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The Fallacy of Neutrality and The Matter of Romance

Over the past few days, some have lamented the fact that it was the Smart Bitches who broke the Cassie Edwards story, because they are not "neutral" enough where Edwards is concerned.

I don’t think anyone could argue seriously that the Smart Bitches are neutral about Cassie Edwards (although if you take a look at Candy’s statistics, the legends surrounding the extent of their attention to her are pretty obviously exaggerated). But my question is why should they have to be neutral about Edwards – about anything, actually – to have legitimacy as the source of the Edwards revelations? No one with an opinion is neutral. No one. To be neutral is to be disengaged. And seriously, do we want people to be neutral about plagiarism? Does anyone think that news reporters are disengaged with the issues about which they write? That they don’t have opinions about those issues? How about the ACLU or Ken Starr? I wasn’t thrilled when Ken Starr pursued the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship, but by no means did Starr orchestrate Clinton’s decision to play doctor with Lewinsky in the Oval Office. One might argue that it was a measure of Clinton’s arrogance that he never considered the possibility that he would be caught.

In any case, I think it is rarely neutral people who initially break scandals, even if the appearance of neutrality exists in our mainstream press. The Washington Post did not get its best information from people who were disengaged in Watergate. Dispassionate people don’t care enough to put themselves on the line to expose something people will find shocking and for which they will suffer backlash.

Neutrality, especially in the world of blogging, is a fallacy, and it is counter to the very purpose of a blog. One cannot have a conversation without the exchange of opinions. When I read a blog, I want to know where the blogger is coming from. I want to know where people stand. I am a very opinionated person. People criticizing the Smart Bitches are being very opinionated. If The New York Times had broken this story, does anyone believe that they would not do so with a certain opinion about genre Romance? Would people be complaining about their lack of neutrality when it comes to the genre? Who could have broken this story without being suspect in some way?

There are instances in which I disregard what bloggers say based on their stated or apparent biases. I disregard the opinions of these bloggers or a particular version of a story. Which is where I think we need to distinguish between facts and stories. Facts are stated in the comparison tables on the Smart Bitches site. Stories are told when people speculate on why those similarities exist – why Edwards did what she did, etc. Have either Candy or Sarah been speculating about what they found in these Cassie Edwards books? No. The information they presented on the Edwards books is objective information. I understand how people can think that the attention they have paid to Cassie Edwards’s books (and it is to her books) in the past is unfair. But dismissing what the Smart Bitches have uncovered doesn’t seem any more reasonable to me than anything the SBs have said in the past about Cassie Edwards’s books.

As to what other people say in the comments, are Candy and Sarah responsible for the opinions of their commenters? If they moderated comments would that make them look more neutral or less, do you think. Do the comments that follow the online editions of mainstream news stories on sites like USA Today make those stories any less legitimate? Have people read some of those comments? So why are the Smart Bitches under this kind of "neutrality scrutiny"? Is the AP suspect for picking up the story and including the judgment of a leading plagiarism expert, John M. Barrie, that “Ms. Edwards’ unattributed use of other peoples’ work as her own definitely constitutes plagiarism"? That statement goes much further than Sarah and Candy have in their own posts and comments.

More generally, is it a greater good to have someone who has written more than 100 books continue to use uncredited material in her work? How would that make the Romance community look?

All of this brings me to a second but related point about why it matters that this happened in the Romance community. I know that some have been insisting very strongly that this is not just a Romance issue, but a publishing issue in general. As true as I think that is, I also think it is important to keep in mind that the initial "official" response from Signet insisted on a different standard between academia and commercial fiction, saying "Although it may be common in academic circles to meticulously footnote every source and provide citations or bibliographies, even though not required by copyright law, such a practice is virtually unheard of for a popular novel aimed at the consumer market." Cassie Edwards relied on that same alleged distinction in her own statement that "When you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that." All I kept thinking when I read these two statements was "well, what about those whose work was appropriated and plunked down in those "popular novel[s]"? And where was one source or footnote in the Edwards books? Anyone still in doubt about the "unheard of" nature of source attribution should consult this site (link provided by a commenter on the SB site).

Are we really at the point where we can accept the idea that in commercial fiction we need to show less respect for the work of scholars who, within their own community, are the equivalent of popular novel writers? In that sense, I agree that this is not just a Romance issue. But in the same way that the combination of Cassie Edwards’s novels and Google Books seems to have handed this story to the Smart Bitches, does the Romance community want to hand the mainstream public and press the perception that we don’t value scholarship or intellectual honesty?

It seems to me that if we want to protect the integrity of Romance authors, we must extend the same to authors and scholars and writers in other genres and communities. The Romance writing and publishing communities may not be able to police anyone else, but they can police themselves, and I’m frankly afraid that if we all give in to the idea that this is a general problem in publishing there will be no incentive for anyone within Romance to take care of business within the genre and the community. Because we all know it’s easier to let someone else take care of a problem we don’t see as our own. Especially when there doesn’t seem to be a common articulated standard of source attribution and plagiarism within the Romance community.

