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When writing about history– research, research, research

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When I wrote FELICITY CARROL AND THE PERILOUS PURSUIT, I was writing about Victorian England, and that meant research, research, research. Then research some more.

Research everything from underclothing to what Scotland Yard looked like to what people ate for dinner to greeting a royal. This was my first Victorian era novel so I had a lot to learn.

As a former news reporter, I was used to research. It also helps that I love to learn. There are great resources out there for the era. Make that thousands of websites on various aspects of Victorian life. For example, I needed my heroine to get from one place to another and wondered if a train ran between them. I emailed the British Railroad Museum and asked. They answered and I am grateful. When describing what Felicity was wearing or how castles were structured, I checked out historical photos and that helped me. Google Earth was cool to understand how London streets are set out. Then I used my imagination and the research to write how they appeared in the 1880s. Just make sure to thank the resources in your acknowledgements.

Readers of Victorian stories are very particular about that era so do the best you can. This lesson came in the form a reader calling me to task on an issue. In my defense, I did receive overall positive reviews for my depiction of Victorian England.

At a book signing a reader asked if I researched first and wrote second. It was the other way around, although items I discovered during my research did cause me to change the writing to make it fit the history.

Felicity’s next adventure FELICITY CARROL AND THE MURDEROUS MENACE is due out next year. And because I had one Victorian novel under my belt could I relax on my research?

No!

If you learn nothing else about writing history, learn that you must research, research, research. Then research some more.

 

When your idea shows up in a movie or book – Just keep writing

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“Hey, that was my idea!”

As writers you’ve probably heard this from other writers or have proclaimed it yourself in one variation or another and no doubt with a few colorful added expletives.

I certainly have.

This occurs when we’ve read a book or seen a movie in the theater or on TV with a concept that echoes one we have written or are in the process of writing. Suddenly, there appears to be our idea on a page or up on the screen and we had no part of it, not to mention any credit or money. That’s when the bottom falls out of our writing world and crashes somewhere in Shit City, the land of failed scribes condemned to remaining in our day job for eternity.

This occurred recently over the movie The Curse of the La Llorona.

Now La Llorona is an old and very familiar tale among Hispanics about a hideous hag who searches the night for her children. The very children she killed. The reasons for her terrible action vary from telling to telling. Nevertheless, this crying monster wanders the night for children to take and make her own. My parents told me and my siblings this tale when I was a kid, no doubt to keep us away from strangers. The story did scare us. But during summer nights, we’d search for La Llorona. Since I lived by a cemetery, it was especially fun as much as frightening.

After the announcement about the upcoming The Curse of the La Llorona movie, I heard from a writer who had consulted with me on one of his scripts. He had written about another spooky Hispanic tale—not Llorona. But he wondered how the new film might affect the market for his story.

I told him that I thought he was okay. I was the one who was screwed.

I had already written a script and a book called “The Weeping Woman.” La Llorona means the weeping woman in Spanish.  Judging from the description on IMDB and the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona movie, however, my novel and script are totally different. My story is about children disappearing in San Antonio. Troubled Detective Blue Rodriguez is assigned to investigate and discovers the kidnappings echo the old Mexican ghost story of La Llorona.

Still, I was disheartened to think that someone else beat me to the punch on La Llorona —at least, selling a script and making money. Especially since I haven’t sold my La Llorona script. But as we’ve all heard at writing seminars, ideas can’t be copyrighted–only the way we express them can be protected. How true.

Take Titanic. The idea of that sinking sink has spawned numerous films, each different depending on the writer and director.

Or how about the idea of star-crossed lovers? That story has been told again and again, from Romeo and Juliet to Warm Bodies.

Here’s another cool idea. A destructive comet heading toward earth. In 1998, two films dealt with that very subject and a mission to divert or destroy the comet. There was Armageddon with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and the famous animal cracker scene (which is another story). Then there was Deep Impact with Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall. Two films with the same idea, yet, Armageddon was more action oriented and Deep Impact focused on more personal stories.

Consider a love story between a woman and a sea creature. Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water told about a lonely deaf woman who falls for an amphibious captive. Mrs. Caliban, a 1982 cult favorite novella by Rachel Ingalls, is also about a woman who has a romance with a sea monster. They sound similar but each telling is diverse.

Back to La Llorona. Having heard about this mysterious creature ever since I was young, I was so fascinated that I not only wrote the book and screenplay, but short story, a play and a short script I hope to produce this year. So as much as I would have loved to keep La Llorona all to myself, I knew I couldn’t. She is out there and open to the interpretation of other writers.

According to the Internet, at least six other La Llorona movies have already been made, including an animated one. Those stories were all totally dissimilar from anything I wrote and each other. The only common denominator was that weeping woman. La Llorona was even the subject of an episode of the TV show, Grimm.

Two years ago, my daughter came up with an idea for me to write—about a person who clones the love that she lost. I didn’t get around to it, but should have. What movie is playing now on a similar theme? Replicas with Keanu Reeves. My daughter was bummed.

So to my fellow writers, forget about what’s out there and whether you believe somebody already has your idea or someone will steal your idea. We need to concentrate on making our stories the best they can be. Unique and wonderful. In the course of your writing, you may hear of a movie or TV series that sounds similar to yours and that will make you want to throw out your work.  Don’t. Maybe put it away,  or even twist the idea to create something even more daring and new. Your story won’t be the same as others. Yours will be distinctive. After all, you’re bringing yourself, your views, experience, your voice and skills to the writing. All that and more will make it special.

In light of this latest La Llorona movie, I’m staying positive. Perhaps, it will spur the public to want more La Llorona stories, as well as more stories about Hispanic culture and with Hispanic characters—of which I have written plenty. Then my scripts and stories will be ready for that hungry producer or publisher to buy. Well, I can only hope so anyway, and until then I’ll just keep writing and hope you do the same.