Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Copycatting

I have a dirty confession to make.

When my agent was shopping my first Jack Daniels book around to publishers, she compared it to Janet Evanovich. When Hyperion bought the series, they compared it to Janet Evanovich. I also began comparing my books to Evanovich's, because hers had a female lead and were funny, as were mine, and many people told me they were similar. Reviewers mentioned it. Blurbers mentioned it. My publisher thought enough of the comparison to make my book covers brightly colored, easily mistaken at a distance for those of the Divine Miss E.

I'd always intended to read Evanovich. Really. But as my career took off, I spent all my time reading for blurbs, or to help newbies, or the books of my friends, and I never got around to reading any Janet. Even though I continued to compare my books to hers.

I recently had an offer from Benbella books to write an essay about Janet Evanovich for an upcoming book. I like Benbella (they are releasing a collection of James Bond essays this summer, which includes a funny one by me) so I said yes.

In order to write this essay, I thought it prudent to read the Stephanie Plum series. Which I've been doing. And it has shocked me. Why?

Because my writing is awfully similar to Janet Evanovich's.

If someone reads Janet's books, and then my books, they could easily think I was imitating her. But I'm not. It would be a neat trick, copying someone I've never read.

Still, some of the similarities are eerie. Stephanie's screwed-up life is similar to Jack's, her Grandma Mazur is similar to Jack's Mom, her partner Lula is similar to Jack's partner Herb, Ranger is similar to Phin, and the goofy characters and the dialog strike similar chords.

I wondered how this could be. First I considered evolution, and common ancestors.

When I was younger, I read Robert B. Parker, and Ed McBain, and John D. MacDonald, and Rob Kantner, and Dave Barry, and Lawrence Block. If I was imitating any writing styles when I first started out, it was their styles. Perhaps it was the same for Ms. Evanovich. If she's a Spenser fan, that could be the link; we both imitate Parker. What's strange is that when you read Parker's Sunny Randall books, they seem like much more of a rip-off of Evanovich than my books, but in reality they are just a female version of Spenser.

Perhaps there are only so many ways to create likeable series characters. They should be flawed, somewhat neurotic, have goofy larger-than-life sidekicks, and the same goals and dreams that all people have. It is possible, even likely, that similar books can arise independent of one another.

The Jack books have some Robert Parker type wisecracks in them. They also have some Thomas Harris scares and some Richard Stark noir. But ultimately, they are Konrath. At this point in my career, my style is my own, and I like to think it's pretty distinguishable. And, hopefully, some new writer is reading my stuff and imitating the hell out of it.

As for Janet---the first nine books in the series are a lot of fun. If you like Jack, check them out.

13 comments:

stay_c said...

Seriously??? I love Janet's books (and they do get better after the slump) but I never would have compared them to yours.

James Lincoln Warren said...

What do you mean, when I was younger, I read Robert B. Parker, and Ed McBain, and John D. MacDonald, and Rob Kantner, and Dave Barry, and Lawrence Block.

You don't now? Gee. Although I admit I don't read Robert B. Parker anymore.

BTW, I also think that Jack is a lot like a female Harry Bosch, which is good, and a role I don't see Stephanie Plum in at all.

Anonymous said...

I think we'll all start to worry about you being a copycat when you publish "How Jack Daniels Kissed Off, Went Nuts and Took a Life."

Your style is your own. And we like it that way.

shajek

Mark Terry said...

Janet has said she was strongly influenced by Robert B. Parker and Spenser.

That aside, you guys are pretty easy to distinguish. Yes, female main character with no life, which describes 80% of crime fiction; your sidekick is goofy rather than deadly, which I suppose separates you from Robert Crais, early Harlan Coben, Robert B. Parker, but many serious main characters have humorous sidekicks; elderly foil or relative--how about Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, to name two major ones?

No, I really don't think you're that similar.

Eric Mayer said...

This is why I avoid reading books which are anything like what I'm writing. Even if I do, by chance, happen to sound like anybody else, I know it'd just be coincidence. Just like you know you couldn't have copied Janet Evanovich even subconsciously, since you'd never read her books. But imagine if you had? Then you'd probably start wondering.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Early on, I was afraid of reading too much crime fiction in case my idea was too similar to something already out there. I wanted to be able to pass a lie detector saying I didn't copy anyone else.

From initial feedback from the few people who've read the first book, I've had a 'reminds me of Michael Connelly' and 'your style is like Julia Spencer-Fleming.'

I have four of Michael's books here, but haven't read any yet, or any JSF. But I've met Michael and he's nice and popular, so I'm just going to take it as a real compliment.

Aimless Writer said...

I think you should stop fixating on Janet and keep writing about Jack. The only similarity I see (and I've been reading Janet long before I ran into Jack Daniels) is that you both like to torture the hell out of you victim--I mean lead character. Jack appears smarter and more of a loner. (so far) So stop thinking and just write! Its almost June and I'm waiting......

Katie Bell Moore said...

Boy, I'm a big Janet fan but I never thought that your stuff was at all similar to her's. Yes, you have some similar characters, and Jack's life is as screwed up as Stephanie's--but Jack's storyline always stays grounded in reality, while Stephanie's often veers into outlandish.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I read a couple of the Stephanie Plum books, back when Avon was going to make an offer, but wanted me to rewrite Super Mom as a mystery series. Up until then, I'd never read a mystery in my life, so I figured I'd go to the best known women's mystery writer at the time and start there. I thought they were fine, funny and fast, but I don't think that yours are that similar, honestly. You're much more, um, descriptive with your gore, you know - your books are more about the crime, it seems to me, than hers are. And every heroine in fiction these days has something of a messed up life - and honestly, if you're going to have your heroine grow, you have to start from that point, don't you? So don't worry about it. There's plenty of room for you both!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

And all this time I thought you WERE Evanovich.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

Check out the Lincoln Rhymes series via Jeffery Deaver.

They're likeable... but I don't think either has hokey sidekicks.

Then again, you don't laugh all that much when you read Bone Collector or The Invisible Man...

Mary Stella said...

I've been a huge Parker fan for 25 years and have read every Stephanie Plum book at least twice.

I would never compare your style to either Parker or Evanovich. All three of you are great in different ways.

Granted, I've only read Whiskey Sour (the others are on order) but I think the writing and voice are unique to you.

Michelle said...

I found this ironic because Janet Evanovich and you are my two all-time favorite authors. You both know how to do fiction RIGHT and give your reader's pure entertainment. PLEASE keep doing what you do. Love you guys.