Strange Coincidences: The Woman in the Photograph

This is the last Strange Coincidences post, and is one of my own stories.

I used to live in a little house in Union City, California, when I was about nine or ten. Two sisters lived close by, Shannon and Krystal, and we were really good friends and played nearly every day. They did not have the best home life, and so sometimes we’d go over to their grandparents’ house.

There was a photograph on the wall. It was huge–maybe four feet tall. It was of a very glamourous woman, in black and white. I kept looking at the photo, over and over. She looked really familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I still can’t believe I didn’t recognise the photo, but I suppose you really don’t expect a photo of someone you know to show up on a stranger’s wall.

A few weeks or months later, my mom was going through her storage and stumbled across her old modelling portfolio. Shannon was over and we flipped through it. I was amazed. My mom looked so beautiful in all of them, though the 70s fashion in a couple of them made us giggle. She turned the page and me and Shannon both squeaked “No way!”

Yep. You guessed it–it was that photo. A photo of my mom had somehow ended up on my friend’s grandfather’s wall.

It’s hard to know how big of a coincidence that was. Her grandfather had been a photographer, and heck, he might have even photographed my mom when she was modelling in San Francisco, though he didn’t take that photo–he’d bought it at a sale. But still. He’d bought an exact photo that my mom had chosen to keep from that shoot, and my mom had happened to find it when Shannon was over. Nine year old me was astounded, and I still find it a very strange coincidence.

In that photo, my mother was only a little order than I am now–she was 24 and this was taken in 1978, 10 years before I was born.

My mom and me on my 21st birthday

And that concludes my spotlight on strange coincidences. I hope you enjoyed the series. If you have any stories you want to send me later on, I’d still be happy to hear them, though I probably won’t post them any more. I had a wide range of stories, from the small to the life-threatening. I enjoyed posting them all, and thank you to those of you who sent me anecdotes. I don’t ascribe a higher meaning to them, but they do make you think and realise the world can be a funny place. Similar to the six degrees of separation, we’re not as far removed from each other as one might think.

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!

Strange Coincidences: Dragonflies

This is a small, strange coincidence from yours truly.

A little fact about me: I almost always choose names for characters based on their meanings. I’ve been doing it since my first short story I wrote when I was 18, where a serial killer killed his victims in ways that reflected their name’s meanings.

For my book, Pantomime, it’s the same. Drystan means “riot” or “tumult,” which fits well for a clown, for example. So if you ever want to know a tiny bit more about most of my characters, look up their name meanings.

But there were two characters in the first and second book whose names I didn’t choose based on meaning: Aenea and Cyan.

I heard the name Aenea when I was in high school and I remember thinking that it sounded like a cool fantasy name. Aenea’s an aerialist, and it flowed nicely and fit her character. Cyan is a new character in the sequel to Pantomime, and I chose that one because cyan is one of my favourite colours.

Dragonflies keep cropping up in my book. I went to Wikipedia to go research them out of curiosity. I scrolled down to the listing of the Latin names of different varieties of dragonflies, and I saw these two names:

Downy EmeraldCordulia aenea

Southern HawkerAeshna cyanea

That was a coincidence. Unless, somehow, I’d gone on this site before and it’d lodged in my subconscious, which could perhaps be possible.  And cyan and aenea, in retrospect, are quite obviously Latin-based. But I came up with Aenea’s name in 2007 and Cyan’s in 2012, so there was no conscious connection.

I’ve now added a third name based on dragonflies, and that one was intentional: Anisa, from “ancient dragonflies” (Anisozygoptera).

Just another one of life’s strange little coincidences.

Strange Coincidences: Somnambulist

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lee Harris, editor of Angry Robot Books, to the blog.

I’ve always enjoyed horror films – Hammer was practically my babysitter during my formative years, and because I watched so many horror films, I became quite desensitized to them. They rarely frightened me. But one film I saw left a lasting impression. I don’t recall the name of the film, but it was about a young woman who used to sleepwalk a lot. In one scene she walked into a long cupboard-like room, and as the door closed, the objects on the shelves started to move – a bust turned to face her, a toy monkey started clashing its cymbals, that sort of thing. It freaked me out, and I had nightmares about it for weeks.