So precisely because many see this as a black eye on Romance, I think it is a Romance problem, even if other genres and writing communities share in it. As long as a major publisher and author can claim that there is no standard of attribution or a different standard of attribution from that of other writing communities, in my opinion that’s a problem for Romance authors and readers. Because if Signet had been publishing Charles Bird Grinnell’s original work, I bet they would have a whole different view of the standard Cassie Edwards claims is acceptable in historical Romance. If I wrote a bestselling Romance novel comprised of five or ten unattributed, unquoted sentences each from every published Romance novels, I doubt any Romance author whose work appeared in that manuscript would be defending my "fair use" of their work. And I doubt many readers and authors would feel particularly neutral about it, either.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

51 Comments

  1. More Evidence of Cassie Edwards “Lifting” | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 22:21:11

    [...] light of this, I offer you Janet (Robin) piece on the Neutrality Fallacy. Tagged as: Cassie Edwards, plagiarism, Robert [...]

  2. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 22:24:22

    “It seems to me that if we want to protect the integrity of Romance authors, we must extend the same to authors and scholars and writers in other genres and communities.”

    If romance writers wish others to view them as professional and to show them respect, they must do the same. You can’t be professional without treating others in your chosen profession…the profession of writing period…with the same courtesy you’d expect in return.

    If you’d want people to credit you when quoting your work, then you must do that same. I don’t care if it’s academia, genre or a newspaper piece on whether the landfill is an eyesore. Writing is writing. And it’s hard work. The author of whatever piece deserves their due credit.

    In regards to the SB blog, in all honesty, I don’t go there much. I prefer the DA site for a number of reasons… *G* granted, one of them being I can visit the DA site when my kids are home. But I’m not too keen on the idea of visiting the SB site when the six year old who is a beginning reader…therefore reading EVERYTHING he can…playing by the PC.

    But I’m familiar with their style of blogging. Yeah, they can be harsh, but it doesn’t change the reality of what they found. As I mentioned on Jennifer Crusie’s blog, I’ll take the ugly truth over a pretty lie any day.

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  3. Shayne
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 22:44:35

    It’s a moot. It wouldn’t have matter if it would have been reported on Joe Smoo’s blog then picked up by the other blogs. The same hive of activity would still result. And the same sense of outrage.

    Some might use the fact it was first on Smart Bitches as a smoke screen, but it doesn’t negate the actual charge of plagiarism.

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  4. anu
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 23:00:14

    Drown in real life for a few weeks, and come back to a huge uproar, hah. However it came about, the SBs have done a service to the community. From my perspective, some naysayers are using the kerfuffle to air a few fairly valid and simmering criticisms–regardless whether it makes sense to air them in response to this specific issue. Others are gleefully grinding their axes. And the remaining tsk anyone who says boo to an author. Business as usual for all of them.

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  5. msaggie
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 23:21:02

    I am not certain if this is the best place to post my comment, as there are several articles related to the Cassie Edwards issue. Speaking as an academic (and writer of “non-fiction” scientific papers), it is very usual in academia to be cited for facts – thereby the attribution is to the paper/article of the first finding of a particular fact. Even then, citations do not actually reproduce the exact whole sentences and paragraphs which were used to describe the fact in the original document. The prose is usually re-worded – but then in academia, as long as the original work is cited (i.e. attribution made to the “discoverer” of a new fact), life goes on. In the Cassie Edwards case, it’s amazing to see entire passages copied almost exactly – there is no attempt to even change certain adjectives or adverbs, or rearrange the order of the descriptions – in fact, the first post at SB informs us that it was a friend of one of the SB who notices the lack of consistency in style between parts of the prose in the first Cassie Edwards book she reads which prompted her to do the google search. From an academic viewpoint, it’s more than not citing the non-fiction source – it’s “lifting” entire passages and passing it off as her own. Even if she had cited the source, she would have had to put them in quotes, especially the passages where they are exactly the same as the original source (as we would do in academic circles if we are quoting word for word). Is her argument that because it’s fiction she doesn’t need to do that? I don’t know enough about copyright law, and whether her sources are all published in the same country, etc, but surely whoever pointed this out first (i.e. SB blog) should not cloud the issue, as Shayne says.

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  6. Jane
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 23:40:18

    I have to agree. I have heard some rumblings about how the exposure of this damns the romance genre, but I can’t believe keeping it hush hush is better nor do I believe that if we were all “nice” (such a value laden term) we would elevate the genre either. Like you said, it is about upholding the integrity of the genre.

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  7. Gennita Low
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 01:12:50

    Politics and intrigue are always clouded by agenda. I’m not saying that this is so in the case of the SB breaking the story, but those who are into the blog wars will attach some form of agenda to it. From reading those blogs which disapproved of the SB’s so-called Agenda (that of being the Mean Girls On The Block), all agreed that Cassie Edwards’ plagiarism was indeed shocking and unethical, except that they wished the whistleblower wasn’t the SBTB blog. The reasons ran from “they’re mean” to “the name of the blog demeans romance” (all taken from various sites).

    My question then is, would it have been any less controversial had LLB (Laurie Loves Books) done it on the AAR (All About Romance) forum? Because, for those who are new to the Internetz Romancelandia, AAR had, for many years, used Cassie Edwards books as a whipping post. A few years back, every one of their reviewers went to up to bat, to read one Cassie Edwards book at some point, and their expressed disgust and failing grades became the favorite reading material of many a visitor of that board. Just go there and do a search for Cassie Edwards. Those reviews aren’t too different in tone from the Smart Bitches’.

