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Behold my wondrous teal deer!
taintor 01
cleolinda
Cassie Edwards: Remarkable Similarities to Pulitzer-Winning Novel Laughing Boy. Ohhhhhh shit, now we're really in it. Because this isn't "I didn't know you couldn't copy research sources" anymore.

Meanwhile, someone gets into it with Nora Roberts, whose wonderful patience finally snaps at being told "Shame on you," in the comments at the Smart Bitches site. I'm not saying that Roberts will look back at "Bite me" as one of her finest moments, but OMG ILU NORA!

You know what? Actually, I'd like to stop here and talk about something--something that's a little bit moot now that we have some Pulitzer Prize plagiarism going on here--but something that I see come up so often in fandom. I do think that when people plagiarize and turn around and say, "I didn't know!," a lot of them are being disingenuous. I used to get plagiarized a lot--it probably still happens, actually, but I've written enough "Fifteen Minutes" now that I feel like there's a strong likelihood that anyone who reads a stolen parody is going to eventually realize someone else writes those things, because the internet's just like that. I'm not saying I don't care at all, but it's not the four-alarm fire it used to be. And that's the thing: people would almost always just take the thing and post it, in its entirety, in their journal or on a message board, often with no other commentary at all. They'd just throw it out there. Naturally, when you post something in full, people tend to assume you wrote it yourself. But by not saying so, you have the wiggle room to go, "Oh no! I never said I wrote it! I just wanted to show it to other people!" Yeah, and when people compliment you on it, to accept that praise without correcting them. Uh-huh. I've come to not even think of that as plagiarism so much as just outright theft, although I've also seen people take a parody I wrote and just change some of the lines, maybe add a few more in. That I would definitely call plagiarism, although if they change so much of it that the words aren't really mine--but the scene divisions are still the same, the number of lines in a scene and who they're parceled out to is the same--well, it's a shitty kind of thing to do, but I don't really press at that point. If you have nothing better to do than use someone else's work as your personal scaffold, well then. And you know, it's really not that bad of a thing to do if you want to learn or practice; I've heard people advise young writers to type out passages from great novels just to get the feel of the words in their fingers. Not to use them; just to practice them, like practicing scales on a piano. And if someone said, "Cleolinda wrote this originally, and I found it over here [link], and I wanted to try my own jokes with it"--well, again, I don't know that I would think very highly of the outcome, but if you call it what it is--practicing scales (although, good God, who would want to practice on movie parodies? )--the outcome isn't really the point, is it?

Okay, wow, that wasn't even the point I was intending to make. Digression ahoy! What I was really trying to get around to was Edwards' copying of research sources. As Candy at Smart Bitches pointed out, copying books out of copyright is plagiarism, an issue of what's right, but not an issue of what's legal. Copying that 2005 article about ferrets? That's an issue of what's right and what's legal. And people are arguing on one hand that, as English teachers (some of them actually are, it seems), they would have failed Cassie Edwards had she been a student. On the other hand, people are arguing that either Edwards just didn't know (she does seem to be an older lady) or that people in general don't know. I'm not here to call bullshit on any of that. I don't know what people are taught; I can't speak for them. But I thought it would be interesting to lay down what I was taught and see how it sounds to y'all:

When using someone else's words verbatim, you put them in quotation marks. Period. In a lot of nonfiction--a lot--I see writers just dropping in unattributed sentences--in quotation marks--and using footnotes or endnotes to actually cite the sources. This must be a stylistic issue, because I was always taught to actually attribute sources in the same sentence--to never let a quote go drifting on its own, but to anchor the first time with a "notes Jane Smith in her book" or "writes John Brown in his ground-breaking study" or whatever, and then to refer to them as Smith and Brown thereafter. (Actually, I was taught by an AP teacher to question my sources, if appropriate: "What Smith seems to ignore, however, is the issue of..." Citing sources by name in text can give a paper the feel of a discussion, rather than just dropping opinions in like facts.) I personally find floating quotations to be a bit weird--if you find someone's work interesting enough to use, why not discuss it in the text?--but a lot of scholarly biographies just use the footnotes, so I have to assume that it's considered kosher in the industry.

