Is it Cheating?

On Thursday a huge black out hit all of San Diego, parts of Orange County, northern Baja California, parts of Arizona, and even New Mexico. Left without power and fading sunlight, my girlfriend decided to take a nap. Before she fell asleep she suggested I write…the old fashioned way. I was reluctant because I was in the middle of working on a novel outline and it was saved on my computer. I wouldn’t be able to make concrete progress without the files open in front of me. She then suggested I write a short story, but I told her I was going to read instead.

So I plopped down on the couch and dove into Broken Time Blues, which is pretty awesome by the way. I made it through two stories and the title of a third when inspiration hit me. A collection of images I’d had in my mind for a long time all came together. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a story about a robot neighborhood in 1920s Manhattan and anti-robot riots. I put down the book and quickly began outlining my story.

As I was doing that and all the next day a nagging feeling kept eating at me. My idea for a story only came after reading some from Broken Time Blues. Did that mean my idea wasn’t my own? I hadn’t read any stories so far in that collection that dealt with robots and riots, so I definitely wasn’t stealing. But it felt like I was borrowing inspiration or something. Is this cheating somehow? Is it cheating if reading a story or book inspires you to want to write something of your own?

I don’t have an answer. I want to hear from other writers if they’ve ever had something like this happen before.