Thursday, January 17, 2008

Opening up a can of worms..

So a lot of you reading this might be at least aware of the plagiarism scandal hitting the romance writing world. An author, who I believe has been writing for years, had paragraphs in her books that were almost word for word the same from research books she might have used.

I’ve read a little on this, and everyone seems to have an opinion, most of them extremely negative.

And hey, we all know plagiarism is wrong and stupid and ultimately someone’s going to catch you.

That said, could every one get off their high horse already. We don’t know how this happened, we don’t know if the author in question copied the passages directly from the text, or just happens to have a brilliant memory. She might not have realized what she was doing was wrong.

I know some of you out there might be chuckling at that statement, but the two other incidents of highly publicized plagiarism I know of revolved around authors taking pages and pages of another author’s fictional work.

What she did was lazy writing. A character thinking, or talking in the same way a textbook would, is just plain bad writing.

But there are lots of other authors out there guilty of that.

As a historical author I do a lot of research. I have historical texts all over my house, some of which I’ve read more than once. I use them for fact checking, more than anything else, but it’s possible I could someday have a character describe something in terms really similar to a text and not even realize I’m doing it.
I’m not saying it’s likely, just a possibility.

And because of that possibility, I’m willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Or at least not sneer from my ivory tower at the horrors of plagiarism.

Because if I admit the possibility, I’ll work harder to ensure it doesn’t happen and I’ll feel more for the people who slip up.


Molly O'Keefe said...

no kidding - talk about a can of worms... but I have to agree - I think that cyberspace has made this woman's public execution a bigger deal than it probably warrents. Yes Plagerism is wrong - yes this woman has clearly made some huge mistakes - yes, she is a lazy writer. But wow -- the way people are going after this woman's throat - it's like she plagerized a text book and then killed a bunch of puppies.

I'm wondering how her editor let her get away with character talking like textbooks.

Kimber Chin said...

A few years back,
a bunch of bloggers and I were talking about attribution in blogging.

After a few cyber drinks,
one threw out a challenge.
Give him a paragraph or two and he'll find a match existing on the internet.

We, of course, being smartie pants, gave him garbage paragraphs with strings of unrelated words.

Did that stop him from finding a match? Nope (thanks to spam sites trying to get around Google rules). He found some identical matches and some pretty darn close.

Now not saying that the writer didn't lift the phrases but just saying that with the ease of phrase matching on the internet and the abundance of written material now on it, there are NO original phrases left.

Anonymous said...

Problem is, now they have found evidence that Ms. Edwards did lift passages from a Pulitzer-prize winning piece of fiction - LAUGHING BOY from 1930, I think it was.

And it is extremely obvious she *did* plagiarize.

Sure, with the original passages, you could have claimed 'laziness' in her research (although when someone uses the same exact wording, I don't see that as is stealing work). But with a work of fiction, there is nothing to call it but plagiarism.

Molly O'Keefe said...

No - I totally get it - I've been reading Smart Bitches - it's terrible what she's done. But I feel like what's worse is how everyone has attacked her from her age, to her looks, to her photos on the internet to her writing, to her career, to her alleged paternity. I think like most people I was ready to give her the benefit of the doubt in terms of the non-fiction - but the use of Laughing Boy is without a doubt plagerism and she needs to be dealt with - but let's lay off the woman's website and taste in clothes and the rest of the highly personal things people have been attacking.

At this point can't her shame be private? Now that she's been outted on a blog she probably doesn't read and attacked by people with perhaps way too much time on thier hands. Isn't it enough that her career is over does she have to have the tomatoes flung at her in cyberspace. At this point I feel so bad for the lady - I really do.

Anonymous said...

Molly, I didn't realize the attacks were now personal in nature. There is no call for that.

However, I can't feel sorry for someone who made money off of someone else's writing. She had to have known what she did was wrong.

Most of us would love to have such a long and successful writing career...but it really is disheartening to be a new writer--you work your hardest, try to be original, and struggle for success--and then find out someone like this rides on the work of others and doesn't seem to care. At least, it comes off that way...making excuses, saying she didn't know, etc.

I would never personally attack her, her website, or her fashion choices. And I think anyone who does is pretty scummy. But she does not have my sympathies.

M. said...

i've been following this explosion and have also been dismayed at some of totally uncalled for low blows on both sides of the debate - though, to be fair, there are many blog-posters doing their utmost to remain purely factual; it seems like a few rotten apples spoil the bunch

but what killed my willingness to give benefit of the doubt was
a) the reaction of the author when initially confronted, and also now that time has passed. there was no hint of 'sorry, didn't realize, won't do it again'. there was only 'poor me, attacked for no reason by mean people'and somehow equating this situation with how native people have suffered.

b) kneejerk response of one publisher saying no wrong was done, instead of taking the time to investigate and then make a statement.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think Edwards just got blindsided - considering she's been taking turns of phrase and bits and pieces of information from different sources forever - I think she's probably a deer in headlights at the sudden furor. The correlation to the plight of natives was a terrible move - no doubt about it. But I understand the knee jerk reaction - you just want the thing to blow over and I really think the publisher and Edwards thought for a little while - "what the hell is the big deal?" Not that I am saying that. Just to be clear.

Maureen McGowan said...

Such a smart post, Sinead.

From what I've heard and read this author was definitely guilty of crappy and lazy writing. And probably plagiarism too.

But I recently came upon a book called The Little Book of Plagiarism (or something like that) and since it was, well, little, I picked it up and started to read it. Interesting stuff. And I think the author of that book would agree with you.

And I love your conclusion.

Regardless of how guilty the author in question is (and it sounds worse and worse the more I hear about it) the lesson we should all take from this is to strive to be better writers, less lazy writers, ourselves.

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