The Right Way to Improve on a Comp Title

Last week, I finished Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.  Such a good book!  If you aren’t familiar with it, it is the story of Hanna, a teen who moves to LaForge in the Dakota Territories with her father in 1880.  More than anything, Hanna wants to go to school but now that her mother is dead Hanna is Papa’s helper in the dress goods shop.

And she is half Asian. I’ll let you read the book yourself (or read my review) to see why that’s a problem.

In her Author’s Note, Park talks about why she wrote the book.  She grew up loving the Little House books.  Serious love.  But it upset her that Ma hated the Native Americans they encountered.  Even as a child, Park recognized that this was fueled by racism.  Park also understood that Ma never would have let Laura be friends with someone with dark hair and eyes as Park herself has.  Park didn’t condemn Wilder or her books although she does acknowledge the problematic passages and themes.

Then she set about researching and writing her own story.  She wanted to add a character that she would have identified with as a girl.  I’m not going to dwell on the challenges this created or how she handled them.  Again, you’ll have to read the book.

But I do want to go into what Park did right.  She does not pan Wilder or her work.  She acknowledges what Wilder did right and how she drew many young readers into caring about her characters and their world.  Then Park builds on that and does it better, painting a more complete picture.

So often when we discuss comp titles, even comp titles that inspired us, we dwell on their short comings.  “This, this and this are wrong.  My book sets the record straight.”  How much better to hold it up as valuable if flawed and then do it even better.  You don’t alienate people (such as editors or agents) who loved the original and you start off on a positive.

A positive.  I think that’s something we could all use.