Friday, February 22, 2008
Q & A 133 / Writing Exercise
I suppose that even you, despite your best efforts, no doubt, have not been able to avoid the current scandal about plagiarism by romance author Cassie Edwards. What has particularly fanned the flames is that her publishers originally denied that she'd done anything wrong by lifting passages word-for-word from reference works, as if it was OK for historical romance writers to do that. (They are now retreating from this position--I guess their lawyers finally got hold of them.) Anyway, over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, they've created a 25-page and counting PDF of side-by-side comparisons of passages from her books and the originals.
For those unacquainted with the case, Ms. Edwards added other people's work to her own and passed the result off as entirely hers. A visit to the Smart Bitches site reveals more than a dozen posts on the topic, most of them with a couple hundred comments. Thus the only way Evil Editor can say anything original about the case would be to first read a few thousand comments, and I think we know that's not going to happen.
The time-line, as I understand it, is something like this:
1. Bitches [their term (and, no doubt, Edwards's), not mine] notice that some passages about ferrets and their habitats that appear out of the blue in a romance novel were lifted from a nature magazine with no acknowledgment.
2. Edwards says, "I'm innocent."
3. Additional instances of lifting are discovered.
4. Edwards says, "I did it, but there was nothing wrong with it as the works stolen from were nonfiction."
5. Passages stolen from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel are found in an Edwards book.
6. Edwards says, "Wait a minute, plagiarism is a bad thing?"
This reminds me of the current baseball/steroids scandal. Athlete attains unexpected success. Press notices that his head is suddenly the size of a basketball, suggesting steroids. Athlete claims innocence. Evidence mounts. Athlete says, "Okay, I used steroids once, but I was injured, and I thought it was just vitamins." Evidence mounts. Athlete says, "Okay, maybe it was three or four times, but I regretted it immediately." Evidence mounts. Athlete finally confesses, "I'm a blatant cheater. I sleep with a nightly steroid IV drip."
Of course there are others involved:
The publisher, Signet. As I recall, when Kaavya Viswanathan was revealed to have plagiarized, Little Brown stood by her until the evidence mountain became Everest-like, and then pulled the book from stores. That Signet hasn't done so with Edwards's books is idiotic for two reasons: 1. It would be a great PR move, showing they respect the sanctity of an artist's work. 2. The sooner no one can buy the books, the less chance anyone else will recognize even more lifted passages. When a museum discovers that one of their paintings is a forgery, they don't leave it hanging, they bite the bullet and get rid of it.
The editor(s). No editor should be expected to recognize stolen words, but when you're reading your author's latest romance novel and two characters are talking, and suddenly one says, "While alone in my father's study one day, after seeing a family of ferrets from afar in the nearby woods, I took one of my father's books from his library and read up on them. They were an interesting study. I discovered they are related to minks and otters. It is said that their closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population,*" and it goes on at length from there, shouldn't you suggest to the author that this is absurd?
Which brings us to the writing exercise, as suggested by Tal.
Write a brief scene in any genre--or, easier still, lift one from your own writings--and at some point during the scene, launch into an inexplicable nonfiction explanatory passage (written by you, not plagiarized). Then get back out and into your regularly scheduled programming. The more ridiculous and out-of-place your tangential exposition seems, the better, but it must be inspired by what just happened in your scene. (If two people are talking and someone mentions a chariot, you may pause to talk about chariot construction or Ben-Hur; but not about lemurs.)
300-word limit, deadline Saturday at 10 PM eastern, include a name if you want credit.
* Cassie Edwards, Shadow Bear (July 2007); Paul Tolmé, Defender Magazine (Summer, 2005).
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:12 AM