In 2004, every writer’s nightmare happened to me.
A Weekly Reader publication called READ (aimed at grades 7-12) that I’d enjoyed writing for before had assigned me a piece about ancient Greece.
Specifically, a piece introducing kids to the renowned classical poet Homer by contrasting him to the esteemed modern bard Homer Simpson.
This format was not new. My college humor magazine (Gravity, founded at Brandeis University in 1990) ran such silly comparisons every issue for a while. For example:
Even though Gravity had not done Homer vs. Homer, at least not while I was there, I was pretty sure this comparison had been done somewhere by someone, probably even multiple times.
Still, you can’t copyright an idea, so I took it as a worthy challenge. (I admit that going in, I knew about only one of those two Homers. I’m not saying which.)
I wrote it. I submitted it. They liked it. They ran it:
…that same month, I saw the latest issue of Nickelodeon, a magazine I was writing for on a monthly basis.
Well, look at that.
They, too, ran a Homer vs. Homer compare and contrast.
So even though I was pretty sure this comparison had been done before, I could not believe it was in another mag I regularly contributed to in the same month that my Homer vs. Homer piece would appear in READ.
Yet I saw this as a curiosity, not a problem. READ is distributed only in schools, free to students. Nickelodeon is for sale in stores and by subscription.
I immediately e-mailed my READ editor about it. She wrote “That happens.” We e-smiled.
Later that day, however, her boss e-mailed me. She felt the Nickelodeon piece was startlingly similar to the one I did for READ. She asked me to explain how this could have happened.
I’d been a freelance writer for five years and I’d loved it. That was the first time in my career I felt firsthand that working alone can also be hazardous to one’s career.
Continued in part 2.