I imagine pretty much everyone here knows that I published my first novel, Taken Liberty – A Tale from the Arbiter Chronicles, in 2006. It’s based on my audio series, The Arbiter Chronicles, which has earned the Mark Time Silver Award and the Parsec Award. The novel was recommended by Library Journal and is on shelves in hundreds of libraries around the country. It’s not a New York Times bestseller, but, in hard copy, eBook and audio, it’s been purchased or downloaded to the tune of something like 20,000 copies. Pretty good for a first novel from a tiny little local press.
Fewer of you may know that I wrote the original outline for the story that became Taken Liberty twenty years ago. I submitted it to an editor who liked it and wanted to purchase it. Then that editor was transferred, and the new editor hated the story. In 1998 I drafted it into a novel. Then I set the novel aside and created a radio show set in its universe. When I revisited the novel, I was, I suppose, something of an approximation of a “mature” and “experienced” writer, and my novel was well-received, even if it didn’t make me rich.
My overall point here is that Taken Liberty is a story that I conceived a long time ago. I can prove ownership in it. I have documentation. I have witnesses. Lots of them.
So I was a bit surprised, last Winter, to come across a (pseudo) published work whose storyline bears what I consider to be a striking resemblance to the plot of Taken Liberty. I was at a loss to know what to do about that. I consulted with some trusted friends, most of whom have advised me that my preferred direct approach (contacting the authors of the newer work and politely saying, “I’ve noticed some similarities…”) would merely put those authors on the defensive, accomplishing nothing. So I decided to take two steps:
1 – I consulted a copyright attorney, and filed what documents are necessary to protect my rights to my work. I was very concerned that letting the unauthorized adaptation stand unchallenged would give the other creator some claim to my intellectual property should I ever decide to, say, sell film rights in Taken Liberty. I am assured that the steps my attorney has taken will prevent that. They have harmed this other creator not at all.
2 – I am sharing with a friendly audience that this has happened, and stating my reasons for believe that, intentionally or otherwise, someone else has adapted my novel.
I’ve no desire to grant this other work any publicity. I won’t, therefore, mention its name, or the name of its credited authors. But I’m listing (in what I hope is a factual and objective manner) the similarities I found between the two stories, my twenty-year-old one, and the new one.
In both stories:
– The moral problem is that it may be politically expedient for a government that condemns slavery to return an escaped slave to her owners.
– An escaped female slave petitions asylum aboard a military vessel.
– A male doctor and the senior surgeon is the first to reveal the slave’s pheromones as a problem.
– A woman doctor is the first member of that vessel’s crew to befriend the slave.
– The vessel’s Captain and his female doctor clash over the slave’s disposition.
– The slave radiates pheromones that make her attractive to males.
– The slave attempts to seduce the vessel’s captain in order to win her freedom. The Captain refuses her, but wants to help.
– The Captain’s superior orders him to turn the slave back over to her people, and informs him that a slaver vessel is already on its way to pick up the slave.
– The person who comes to collect the slave is not just any representative of her people, but with very slave trader who originally sold her and abused her.
– The slave is accused of murdering someone in the course of trying to escape.
– Telepathy is used on the slave to find out the truth of her story.
– The slave’s case is taken up by a young officer.
– The young officer helps the slave in an escape attempt, placing him in defiance of his Captain’s orders.
– The slave attempts suicide, and her death (faked, in my story) resolves the immediate diplomatic incident.
The creator of this other work has had the opportunity to comment on these similarities. He said he’s never heard of me or my work, and that these similarities are coincidences.
Reader, what do you believe?
If, like me, you’re angry and you feel that someone has taken unfair advantage of a guy he considers to be a little-known creator who is no credible threat, here’s how you can help: Help me get better-known. If you enjoy my work — be it my blogs, my plays, my podcasts, my quirky, idiotic jokes in staff meetings — share that joy with someone you know. Hell, with everyone you know. Let more and more people know that The Arbiter Chronicles exist, that there are two excellent novels available in trade paperback, eBook and audio formats. That there are eighteen podcast episodes of the series. That there are four eNovellas available. All of that is linked here:
My Books and eBooks at:
Barnes & Noble (The guy who spells it “Stephen” is not me! Nor did I write the book on Science and Engineering.)
Kobo (Again, the search includes some books not mine.)
Help spread the word about my work. Mention it on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, at the water cooler. Review it, if you’re really feeling kind. Help me prove that living well is the best revenge. And it’s the only revenge I want. I don’t want to see the other guy fail. I don’t even want to make him stop distributing his adapted work. I would have preferred he give me the story credit I feel I deserve, but he doesn’t agree I deserve it; and I don’t want to mortgage my house (again) to take him to court. So I’ll settle for having more and more people know that my work is here, that I created it first, and that it’s deeper, richer and more imaginative than anything he’ll ever produce on his own.
Fair enough? More than fair, I think.