Hello, Mr. Gaiman. I'm wondering what the proper etiquette is when it comes to work inspired by anothers. For instance, I'm a college Film major, and recently had an idea for a screenplay, but the idea stems from something you discuss in the commentary to one of your short stories in Smoke and Mirrors. Is that something that as a writer is okay to run with on your own if it goes off in a divergent direction from the other story, or is that where right issues and the like come into play? Thank you for your time, James.
No, that's just Where Ideas Come From and Being Part of the Cultural Dialogue. I just read Terry Pratchett's lovely novel Going Postal, and realised while reading it that, at least in part, it's a Will Hay comedy. (This means almost nothing if you aren't British.) Of course when our hero arrives at the abandoned post-office, waiting for him will be an old man and a gormless boy. That's how that story works. It doesn't mean that Terry's stealing from anything, it means he's part of the cultural dialogue. And so are you.
There's yet another reason - and I certainly don't need more - for me to love Gaiman. He gets it. What he describes, Tolkien would explain in this way: every Writer as Cook dips his or her ladle into the Soup of Story to partake of its common, even ancient ingredients. In short, everyone is a textual poacher. Or, to put it another way, everything is fan fiction.
Which reminds me, C.S. Lewis fans should take note of Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan" (in the 2004 anthology Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy), which is a direct answer to the ending of The Chronicles of Narnia. A must read.
Now to my quote of the day:
"It is the human condition to ask questions like Anne's last night and to receive no plain answers," he said. "Perhaps this is because we can't understand the answers, because we are incapable of knowing God's ways and God's thoughts. We are, after all, only very clever tailless primates, doing the best we can, but limited. Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable.... The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God."
from The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell