Deb Vanasse | Like Minds


Years ago, I attended an event where I looked forward to meeting a literary agent. Having recently parted ways with my own agent, I thought it might be a good chance to pitch my work-in-progress, a novel featuring Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl, from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

As the event unfolded, I became more enthused about the pitch. I liked the agent, and from what she was saying, I was pretty sure she’d like my project.

Then the agent mentioned that she, too, was a writer. Her most recent book? A novel featuring Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl, from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

Needless to say, I never made the pitch.

Fast forward a decade. I’m drafting a novel featuring the ghost of Tad Lincoln, Abe Lincoln’s youngest son, when I come across a newly published book by one of my favorite authors, George Saunders, featuring the ghost of Willie Lincoln, Abe Lincoln’s middle son.

What gives?

I never did finish my novel about Pearl. But something’s different with Tad. For one, a million or so books have been written about the Lincolns, so I figure there’s room for another. Plus Tad and Willie were two very different boys, and my take on ghosts is different from Saunders’, with Saunders stretching the form in multiple directions.

To be like-minded, even in a small way, with an author you admire feels exciting. But the overlap between Saunders work and my own may require some explaining when I pitch this project. And the question remains unresolved:  what gives? Maybe it’s some variation of Jung’s collective unconscious, plucking weirdly specific threads from our shared knowledge. Maybe it’s just wild coincidence.

Conversely, authors sometimes purposely chase trends. The zeitgeist inspires them, or they think the trend offers a way to cash in. But before you jump on the latest bandwagon, consider that trends are short-lived. By the time you’ve hopped aboard, the trend may be shifting—or fizzling out entirely.

Named by Library Journal as “one of Alaska’s leading storytellers,” Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books. Her most recent novel, Cold Spell, “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds” (Booklist). Wealth Woman, her “deeply researched and richly imagined” gold rush biography of Kate Carmack, was named a True West “Best of the West” selection.

1 thought on “Deb Vanasse | Like Minds”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Wow, what a post. I’ve had the same thing happen to me at least 3-4 times now, Deb, but never with projects so far along in their development as your ghost novel. Books and movies on similar-seeming topics do seem to come out in pairs or triplets. But of course, the voice of each one is so different. Cheers to you for hanging on to your Tad Lincoln project.

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