PORTLAND, ORE. — Alice Randall is an author who has discovered that real life can be more surprising and ironic than fiction. Ms. Randall's novel "The Wind Done Gone" was scheduled for release in June by Houghton Mifflin. It's the story of a mulatto woman on a plantation who, according to news reports, "might be a half-sister of Scarlett O'Hara." Needless to say, when wind of this tale drifted southward, it fanned some smoldering legal embers.
The estate of Margaret Mitchell galloped into court, charging Randall with copyright infringement. Last month a federal judge in Atlanta agreed and issued an injunction against publication. The case is now in appeals court.
I feel a strong artistic connection to Alice Randall because she clearly shares the same curiosity that I experience while trekking across the landscape of literature. It's a vast territory of ideas, adventures, and personalities. The only boundaries are the limits of human imagination. Anyone who reads a novel or short story is carried into this world, and some of us wonder about unexplored settings, alternative plot twists, and supplemental characters.
Is it possible Scarlett O'Hara had mixed-race siblings? What other family secrets were lurking behind closed doors at Tara? While I have only mused about such questions looming throughout the pages of previously published material, Alice Randall set to work resolving some of them.
Unfortunately, when a writer embarks on such a journey, it can be hard to know where all of the intellectual property lines are drawn.
Anxiety about potential lawsuits (and a lazy work ethic) held me back when a window of creative opportunity opened in 1993. That year marked the 50th anniversary of Hollywood's classic film "Casablanca." It was the perfect time for someone to tell us what happened to Rick Blaine after he put Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo on that last plane to Lisbon.
I suspect he would have returned to this country after the war. His restless spirit might have led him west, perhaps on a motorcycle, trying to rediscover the America he left behind. It's intriguing to consider how he would have reacted to rock 'n' roll, the rise of TV, McCarthyism, and Vietnam.
Another compelling idea I failed to develop involved an old gimmick: Choose a historic person and talk about him from a dog's viewpoint. My working title was "Collared by Conspiracy: The Watergate Diaries of King Timahoe." You can imagine how President Nixon's loyal canine companion would have figuratively chewed up the likes of John Dean, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy.
Bestsellers that never got on paper. That's my personal storyline, so I admire writers who can move to the next level. My advice for Alice Randall is: You go, girlfriend! Don't give up. They took the wind out of your sails, but be patient. As we all know (and I hope no one takes me to court for saying this): Tomorrow is another day.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor