Friday, April 28, 2006

How to Build a Writing Career the Quick and Dirty Way.

I know that writing a novel is hard work. Hell knows I failed at it more than once. That being said, I admire young writers that persevere and make it all the way to the end of such a journey, and to those who get published with their first book, well, more power to them.

Of course, you sometimes hear the word “plagiarism” come out, and it shakes the publishing world a little each time it happens. The newest scandal of this kind is How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, by 19-year old Kaavya Viswanathan. A fellow author, whose work she was intimately familiar with, discovered through her fans the stark similarities between certain scenes and dialogues in both of their work. What is more stunning is given the litigious nature of American society and copyright holders, no one has threatened a lawsuit yet. Kaavya’s school paper, the Crimson, also busted her pretty hard.

As a small side note, and this goes somewhere related to this topic, I remember reading about a rather informal study regarding the readership of certain books. As an experiment, a group of researchers stuck cards deep into various copies of a long, turgid yet popular novel with a phone number and a message saying that if the reader reached that point in the book, they could call and receive a 100 dollar prize. A few people called, but given the size of the sample, it said a lot about the buying habits of readers and the fact that they may buy a book just because of its cache (or infamy).

Maybe Ms. Viswanathan was counting on people buying her work and then never reading it. Though perhaps I am being a little too hard on her. She claims it was accidental, and that she is embarrassed by the whole incident. But how much you want to bet that her professors at Harvard are going to be looking at her papers for similarities to other work in her field a bit more thoroughly than they may have before.

And to think, she probably could have made a lot of this negative press go away by saying those few phrases(and from my research, they are small bits of text that were appropriate), were used as an homage to Megan F. McCafferty. That may have gone over just fine. She may have even been able to use the Fair Use defense.

But you all know how that old phrase goes: “'good writers borrow, great writers steal'”. I guess time will tell which, if any category, Ms. Viswanathan belongs in. Of course, there is another phrase that may also be applicable, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” because I wonder how many of us would have heard of this 19-year old girl before any of this happened, and how many people will now buy her book after it has been re-edited… even if they never read it.


turqois said...

i would bet this is one of those things where she's never going to get another thing published.

i could forgive her one or two, maybe five; but forty is asking a lot.

MC said...

In doing the research on this, I found that there were other instances of this sort of thing happening, and the people involved, after a short time, got additional work published.

People have a short memory for details sometimes it seems.

Bluesky_Liz said...

I do believe somewhat the accidental use claim, unfortunately or rather forunately, it's not a legit excuse and never will be.

A writer of mine said that while penning her novel she often had to check back on her own writing to make sure she didn't incorporate materials from somewhere else. She found that having read so many books similar in plot and genre to what she is currently writing about, she sometimes unconsciously incorporates bits from other books thinking that her mind came up with them when actually, the origin of certain phrases and descriptions came from somewhere else.

I wonder how similar the stories between the two authors are. The parallels mentioned in the Crimson -- some of them do seem to be accidental. It could very well be that certain phrases have become cliches for story book characters. Examples would be "lips curl into a smile" -- is so familiar. So is "said something so random..." How many ways can one describe a scene without it bearing resemblance to some passage in some book out there?

MC said...

Well, from what I read, the underlining plotlines and themes are similar as well, and I know that occasionally it can happen that something sticks in your mind, but the sheer number of times it happened as turqois has mentioned is what makes this a little suspicious.

Similarity and near word for word use in a non-parodic sense seem to make this a little more difficult to make it seem entirely accidental.

MC said...

Just testing a recent comments solution.