Obviously, using someone else's words verbatim, in quotation marks, cited whichever way, looks 1) bizarre and 2) lame in fiction. That's why you don't use someone else's words in fiction at all. *

When using someone else's information, non-verbatim, you cite parenthetically or with notes when writing nonfiction. When I was in high school, the teachers used to insist that every single sentence have some kind of citation (unless several sentences in a row came from the same source, at which point all those sentences were under the umbrella of the parenthetical/footnote at the end. Also, that you would do some substantial paraphrasing ought to go without saying). I think they were trying to train us to research instead of spout off opinions--the time would come for that later, and "later" was generally senior year or college. Opinions on this or that book often took the form of a separate essay assignment, so when they wanted to make us research facts or criticism, generally as preparation for college, we got the "everything must have a citation, except maybe your first and last sentences." Yeah, we sweated over those, frequently coming up with our own ideas and then trying to find sources who agreed with us. I'm not saying this was an ideal way to write papers, but we were trained--on pain of failing grades and possibly suspension or expulsion--to be safer than sorry. "Even if it feels ridiculous, cite everything," we were told. Again, I think they were really training us to not get kicked out of college classes (a renowned teacher I had twice actually had been a professor); I was stunned when I got to college and we got put in composition classes freshman year that tried to teach us this all over again, after years of being told that college professors would hit the ground running, assume you knew how to write a damn paper, and fail you summarily when necessary.

Here's where the Cassie Edwards situation gets sticky. I don't know that even I would tell people to use footnotes in fiction; it's distracting from the, you know, fictional aspect of a novel. I think it's good to research settings and situations for your fiction--what can that do except make your work better? But having done so, I would sit there and think, "I can't use footnotes, because that's lame. Therefore I've got to be extra careful with how I use this information," not, "Oh, well, then, I guess without footnotes it's plagiarism but because it's fiction it's okay." Remember, from Lexicongate, the idea that you can't copyright nonfiction facts (as opposed to JK Rowling's fictional "facts")? Inside the Victorian Home doesn't have copyright a Victorian dinner menu that Judith Flanders found. But--I don't know, am I just crazy? Am I just some crazy diamond who thinks, "Well, let's look at the menu. Soup and fish, then some poultry and salad, then a joint and vegetables, then fruit, ices and cheese. Okay, let's choose different dishes but use that general pattern, because it's a nonfictional fact that that's how menus were generally set up"? Because otherwise, I'm just copying someone else, and someone, someday, will stumble across that book after reading mine and go, "Hey..."? But if I also read that menu, and I notice "ginger ice" on there and think, "Huh, I've never heard of that before, that's interesting," and later have ginger ice in a different context it's okay, because ginger ice really did exist, and I'm not copying the actual context in which someone else mentioned it? Am I just totally anal about this?

I admit, I start to split hairs at this level. To bring it back to Cassie Edwards, what I'm saying is that--well, this is what she did (bolding and examples are from Smart Bitches):
[Character speaking:] “There are small cakes made from berries of all kinds that are gathered by my people’s women, then dried in the sun. The dried foods are used in soups, to, and for mixing with the pounded jerked meat and fat to form a much prized delicacy.” He saw her eyes move to the vegetables. “You can eat a strip of teepsinna. It is starchy but solid, with a sweetish taste.” He smiled as his eyes dropped to her waist, and then he gazed into her eyes again. “It is also fattening.”

[Original source, Charles Alexander Eastman:] Berries of all kinds were industriously gathered, and dried in the sun. Even the wild cherries were pounded up, stones and all, made into small cakes and dried for use in soups and for mixing with the pounded jerked meat and fat to form a much-prized Indian delicacy. Out on the prairie in July and August the women were wont to dig teepsinna with sharpened sticks, and many a bag full was dried and put away. This teepsinna is the root of a certain plant growing mostly upon high sandy soil. It is starchy but solid, with a sweetish taste, and is very fattening.

Here's what I would have done, including a sentence that was original to Edwards:
"The women make cakes from all kinds of dried berries--blueberries, chokeberries, even wild cherries--and jerked meat. Sometimes they make soup as well. The cakes are a delicacy, actually." He saw her eyes move to the vegetables. "You wouldn't want to eat too much of the teepsinna, though--it sits heavily in the stomach. Fattening, too."
Flirtatious looks are optional. But how hard was that, honestly? You would adjust this for the speaking patterns of your particular character and also write it better, obviously; I'm writing completely out of context here. Actually, I might not have even dropped all that information into the same section, but for the sake of argument, there you are. And then, at the end of the book, I would have listed sources I used, both as credit and as for further reading for anyone interested. If I borrowed a lot from a specific book, I might mention that as well ("And many thanks to Charles Alexander Eastman, whose book Indian Boyhood provided so much information about the eating habits of the Whoever tribe").

Here's something else worth noting: in order to figure out what other "kinds of berries" you might use, I took a quick jaunt over to Wikipedia. Which is not to say that Wikipedia should be a major source of research, but that you might actually have to, you know, combine information from more than one source in order not to plagiarize. Oh, the horror.

