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April 26, 2006


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Jennifer Ouellette

Excellent analysis of the situation, and precisely why I thought you'd be such a good person to address it. But I feel I should point that your post's title echoes of that of one of my own posts ("Mediagenics 101"). Humph! Plagiarist. :)

Lee Kottner

Cultural trope or shameless stealing? You be the judge!
Of course, it could have just been an homage to your brilliance, Jen.


The line between "homage" plagiarism and plain old being derivative is fine enough, then one has to allow for the issues of tedious, i.e."classic," tropes of any genre.

Fiction is not, as most people assume, a coherent single thing. It is a large body of may things, all of which are informed by many other things. It's at least in part the author's job to be aware of what parts of their writing are informed and shaped by what influences - your blog is frequently about just that, isn't it? :-) The rest of the responsibility lies solely on the editor's shoulders. I have friends in the industry whose job it is to catch all these mistakes and point them out. (And they are ignored a great deal of the time, which will surprise no one, I'm sure.)

The author *is* culpable for not being aware that she stole whole chunks of writing. Of course she shouldn't be crucified - she should have been stopped however. Save the vitriol for the editor and publisher, who failed, utterly, at their jobs.

When I steal a bit from a writer - even if it's a bit that I can safely use because it's not word-for-word, but a conceptual thing, I know it. If I'm writing fanfiction, I point it out. "I stole a bit from Dorothy L. Sayer - if you're a fan of her work, you'll know immediately which bit it is." In my "original" fiction, I've inevitably used ideas and concepts from quite literally hundreds of sources - so who is to say that the work is original?

When I was in Illinois discussing my novel with a reading club, I was asked by one of the attendees why I relied on an old chestnut as a plot complication at one point. I was surprised, not because I didn't think it was a "classic" theme, but because you only have so many choices when creating certain situations - ANY choice would have been done to death! LOL

Like I always say, whatever you came up with - Shakespeare already did it and better, so just give up on the idea of originality and you'll be happier. :-)

Lee Kottner

Erica sez: "The author *is* culpable for not being aware that she stole whole chunks of writing. Of course she shouldn't be crucified - she should have been stopped however."

I couldn't agree more. In this case, it's rather like the "insane but guilty" option some states have in criminal cases. Did Viswanathan plagiarize McCafferty? Sure looks that way. Is she responsible for her actions? Yes. But she's not the only one responsible. Where was her editor, and why is she not being hung out to dry as well? I'd also like to know why Stephen Ambrose gets a slap on the wrist for plagiarizing other historians when Viswanathan gets cricified for it.

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