Monday, June 24, 2013

There's Nothing New "Under the Dome"

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
- Ecclesiastes 1:9

Tonight, an idea I had back in my twenties is finally coming to television.

It should be a day of great satisfaction for me.

But when "Under the Dome" airs at 10 PM on CBS tonight, you won't see my name in the credits.

I won't receive a single dollar from the production.

And it is no one's fault but my own.

From a cursory search, it appears that Stephen King and I had the same general story idea at just about the same time. (My writer's notes from that era are in a box in the garage. I'm not up to getting dusty to pin down my exact date.) There are significant differences between "Under the Dome" and my story, but the key concept of a domed city, isolated from the outside world, is the same.

In the span of time between giving up on pursuing acting as a career and being accepted into the Assistant Directors Training Program for film production, I kicked around a number of ideas for novels. (My college degree is in English Literature.)

The first draft of my version of "Under the Dome" was a children's story. I outlined some key ideas, played with the opening scenes and the first chapter. Before long, it evolved into a YA novel with a strong female heroine fighting for her life, years ahead of "Hunger Games."

Ultimately I considered writing it for the mainstream adult science fiction/fantasy market. That's where I left it, before writing my gender-reversed, short story version of "Castle." At least I have a couple of rejection letters to my credit for that one.

When I got busy learning how to make films, my career as a novelist got put on the shelf, right next to my favorite books that other writers had actually finished.

I set aside some time at the end of last year to review what I wanted to accomplish in this year, a landmark one for me. One thing I planned to do was to break out my old writer's notes, take a look at some of the ideas and see if there was anything worth developing. My domed city story was at the top of my list. At last!

A few weeks later, I saw the first teaser for "Under the Dome" during the Super Bowl. My reaction? "Oh, no..."

So why is King's story coming to television instead of mine?

I admire Stephen King, though I don't think I've read a single one of his books. I admire his work ethic, resulting in his significant body of work: his novels (350 million sold) and his short stories (he's written about 200). I admire some of the film adaptations of his work, most notably "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Stand By Me," two of my favorite films of all time.

Even as early as 1980, King would have won the war when it came to whose work publishers and film producers would prefer. He's got a few years on me and was well into his career when I was still in school.

But if I had beaten him to an idea and gotten it to a publisher before he did, there would have been no basis for comparison. I loved the idea for my unfinished novel. I knew the main characters. I knew the setting. I knew the story arc. I knew how it started. I knew how it ended. I just wasn't sure exactly where I would take it, in the three hundred pages in between.

I can't complain too loudly, and I'm not shaking my fist at an invisible nemesis. Five years after I kicked around this story idea, I started on my career in film production, working on high profile projects for the major studios, and it has been good to me, satisfying and successful. A lot of my writing was produced, as well, during my six years with an independent production company.

And though I don't waste time entertaining regrets, I still wish I'd gotten a few novels published.

So if I could say anything to writers, young or old, with stories in their heads they have yet to put on paper, it would be this:

Ideas are not accomplishments, and concepts are not credits.

Write it down. Write it in full. Rewrite it. Repeat.

And set yourself a deadline for submission, without fail. Don't let time go by while someone else takes their similar idea to fruition, eradicating the possibility of success with your own.

If there's nothing new under the sun, just be sure that your twist on the old gets its chance to find the light.

"Under the Dome" premieres tonight, Monday, June 24, on CBS at 10 ET/PT, 9 CT. Executive Producers: Stephen King and Brian K. Vaughan (who also wrote tonight's episode). Pilot directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Starring Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris (great guy, worked with him on a TV movie), Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Mackenzie Lintz, Samantha Mathis, Aisha Hinds, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy, Beth Broderick and Jeff Fahey.

I'll be watching. Of all of the viewers, more than most, I know that this sounds like a great idea.