The Colin McCool series (a.k.a., the Junkyard Druid series) is becoming ever more popular as time goes on, and for that I am very, very grateful. However, lately I’ve been running a lot of ads on Facebook and Instagram, and of course that brings with it the odd comment trolling the series.
Invariably, when trolls comment on my ads and posts, it’s something to the effect of “this series is a rip-off of (insert their favorite author/series here).” Usually either Jim Butcher or Kevin Hearne are mentioned.
Such comments are always good for a laugh, but sadly they can also influence and mislead potential readers. And while I don’t mind the comparisons (Jim Butcher is a legendary urban fantasy author, and Kevin’s books are fantastic), I do think it’ll be an interesting intellectual exercise to fisk my critics.
So, here goes.
“These Books Are a Rip Off of That Other Druid Series!”
Here’s my two cents on this…
First, the druid trope is nothing new. Terry Brooks, Morgan Llywelyn, & Marion Zimmer Bradley all tapped druidic and Celtic mythology in their works, long before any modern UF authors set pen to paper.
And there are over 2,100 books with the word “druid” in the title, subtitle, or series name on Goodreads. Some are non-fiction, but the vast majority are fantasy or historical fiction novels.
Second, most modern druid fantasy fiction leans heavily on the mythology created by Gary Gygax and the good folks at TSR. The druids of history were more like sages than magicians, although one could easily argue that the druids of Celtic mythology were wizards of a sort. But that whole trope regarding druids as caretakers of the land mostly originated with the character class in D&D.
Third, Atticus O’Sullivan is a great character, but strip away the Celtic mythology and the series is straight-up urban fantasy, complete with common tropes. This includes magic spells and items, magicians (druids), witches, vampires, werewolves, gods of various pantheons, and tons of mythological creatures to boot.
That’s not a criticism of Hearne’s books, however. I only mention it to point out that all urban fantasy novels share tropes to some extent. Which brings me to the next common criticism…
“Get This Jim Butcher Rip-Off Shit Off My Feed!”
Ah, yes… admittedly, my books have several tropes in common with The Dresden Files.
Well, guess what? Tropes define genres. And if you’re going to write genre fiction, you have to include tropes.
Every diehard urban fantasy reader knows that Jim Butcher’s books set a lot of urban fantasy tropes in stone. The Dresden Files set the stage for literally hundreds of urban fantasy series that followed. The truth is, anyone who writes modern urban fantasy is borrowing heavily from Butcher’s ideas, concepts, and settings.
Wizard for hire? Thank Jim Butcher for that.
Magic-wielding protagonist who solves supernatural crimes? Also Jim Butcher.
Magic in the modern world? Popularized by Butcher, for sure.
Wizard protagonist taking on denizens of the paranormal world, or confronting supernatural races who wish to do humans harm? Definitely a common theme in Butcher’s novels.
Ancient gods updated and adapted to a modern setting? Well, that’s Neil Gaiman’s thing. But Dresden definitely runs into his fair share of mythological deities, for sure.
Bottom line? Tons of UF authors are riding Butcher’s coattails, and it’s damned hard to find a truly original concept in the genre. And as I’ve always said, the trick to creating fiction readers actually want to read is to take familiar tropes, character archetypes, and settings, and then weave them into stories that revisit those familiar touch points in new and interesting ways.
Hopefully, I’ve done that with The Colin McCool Paranormal Suspense Series. But if it comes off as derivative to some, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Side note: Emma Bull’s groundbreaking 1987 work, War for the Oaks, was among the very first urban fantasy novels ever published. And to my knowledge she was the first UF author to weave Celtic mythology and the Fae into her stories. That work introduced many such tropes into the genre, while at the same time serving to help create it. It can be argued that Butcher’s inclusion of the Fae in his novels was a trope borrowed from Emma Bull’s work. Again, that’s not a criticism—I’m just pointing out that all urban fantasy novels share tropes.
“Colin McCool? Really? What A Stupid Name!”
Well genius, McCool is the anglicized version of “MacCumhaill,” as in Fionn mac Cumhaill. The character in question is a descendant of said mythological person.
However, nobody spells it that way anymore. In the U.S. and Ireland, the “McCool” spelling is more prevalent, although “MacCool” is sometimes seen as well.
Pick up a book that’s a more challenging read than your standard urban fantasy novel, and you’d know that.
“Isn’t Colin McCool Just A Carbon-Copy Of ‘X’ Character?”
I created the main character for my druid novels in 2010, when I started writing “Colin McCool and the Vampire Dwarf,” a YA novella. That story featured a young man who is the descendant of Fionn MacCumhaill, who battles unseelie fae, and who is mentored by the druid known as Finn Eces (Finnegas). You can read that book today in its current iteration as Druid Blood, one of two prequels to the Colin McCool series.
The stories and character are unique, original creations, albeit with the inclusion of standard genre tropes. So if you want to compare my works with those of other UF authors, fine, that’s fair. But just because I write UF books with “druid” in the title, and just because the main character is a magician-type who sometimes solves supernatural crimes, don’t assume that they’re not unique works that stand on their own merits.
The truth is, if I’d have written Colin as a woman (Coleen McCool, anyone?*) no one would be making these comparisons. Instead, they’d be comparing my books to those of Kim Harrison and Faith Hunter. I suppose when I write a spin-off series featuring Belladonna or Fallyn (two female characters and love interests in the Colin McCool novels), I can expect to start hearing those comparisons as well.
Which just goes to show, no matter what you write someone is going to say it’s derivative. But, I don’t write for my critics. Instead, I continue to write new stories for the readers who enjoy the characters and worlds I’ve created.
To those of you who love and support my work, thank you. You are appreciated.
* Footnote 02/2023: Someone actually did this a couple of years ago; that is to say, they created a UF series featuring a female druid character named McCool/MacCumhaill and called it a day. Can two authors have the exact same idea at different times? Certainly. Is it probable that this person wrote an entire novel in the very same genre, not knowing someone else had already created a popular druid character named McCool? Possibly. The McCool myths are in the public domain, after all. Meanwhile, I’m still here trying to write a better book at every go, and coming up with fresh ideas and new twists on familiar tropes with each new release. However, it’s quite possible that someday I’ll unintentionally do the very same thing that author did. Besides, grace is better for the soul than resentment. That’s why authors shouldn’t get too caught up in the notion that other authors are “stealing” our ideas. Better to continue to create while striving for as much originality as genre fiction allows, instead of focusing on what others are doing.