I mentioned at the top of the year that I had finished the first draft of my first novel.
Cut to yesterday, when I started reading a graphic novel I’d grabbed at random during a recent visit to the library and it’s… well… it’s really, weirdly, painfully close to being the same story as my book.
So far, at least.
My story, in broad strokes:
Working titles: Into the Maw or Dead South
Preamble blurb explaining that President Trump got his Wall along the south border and it was so effective and popular that he proposed building walls around the entire country. That was green-lighted and initiated in his second term, which started a mass exodus of Americans who didn’t want to live there any more. Several presidents and decades later, the idea remained so popular with the remaining 1/4 of Americans that the proposal had been realized. The U.S. had become totally insulated; entirely enclosed within a heavily militarized Wall. Life there continued for generations after that, with shipments and casual travelers only entering and leaving through strictly controlled gates along key points of the land and sea.
Then the virus hit.
It was a biological agent the likes of which the world had never seen before, clinically killing the host but keeping it animated indefinitely, driven to attack the living to spread the virus. A zombie virus.
It hit so hard and so fast that there was no way to get ahead of it, or even contain its spread around the country. All military was shortly forced to retreat to Canada and Mexico, just as the American government collapsed. What Americans had chosen to remain after the outbreak have been living since then in a lawless country where zombies roam freely.
With the U.S. insulated from the rest of the world, the zombie threat was at least contained.
Until it suddenly wasn’t.
The main character, a leading epidemiologist who escaped to Canada just before the virus outbreak, is contacted by the U.S. Army based in a military region of southeast Ontario. They know of his personal drive to research a cure for the zombie virus–he has a connection to it–and relay to him the discovery of some zombies on Canadian soil. They’re getting past the Wall, and there may be others getting out somewhere, some way. What was once considered a contained threat within the former U.S. is now becoming a threat to the rest of the world.
He was contacted because among the unprecedented volume of encrypted data backed up to servers by the U.S. government and all manner of service sectors before the government collapsed, the intact part of an unassuming file has been decoded. It’s from a lab that the government had taken control not long before the virus outbreak. And it suggests that there may be a vaccination for the virus. The Army wants to send in a small team to retrieve the rest of that file and determine if it’s the real deal.
The protagonist is asked to join that team. The problem is that the lab is in Syracuse, New York. And because they don’t want to draw attention to the mission from people, living or otherwise, they can’t send in any military planes or helicopters. Not even a vehicle. The team will have to train for the mission, appear like survivors, and get to and from the lab on foot through a zombie wasteland.
In the balance: The fate of humankind as we know it.
Got the setting, got the threats, got the twists and turns (some key ones not mentioned)…
It’s a idea that works, and with enough care and crafting could be a really solid story top to bottom. I’ve been noodling on it for years and finally got it into a shape I was happy with. That’s what I set out to write and has been finished in first draft form as of January of this year.
Then I pick up Undiscovered Country, published by Image Comics almost exactly two years ago. Written by Scott Snyder and Charles Soule. Each of them has had a lot of stuff published. So to them, this was likely one more cool thing they did. But to me, it rather stands out. See if you can guess why.
I’m under 20 pages into the first volume. Here’s how their story is shaping up so far:
A military mission comprised of a group of soldiers and medical experts are being air-lifted into the continental U.S., which has walled itself off under military guard and separated itself from the rest of the world. It has gone totally media dark with some advanced tech that prevents anyone from physically or digitally look inside the walls.
A pandemic has hit everywhere else: A mysterious virus the likes of which haven’t been seen before.
An official of some sort from within the U.S. has reached out, the first contact from the country in 30 years, and said that while the virus hasn’t entered their country, they do have a vaccine for it that they will share with the world. But someone will have to come into the U.S. to get it.
As the helicopter crosses into U.S. airspace over their walls–the first time anyone has been allowed to even see inside for three decades–they’re shot down and crash land. The uninjured are way shy of where they need to get the vaccine and have no choice but to travel that long distance on foot to get it.
I shall now proceed to devour Undiscovered Country, which is told over a least two volumes, because it’s engaging and I would’ve read it anyway, but more pressingly, because I really need to know exactly how closely it parallels the rest of my story.
Because here’s the thing: If this story continues to track so closely to mine throughout (and maybe even already with so similar a start), then no publisher in their right mind is going to put out my book. It’s been done, they’ll correctly point out, and potentially to such a similar degree that law suits may arise if they try to publish it anyway.
It’s one thing to tell the same story a different way–genuinely new ideas are the very rare exception to the rule of almost every story ever told being a new take on an old idea or a new hybrid of ideas, etc.–but it’s of course another to just have one story effectively be the same as another story. The fact that the two stories were done entirely independent of each other doesn’t matter. Story A was published first, so if Story B bears a striking resemblance to Story A, it probably won’t get much attention (unless it’s by publishers who don’t care about such things and are willing to put out whatever wherever to just try to make a buck, but suffice to say those aren’t the kind of people I’d want to work with anyway).
If the Undiscovered Country storyline turns out to continue to run so close to my book, my choices will be to either a) change mine enough that it doesn’t come across as the same as Undiscovered Country (although changing it too much will of course totally alter the core idea of the story, which I’m not particularly interested in doing), or b) shelve it for now, maybe for good, and move on to the next project. That sucks, but that’s how it goes sometimes. There’s no point in being upset about someone who had the same idea as me on their own and who was able to pull it together and get it out into the wild first.
This isn’t the first time that’s happened to me, mind you, though it is the first with a novel I’ve done. Which raises some interesting questions about ideas of collective consciousness and if we’re all truly adding to and drawing from a stream of ideas and inspirations.
But that’s for another post. Perhaps written after a drink or three.
I’ll write an update as I know more about the parallels of this story and mine and what I’ll do in response.
For now, I’m just making some tea and going to get more reading in. Let’s see what we’ve got here.