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SQ update note, Harvard plagiarism thing - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
SQ update note, Harvard plagiarism thing
Chapter 17 of Shades ("The Shrieking Shack") is up at SQ. I eased some transitions, added a (very) little conversation with Daffy and Sanjiv, and addressed a concern I had about the whole plot. (Dude, Snape knows how to use the Whomping Willow--why didn't he just let the DEs in through the Shack?--so I have Tonks regularly changing the security charms to get in and out in Hogsmeade, and only the people who need to get through from the Hogsmeade side know how to get past them. Hogwarts staff don't need to.)

So, I've been thinking about that Harvard sophomore who copped to borrowing large parts of someone else's book to write one she sold.

God--I'm paranoid that I might accidentally sometimes have a phrase stuck in my head from someone else's work, and I'm a bloody fanfic writer. Someone who's writing blare-of-trumpets Original Fiction... you'd think she'd want it to be, you know, original. I think where I don't get it is... what's the fun of it? Yeah, you get money (and Lord knows, I always need money), but you spend all that time with your stomach twisted in knots, waiting for someone to drop the guillotine blade... and any pride you might take in selling something to an editor is gone, because you're thinking, "I cheated. I won, but I cheated." No wonder she admitted to it.

It's easy to accidentally get words stuck in your head, and most of the time, a phrase or two really isn't going to hurt anyone. I doubt any author reads so little that he or she doesn't have voices in his or her head, and they've probably made it into plenty of published works. And it's next to impossible not to grab ideas. Ideas are like weeds, and they tend to take root; that's why they're not copyrightable, except in their expression. What's not so easy is to take big passages. Even if you have them committed to memory, something a whole paragraph long, you've got to remember where it came from, or at least that it came from somewhere--and as to a whole passage? Either that took a lot of work to memorize or it's retyped while staring at the original, and in either case, there's no way to avoid knowing it.

At the same time, the publishing industry needs to have a serious look at itself. Ever since Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (or maybe S.E. Hinton, though the current rush, I think, started with AAR), they've been looking for these wunderkinds so they can say, "Oo, and the author is only nineteen/sixteen/fourteen!" I'm all about not discriminating against a teenage author--big on teen rights--but there's a difference between that and looking for them to put out in front of cameras like interesting knick-knacks. So they grab a manuscript from a teen which seems to have halfway decent diction, declare it "authentic," and obviously don't put it through a lot of scrutiny.
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From: arclevel Date: April 30th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
According to this article on Slate, it was almost the opposite problem. The book was practically written by committee, and the published version had very little to do with the original manuscript that was actually submitted. It doesn't excuse the plagiarism, but it really looks like this process went wrong on several levels, and it's hard to tell when or where the plagiarized parts made their way in.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 30th, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, it's Alloy Entertainment. That explains a hundred things.

Those guys, I don't trust any further than I can throw them. They undoubtedly did notice the similarities and said, "Ah, they're just teens; market says they like to read books that are just like the last book they read, so they won't notice anything. Let's run with it."
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: April 30th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also read that one of the same editors was thanked on the dedications page of both books. I came to the same conclusion you did - they didn't care and hey, if anyone noticed, it's not like they were going to take the fall for it. Sleazy, sleazy, sleazy.
From: arclevel Date: April 30th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, nice.
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: April 30th, 2006 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another possibility: the editor was the one who actually wrote the relevant passages in both cases, and she really was unconscious of the fact that she was echoing herself. On the balance, I'm leaning toward this explanation because I've done it myself -- I'll be typing up a conference paper based on some of the same material as my dissertation, or making posts about similar topics at several different web sites, and discover later that the phrasing is almost identical even though the two documents were written months apart and I wasn't looking at one when I wrote the other. To me, this sounds a lot more plausible than the idea that Viswanathan would either deliberately copy throwaway bits of description out of somebody else's book (the amount she stands to lose by doing this would be far more than she had to gain) or that she had unconsciously confused McCafferty's phrasing with her own (how many times would you have to read the book for that to happen? But if the passages came from the same brain in the first place, it's far more likely).
forked From: forked Date: April 30th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
This? I'd definitely buy. I know I've read a couple of Jack Higgens' novels where he basically repeated passages from one book in another. Don't know if he intended to or not- but the effect was very much like looking at the matching passages in the Viswanathan case.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 30th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd buy it, too, though it doesn't ease my annoyance at the company any less--especially if they're letting the author take the embarrassment for it. Of course, she turned in a substandard manuscript and let them re-write it under her name, so that doesn't say much. Of course, she may have turned in a great manuscript and sold her rights to complain about them re-writing it. (If it's the latter, I doubly hate the company for it.) I suspect it's the worst of both worlds--she turned in a lousy manuscript, necessitating a re-write, and had no say in what they did. If you give a publisher a reasonably clean manuscript within the guidelines they give (and I'm going to write to Alloy and request their guidelines, because I suspect they're dillies), they wouldn't have any need to spend their time re-writing, and everyone can have another martini at the editorial lunch.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: April 30th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
You get the same in Wodehouse -- he did repeat phrases, sometimes quite a lot. (I believe there's one passage describing Dulwich in Sam the Sudden c1925 which crops up almost word for word in a later novel from about 1960, but I don't have the later one to refer to.) It certainly sounds like a plausible scenario from the description in the article (and the linked article by that Barlow fellow).
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: May 1st, 2006 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I like this theory much better than other ones, although I still don't like that poor Kaavya (certainly not blameless, but stil. . .) is taking all the fall if this is the case. But that makes a lot more sense to me than someone deciding to plagiarize minor stylistic passages in a book that don't really add much but would certainly get you in trouble.
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: April 30th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dude, Snape knows how to use the Whomping Willow--why didn't he just let the DEs in through the Shack?

That is a good point, though with the whole Snape thing sort of up in the air--I personally don't know what to believe about him at all, but I'm certain Dumbledore knew what he was doing--the Snape subplot does have a high possibility of being canon'd. But eh.

Plagiarism makes me sick. Especially like this, when someone's doing it to get published, and it's not just for a class or something. There are so many excellent writers out there who can't get a break, and then a cheater has to get through.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 30th, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that's why I'm never going to get into the Snape thing. Emmeline believes she spotted a traitor, but did she see Snape being a traitor, or Snape pretending to be a traitor? If he's not guilty, he's playing a very deep game.
erised1810 From: erised1810 Date: April 30th, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
i'm almsot certian ihead paraphrase where she apaparentl ysaid sheh ada photographic memory which makes it less believable to me that she didn't notice or didn't realize whatshe was doing. and eif yo udo realize it i als odon't havea clue why oyou innocentl ystate you didn't realize.
this -one mademe first giggleand then indeed thin kof anyone who might accidentall borrow stuff fro mfavourite books or names or whatever. and i'm thinkign of musicians or pop stars who write songs and coincidentall ybase part ofthe melody o nsomethign they kept hearing onthe radio, something like that. its' unbelievably dangerous isn't it?
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: April 30th, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really enjoyed rereading the last few chapters of Shades as they've posted at SQ. I love the depth of this story. Speaking of which, i am re-reading Of a Sort this afternoon (drifted to it after reading that Shades chapter) and I'd forgotten how much nuance there was to each chapter. Whee! The tone shifts so subtly but perfectly with each POV, and I'm thoroughly creeped by the Riddle chapter. Yikes, you've captured a budding sociopath so perfectly. I love that story, because there are so many Ah-Ha! moments in each chapter, and it all feels very *true* to canon.
faeriemaiden From: faeriemaiden Date: May 1st, 2006 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a bizarre habit of plagiarising myself. I often re-read and re-read and re-read my own works while I'm writing them, sometimes searching for potential titles, and sometimes betaing myself when I haven't got the time to have someone else do it, and because I have a vivid visual memory, I tend to store phrasings away and re-use them without realising it. Later, I come across something I wrote and realise "oh no, I've done it again!" Of course, this isn't nearly as bad as plagiarising someone else, but it's still odd. (I'm disgusted by the fact that so many plagiarism cases have been coming to light recently. Doesn't anybody have any sense anymore?)

I'm all about not discriminating against a teenage author--big on teen rights--but there's a difference between that and looking for them to put out in front of cameras like interesting knick-knacks.

Being a teenager myself, I completely agree. I also really don't like this new encouragement of teenage authors. For the longest time, I wanted to get myself published as soon as I finished a novel, and hopefully before I turned twenty. (Of course, I haven't yet finished a novel, and it's been a while. Oy.) Then I realised that one of the main reasons I haven't finished a novel is that I keep having to back and rewrite because my writing style and ability is constantly, constantly changing and improving. I know for a fact that if by some miracle I wrote something at my age and had it published, I'd be embarassed by it by the time a year had gone by, knowing that now I can do much better. My writing ability is still growing and solidifying at an astonishing rate. Getting published now would be like buying new shoes for a five year old and expecting them to last a while. :)

But the publishing industry seems to be lauding these teenage authors who haven't got their writing straight at all, which is very probably stunting their ability and will to improve. "Oh, well, I'm published now, and everybody loves me and tells me how awesome I am (except those mean literary critics). I don't need to improve." (Also, since a lot of these teenage writers are pretty sub-standard in quality, it gives serious teenage writers a bad name. Teenage poetry is already stained enough. Leave off!)

bloodrebel333 From: bloodrebel333 Date: May 5th, 2006 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
For the longest time, I wanted to get myself published as soon as I finished a novel, and hopefully before I turned twenty.

Exactly. When I'd just begun writing I told myself again and again that I had to write a book while I was still young enough to get publicity and be considered a talent, rather than waiting till I'd reached the thirty. I'm so glad I didn't finish any novels back then. Currently it's turned out that it won't be very difficult for me to publish my works, but I'm still waiting. I'm lucky no one gave me this chance five years ago.

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes hurts my ego. Her In The Forests Of The Night hurt my ego. Sigh. :P
faeriemaiden From: faeriemaiden Date: May 11th, 2006 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
And if you get published young and get hugely publicised, guess what? That writing is going to be there FOREVER. It's not going to go away, and if it's the typical teenage drivel, it's going to be an uphill battle trying to get people to take you seriously once you've wised up. :) I shudder to think of my first novel ever making it into the public eye. (Of course, I was ten. I don't think ten-year-olds get published. At least, I seriously hope not, because if so, I have lost all faith in humanity.)

Chistopher Paolini is my particular thorn-in-the-flesh. I would never use "from whence" in a novel. Or nearly plagiarise Tolkien. :p Plagues, that sounded snobby, but it's true. Also, if you're going to invent a language, learn a little bit about how languages work first. Learn a bloody foreign language first, at least. Maybe five. Tolkien did. *has been burned by too many ickle Paolini fangirls* [/crazy rambling]
soonest_mended From: soonest_mended Date: May 2nd, 2006 03:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely agreed. I always wanted to be one of those underaged authors, actually. Until I started reading the works of Orson Scott Card, and comparing them critically with my own literary disasters. ;)

Then I realized I'd need at least twenty more years of experience and perspective before my work stopped sounding... raw. It's a sad fact: nothing can replace the wonderful flavor of maturity in fiction. Originality aside, vital is it is, a fifteen-year-old author simply can't command the kind of depth and power necessary to write realistic fiction-- or at least no fifteen-year-old author I've ever been introduced to.

And it saddens me that the teenage authors seem to be flocking in hordes to the fantasy and sci-fi book markets more than any other. If there's one thing absolutely necessary in fantastic fiction, it's believability; once that first touch of magic appears, we're going to need the dialogue, the characters and the emotional interplay to be as real as possible to make up for the impossibilities of the situation. That's where the 'young authors' fall through the cracks into mere novelty.

Have you read the 'Eragon' series by Paolini? Reading those books, I caught myself wishing again and again he'd waited a few years. So many terrific concepts, characters and ideas appear in the series that it's a shame to see them sent out into the literary world half-developed and mostly naked. *sigh*

That said, if ever I catch wind of a genuinely solid teenage author whose works have real emotional power and impact, I will be the first to bow at their feet, let me tell you.
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