Flushed Away (Dreamworks, Nov. 2006) and Ratatouille (Pixar, June 2007). Granted, the plots were wildly different, but can you imagine the conversation when someone said, "Hey, they other guy's coming out with a rat movie, too!"
I remember back in the '90s when three movies about Christopher Columbus (the explorer, not the director) came out in the same year. I doubt Studio A caught wind that Studio B was doing a Columbus epic and stole the idea, followed quickly by the not-to-be-left-out Studio C, but that's what some folks thought. (And if someone did steal that idea, it was probably the studio that made the one I paid money to see, which was terrible).
The world of publishing isn't immune to this phenomenon. When similar books hit the shelves mere months apart, the natural inclination is to assume that Book 2 is a copy cat. In truth, books are scheduled so far in advance there's virtually no chance that could be true. The fact is, there are only so many plot lines in the world. It's inevitable that authors will overlap each other from time to time. What we do with those plots, how we tell our stories, that's where the magic comes in.
I've experienced several instances of artistic coincidence. At least twice now, I've written started writing stories only to discover several months later that those books were new releases by other authors. I may return to mine someday, but right now, it's too soon. Then there was the time when I finished a manuscript only to find out the next day that a similar book was becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. I had no idea this other book existed. In fact, I thought my book was so unique and different, I never dreamed anyone would write something like it. Talk about an ego-deflating experience.
The Pastor's Wife. I began writing that book back in 2006 while living in Southern California. I had the first draft completed by the time my family moved to Las Vegas in 2007. Imagine my shock when I realized our new church - Faith Community - bore the same name as the church in my book. And then my shock deepened when I met an incredible woman named Maura at our new church... the same name as the heroine in my book! I've never known anybody named Maura. I chose that name just because I liked it. But now, I attend a church and have a friend whose names are also in my book. How's that for a crazy, fun coincidence?