Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often

From today's Boston Globe, another plagiarism case, this one involving a coupla chicklits sitting around apparently talking. Call me a mean 'ol misogynist, but given the tropes that the genre recycles again and again, are we surprised?


I'm off today to the Texas Library Association conference in Houston, so if anyone is going to be there please stop by the Horn Book booth--I'll be there with our marketing director and associate publisher, the vivacious Anne Quirk. I'm also speaking on a panel Friday morning, something about gay-themed books for teens with panelists Michael Cart, Julie Anne Peters, James Howe and David Levithan. In other news of interest to the community, Julie Andrews is also speaking. The title of her speech has not been announced but I have plenty of suggestions:

"Libraries: My Favorite Things"
"How do you solve a problem like Republicans?"
"I have confidence in books!"
"The hills are alive . . . run!"

Miss Mac has not yet decided if she's coming with me, so I don't know if I'll be in touch before the weekend. But see you then.

18 comments:

shewhonowwishestobecalledportia said...

He's gone! He's gone! RECIPES!

JeanneB said...

But why stop at Sound of Music? How about: "Just You Wait, Harry Potter" and "I COuld Have Written All Night"....

Jennie said...

Ah, but the fact that wholesale passages were lifted between the two books in question is even worse than the normal recycling of the genre...

The Harvard Crimson lists some of themhere

little brother said...

Supercalifragilisticdeweydecimalsystem!

Then You May Take Me to the Book Fair!

The Simple Books of Maidenhood

mwt said...

Roger,

Thanks for running this blog. I don't belong to PUBYAC and I don't have a live journal and if it weren't for you, I wouldnt have anywhere to rant in public.

If someone writes a novel that is a hilarious commentary on boys, girls, clothes, advertising and all the joys of being an adolescent, is that okay so long as her protagonist doesn't use the word nunga-nungas? And if she does, does that make it plaigerism? will that author be told to go to jail, directly to jail and not to pass GO, not to mention fork over the unearned advance?

at what point does something stop being merely mind-numblingly derivative and become plagiarism instead?

i think the real world answer is: when the author gets five hundred thousand dollars for the work.

but where should the line be drawn? somewhere before the pink playboy bunny, maybe?

lots of children say "i want to write a book just like ..." now they can. and publishers snap them up, because the public loves mind-numbingly derivative. but I think she is awfully young to have to gauge the difference between derivative and plagiarised. the dangers of having "young" be the new black.

webshred said...

It looks to me like Ms. Viswanathan externalized those books a lot more than she internalized them. The saddest part is that seeing her cribs next to the original McCafferty versions highlights just how poor a writer Ms. Viswanathan is. (Though, in all fairness, I could not have done any better at her age.)

Jane said...

One or two nunga-nungas could be shrugged off as parody or homage. But the mind-numbing list of 40 or more instances of copying seems to indicate a real problem.

I think she panicked. I think she rewrote things the way she might in an essay where she forgot to footnote or use quote marks to indicate her sources. And then in the rush, figured no one would notice. And no one at the publishing company did.

Jane

webshred said...

I think you're being very generous, Jane. Forgetting to quote sources in an essay is a plausible mistake. However, this is fiction. The expectation is that the work is wholly the author's own. There might be a quote here and there from a famous book, person, song, etc., but to use whole passages from another author's novel to create your own is just plain plagiarism. And there shouldn't be any need to remember to credit the author, because you shouldn't be borrowing from their work to begin with!

Andy Laties said...

Weren't we having a plagiarism discussion on this blog two months ago? I can't even remember what it was about!

When I was working as an actor with Child's Play Touring Theatre, reading thousands of poems and stories written by kids, we were constantly worrying that the really well-written pieces might have been stolen. Sometimes a teacher would approach us after a show and tell us that we'd performed -- let's see: Betty Ren Wright comes to mind. Shel Silverstein. Mary Ann Hoberman. Or--an Asian folktale. Did the child understand the meaning of plagiarism? Who knows. Once we'd adapted the piece for the stage, and actually performed it -- sometimes in more than one school -- it was our problem then. I remember that we did keep one piece in circulation among the schools we performed in for several weeks after we learned that it was heavily based on a published story (the Betty Ren Wright one). I argued with my boss during these weeks -- but we had been using the piece as an opener for an hour-long show, and it was the strongest piece we had at the time in our repertoire! Clearly this was unethical. But ethics weren't the only consideration unfortunately.

Little, Brown in choosing not to recall the book we're discussing is engaging in a similar high-wire game. Hell--maybe just a few more days or weeks of scandal and the whole print run will sell out! Hurrah!

And yet -- my current publisher Sander Hicks was the guy who republished the book Fortunate Son, in which George W. Bush was fingered by (it was finally revealed) Karl Rove as having been arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972. That book had been in print for only one week, and 75,000 copies were in the stores, when St. Martin's Press, under intense intimidation from the Bush-gang, recalled it and burned the entire print run. Sander bought the rights afterward and spent the next two years getting it back into print. Here's a case of a book that told the truth being promptly recalled under powerful business/political pressure. And now we're watching a case of a book NOT being recalled when the whole literary community can clearly see that this is a case of what I did with Child's Play Touring Theatre during those weeks we continued touring and performing a piece that we knew was substantially lifted.

I think it's great that public pressure can come to bear via the internet in this way. In the case of Fortunate Son -- in 1999 -- there wasn't yet such a direct mechanism for the public to criticize the actions of the publisher, I believe. I think Little, Brown will recall the book very soon. The author can write her own book.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn’t It Be Literary?
Hello, Young Readers
It’s a Jolly Holiday with Harry

I'm sorry, I just can't compete with the fantastic punning talent that inhabits this blogspace...

ifahren said...

"Just a spoon full of sugar makes the politics go down..."

"How do you solve a problem like the Bush twins..."

ifahren said...

Ooops, hadn't read the original blog entry for a while and forgot that Roger already did "How do you solve a problem..." But I think I was derivative, not plagiaristic.

KT Horning said...

I've heard the Julie Andrews speech before, and the title is:

Supercalafragilisticexpialadabble.

She who loved Victor/Victoria said...

I heard Ms. Andrews' speech, and I hate to sound churlish (she is a living legend, after all) but her introduction was an *18 minute* clip of career highlights, not one of which mentioned books or reading at all. Then she came on stage and starting out by claiming she was irritated by being thought of as a "celebrity author!"

JeanneB said...

I miss Roger. Roger, PHONE HOME!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lady S said...

I recently saw mention of Viswanathan's book (maybe in Entertainment Weekly, or People - something of substance) before all the brouhaha and was impressed that such a young author could get a book deal. Now I know why.

I am sorry for this girl to be put under this microscope. What about her editor and publishing company? Do they hold any responsibility here?

Jane said...

I expect the editor/packagers et al will escape to publish another celebrity/child/dog another day. But this poor girl's life will have been ruined forever.

Yes, she was a happy collaborator in the destruction of her innocence. But I have NO doubt the real culprits lie elsewhere.

Jane