Charlotte Dune's Lagoon
Charlotte Dune's Lagoon
Stranger Conversations: A Cult Classic and the Simultaneous Discovery of Novels

Stranger Conversations: A Cult Classic and the Simultaneous Discovery of Novels

Also what The Leftovers, Lost, and Stranger Things all have in common.

In science, there is a phenomenon known as “simultaneous invention,” or “multiple discovery.” This occurs in rapid-fire frequency these days, but in the past, sans Internet, it was stranger and more noticeable.

Simultaneous discovery is just as it sounds— people in different places who don’t know each other invent or discover the same thing at the same time. For example, several people invented calculus at the same time in the 17th century. The explanation is not aliens, but it’s that we all have access to similar information, so we will find the logical next steps, because human minds are not that different, and of course, there are a gabillion people, so someone will be doing the exact same thing as you. It’s like the eternal return, but in the bodies of two folks at once.

Fiction writers experience this as well, as noted by Elizabeth Gilbert in her non-fiction writing tome, Big Magic, in which she describes in great detail how she and author Ann Patchett were writing extremely similar books with the same exotic location and what they thought were unique stories… that is until they compared notes…

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear - Kindle edition by Gilbert,  Elizabeth. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

In the end, Gilbert abandoned the book, and Patchett ended up publishing her version, called State of Wonder. Gilbert also writes in Big Magic that she believes her book idea transferred to Patchett when they shared a weird kiss early on in their evolving friendship.

State of Wonder: A Novel - Kindle edition by Patchett, Ann. Literature &  Fiction Kindle eBooks @
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Hence, we move into the realm of the unexplained phenomenon. While it stands to reason that someone out of the trillions of people would have the same idea as you, it’s a bit odder when you actually know the person.

Less odd and more frustrating is when you’ve had an idea for a novel, or maybe you’ve already spent considerable time writing the novel and then someone else releases an extremely similar book, or a TV show comes out with the exact same plot, etc.

This causes most writers to throw up their pens and abandon their pages.

Other times, the similarities are more subtle, and this is actually a good sign that you’re writing “on-trend,” that if you can also release soon enough, you’ll be surfing the waves of ideas in good company; it’s a sign that the audience and the industry want what you’ve got.


I recently experienced this throw-up-your-pen feeling of ugh and hmm, grrrrrr… as I read the description for the new book by literary fiction author Sloane Crosley, called Cult Classic. It struck me as fairly similar to an idea that had been percolating, circulating, and plotting itself in my own head, but as I’m already occupied with trying to finish other books, I hadn’t gotten to actually writing my new idea yet… now someone else sort of had, and it was making a big splash and getting lots of amazing reviews.

In my idea, a woman in her mid-twenties is checking out of the grocery store when the cashier brings up an obscure situation in conversation. I hadn’t decided exactly what the obscure topic would be, something odd, like mentioning a bizarre news story, an unusual film, or an idea about the future. My main ideas for the obscure topic were:

“Did you hear about the native boy who drowned after eating too much cake?”

“You know they discovered a new star? Corelactica? We could maybe visit it one day.”

“Remember the mom in Requiem for a Dream? That’s what the whole world feels like right now?”

Or something… something strange...

Our main character, let’s call her Stella, has the conversation with the grocery store cashier but doesn’t think that much of it until she goes outside and has the EXACT SAME CONVERSATION AGAIN.

This basically happens all day to Stella, the same conversation over and over again with different strangers, coworkers, friends, and family until she’s shaken and disturbed.

Is this topic just in the Zeitgeist or is something darker going on? Has she lost her mind? Is the whole world a video game that’s glitching?

Anyway, that was my idea.

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Then, I see the ad for a book called Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley. I click. In this new novel, “a woman is at a work reunion dinner with former colleagues when she excuses herself to buy a pack of cigarettes. On her way back, she runs into a former boyfriend. And then another. And . . . another. Nothing is quite what it seems as the city becomes awash with ghosts of heartbreaks past. What would normally pass for coincidence becomes something far stranger…”1

Cult Classic: A Novel: Crosley, Sloane: 9780374603397: Books
Cult Classic: A Novel, by Sloane Crosley

Hmm… sounds pretty similar. And it’s blurbed by like every hot writer and has already won a ton of awards even though the paperback isn’t even out yet. You can tell it’s a big, big book that the industry has dumped a ton of marketing money into.