    Yes, it’s true that after many such F reviews and funning, AAR no longer reviews CE’s books precisely because of the “mean” factor. But let’s say that this policy hasn’t taken into effect and one of those reviewers did a google search and found what the Smart Bitches did. Would the blogging world have come down as hard on LLB and AAR for the exposee? I suspect they would because the AAR Forum was once (and still is, in a less dramatic fashion) notorious for big internet kerfluffles.

    This is my roundabout way of agreeing with you *g*, that there is no such thing as neutrality where exposee and controversy are involved. Everyone will have an opinion, some of which colored by their dislike of the whistleblowers.

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  8. Jenyfer Matthews
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 04:33:48

    There will always be people out there who will take any opportunity they can find to roll their eyes at the romance genre – and this case will be no different. “See? They can’t even write original prose!”

    On the flip side, I think it’s important for “outsiders” to the genre to see that in spite of what Ms. Edwards thinks, most people DO hold her up to the usual standards of writing original prose and citing reference sources. I don’t think that anyone expects footnotes and a bibliography but some attempt at melding the facts into the story and a mention of sources in acknowledgments would have been a start.

    As for the SBTB site – you’re right, Jane. They aren’t neutral – and they don’t have to be. If they were totally neutral on all topics what would be the fun of visiting there? In this case, they simply presented the materials in question. The commenters did the rest.

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  9. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 05:45:16

    Janet, there is no question that what happened to Nora Roberts when Janet Dailey plagiarised her books is just wrong. There is also no question that CE should have at least mentioned her sources in an author’s note.

    However, I still maintain that writing for academia is very much different from writing fiction, and that to compare the two of them is like comparing apples and oranges. In academia it’s not enough to list all your sources in a bibliography / List of Works Cited, but you also have to document your sources in the text whenever you are quoting from, paraphrasing, or simply referring to somebody else’s findings (or to a primary source). As soon as you don’t document your sources of your indirect quotations, you plagiarise.

    Do you seriously propose that the same standards should be introduced in fiction? Have you any idea what novels would look like in this case (if anybody is interested I’d be happy to take a page of one of my novels and document my sources as I would do if I were writing an academic text)? And at the danger of repeating myself, what about intertextuality? As somebody who enjoys interextual and intermedial references, both as a reader and as a writer, I find several comments and sweeping statements that have been made on the two blogs deeply upsetting. (Btw, of course, there’s no question that quoting from somebody else’s novel/short story/poem/play when it is still under copyright, is a no-go area unless you clear the copyright issues first.)

    Anyone still in doubt about the “unheard of” nature of source attribution should consult this site (link provided by a commenter on the SB site).

    Please note that the existence of footnotes in a novel doesn’t necessarly mean that the author uses them to document his or her sources! See (from the site to which you link): “Jasper Fforde, Lost In a Good Book. Has a character whose dialogue at first only appears in footnotes.” And Pratchett, too, certainly doesn’t use footnotes for any sort of source attribution.

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  10. Angie
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 08:22:16

    I think there’s a pretty clear difference, in fiction writing, between making use of facts from other sources and actually quoting from those sources, as in words-in-a-row. It’s never been standard practice to cite sources for incorporated facts, although many writers have used acknowledgements or author’s notes to thank or credit their sources. I don’t think it would improve fiction in general to start requiring specific citations for individual incorporated facts — sorry, but that’s just silly.

    That’s not the issue here, though. No one’s complaining about where Ms. Edwards got her facts. The problem is with where she got some undetermined number of passages, of complete sets of words-in-a-row. That sort of quoting most definitely needs to be cited in some way, although I don’t think formal footnotes are the way to go in fiction. I’ve seen some authors do it in a note or acknowledgement as, “Lines from [song/poem/whatever] on page 82 taken from…” or some such thing, and to me that works perfectly; the source is acknowledged without an actual footnote within the text itself, which would likely break the mood of the story.

    Fictional writing is not academia, no. And I don’t think the same standards should or need to apply. But when another writer is directly quoted, there darned well does need to be some sort of source acknowledgement. There’s been far too much plagiarism popping up lately in fiction, and it makes me wonder how much more is out there and how many writers are sitting glassy-eyed behind their computers, praying theirs won’t be discovered.

    I agree that we do need to do something about it, that looking away or being “nice” or letting someone else deal with it won’t benefit anyone — not even the plagiarizing authors themselves in the long run. But at the same time, let’s not get ridiculous and turn every piece of fiction into a mirror of an academic journal, with footnotes halfway up the page. There’s a middle ground which has been acceptable up to this point and which should work just fine in the future. We don’t need any new rules; we just need to enforce the standards we already have.

    Angie

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  11. Ros
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 09:03:42

    The problem is with where she got some undetermined number of passages, of complete sets of words-in-a-row. That sort of quoting most definitely needs to be cited in some way, although I don't think formal footnotes are the way to go in fiction. I've seen some authors do it in a note or acknowledgement as, “Lines from [song/poem/whatever] on page 82 taken from…” or some such thing, and to me that works perfectly; the source is acknowledged without an actual footnote within the text itself, which would likely break the mood of the story.