And then, one night, quite a few years later, I was babysitting for a friend of my mother. The toddler was up in bed, and I sat reading for hours. And out of the blue, that scene came into my head, and I hadn’t thought about it for years. I remembered the woman walking into the closet, and the bust turning to face her, and the monkey clashing its cymbals. Well, it put me off my reading, somewhat, so I turned on the TV. And what should be on? Not just that film, but that scene in the film.

Yeah, it got turned off again, right away!”

A huge thanks to Lee for taking the time for this post.

I’d really love a few more stories to round out the month, so please feel free send one to me via my contact form.

Strange Coincidences: Doctor Who Times Two

Today’s moment of synchronicity is from fellow Strange Chemistry author and Open Door veteran, Cassandra Rose Clarke. Her debut, The Assassin’s Curse, will be out in October. Let’s all take a moment to admire her cover, as it’s amazing:

And now, onto her tale:

“I teach freshman comp at a local community college. One day towards the end of the last semester, the professor who uses the classroom before me was running way past the end of his class time. He eventually stuck his head out and said, “We’re watching a video on British literature. It’s not quite over, but you can come in if you’d like.” I went in.

He was showing his class an episode of Dr. Who.

This isn’t the synchronicity part, although I do think it’s pretty funny.

But! Here is the synchronicity part. I listen to this Game of Thrones podcast called Boars, Gore, and Swords on my commute to work. Back when they were waiting for the second season to air, they had recorded a one-off episode on Dr. Who that I hadn’t listened to at the time. (It was about two or three months old at the point this story happened). That morning, I had stuck it on my iPod with the intention of listening to on my way home from work. By the time my classes were over, I’d pretty much forgotten about the previous instructor passing off Dr. Who as British literature.  I started listening to the podcast.

Their one-off Dr. Who podcast was over the same episode that the instructor had been showing his class.

I mean, this is a television show with what? Hundreds of episodes? To be fair, it was the first episode with Matt Smith as the doctor, so I supposed it was a fairly reasonable choice, but still. And the fact that the podcast was two months old and I just so happened to decide i would listen to it that day?  And it wasn’t even a podcast devoted to Dr. Who at all?

It was pretty weird.”

Do you have an anecdote of a strange coincidence? If so, send it to me via my contact form.

Strange Coincidences: The Lost Book

Today’s synchronicity comes from Darren Goldsmith. Darren left this comment on my post The Fervent Love of Books, and it started me thinking about strange coincidences.

“When I was a kid, I had to sell a load of my old books. It was heart-breaking. One, particularly, ‘Burning Chrome’ a collection of short stories by William Gibson, was really difficult to let go. The tales inside were a real eye-opener for me as a young teen… one of my first experiences with Cyberpunk. I loved the language, the tech, the concepts. Everything. I read and re-read it dozens of times.

I had written in it too – some comments about how amazing I thought sections of the stories were and my name, although for some reason I spelled it backwards: Nerrad. Probably thought that was cool, or something. I even created some flick-book style animations in a couple of the corners.

Years later I was browsing in a second-hand book shop, miles from my then home town and spied a dog-eared copy of Burning Chrome. I hadn’t read it in years so I picked it up. Guess what… it was *my* old book. There were the notes, the animations. And my name spelt backwards. In a heartbeat, I was transported back in time. A literary Proustian rush.

It’s back on my shelf now… and this time it’s staying.”

Do you have a strange coincidence anecdote to share? Send it to me via my contact form.

Strange Coincidences: King’s Cross & Hot Fuzz

Today’s moments of synchronicity are brought to you by Nicky, a member of my in-person writing group, Write Club.

“I have had two moments in my life that gave me pause.

The first was about eight years ago. My ex Grant and I were staying in London with friends over Christmas/New Year. He travelled prior to the big day and his case was mistakenly half inched by an older lady with a penchant for florals and enough chocolate to start her own store.

