Today I ran into some of my old writer friends. It was nice to reconnect and it makes Tucson feel even more like home.
The first speaker of the day was Kevin Canty, an author of several novels and short story collections. His speech was How to Steal: Reading as a Writer. He spoke of the blurry line that exists because "we're all derivative, working within the tradition we've inherited". This session was very interactive, with the audience deliberating over what is acceptable to "steal" from another writer. Metaphor? Cadence? A clever turn of phrase?
My own feeling is that anything that can be considered fair game - like a metaphor that has been used so much that it doesn't really belong to any one writer - is tired and not worth using. On the other hand, anything original enough to want to "steal" should be off limits.
Canty's advice was somewhat along those lines: decide what it is you like about the line and find your own way of saying it.