    Actually, I think it would be much better if those sorts of passages weren’t used at all. It’s bad writing. Much better to rewrite according to your own style. Of course if you happen to have a character who likes to recite poetry, or recite from encyclopedias, then the kind of note you suggest would work well. But not just within ordinary text. If I wanted a reference book, I wouldn’t have bought a novel. Isn’t that the kind of thing editors are supposed to spot?

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  12. hotflashes51
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 09:19:14

    No, I don't believe that when anyone states an opinion they are neutral. They are either for or against the issue because writing “a neutral point of view or just the facts” is so difficult to attain even in journalism. But comparing blogging with journalism opens a can of worms which shouldn’t be crossed because then we are asking bloggers to bear the responsibilities and ethics that define journalism. Do we really want to go there? I think not…

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  13. Angie
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 09:26:19

    Ros — oh, I agree. [nod] Unless the writer is quoting a poem or lyrics or something similar, or a character is clearly quoting something in dialogue, I agree that things should be rewritten. My point there was that there is a way of crediting a source, short of formal footnotes, but no, it shouldn’t be necessary very often at all.

    Angie

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  14. Karen Scott
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 09:28:22

    Neutrality is a desired state of mind, that is very much in conflict with the human psyche.

    Who was it that said Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum? I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am. Or something like that.

    Personally, I find that in an effort to project an objective point of view, a lot of mainstream news networks, papers etc, tend to go too far in their attempts at neutrality, and thus the actual root cause of an issue or a problem is sometimes left unclear. Another thing to remember is that, the press, the media etc always have their own agenda, whether it be selling newspapers or increasing their audience share, so I don’t believe that total objectivity, or neutral reporting can ever be achieved.

    In my opinion, neutral reporting should be more about obtaining a balance. I understand that examining the motivations of the messenger is something that is at times crucial, but why not deal with that as a separate issue?

    Both sides of a story should be obtained where possible, and both sides of the argument presented, and then it’s up to the readers to decide which side of the fence they want to join. The problem is, some people really can’t handle the truth, and prefer to shoot the messenger instead.

    Personally, I don’t care a fig about being neutral or objective, and I generally have a problem with people who sit on the fence. Mainly because I prefer to know what people actually think, rather than having to wade through a boatload of propaganda.

    Re the Cassie Edwards flair-up, in my opinion, a few (not all, mind) of the people who have expressed their disgust at the fact that this “poor seventy-two year old woman” has been subjected to such a treatment by these very horrible bloggers, also have their own agenda, which essentially has nothing to do with the reporting (if they are honest with themselves), and everything to do with their own (or their friend’s) history with the SBs, or bloggers like them.

    Anybody and everybody who’s ever had an axe to grind with the SBs etc have predictably toed the party line, and tried their hardest to deflect the focus away from the real issues.

    I nearly fell off my chair laughing when I read a comment on Jenny Crusie’s blog about how people on the internet had destroyed this particular commenter’s life, destroyed her reputation, called her names etc, etc. It seemed to me that she’d piped up, not because she wanted to empathise with Cassie Edwards, but simply to point the finger at the SBs and bloggers like them.

    I think a lot of the criticisms that have been aimed at the SBs is just further proof that in Romanceland, there is still a simmering resentment of bloggers, as far as some authors are concerned, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

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  15. Helen Burgess
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 09:51:16

    This matter has now reached the UK press with an article appearing in the Daily Telegraph – a very serious newspaper – it is reported in that piece that Signet seem to rethought their stance on the matter and are taking the whole issue a lot more seriously than they did at first

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  16. Sela Carsen
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 10:19:02

    The New York Times has just picked up the story — and not just a reprint of the AP article. As for tone, it’s suprisingly neutral. Well, ok. Maybe not entirely.

    Having lived both in the UK and the US, I didn’t realize how truly odd the concept of neutrality in reporting was until I moved to England. There, it’s a given that a network or newspaper has a point of view. You don’t pick up the Guardian and expect a conservative slant. For that, you read the Telegraph.

    Even in the most seemingly innocuous reporting, there’s no possibility of neutrality. It’s human nature to form opinions on even the most trivial things. By the very act of judging them trivial, we’ve displayed bias.

    Neutrality is only used as a battlecry by those who try to distract from the facts. They want to talk style instead of substance, but I’ll take substance every time.

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  17. Anon76
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 10:59:33

    Finally. I feel the New York Times ended up being the only report that showed a much clearer instance of copied work. Most of the others picked sections that we all found least damning.

    And I wholeheartedly agree that while this is an issue that involves all fiction/non-fiction concerns, the romance community should be standing up and shouting. It was found within the genre, and we must speak up or look like the dithering twits many claim us to be.

    In fact, a few people who visited SB and commented learned of the issue on unrelated blogs. After reading many comments, they said that though they don’t read the genre, they do have a greater respect for its writers and readers because we are not all boas and bon-bons. (My phrazing, not theirs.)

    And don’t get me started on the issue of “picking on a poor 72-year-old”. She’s been published for 25-plus years. Meaning, in her mid-forties, she began on her journey and may have (not proven) initiated these practices from word go. That’s plenty young enough not to pull the “poor old me” card. I’m mid-forties and find people defending her with the age thing rather offensive. No, HIGHLY offensive. “Yeah, but she’s old now, cut her slack.” Me, “Yeah, but she wasn’t for MANY years!”