When I travelled through the same airport, a few days later, I managed to pick up his luggage and took all three cases onto the train into London. When I left the train, I realised that I had left my smallest case on the train. I had put my hand luggage in the rack above my head and in the rush left it there.

Eventually, I got hold of the folks at lost luggage and had to travel to King Cross, a part of London I would never have visited otherwise, to pick it up. When I got off the tube, a voice hailed me. It was a friend of ours Amir, who we knew from Aberdeen but we had not heard anything from him for years and we didn’t even know he was in London.

This was my “sliding doors” moment, if Grant had not lost his luggage then I wouldn’t have put my luggage in that overhead rack and wouldn’t have had to go to Kings Cross to get it back.

The second time was Valentine’s day about five years ago. Hot Fuzz was out on that day and I really wanted to see it. So, myself and Grant tried to book tickets but it was sold out for all the screenings. So, we left to get some food and went back to see something else. I was standing in the queue when a lady came up to me and asked if we wanted to see Hot Fuzz. She had two tickets for the next showing, the same one we had tried to get tickets for earlier. She explained that she wasn’t feeling well and would we like to have the tickets. So, we ended up exactly where we wanted to be but it could have been so different.”

Do you have a strange coincidence story to tell? Send it to me via my contact form.

Strange Coincidences: Brothers

The first post of synchronicity is from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous.

“I can’t disclose my name because it’s not fair to tell others about my brother’s condition without his permission, but this story is entirely true.

When I was nineteen my brother–seven years my elder–and I weren’t on great terms. He had a hard time not playing the role of parent and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take any crap. Needless to say, we seldom spoke to each other and I never picked up the phone to call him.

So, on a Sunday afternoon immediately after I’d returned from a canoe regatta, I walked into the house and called him. For no reason.

At the same time, his wife at the time picked up the phone tried to dial me and couldn’t get through. She had the operator do an emergency breakthrough and explained that my brother was having something like a heart attack and didn’t want her to call the ambulance.

It was actually an arrhythmia in which the heart can’t pace itself and goes crazy (over 200 beats a minute). I drove like mad to his house and loaded him in the back of the car. At the hospital the doctors shocked his heart back into rhythm and he needed to get a pacemaker.

It was scary. And weird. I still don’t pick up the phone to call my brother much. If I get the urge, however, I sure will. He is after all my brother, and there’s a connection there.”

Thank you for submitting your story, Anonymous.

Do you have an anecdote to share? Send it to me through my contact form.

Strange Coincidences

In June, I want to run a short spotlight on the strange coincidences that appear in peoples’ lives.

Life is a crapshoot. Everything hinges on chains of events that could change with the smallest of factors. I play that game of “what if?” all the time. If my parents had gotten jobs in another town, my childhood friends would have all been completely different people. If I hadn’t haunted certain corners of the internet, I wouldn’t have met the man who’s now my husband and I wouldn’t be living 6,000 miles from where I was born. There were probably plenty of times where if I’d made a different choice or been a different person, I could be dead by now. It all seems like so much chaos.

But then in that chaos, there are little flashes of the strangest coincidences. Where something happens and you ask yourself “what were the odds of that?” Some are very small. For instance, my agent and I share a birthday (odds 1/365). But in other instances the odds seem astronomically smaller. And most people seem to have an interesting story or two of synchronicity.

I want to hear your stories. Do you have an anecdotes of strange coincidences? I’ll share a very short one.

I was very close with a girl in kindergarten–her name was Nicole, I think. She moved away and I didn’t know where, and then I moved away. The day before I started at the new school, I asked my mom if she thought Nicole would be there. My mom said, obviously, “um, probably not.” Who was in my class on my first day? Nicole. We didn’t end up being that close in the grand scheme of things, but still, what were the odds?

These coincidences are used all the time in fiction, but they happen in real life. So, if you have an anecdote of a strange coincidence, please drop me a line in the contact form on my website or get in touch via Twitter, email, or Facebook. I’ll put your stories up on here. You can be either anonymous or leave your name, URL, and Twitter, and I’ll link them on here.

How many spotlights I do depends, naturally, on how many stories I receive. I’m looking forward to hearing your strange coincidences.