After posting about the "shank of the evening" coincidence, Sidney Williams pointed out that Wayne Allen Sallee's new collection has a story in it called "In the Shank of the Night." I've been savoring a story a day in that collection for the past couple of weeks, and I'd already read that story when I used the term "shank of the evening" in a story I was working on. Although it was unconscious, I'm virtually sure that seeing Wayne's title is what prompted me to use the term in my own tale. Psychologists call this sort of thing "priming."
This got me to thinking about the role of reading in writing. How often are the things we write triggered, in part at least, by things we've recently read? Quite often, I imagine, although if Sidney hadn't pointed out Wayne's story I would never have realized that I'd been "primed." The same thing happens in dreams. I was in Walgreens the other day and saw the display of "reading glasses," and I thought I ought to try a pair of those some time. Last night I dreamt that I was buying a pair.
This brought up another thought. I've known writers who refuse to read anything in the genre they are writing in while they're working on a piece. They say they don't want to borrow something unconsciously. I've had other writers say the opposite, that they read heavily in the genre they are writing in. I've always been among the latter group, and I think what I "borrow" unconsciously is more tone and flavor than it is specific details. If anyone has any thoughts on this, pro or con, I'd be intersted in hearing them.
By the way, my "shank" coincidence is still a coincidence, although my use of the term might have been primed. But it's still a bit weird that I'd be reading two books so close together where the phrase was used. I wonder, does Wayne read Jim Sallis's work? Does Jim read Wayne's?
The world is still weird.