I was doing this before McDonald’s, Burger King, and Whataburger came up with their individual breakfast menus.
Great ideas are a dime a dozen and no one has a claim on any one of them. The greatest ideas are the simplest ideas, born out of frustrated necessary or sparkling epiphany--the “Oh, wow!” moment.
Grandma Smith’s biscuits were straight out of the can. I would think at times that when I got to be a granddaddy, some of my grandkids would stop by to see how I was doing, and I would have a couple of biscuits and some bacon left over so they, too, could also make their own snack. Except I wanted my biscuits to be homemade from my own special recipe.
In order to create my own special recipe, I borrowed basic ingredients from other recipes, tweaked them with my own favorite flavors and have finally come up with a biscuit recipe that My Liz and I really enjoy eating.
Without realizing it, I did the very same thing with my story NEVЯLAND.
NEVЯLAND is a good idea. It came to me when I asked one simple question: What does a young teen fear the most? I thought about it all weekend--no friends, pimples, unpopular, too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, no boy/girlfriend, can’t dance et cetera.
None of those answers were very helpful. Too many tales had already been written about such teenage angst. I wanted something different.
I asked a friend at work the same question, wanting her to think about it until the end of the day.
Actually, the answer came to me when a student was talking about her parents being away for the weekend. Some of the students thought it would be cool to have their parents gone. Some wanted her to throw a party. When my parents left town for a couple of weeks during the summer between my junior and senior year, I had a party.
This senior girl, though, was worried about being alone without her parents. She didn’t like the idea of not having her adult parents around and worried how she would get along without them. Some of the students joked with her about still being a “child”, but I’m sure their reaction was more bravado than brazen chiding.
I had my answer: For all their talk about not liking parents, about being embarrassed by their parents, about how they wish their parents would just go away, teens need and want their parents around to guide, to instruct, to protect them.
That was my answer: a world in which all adults have disappeared.
When I asked my friend that afternoon what she feared most as a young teen, she replied, “My parents disappearing.”
So, I knew I had a good idea.
In fact, I thought I had a great original idea. I got to work brainstorming as soon as I got home from teaching.
I was in touch at the time with another writer, and I told her my idea about a story in which all the parents disappear, leaving only children behind.
She liked the idea, but then said, “That sounds like Gone by Michael Grant.”
I was devastated. I thought I had a very original idea. I had never heard of Gone, so I checked up on it, and, sure enough, it was about a community in which the adults had disappeared and how the children reacted.
I had already done much brainstorming and research on my own tale. I had a steel blue knot in my stomach as I realized how similar my idea was to Grant’s. I didn’t want to go further with it.
A few days later at a library book sale, I found a YA novel called Whispers of Death written by Christopher Pike in the 1980s that was quite similar to Gone and to my idea as well.
I was even more upset and definitely didn’t want to continue with the story.
I put NEVЯLAND aside after a few months of working on it.
Larry Mike’s Cheesy Bacon Bits Biscuits
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup shredded cheese (a mixture of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and American is best)
- 1/3 cup bacon bits
- 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp parsley flakes
- 1 tsp red curry powder
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp crushed rosemary
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tablespoon baking powder (3 teaspoons)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup shortening
- 2/3 cup milk or buttermilk or yogurt
- In a big bowl, put the flour, baking powder, shredded cheese, garlic powder, parsley flakes, red curry powder, thyme, crushed rosemary, onion powder, and salt into the bowl.
- Add the shortening and bacon bits, and, using your fingers, gently mix with the dry ingredients.
- Don’t over mix. There should still be a few lumps of shortening, the size of peas, or even a little bigger. Two minutes or less of mixing should do it.
- Next add the milk, buttermilk, or yogurt--or a combination of these three.
- Stir into a soft dough. It’s best not to use a blender
- On dry days you may need another spoonful or two of milk.
- With your hands, form the dough into a soft ball.
- Lay a piece of waxed paper on your counter and sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of flour.
- Place the dough ball on the flour and knead it exactly 10 times. No more, no less. This activates the gluten in the flour just enough, but not too much.
- Flatten out the dough with a rolling pin or your hands so it is about 3/4″ thick.
- Cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter, or the rim of a clean cup or can. I use a tomato paste canfor small biscuits and a tuna can for large biscuits. Works really well.
- Lay the biscuits onto a cookie sheet or pizza pan and bake them at 425° for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.
- Makes about a dozen medium sized biscuits.
- Brush them with melted margarine when you take them from the oven if you want them to look pretty when they arrive at the table.
When I relayed my angst and distress about the similarities of NEVЯLAND to Gone and Whispers of Death to my writing friend and that I put my story aside, she laughed and told me about one of her books that had been published a year earlier.
Unbeknown to her, another writer had written a book that was being published at the same time. Both books took place in a similar time period, used similar events, and even had similar opening scenes.
Both were quite different in style, tone, voice, and climax--but, still, the similarities were such that my writing friend was sure she would be accused of plagiarism.
She wasn’t. In fact, she and the other writer began a conversation and both had had the same fear--that readers would think one writer had borrowed from the other writer’s work. Before this incident, neither writer had heard of the other writer or read any books the other writer had written. Eventually, they just laughed it off.
Great ideas are a dime a dozen and no one has a monopoly on any one idea.
The point is is that no idea, whether for biscuits or post-apocalyptic adults-have-disappeared stories, is new.
NEVЯLAND is nothing like Gone or Whispers of Death. In fact, I read Gone and thought it lacking.
Just like sometimes I don’t like the hamburgers, steaks, or chimichangas at the so-called best restaurants and prefer my own recipes for these repasts.
I did like Whispers of Death very much. Kept me in suspense, something Gone hadn’t done.
A writer’s mind is like a biscuit: it sops up ideas, facts, and emotions of life around us. We all have stories that are similar to other and perhaps more established tales.
I’m sure somewhere out there a recipe for cheesy bacon bits biscuits similar to mine exists.
However, a determined writer (or cook) will ignore any similarities between his and other stories and concentrate on taking the basics of the tale and creating a story (like my biscuits) that is familiar but uniquely his own.