* There is an exception to all this. Writers, even the best of them, steal. Great writers will even tell you to steal. Plagiarism is not the kind of stealing they're talking about. I was reading those Bradbury stories the other day and saw the word "candleshine" and was deeply envious. Of course, now that I've told you this, I can't ever use it. But a lot of us--probably most of us--will see, in the course of our reading, things we'd like to use, individual words we'd like to use more often, styles we'd like to try on. The script format I've used? I'm not the first person ever to use it, obviously, and you using it might be "stealing" in this benign sense, in the sense that you saw me do it and liked it, but it's not "stealing" in the sense of plagiarism, I don't feel. Now, the precise phrase "Movies in Fifteen Minutes," I would consider that stealing, in no small part because it's misleading (confusing people as to who writes what, or perhaps causing them to assume that the same person wrote everything under that title). "Films in Five Minutes"? I'd consider that benign, off-brand "stealing." You're welcome to it, because it doesn't mislead anyone, which is the crux of real plagiarism, I think: misleading people into thinking you wrote something that you didn't.

So here's my question: growing up, what were you taught was plagiarism?


P.S. "A fire has devastated 9 hectares of forest. [The Cleoville] police search for the arsonist." Oh dear.

P.P.S. We'll discuss the Golden Globes winners in another entry after all the winners are in.


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OMG NORA. WIN. I think that is officially the funniest part of this whole thing.

In high school, plagiarism was largely taught to us as copying another source verbatim -- even a part of a sentence. In college, my first semester, the teachers made sure to impress on us that plagiarism extends to paraphrasing another source without credit. So, basically, any time you use any source in your work, in any capacity, you should cite it.

I've never done any creative writing or taken courses in that, and I imagine that the standards are slightly different. As you say, writers (or any creators) frequently rip things off of other writers. It's kind of a fine line -- sort of like using samples in music. There's a big difference in reference or homage, or using someone else's idea as a jumping off point, and trying to pass off someone else's work as your own.

I read bits of this entire mess to my 95 year old grandmother.

She said, and I quote, "Age has nothing to do with it. Back when I went to school, we knew that plagiarism was wrong. Being 'older' is absolutely no excuse."

Just because that particular bit has really, really been bugging me.

Oh good! I didn't want to assume, so it's good to hear that.

It's early yet, but I think I can safely say that Nora's "bite me" comment will go into my Favorite Moments of 2008 file. WIN.

I have pretty much the same sense of plagiarism as you do. What boggles me in this whole debacle is the idea that there are people out there who honestly don't have that same feeling of plagiarism. Like, I can understand being thirteen or something and not understanding that you can't just rip off other people's stuff - God knows my early fanfiction contained several one-liners ripped from various sources and unattributed. But then again, this is stuff I wrote for myself and never put online.

But Cassie Edwards is an adult. Regardless of what she was taught in school in terms of plagiarism and however long ago that was and however that changes how plagiarism is viewed - she's an adult. She should have some sense of right and wrong when it comes to using other people's words. She's a member of the writing community and she should know better.

I never really cared for romance novels, but I think I may check out some of Nora's. Damn but I like her now.

Er, Nora Roberts may be a pretty cool person, but her books are kind of not good. In fact, I find this whole thing kind of hilarious because her books all basically are the same plot recycled over and over.

That said, I don't think she's ever ripped off from anyone BUT herself. Which clearly can't be said for Cassie Edwards.

An effective way to cite sources in fiction is what I find in classic novels, where an appendix at the end lists in chapter chronology the facts/references/sources by page in that chapter. I see this in new editions or translations of eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. I keep two bookmarks as I read along; one where I'm reading the story, the other where I'm following the notes.

I suspect Romance publishers don't want to pay for printing extra pages of notes. Because I see end notes, bibliographies of references, and author's notes regarding their research in all sorts of contemporarily-written historical fiction beyond the Romance shelves.

I'm still thinking about how I want to do it in terms of Black Ribbon. A lot of things I read I didn't end up using in any specific way, but they helped me get a feel for tone, or what was already out there--The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, for example--whereas I can specifically say, "[The Great Big Vampire Book of Vampires] was a definite basis for scenes of Rose Hannah herself doing research," or Inside the Victorian Home was invaluable for creating the landscape of the Munro home." Well, I guess I've answered my own question--briefly discuss why I used each source, mention things I read but didn't use in a specific way, and then give a formal bibliography at the end. Or maybe a (briefly) annotated bibliography, with those two elements mixed together? It's funny, I love doing annotated bibliographies for fun, like this, but when it's for school, I want to vomit. Not sure what that's about.

Cassie Edwards crossed a line before. Now she's drawn another line for the specific purpose of crossing it.

And her books are still horrible. I've read bits of one - they're incredibly bad. I want to know how someone who writes so badly can actually get published and, moreover, sell millions of copies.