    Dang, told you the age issue was a hot spot for me. Sorry all.

    Anon76

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  18. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 11:15:55

    And don't get me started on the issue of “picking on a poor 72-year-old”.

    Now this is just me speaking… but if somebody implied that a woman should be left alone because she’s 72 and therefore helpless… uh… okay, the 72 years that come to my mind would probably have a few choice words for whoever made the implication.

    Namely my seventy something year old grandma. Think she’s 79 now and if somebody implied that to HER…. oye. Please, do it when I am NOT around.

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  19. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 11:16:42

    Daggone it… the 72 year OLDS…. not the 72 years.

    Caffeine. Need more.

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  20. azteclady
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 11:26:17

    I have been following this all over the place, and posted both here and at the SBs. I’ve also posted links to both these discussions in a couple of forums I belong to. This is my latest post at Suzanne Brockmann’s scrolling board:

    I want to make clear why I keep posting on this issue. I am an avid reader, and a frequent visitor at both the Smart Ladies and Dear Author blogs (among many), and reading around the blogosphere on the issue of plagiarism in general–and about this particular instance of it–I’ve been amazed at how many people consider it “not a big deal” for a variety of reasons.

    Some seem to think that posting and commenting on this issue shows that the person posting/commenting has a ‘vendetta’ against Ms Edwards. (In other words, that the plagiarism wouldn’t have been made public if it had been done by a beloved author of the Smart Ladies.)

    Some seem to think that the use of the copied material shows that Ms Edwards did, indeed, ‘research’ her background information, and so, its use shouldn’t be criticized.

    Some seem to think that hey, Ms Edwards is in her seventies, it’s mean to attack her (with the facts, mind), disregarding that the thefts go as far back as the 1980s.

    Some seem to think that since most of the original sources are academic and/or out of copyright, and hence the lifting is not copyright infringement (i.e. illegal/actionable), then it is “fair use.”

    Some seem to think that adding dialogue or action tags in the middle of a didactic passage lifted verbatim from an academic source, or flipping the order of a couple of adjectives, is ‘paraphrasing’ and thus not plagiarism.

    Some seem to think that it is unreasonable to ask writers of fiction–and of romance novels, to boot–to document or, indeed, to even acknowledge, their research.

    Some seem to think that airing this is either (a)not classy, (b)fueling the general misconception that romance readers are all catty b*t*hes all out to get one another, or (c)too much noise over nothing.

    My reaction to all of the above is one of horror and indignation.

    I’m horrified that so many people don’t seem to understand the difference between illegal and unethical. Whether Ms Edwards’s ‘lifting’ is illegal and actionable or not, it’s still unethical. She profited from other writers’/researchers’ work, and didn’t ever acknowledge her sources, not in the most general manner.

    I feel indignation that my favorite reading material is considered so trivial that asking for the authors to uphold minimum standards of honesty (don’t sell me other writer’s words as your own, for crying out loud!), is considered “mean” or unreasonable.

    I feel the need to educate my fellow readers on what is and what isn’t plagiarism, because if we shrug it off, what hope can honest authors have when their beautifully crafted work is ‘borrowed’ by someone else for profit?

    And lastly, I am definitely indignant at the prospect of paying good money for an ‘original work of fiction’ which consists of lifted and uncredited material from other sources–sources who won’t get either credit nor financial compensation for its use.

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  21. Sherry Thomas
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 11:39:39

    Neutrality never exists anywhere–and never existed, because the human psyche is not capable of neutrality except when we sincerely don’t.

    Anyone who ever wields a pen has a bias toward or against something. I only wish the general public had known how in bed Judith Miller had been with her subjects before we all read her articles on WMD.

    In the case of the SBs, we know exactly where they stand. And that’s better than any supposed neutrality. They are open and honest about what they think and I trust them better as a source.

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  22. Katherine Kingston
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 13:35:55

    The backlash against Candy and Sarah at Smart Bitches strikes me as a clear case of “Kill the messenger.”

    So what if they’ve made it pretty clear they’re not fans of Cassie Edwards? No matter what the industry or endeavor, it’s generally not your friends who will call you on any dishonesty.

    Nor did the SBs mount any personal attack that I could find on CE herself, though I admit that wasn’t entirely the case with some of the commenters.

    The SBs and their allies laid out very clearly, in ways that can be easily verified, the evidence for their accusation. What else could anyone expect them to do? Keep quiet when they discovered that a much-celebrated author might be stealing other peoples’ words?

    As a romance writer, I would find it insulting if we weren’t held to the same standards of authorial honesty as other writers, which is why the SBs have done us all a favor in revealing this.

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  23. Janet
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 14:50:30

    First a few general comments before a long-ass response to Sandra Schwab (*g*).

    The comments about how anyone could pick on a 71 year old woman run counter to my own perception. I see it this way: at age 71, after more than 100 books, a professional writer should know beyond question what constitutes plagiarism. The power of her sales is reflected in Signet’s initial response, IMO, and so I don’t really get the perception that she’s weak and frail (i.e. has less power than the SBs or anyone else questioning her actions?) boggles my mind, because if she weren’t so prominent within Romance, I don’t think we’d have gotten that initial dismissal from Signet or the RWA. So beyond the fact that a) I think Edwards’s age is beside the point, b) IMO at that age and experience she should know better than to say she thought what she did was okay, and c) her age is hardly doddering AND I think seeing her as powerless is a bit of projection or deflection.

