Thursday, January 10, 2008

Plagiarism Continues to Marr the Face of Romance

But this time, folks, we're not talking about a small e-published author and a fanfiction writer. Not that Amanda's case against JJ Massa is therefore any less important or should be given any less credence. I came out publicly in support of Amanda, and my opinion has not changed. But this time the industry has taken notice and yesterday the Associated Press jumped into the fray.

This time the allegations are against Cassie Edwards. I could summarize the chain of events here, but, to quote (QUOTE, as in provide citations and indications that the words are not mine) from Lewis Carroll, it's best to "Start at the beginning...continue on until the end, then stop."

Head on over to Smart Bitches, where SB Candy first broke the story. Follow the links from there, read the half dozen posts on the subject, and draw your own conclusions.

The Bitches and Jane over at Dear Author have eloquently stated everything that I could wish to say on the subject, so I won't waste time reiterating what they've already said.

I was disturbed by Ms. Edwards' quote to the AP:

A popular romance novelist alleged to have lifted work from other texts acknowledged that she sometimes "takes" her material "from reference books," but added that she didn't know she was supposed to credit her sources.

"When you write historical romances, you're not asked to do that," Cassie Edwards told The Associated Press, speaking earlier this week from her home in Mattoon, Ill.

A poster over at Smart Bitches has come to Ms. Edwards' defense, stating that when any of us have written "a hundred novels, or even one," we'll have cause to criticize her.

Well, I haven't written a hundred novels, but I have written three. I have published 6 works of varying lengths in the last two years, with almost as many slated for release or composition in 2008. And, like Ms. Edwards, I write historical romance. So I know a thing or two about research, and writing. Throw in two years of law school, with a self-imposed focus on entertainment law and copyright. Add a splash of my best friend being plagiarized by another author, and I know a thing or two about plagiarism also.

I do copious amounts of research for my novels. (Whether I always get everything 100% is another story!) The more I write about a certain time period, the less I am required to do for each subsequent book, naturally, because I learn the bulk of what I need to know the first time around. I take great pride in my at-time obsessive research - Katrina Strauss can tell you about the time I spent half a day researching Ancient Roman dress or the afternoon I spent reading up on pencils in Regency England. In addition to the online resources I use, I have an entire shelf in my office filled with books on everything from Scots Gaelic (used for Leading Her to Heaven) to Gypsy law (for Svetkavista).

No, I don't cite my sources. That would certainly be absurd. Depending upon how heavily I rely on a certain source, I will credit it in either the Acknowledgments or my author's note (I love author's notes!). What I do not do is copy passages, verbatim, from references sources and place them in my own work. If you've read Candy's evidence over at Smart Bitches, you'll see that's exactly what Ms. Edwards did.

Typically, I don't use anything so significantly as to justify citing - for "Unspeakable," to give an example, I consulted about a dozen sources to learn about pencils in Regency England. Were they used frequently? What were they made of? What were they called? Would it make sense for my heroine to have them? When I was satisfied, I did indeed give Emma a pencil. Hours of research funneled into this:

On impulse, Emma grabbed a sheet of writing paper and a pencil from her desk as she passed by it, and shoved them into the pocket of her cloak.

That's really it. The result of my research on Roman dress? It was used here:

The man stood some paces away, leaning casually against a tree, one foot propped in front of the other. He was a warrior, dressed for battle in golds, reds, and silvers, and by the finery of his armor, someone of great import. Tight golden ringlets peeked out from beneath his galea, a silver helmet trimmed in gold, which framed the wide square of his jaw and cleft chin. He had a slender, aquiline nose, thin, defined lips, and deep set blue eyes below thick, golden brows.

His breastplate was made of the same silver and gold as his galea, and on each breast were great black horses, rearing up on hind legs, flame and smoke curling from their nostrils. Affixed to the left side of his balteus, which appeared to be made of cast brass, and overlain with silver, was a large gladius, its hilt made entirely of gold, the steel blade etched with intricate patterns. His paenula, fastened around his shoulders with a gold, jewel-encrusted fibula the size of an apple, draped his shoulders and brushed the ground, made of fabric far too delicate to have been wool, the color a deep, rich red the likes of which Rhea had never seen before. His tunic was obstructed by thick leather pteruges, hanging from his waist to his knees. Below that his legs were bare – tanned and muscular, raw power bunched in the clearly defined ridges of his calves.

Even his caligae were elaborately crafted, strips of gold affixed to the leather wrappings around his feet and ankles, they sparkled in the dying light. His figure inspired fear and…something else, that Rhea could not quite define.

And I don't begrudge it one bit. It's a necessary part of my craft, and truth be told, I enjoy research almost as much as I enjoy crafting and composing stories in my head. I'm not going to speculate as to why Cassie Edwards did what she did. It could, indeed, have been ignorance (though I find that justification requires her to be stupid, or to think we are), but the entire affair is disappointing.

Romance writers are already discredited as hacks by authors of other genres, and some readers (had an interesting discussion with my sister over the holiday about romance novels, what they are and what they aren't, but that's another post entirely). In some ways, historical romance authors have an even tougher battle. Miss one single detail, and there will be someone, somewhere, who will catch it and bring it to your attention. You'll be accused of sloppy research or no research at all. I've experienced it, and it sucks. Spend too much time on the little details, and you bore your readers. Don't spend enough, and you haven't built a believable foundation for your characters' story.

Case in point. January Magazine has had this to say about the issue: "A publishing tale this sordid could only spring from romance." It's foolishly untrue, of course, but it's been said all the same.

1 comment:

Katrina Strauss said...

I also found Ms. Edwards' explanation rather lame. No, authors aren't expected to credit their sources when writing a historical piece, but you don't copy and paste the Wikipedia entry directly into your story, for crying out loud!

And yeah, I know how meticulous you are, and you know I'm the same! I recently spent 15 minutes composing one sentence about a wire bail cork bottle, based on two hours of research on vintage bottles at several websites. I'll copy and paste pertinent text into my notes, then go back, pull out keywords (not entire phrases or sentences). Next comes the challenge of seamlessly weaving those keywords into the story in a way that the character would naturally say or think of such words, so it does not come off as a contrived "fact dump".

I can only imagine the effort the non-fiction writer must put into gathering facts and then conveying them in layman's terms. No, the facts themselves can't be copyrighted, but the hard-researched text used to explain those facts is. Shame on Ms. Edwards.