Listen to the truth they tell you*

I’m putting these two links at the top of this post. The rest, if you care to wade in, is my blathering on the Cassie Edwards plagiarism issue.

Read this beautiful and eloquent tribute The Many Faces of Plagiarism by Jane of Dear Author.  

Nora Roberts (AKA the queen of awesomeness) will match donations to Defenders of Wildlife fund up to $5,000 via the SBTB site. Donate early. Donate often.

Now the rest. You may stop reading here.

So, I asked Andrew last night what would happen if, while writing a report on turtles, he found and really great article about them and copied a couple paragraphs into his report. His response:

“No! You can’t do that. That’s plagiarism.”

Can I get a hoo-ah for our school district?

Then I told him the background, minus all the drama, about the current plagiarism scandal. His initial response mirrored mine:

“Maybe she was tired and didn’t know what to write about anymore.”

Initially, I thought a variation on this theme could be the case. Contract pressures, writer burnout after 100 books and twenty five years. I wouldn’t condone the behavior, but at least I could, in theory, understand it.

I told him that didn’t seem to be the case, that the author appears to have copied a multitude of sources during her twenty-five year career. His second response:

“Did she (the woman who discovered the plagiarism) get a reward?”

Not exactly.

We ended the conversation there (although Andrew wants to read the news articles about it) because, he was getting ready to go to Boy Scouts, which, if you don’t already know, Dr. Charles Eastman helped established.

Dr. Charles Eastman is also on the list of authors that Cassie Edwards has apparently plagiarized.

Nice to see the universe still has a sense of irony.

The reason I’ve stayed relatively quiet on this issue is I simply can’t wrap my brain around it. I don’t understand how someone could do this–not morally, not ethically, but physically. Pulling in such disparate (if highly regarded) sources and cobbling together book after book into something passable (remember, Cassie Edwards has published 100 books) sounds like more work to me than actually doing the writing.

I feel like I’ve stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Cassie Edwards was 46 years old when she started her career as a published author, just a scant few years older than I am now. Over the course of twenty five years, she has published 100 books, in multiple formats (hardcover, mass market paperback, large-print editions). I have no idea about foreign rights sales, but I imagine there have been some. Ditto for re-releases of her backlist. She has a substantial and loyal fan base. She is, by all surface accounts, a professional author.

So why, when she’s called on the carpet about this, people equate it to picking on a frail, white-haired little old lady? This isn’t a line lifted here, paragraph there in only her later books, or for that matter, in only her earlier works. This isn’t a little old lady who finally published her one an only tome and didn’t paraphrase correctly.  

What if two guys had a review site, and they called it Intellectual Snobs Who Dig Horror. (Oh, that is horrible.) Let’s say they didn’t care for Stephen King, gave a few of his books bad, even scathing, reviews, then discovered that Mr. King had plagiarized on the scale of Cassie Edwards.

True, Stephen King is a decade younger than Cassie Edwards. He also began his career a decade earlier and has fifty or so novels to his credit.

Would the tenor of the online discussion (and in some cases, I use the term discussion loosely) be the same?

(For the record, I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King because he writes horror and dude, that’s scary. I did enjoy The Stand, Misery, and his writing craft book On Writing.)

Oh, I imagine there might be some calls to leave him alone, but as many? I can’t imagine it. First, Mr. King is a man who has wrestled with many issues during his career and has owned up to them.

Second, and I hate to say it, but I suspect a great many people would expect him to–again, here I go, forgive the phrasing–act like a man.

Let me “de-genderize” that. People would expect him to act like a professional author.

Why don’t people expect this of Cassie Edwards? Is this a gender issue? A genre issue? I’m not asking these questions to be snarky, but to truly find some answers, because the whole tenor of the discussion bothers me.

The us vs. them bothers me. I’ve seen cries that this is a witch hunt, that Candy and Sarah went out of their way to bring Cassie Edwards down. I’ve seen other posts that equate this to everything from mean-girl antics to McCarthyism. (I haven’t found the Nazi reference yet, but I’m sure it must exist.)

And yes, there are the wingnuts on both sides stirring the pot. Sadly, the wingnuts, like the poor, will always be with us. The answer to wingnuts is not silence, it’s not to cower in fear of them, but to work to bring forth more honest and reasoned discussion. And not just about this issue, but who we are as a genre.

Because I think we’ve failed as a genre. When you fail, you pick yourself back up, assess the damage, then figure out what to do next and, if necessary, how to make reparation.

I believe we should examine this, focusing on reasoned discussion and education. The calls to pass this along to the “proper authorities” and go back to business as usual bother me. Yes, the publishers need to do their due diligence. But I believe the reason they will perform their due diligence is the breadth and depth of the plagiarism that’s been uncovered in the first place.

I realize this feels like a black eye or a sucker punch to the genre as a whole. I also think it’s an opportunity for growth as well. We can ignore the situation and hope it goes away, or we can do something about it. The two links above are a fantastic start.

For my part:

  • I don’t want to be a writer who looks the other way.
  • I don’t want to be a writer who’s scared to voice her opinions on important issues.
  • I don’t want to be a writer held hostage by the threat of one-star reviews on Amazon.

Fear is the great silencer.

*hat tip to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the title to this entry

4 Comments

Filed under Reading & Writing

4 responses to “Listen to the truth they tell you*

  1. A child gets the concept of plagiarism but a grown woman can’t? I don’t buy the “I didn’t know” excuse. How can she not know it’s wrong?!

    It should have come out long ago. The amount of the plagiarism in her books is huge. I don’t care if she’s a man, woman or both, it’s still wrong.

  2. I’m with Chris. And I do think it’s genre-related and little old lady related. And it’s ridiculous. She did what she did and now she has to take responsibility for it. No student leaves my classroom without knowing d****d well what plagiarism is.

    Great post, Charity.

    Also, if you have any time and want some fun, do you want to join us for the Writing Game? It should be a blast. That is if the work cloud has lifted. 😉 If you want to, and can, play just check out my blog for the specifics.

  3. Fact is, if it hadn’t been there to find, the SB’s (no matter their extreme prejudice toward Ms. Edwards) wouldn’t have been able to find it.

    Don’t rip on the messengers… sheesh…

  4. darcy

    When Sara was in second grade, she wrote a story based on Jan Brett’s The Mitten. Even at seven years old, after only reading/writing for a couple of years, she knew that it was not ok to copy another writer. Her story wasn’t about a mitten at all … it was about a sock 😉

    Seriously though, she DID understand the importance of making the story her own (as much as a 7 yo could). Don’t try to play that age crap on me.

    Edwards was a couple of years younger than I am now when she first started stealing. Although I sometimes feel like it, I’m not feeble enough to hang up the ole ethics yet.

    Shame, shame on her. And shame, shame on all those silly women who seem to think she did nothing (or almost nothing) wrong.

    All hail the Smart Bitches!

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