    As to those who are using this to spend a grudge against the SBs (or DA for that matter) those complaints are transparent. The others, though (more general they’re being mean) IMO gets right back to this whole conflation of the author as a person and the work of a writer. And I honestly think that until we are better as a community of making that separation (and not positing an issue of plagiarism in terms of being kind or nice or discrete, i.e. private), these debates over how a situation like this should be handled will occur, and will include the kinds of arguments people are making about the SBs as an inappropriate venue in which to post and discuss the controversy.

    I agree with the comment that blogs should not be held to the same standards of mainstream journalists, although I don’t think that creates a free-for-all for bloggers — that if a blogger wants to be taken seriously, s/he needs to aspire to a certain level of integrity and honesty. But because, as some have pointed out, all media is driven by an agenda, even if bloggers were held to a journalistic standard, that standard is itself not neutral.

    And finally, I absolutely believe that if a big deal of this issue had not been made on the SBs and DA, among other places, that an important issue would have been once again swept into the corner and the community would be set up once again for more problems with plagiarism and the like. People may be getting fatigued by the discussion (I know I am, lol, not that it stops me), they may be annoyed, they may think we need to move on, whatever, but IMO it’s the continued attention that will make more people take it seriously in the future, until, hopefully, someday there won’t be so many cries of ‘it’s no big deal.’

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  24. cara
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 17:07:14

    Welcome to the world of politics folks. Does anyone else see the correlation?
    If the Dems out the Reps or visa versa, there is a separate backlash simply because of who the messenger is…This is quite simply the politics of Romance.

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  25. Janet
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 17:29:11

    However, I still maintain that writing for academia is very much different from writing fiction, and that to compare the two of them is like comparing apples and oranges. In academia it's not enough to list all your sources in a bibliography / List of Works Cited, but you also have to document your sources in the text whenever you are quoting from, paraphrasing, or simply referring to somebody else's findings (or to a primary source). As soon as you don't document your sources of your indirect quotations, you plagiarise.

    I think you see the difference as more disparate than I do, Sandra.

    IMO, what both Edwards and the Signet statement are saying is that taking unattributed material in the way Edwards did was “fair” (I’m not saying fair use, because that muddies the plagiarism/copyright distinction, and that’s crucial here, IMO). But plagiarism is merely the use of another’s words, ideas as one’s own, either in direct transcription or close paraphrase. Which, IMO, means that when Diana Gabaldon insists that public domain sources can’t be plagiarized that she’s incorrect, or when Deborah Smith says, “No doubt, many, many other highly regarded authors have used research material the same way” and that’s okay, she either hasn’t seen the excerpted examples or is confusing the issues in some way, IMO. Because taking a scholar’s exact words or paraphrasing those words or taking their ideas without attribution *and passing them off as your own* is plagiarism, regardless of venue. Outside of the intertextuality issue, which I’ll address in a bit, how is this an apples/oranges comparison?

    Now I agree with you that the *form* and *level of detail* of citation is different in academia, but IMO there’s a baseline unity here in that neither fiction nor academia is or should be okay with using someone else’s words *as your own* — and I don’t think either Ms. Edwards or Signet’s initial statement echoed that sentiment.

    Do you seriously propose that the same standards should be introduced in fiction? Have you any idea what novels would look like in this case (if anybody is interested I'd be happy to take a page of one of my novels and document my sources as I would do if I were writing an academic text)? And at the danger of repeating myself, what about intertextuality? As somebody who enjoys interextual and intermedial references, both as a reader and as a writer, I find several comments and sweeping statements that have been made on the two blogs deeply upsetting. (Btw, of course, there's no question that quoting from somebody else's novel/short story/poem/play when it is still under copyright, is a no-go area unless you clear the copyright issues first.)

    First, regarding the copyright thing, I love what “rhetoretician” said on this LJ , especially on the distinction between attribution and permission. One of the reasons I think we’re so anal in academia is because we kind of merge the copyright (permission) and plagiarism (attribution) concepts in our citation standards. We assume permission, as that is the nature of scholarship, but then we sort of amp up the attribution aspect to, IMO, acknowledge this assumption in our use of other’s texts.

    So in the fiction context, you can, of course, have both copyright and/or plagiarism issues at stake, which intersect in some cases but are not identical. I’m most interested in the plagiarism issue for now, though, since that’s IMO what we’re largely talking about here. That is, what protocol should there be first in regard to using other’s work and second in regard to recognizing that.

    Because works of fiction are themselves assumed to be entirely original work, we obviously have fewer formal rules regarding the use of external stuff in an allusive capacity — i.e. in instances of intertextuality. So here we go with what I agree is really the watershed issue in this discussion, although not so much for the concept of intertextuality as for the point at which we find the tensions you referred to in one of your SB posts (i.e. at what point will someone think you have plagiarized rather than used something for intertextual purposes).

