.

Mary Vaughn said...

I believe all ideas are "on the shelf". t's the approach that makes each different.

Lisa said...

Deadly Currents sounds really interesting.

And yes, I just found one of my manuscripts "twins" a few weeks ago and finally checked it out of the library last week. While the core of the story is the same, Mary is right. It's approach that makes the story different.

Hart Johnson said...

Erica-horrified of rafting? WHAT? It's FABULOUS! And I think all those paranormal angles really HAVE something out there already, but I think you're right--the angle can still be fresh. I think though, there is ALSO the need to be ahead of the curve on the influx for any certain type.

Hannah-YAY for heading at fears straight on! And you're totally right that even the exact same plot in different hands comes out very different.

Katie-that collective consciousness thing is real, eh? I often see several bloggers conquer the same thing at the same time. On that point, TOO, it is hard to have an idea, then see it posted before YOU'VE posted... feels like copying even if the idea had been planned for weeks.

Jan--Oi! yes--the historical but not well known... Wacky to have them turn up in a few places at once!

Sarah-it's great that you have a sounding board who can TELL you before you invest too far! And good you've found an undone story, too!

Misha-afraid of raft trips? But they're so fun! I wonder how much of this overlapping idea is just a matter of time and how much is genre dependent...

Vicki-GREAT there was enough difference that you haven't felt discouraged. I think, had this been a book I already had written, but was just polishing, there probably would be huge differences, too.

Alex-That's the spirit! *snort*

Mary-that's a good way to put it. I think broadly that's true, but the micro-setting still weirds me out a little.

Hart Johnson said...

Lisa-too funny that you've just run across one, and reassuring they are still very different.

Arlee Bird said...

I've always felt I was before my time. I think of something and then, bang, there it is--somebody does it! Maybe I should jump on my next great idea more quickly. But as they say, "There's nothing new under the sun" and that's probably true.

Tossing It Out

Suzanne said...

I'm still trying to get up my nerve to submit magazine articles. Meanwhile, I keep seeing my magazine article ideas in print. Some day I'll be brave enough to submit.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

not a specific idea, but a few times i've been right ahead of a trend, but didn't act on it fast enough to reap the benefits

Colene Murphy said...

Oh no!!! I hate that. My very first novel I wrote and FINISHED only to have Amazon send me an alert on a book recommendation it thought I would like to read the week after I finished. It was essentially my novel. Only it sounded better. Whomp Whomp. But it does feel a little better when, like you said, it was handled well and all by the other person. Even if you secretly wish their fingers would fall off...

Simon C. Larter said...

One time, in high school, I had this idea for a novel where, like, the sun was going to flare up and go nova early, and people had to evacuate earth.

Then I came across someone else's version of exactly that story. I was all, WTF!?

My first lesson in Someone'sAlreadyDoneThat-itis.

*iz cranky*

Stacy Gail said...

Wow, that is so cool! I can totally see you as a whitewater guide. Now, if you could just do it naked... :D

Yup, it's happened to me oodles of times. At first I'd spazz about it, but then I'd remind myself that there is NOTHING new under the sun. What makes your story YOURS is your own take on it -- your voice, your characters' motivations, etc. So what if it has the same background elements to it? Your story will undoubtedly be completely different from Ms. Groundwater's, because it'll be YOURS.

Good luck to Beth Groundwater's book, and good luck to someday getting around to writing your whitewater book, Your Tartness. I'm sure it'll be filled with all sorts of awesome. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

Maybe it's the collective conscious. I see similar things a lot.

Ella said...

This happened to me, with 3 art ideas. I started them, picked up the latest issue and there they were...augh. One of my was a different approach, I am still considering. It is good to know great minds think alike ;-D !

Ideas are like fish, they keep jumping and there are plenty to go around. I love learning, this about you, how exciting!

LTM said...

look at you, Ms. Whitewater Rafter!!! That is super-cool! I've never done it, but it looks like FUN! AS for your book snafu, well, I haven't had that *exact* thing happen, but I've written stories before that had eerily similar elements as books I'd read later. Hate it when that happens.

But it sounds like a cool idea, and I think even if you wrote your own version, it'd be different enough to work. Have fun! :o) <3

RosieC said...

I don't think that's happened to me yet, but I'm so new back to writing that it's not surprising. Hopefully it stays that way.

Thanks for the book recommendation. Perhaps I'll check it out.

Hart Johnson said...

Lee-that speed issue can be a biggie, and for those of us earlier in the process, especially so, as we have more layers of hoops to jump through to get something out there.

Suzanne-Oh, I bet the issue is rampant in magazines, as there is less room to get across the differences! but be brave!

