Strange Coincidences: Stephen King and the Mysteries of the Unexplained

My next coincidences tale is from Adam Christopher, author of Empire State and the forthcoming Seven Wonders, both from Angry Robot which you should all go read. Right now!

I love coincidences. In fact, I love all kinds of stuff that can be vaguely grouped under the umbrella of “mysteries of the unexplained”, as my battered old Reader’s Digest book of the same name melodramatically dubs everything from ghosts to UFOs to monsters to unexplained disappearances – and to coincidences.

I love coincidences because, while I don’t attribute any kind of intelligence or purpose to them, I like the feeling of smallness they produce – like Arthur Dent, I’ve got this vague feeling that there is something else going on in the universe that I’m not aware of. In today’s era of hyper-skepticism, I prefer to acknowledge that, really, we don’t have a clue about how much of the universe works. And this is a good thing, because that should (although often doesn’t) drive science and discovery.

I also love coincidences because my life is full of them, although I’ll freely admit that maybe that’s because I look out for them. I’m not talking big stuff – synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, which I’m sure happens but which might be another phenomenon entirely – but little, everyday things.

When Laura invited me to write something about coincidences, I jumped at the chance, because (totally unbeknown to her) I love coincidences. Is that itself a coincidence? Sure, although on an imaginary scale of meaningful randomness, probably less so than two people with similar tastes, attitudes and complimentary personalities (i.e., two people well matched to be good friends) should have randomly met at FantasyCon 2011 in the first place – but me and Laura did meet. Or perhaps is a better example is one Angry Robot’s new signing Emma Newman talked about over at my blog – a string of coincidences, each minor which added up to something with an important outcome. In such cases, the definitions of coincidence and luck seem to get fuzzy at the edges. But then what is luck but a positive coincidence?

The first thing I did when thinking about this blog post was to reach for that magical Reader’s Digest tome, Mysteries of the Unexplained, which I have treasured since it arrived by mail order sometime in the mid Eighties. I wanted to have a quick look at its chapter on coincidence to refresh my memory, but randomly opening the book I found I was actually in the middle of the unexplained disappearances section. There, just by my thumb at the bottom of page 126 was a very familiar photo, accompanying a feature article on the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater from New York on August 6th, 1930. Judge Crater… who just happens to play an important role in my debut novel, Empire State.

I haven’t looked at Mysteries of the Unexplained for probably twenty years, but looking at the photo of Crater and his mistress, showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, it is instantly recognizable from many long hours trawling through the book as a child. Perhaps when it came to writing Empire State, I subconsciously recalled the Reader’s Digest article, which I had long, long forgotten about.

There was another little moment not so long ago. For the hell of it, I’m (sporadically) reading all of Stephen King’s novels in publication order. The last book I read was Cujo. One morning, I was in the middle of this novel when the post was delivered. I put the book down, got the post, and opened a letter which included the peculiar phrase billet-doux. I had somehow never heard this before, and had to look it up (it means “sweet note” or “love letter”, although in this instance it was referring to an invoice that needed paying!). Bemused by the turn of phrase, I sat down, picked up Cujo – and there it was, billet-doux, on the very next page of the book.

Which made me smile, and made me think again that something else is going on. And I like that.

Thanks, Adam!


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