    Intertextuality is a conversation among cultural and literary texts, right, and as such it depends on an assumption that the user of those other texts is engaging them as *known* in some general capacity. That is, intertextuality is not about passing off those other texts or symbols or metaphors or characters or whatever as one’s own (as the plagiarist does), but about engaging those external things in conversation in one’s own work, commenting on, transforming, reconceptualizing, etc. those other texts within what is still considered a wholly original work.

    Where the difficulty comes in is where it is not clear, somehow, that intertextuality is intended, or where there is a certain type or level of dependence on other texts that seems more like appropriation than allusion. That’s why I asked you the question about Ian McEwan, because I think to some degree the lines you drew are lines that are community specific — that is, they’re lines the Romance community was drawing but that some in McEwan’s circle weren’t (and IIRC he actually included some attributing language in a forward or afterward or something). In that case, Romance readers, especially, seemed to feel that McEwan was appropriating something as his own that belonged rightly to someone else. Which, IMO, is a tension point where you have a text, for example, that’s well known in one community but not in another.

    But then there’s the example taking Jane Eyre and changing the gender and names of the main characters, and then turning it in as an original romantic work. There doesn’t appear to be any attention to deceive in that example, but clearly there is a problem with appropriation, even if there is attribution. There are authors who have been accused of plagiarism and have claimed intertextuality, and certainly I think that there are some contextual elements to these disputes, as well as substantive ones. How much text, how obvious the allusion, how masterfully is it used, how obvious is the “play” in the text, etc.

    So I think there are a couple of tension points regarding the intertextual discussion. First, there is a question in some text about whether or not the author intends the extra-textual work to be recognized as other. Then there is the question of whether even if the work is intentionally other, is its use merely allusive or adoptive.

    Now I have always had a liberal take on both copyright law (i.e. I tend toward interpreting copyright protections and narrowly as possible to keep creativity flowing between members of a community) and community ownership of knowledge. But if there is confusion as to a basic standard of attribution in Romance when it comes to secondary source work, I guess I don’t think it would hurt to have more attribution than less. And NO that doesn’t mean a full set of footnotes and a detailed bibliography (but phooey on the notion that footnotes are “virtually unheard of” in fiction), but it does mean that IMO if you (general “you”) use the words of secondary sources in a way that others would assume to be your own, you need to make a specific attribution for those words. OR, better yet, don’t use them word for word or in close paraphrase. And if you are engaging in intertextual allusion, then IMO it becomes a judgment call in terms of how much you want to offer your reader by way of acknowledgment. I don’t think an author’s note is at all out of line or diminishes the purpose of the intertextuality, but by the same token, as a reader I wouldn’t expect a footnote.

    Now, if you have concern at all that someone might feel that you’re either adopting rather than alluding or that your use of another source is extensive, I would think that an author’s note would be a reasonable. Is it sad you have to think like that? Yeah, maybe. And certainly you gotta do what feels right to you. IMO most of the issues we’re going to encounter aren’t going to be regarding something as sophisticated as intertextual allusions — I think they’re going to be more basic. But depending on how much faith you have in your readers, or how much faith you expect your readers to have in your craftsmanship (and again, this is still a general “you”), I think *some* form of acknowledgment may be worthwhile, if not ideal within what we would hope to be a highly literate reading and writing community.

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  26. CourtneyCarroll
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 17:54:44

    I don’t think the fact that the women at SB discovered Edwards’ plagiarism in any way undermines what they found, even though they clearly don’t hold her as an author in high esteem. I personally don’t visit their website because I disagree with their reviews and often find their reviews and commentary pretentious and going over the bounds often to not only malign a specific book, but the author as well. They seem to take great pleasure in attempting to demonstrate why they’re so brilliant (hence the name) and so many other romance authors aren’t. Obviously they have a right to publish what they want, but I personally don’t visit their website because I find them self-involved and malignant. Just visiting the site puts me in a bad mood because they are so frequently hostile. I have no tolerance for “reviewers” who attempt to cloak their contempt for an author in their poor review of a book. Often the ways they’ve personally attacked authors, as opposed to their works, makes me wonder if they’re frustrated writers who have never been published.

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  27. veinglory
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 18:33:21

    I don’t see the huge difference between academia and fiction. In both of you read many sources and write your own words based on your own unique understanding of all of these sources and your own experience–no attributions necessary. Copying or directly paraphrasing from a single source should either not be done–or the source should be acknowledged.

    Exactly the same in both cases, except that in fiction the latter is rarely called for because fiction is rarely a form of fair use/commentary.

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  28. Arethusa
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 19:27:03

    I’m curious, Courtney. Could you provide a few links among the hundreds in which they regularly pummel into authors rather than their books?

    But on to more general commentary…I have been following this issue for a while and I have to say that so many of the responses perfectly illuminate why romance fiction will never be taken as seriously as the mystery genre, for example. I read across multiple genres but only follow criticism of literary and romance fiction on-line — and see a world of difference. When an author becomes a by-word for crappy fiction in the former, naysayers don’t generally whine and moan about the person being so mean, and omg didn’t they know the author is [insert specific reason for the sensitive nerves here], we need to be “loyal” etc. They ask for evidence. I mean, we’re not at some tea party, it’s literature, it’s art (weeeelll…;)), it’s business. Who cares if Cassie Edwards became a code word for awful romance on someone’s site? Could someone tell me what’s so horrible about that?