Will it be a comp for the book I may never write, about a woman who begins her strange day at a grocery store? Or will I never write that book because now it seems too similar to this one?

But then I read on and it seems that in the case of Crosley’s novel the unexplained phenomenon is actually caused by a malicious cult that harvests social media data and maybe the ex-boyfriends are in on the whole thing.

This makes me think of the HBO show, The Leftovers, adapted from a 2011 novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta. Have you seen it? It’s fucking great. This show manages to combine both a cult and unexplained phenomena. There is a mass and sudden departure of 140 million people from earth. Then, after the departure, a cult emerges, called The Guilty Remnant.

Fans of 'the Leftovers' Are Dressing up As the Guilty Remnant to Campaign  for a Third Season
The Guilty Remnant leader, aka our favorite female villain from the Handmaid’s Tale!— Aunt Lydia.

The Guilty Remnant is a bizarre and extremely memorable cult of mostly women who wear all white and chain smoke cigarettes; they stand outside the homes of people who lost family members in the departure, and they smoke and smoke and smoke and don’t talk.

It’s really a great show. I won’t spoil the rest of it, but there are a lot of conflicts between the townspeople and the cult.

The Leftovers: In Defense of the Guilty Remnant | 25YL
More members of The Guilty Remnant from The Leftovers on HBO.


One of the creators of the show, Damon Lindelof, also created the hit series, Lost. The story, characters, and visuals of both Lost and The Leftovers are so unique that you’d be hard-pressed to imagine someone writing the exact same plot. And this is what every creative writer and storyteller strives for, to create a tale so believable, yet so surprising, that no one will simultaneously discover it.

A guide to the season 5 finale of Lost - The Globe and Mail
Promotional image of the cast of Lost.

Sometimes, this uniqueness is achieved by combining two disparate and unusual genres or elements, think zombies plus a western, or snakes on a plane... Even better is when stories merge two separate premises. Instead of just one unexplained phenomenon as the backdrop, both The Leftovers and Lost have two seriously bizarre situations.

In The Leftovers, we have the premise of the departure AND the premise of the strange cult.

In Lost, we have the plane crash on the island, and we have the evolving reality that the island itself appears to be alive and supernatural. Either of these elements could have been a story on their own, but combining them created a big hit. Then at the end, Lost adds yet another element, which some members of the audience didn’t like, but I did. (Won’t spoil that ending here.)

Stranger Things is yet another mega-successful series that combines other popular stories (from the 90s, but set in the 80s). The creators of Stranger Things said they wanted to experiment with what it would be like if Steven Spielberg collaborated with Stephen King. I watched it and thought, this is ET, Aliens, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Stand by Me, IT, and The Sandlot all rolled up into one thing… WTF.

Stranger Things Season 4 Poster Features Vecna, the Creel House, and All  Your Favorite Characters - IGN
Stranger Things, season four movie poster

If I applied this method of combination to my own fictional, unwritten novel about the girl who goes to the grocery store, let’s call it, Stranger Conversations, maybe I’d also add that the girl is terminally ill. Or maybe the people talking to her start attacking her; they’ve gone mad. Or maybe aliens land, a war starts, she’s pregnant, there are cats that also talk, the grocery store is a supernatural place, she’s inside a video game and her dad made the game... I’m not sure yet.

Have you seen The Leftovers or Lost? Have you ever experienced simultaneous discovery? What did Stranger Things remind you of? Will you read, A Cult Classic?

Should I write Stranger Conversations?

And if I did, what would the additional element be? (Leaning towards cats that also talk… and wink😉.)

Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

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The description is taken from the book blurb for Cult Classic on Indiebound.

Charlotte Dune's Lagoon
Charlotte Dune's Lagoon
Hosted by psychedelic fiction author Charlotte Dune, The Lagoon explores mind-expansion, self-experimentation, healing modalities, books, and big ideas.