Sarah-yeah, that is the multiple hoops thing, I think... so hard to hurry without a professional guide!

Colene-OH NO! That is like rubbing salt in the wound... 'hey, we bet you'd like this...' (at least you knew your idea was good!)

Simon-so EARLY to be crushed!

Stace, you BLOGGER, you... and you CAN guide naked, other than a life jacket through the rapidy parts... And yes... different from Beth's... in fact at the moment, I am thinking rogue teens... if I ever get there, I mean...

Carol-there is something to that collective concious, eh?

Ellie-I think the cool thing with ART though, is a piece is a one-of-a-kind (usually), but yeah... nice to be the first one with an idea, anyway...

Leigh- *snicker* It IS fun! And I think those elements things have to come along... probably I've had that, too, but am too dense to have noticed *shifty*

Rosie-yeah... I figure odds go up as time goes on... when you've had a handful of ideas, odds are lower, but each one magnifies the odds as YOU have more things to match and more people keep producing who might match YOU.

Helena said...

I am SO impressed you were a river raft guide! I've only gone white water rafting once, and it was a blast. But to be a GUIDE? Now that is hot.

I haven't yet seen one of my book ideas pop up under someone else's name, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Beth Groundwater said...

Wow, Hart, thanks so much for the compliment and the plug for my book, Deadly Currents! I was out running errands this morning, or I would have commented sooner. I think your microbrew mystery series is a wonderful one, and I hope you'll pursue it. But don't let the publication of my book stop you from writing a whitewater rafting-based mystery either! Almost every story has been "done before," and the important thing is how YOU tell yours--with your unique voice, your characters and your plot. Though, for my sake, I wish you a boatload of luck with your microbrew mystery idea. ;-)

Beth Groundwater said...

I'll respond to some of your comments here, too. My author name is my real name, and I came by it naturally (by marrying my husband) long before I ever hatched the idea of a whitewater river ranger series. :) My husband's ancestry is not native American, but Scottish, and you'll find folks named Groundwater living in Great Britain and all the former British colonies.

I actually went whitewater canoeing on the Chatooga River many years ago where Deliverance was filmed, and it WAS kind of spooky. I've never watched the movie because I don't want to be turned off of running whitewater rivers!

For those who haven't submitted their work yet, DO IT! That's the only way you'll ever see your words in print. I've gathered hundreds of rejection letters in my writing career, but if I didn't have them, I wouldn't be published. It's part of the process and every writer gets rejected. Then once you do get published, you can get bad reviews... It never stops. You just learn to deal with it.

And, Hart, I may want to tap into your expertise as a rafting guide sometime :) Thanks again for mentioning my book, and I hope you're feeling encouraged by the fact that you have good ideas vs discouraged.

Beth Groundwater said...

Okay, just one more comment. I'm in the midst of a virtual book tour for Deadly Currents, and every time you comment on one of the posts, you'll be entered into a contest for a free copy. The schedule is at:

And today you can talk to my river ranger Mandy Tanner at:

Holly Ruggiero said...

I haven’t been white water rafting in several years, but I loved it. I haven’t had that book experience yet.

Hart Johnson said...

Helena-I was 19--everybody is hot at 19! teehee. It was great, but honestly, I couldn't have done it without my Uncle's support--he gave me the access I needed to train.

Beth-I'm so glad you made it in! You have a BOOK RELEASE almost here! And I'd be honored to field some questions, though it has literally been 25 years, so I may be rusty. I can TRY to field questions, though, and anything I can't answer, I have family that can--cousins, my uncle... so I'd love for you to ask! Just today I've had the angle that would make this mine, BTW... I've been writing some YA, and I though college kids with a permit and NO guide might hit it... GOOD LUCK with your book!

Holly-the rafting is fabulous, isn't it? As for the book thing... it worked pretty well this time around...

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

That hasn’t happened to me…yet. Beth’s book sounds interesting.

Cheeseboy said...

I've never floated the Salmon, but I have floated the Snake in ID a bunch of times. Also, that books sounds pretty damned good.

Donna Hole said...

I think Jodi Piccoult has a direct line to me brain and is sucking all my good ideas into her own word processing program.

How else do you explain her success?


Hart Johnson said...

Jane, I think it sounds great, too! And you're lucky it hasn't happened!

Abe-Get to the Salmon. The Snake is dammed, which messes with the flow. Then, you've probably rafted it closer to the source, which should be more fun. At the end where the Salmon runs in, it is just SLOW (work work work).

Donna- *snort* Well you have some great ideas then! teehee

Lauren F. Boyd said...

This hasn't actually happened to me, but I fear that it will before an agent or editor picks up my manuscript, which I am currently submitting.