Here's a true story about jealousy.
I wrote BRAINEATER JONES in 2009. Due to the vagaries of fate and the industry, it wasn't published until 2013. I remember being very excited because I was going to burst onto the scene, the first person who had ever thought of combining the eminently combinable concepts of zombies and noir. I was going to be a smash success, and more importantly, the first person to the trough with that concept.
Shortly after I had accepted my contract, I went to the bookstore and nearly had a heart attack. There, sitting on the shelf, was a copy of the first book in Kevin J. Anderson's DAN SHAMBLE series, DEATH WARMED OVER. It was clear as day: on the cover was a zombie in a trenchcoat holding a Midnight Special.
When my heart stopped palpitating I said to myself, "Okay, well, all is not lost, he probably didn't write it in first person, so I'm still good." I opened up the first page and found it littered with "I's" and "me's." Of course KJA had written his noir detective novel in the first person. How else would one write such a thing?
I wandered off in a daze. Son of a bitch! I had struck while the iron was cold, ice cold. If I had just pushed harder, gotten BRAINEATER on the shelves a little bit sooner, KJA wouldn't have beaten me to the punch.
For the next few months I was lurching through life like a coked-out idiot at the end of a Scorsese film. I thought I had struck on an idea so brilliant, so original, that it would revamp the industry and make me a star. Of course I did. Everybody who's ever written a book thinks that. And I began to curse the name of Kevin J. Anderson, despite the fact that he was one of my childhood idols and I had read all of his Star Wars books in middle school until the covers bent and split. Who the hell did Kevin J. Anderson think he was, poaching my story idea?
I let it ruminate in me. I let myself hate KJA. I didn't mention Dan Shamble to anyone. I didn't want to invite the comparison. I wanted to pretend, if anyone ever brought it up, that I had come up with the idea first. I had notes from 2009 proving it, didn't I? So, whatever. Let KJA's legbreakers and lawyers come after me. What were they going to do? Morally, I was correct. Plus, I was the better writer. Yeah, that's the ticket. Maybe KJA had fans and money, but he couldn't write his way out of a paper bag.
In 2014 I attended Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA and I met Jonathan Maberry. And I gave Maberry a copy of BRAINEATER JONES. He looked at me and he said, "You know who would like this? Do you know Kevin J. Anderson?"
And I froze. Yes. Of course I did. I had been seething with jealousy at Kevin J. Anderson for the better part of a year now.
"Oh, yeah," I said hollowly, "He wrote Dan Shamble, didn't he?"
"Yeah. You should send him a copy. I think he'd like it."
I felt about an inch tall. That was when I realized KJA hadn't done anything to me. Most likely he didn't know I even existed. He had just published a book. And I had published a book superficially similar to it. They were different, after all. Mine took place in the '30s and his featured mummies. But the point was...of course we probably had more in common than different. We had both thought that the idea of a zombie detective would be really cool. We were probably really similar people, in fact.
So I went to my computer and I did the hardest thing I had ever had to do. I swallowed my pride. I tweeted KJA and I said that Jonathan Maberry thought he might like my book, and I'd love to send him a signed copy. A part of me, that nasty green-eyed part, was even at that point still saying, "Well, see, I'll be the better man then when he says no!"
But you know what? He didn't say, "No." He said, "Oh, neat, that sounds cool, here's my PO box number." And I sent him a copy of BRAINEATER JONES.
That alone would probably be a nice ending to the story. I had learned my lesson about not being a stupid jerkoff to other authors, even if only in my head. But there's a little more that bumps it up into morality tale territory.
At the World Horror Convention in 2016, KJA was one of the guests of honor. I hadn't forgotten about my year of being a seething asshole, but I had long since put it behind me and begun thinking of KJA as that guy I admired in middle school again. So after the opening ceremonies I went up to introduce myself to him.
"Hi, Mr. Anderson, my name is Steve Kozeniewski..."
He stopped me, pointed at me, waggled his finger in my face. He was trying to remember something.
"Oh, yeah, the long last name. You really helped me out during a tough time in my life."
I must have blinked. I hope I didn't do a double take. I did what?
I asked him to explain. He went on to say that he had, in the last few years, started a publishing company. So in addition to writing, he was also reviewing what's called "slush" or unsolicited submissions for publication. He had, during that time period, read and rejected a story about a skeleton private eye. Then, after the DAN SHAMBLE series came out, the writer who had submitted the skeleton story had started kicking up a fuss, threatening to sue KJA and just generally hassling the poor man.
I must have blushed red as a tomato. You know, in an alternate timeline, one where I'm a little more hotheaded and one where I hadn't met Jonathan Maberry at Zenkaikon, that weird raving lunatic would have been me.
You see, what I didn't know as a brand new author, and what this author from the slush pile apparently still doesn't know, is that you can't copyright or trademark ideas, and certainly not general concepts. Otherwise I could've written "schoolboy wizard" on a napkin in 1998 and sued the piss out of J.K. Rowling. Hell, the estate of Shakespeare could've sued Leonard Bernstein or Jesus could've come out of the clouds and sued Kazantzakis.
This slush author was making the argument that KJA had stolen the concept of an undead detective from him. Which is ridiculous, because off the top of my head I can think of "Forever Knight" and "Angel" getting to the well before him. And I had a moment of utter clarity. They had gotten to the well before me, too. Of course I hadn't come up with the damn idea. I had just been caught up in the same zeitgeist as KJA, and we had both independently had the same thought.
But he went on.
"When I received your book in the mail it made me feel really good. Because we had both had the same idea at the same time, but you weren't a jerk about it. And I could say to that guy, 'Well, if you're going to sue me, you have to sue Kozeniewski, too.'"
There's a moral in here. Maybe it's just "don't be jealous." Maybe it's to remember that a rising tide lifts all boats, and authors hating on other authors is never a good thing. Whatever the moral is, I'm glad I learned it early on in my career, so I don't become a crusty, bitter old jerk. Besides, if anybody stole anything from anybody it was Brian Keene stealing the title of Jeff Strand's novel PRESSURE.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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