December 19, 2011
It's not copycatting; it's imagination at work
About two weeks ago I watched a charming made for TV movie on the Hallmark Channel called Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas. (Have you noticed the trend of including the author's name in movie titles lately, which makes any title longer than two words an unwieldy mouthful, i.e., Ann Rule's Everything She Ever Wanted, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, etc.? But I digress...)
The movie was about a woman in her 40s who lives in the Pacific Northwest impulsively arranging to surprise her daughter, a college student in Boston by flying to spend Christmas with her. The daughter had made plans with her boyfriend and didn't tell her mother about it until the last minute, when it was too late to change plans, because her mother had arranged to exchange houses with a writer from Boston, a real bah-humbug type of dude for whom Christmas represents nothing more than a chance to finish his latest manuscript.
Well, the mother goes to Boston and promptly accidentally triggers the alarm on the house, prompting a visit from the police as well as the writer's brother. Meanwhile, out in Washington State, the writer is called on by the mother's best friend, who'd been out of town and wasn't aware that her friend had taken off for the East Coast. Sparks fly, and romance ensues for both.
The storyline, obviously based on a book by Debbie Macomber (that title is a dead giveaway), reminded me of the 2006 holiday movie The Holiday that starred Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz as two broken-hearted women on either side of the Atlantic (actually, Cameron's character lived in L.A.) who impulsively agreed to trade houses over Christmas while they tried to heal. This is one of my favorite movies, with wonderful character development that made it run longer than the average romantic comedy. Not only are both stories built around the theme of trading houses over the holidays, but two of the leads are siblings (Ms. Winslet's brother, a sexy book editor who withheld some important facts about himself from his love interest, Ms. Diaz, was played by Jude Law). I found myself wondering if Ms. Macomber had seen this movie and been inspired to write her book.
Then my writer's mind went "Hmm." I recalled that the prolific Debbie Macomber has been putting out a Christmas story every year for as long as I can remember, and it occurred to me that I might have been wrong to assume that she had been inspired by The Holiday when it actually might have been the other way around (or just a coincidence, since great minds do think alike). I did a little research to see which had actually come first, Ms. Macomber's novel or the similarly-themed Hollywood movie.
It turned out that the book upon which this movie was based, When Christmas Comes, was published in 2004. The Holiday wasn't released until two years later. So...my bad.
Just as authors are often inspired by real-life news stories, it's not so unusual for the same basic idea to be developed by two different writers. Some things are to be expected--there are two network dramas being filmed to air in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic next spring--while others come out a few years apart but have similarities. I found both of these stories to be highly entertaining, with a hint of similarity but the definite feeling of two different storylines. I own The Holiday on DVD, and I'll be recording Trading Christmas when it airs again...tonight, as a matter of fact.