My favorite bit is the part where some troll named Samantha writes that Nora Roberts is jealous. Yeah, because someone who's an awesome writer and has sold over 250 million copies of her book would be jealous of someone who's sold 10 million. Psh.

I wish my city had riots. Alas, it is doing very little.

...is that... Mark Hamill in your icon? Because that is terrifying.

just thought i'd mention that

Plagiarism only gets more complicated with art theft. ;(


Anyways, I'd have to go back and agree with Sister Girl and say that you should be paid to tell people that they are stupid. Not enough common sense in this world, nowadays.


It looks like you were taught basically the same plagiarism rules as I was. And I really don't get all the people who are going "Oh, well, that's just how you incorporate research into fiction." It doesn't strike me as right at all. Why would you just lift it wholesale? Wouldn't it sound clunky and awkward? Very few characters are actually going to sound like a work of scholarship. Hell, even the academics I talk with don't sound like books when they're just chatting offhand about their subjects, let alone conversing. It's not how people talk, unless you're trying to make a particular character sound socially awkward and overeducated or something.

Of course, the lifting from the Pulitzer winner blows the lid off the whole "it's just research" excuse. I can't wait to see what will happen.

Edited at 2008-01-14 02:49 am (UTC)

If this were almost any other writer--most especially, if it were a writer I had previously enjoyed--being accused of plagiarism--I admit, I might be a wee bit more "say it ain't so!" However, because this is a) Cassie Edwards, whose books are arguably dreck, and b) an author who is lauded for her "meticulous research" (true enough, if you regard "meticulous" to mean "exactly like the original source"), my primary emotion is pure, unadulterated glee. I'm slowly getting past the glee and moving toward some more serious thoughts on this matter. For one, how in God's name did this go on for so long? This is an established author with a credited publisher; the woman's published literally a hundred books. Setting aside matters of the quality of the writing itself, it seems impossible that someone either in the house or a fan did not catch on to the severe stylistic discrepancies that tipped off the original reader on Smart Bitches. Here's to hoping that this leads to a serious overhaul in the industry's editing policies.


Also: yeah, La Nora's been pretty much rockin' the blog since this shit went down.


Nora Roberts is my favorite person right now.

Re plagiarism - I had similar high school experiences. When writing research papers, we were told to cite something at least once a paragraph, more if we were pulling from several sources for that section. We were also definitely told to rewrite things, not just copy all our sentences essentially verbatim. We had discussions about it and looked at examples, too.

My mom is a college professor, and she actually has been on committees about plagiarism, and has discovered a couple of her students stealing large sections of their homework. It's a really serious thing in academia, as I understand it, both for students and for scholars, to credit ideas.

But I think there are graceful ways to get around it in fiction. I have seen many, many books where the author said something along the lines of, "I am indebted to Bob for patiently answering all of my questions on hair dyes." Or whatever the topic of choice is. If an author does a bunch of concentrated research for a specific book, she should acknowledge that, and list the sources. I don't think that any reader has ever gotten to an 'author's notes' section in the back of a book and said, "Oh, I wished the author hadn't told me where she researched this."

Well-rounded citations...

I read a romance novel recently, though I can't for the life of me remember by who or the title - I want to say 'Night Life' or something (and I loaned it out or I'd look it up) - that discussed a great deal of ancient Egyptian trivia. The author cited the books she used in her research in back *and* the music she listened to that she felt evoked the feel of the story for her. I thought that was all kinds of awesome, myself, though I'm certain I'm biased, since I have iTunes playlists for every story/character I work on in my own writing hobby time. But it's really not that hard. Another page, two at most, depending on font size and layout.

I'm in eleventh grade, and all of my teachers (especially the ones teaching the academic classes- the applied classes aren't as worried, but it's still an issue) make sure to tell us every time they hand out an assignment that a.) Plagarism will result in a mark of zero and a suspension and/or expulsion, (and will go on our permanent records) and b.) We have to cite all our sources (MLA citations, Chicago-style footnotes). Failing to cite sources can lower a mark by at least ten percent. Maybe Cassie Edwards wasn't taught this in school, but it doesn't take much to realize that copying published books= big writing taboo.

I can't seem to get to the comments to read them.

It's a pop-up window--you may have those blocked.

(Deleted comment)
See, I consider that kind of footnoting to be "inside" the story--Nabokov does the same thing in Pale Fire, Mark Danielewski in House of Leaves, that kind of thing. When you see them, you know there's more story ahead. If they're "outside" the story, to cite sources, it's kind of like a garment turned inside out where you can see the seams: you're glad they're there, but you'd rather not see them unless you went looking for them.