    That isn’t even taking into consideration the statistics Candy provided as to how many times Edwards name has been used in that manner, and it came up to like, 20 or something out of a gazillion posts (excluding the few reviews). All this while I read at other sites that the Smart Bitches have been on her for years. But no one protests about the Laura Kinsale fan worship, an author I’m sure they’ve mentioned more often. Me, I like my sunshine and misery well-balanced on review blogs, and I don’t begrudge those who prefer 80+% free love. I only protest when they try to assert that that’s the *right* way to do things because it’s polite and that’s how we “romance readers” operate; then some uninteresting personal experiences are added and it’s all tied up with a bow of illogical inflation of criticism and character judgement. (I’m looking at you Crusie.) All that tired ra ra cheerleader treacle.

    I also get annoyed at the assumption that to not moderate one’s commentary space is some sort of moral failing. It’s simply an editorial choice in how one wishes to run one’s site. Nothing more, nothing less. No one’s going to get prom queen because they don’t allow swear words or rude, personally insulting comments on their blog. I disapproved of some of the insolent psychoanalysing that occurred on the AP post in which Edwards asked her husband to field the press, and other commenters expressed similar opinions. But that never gets highlighted, oh no, we just get our skirts all blown up because it turns out people can be awful sometimes, oh dearie me, and aren’t we full of self-righteous pride that we would *never* sink to such a level? Candy & Sarah did not indulge themselves in that way, and for whatever “glee” Candy thought she expressed in the first post she apologised. But it’s much easier to sink into one dimensional caricatures of evil, evil, hags with 800+ pages of various rejected unpublished masterpieces whiling away in drawers as they aim their beady little eyes at someone’s precious autobuy.

    I read a J.R. Ward book some time back and deemed its creation and continuous existence a literary crime against man and the cosmos. I’m sure I lost whatever IQ points kept me in the average percentile when I read the first book to the end. I can express that, still hold some interest in why the hell others love it to pieces (Bam Bam’s reviews are particularly amusing in this regard) and not at all consider her fans to be walking door knobs. Didn’t you hear? The cultural elite doesn’t exist any more — we’re all enthusiastically swimming in some of the lower streams (and my life is better for it, IMO).

    Maybe I should follow more of the genteel review sites so I can place the Smart Bitches’ “savagery” in its proper context.

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  29. Arethusa
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 19:45:39

    One correction to my comment: to be fair Crusie’s post on the matter was less cheerleady and more irrelevant personal anecdotes + illogical inflation of literary criticism with character judgement. I get more of the “romance readers are a secret sorority of loyal, uncritical, genteel love” from other bloggers/readers.

    (I love “Welcome to Temptation”, I have most of her books which are mostly all ten kinds of awesome (even moreso, percentage wise, than Nora Roberts (whose trilogies tend to be A+) although with her books I think it’s a matter of diminishing returns which is all but impossible to avoid anyway) and I don’t want to be a writer, just to head that all off.)

    I’m looking through the Smart Bitches F reviews to catch some personal author insults. Some of the language is vulgar, which their regular readership (me included) don’t mind but which can legitimately turn people off. That’s understandable but it’s really not disingenuous to assert that Candy’s opinion — an author’s bad book violently sexually assaults all other bad books at a magnitude unimaginable, that is how bad it is — does not translate into “that author is an awful person and I am a genius”.

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  30. CourtneyCarroll
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 20:21:07

    Arethusa-I can’t provide any links. I quit visiting the site long ago when I became so disgusted the SB “reviews” and I refuse to visit it again under any circumstances. I’m sure if you have the time, you can find numerous reviews where they mock and ridicule the author, not the book.

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  31. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:01:58

    …in Romanceland, there is still a simmering resentment of bloggers, as far as some authors are concerned…

    Hell, as far as some publishers are concerned, too!

    By the way, Courtney, I truly can’t remember a single time when the SB’s “personally attacked” an author (you know, like saying she has more backfat than brains or her husband is a hairless, salivating weasel–stuff like that. And why on earth would they?) Occasional tartness of tone in a review is not synonymous with either libel or psychological sadism.

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  32. GrowlyCub
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:41:49

    Azteclady!

    I loved your comments. They sum up my frustration with the whole situation perfectly.

    Would it be okay for me to forward this entry to the Romance Readers Anonymous list on Yahoo (I’m the moderator there)? The list has been very quiet about this topic, which frustrates me no end, because the little participation we got when I tried to start a discussion all seemed to be of the ‘is it really legal theft’ variety.

    Sigh.

    Thanks.

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  33. azteclady
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:48:11

    GrowlyCub,

    Please DO!!!

    The more awareness and education of READERS, the better.

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  34. azteclady
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:49:50

    erm… I assumed that you meant my comments, GrowlyCub (conceited of me, my apologies!) I definitely cannot give permission for Janet/Robin!

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  35. GrowlyCub
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:56:48

    Thanks! We actually have quite a few authors (Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverly, Pat Rice, Virginia Kantra to name just a few) on our list as well!

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  36. GrowlyCub
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 22:20:25

    Yup, your comments. :) Thanks again. I’d love for you to join us over there if you are so inclined. We can always use more articulate people.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rra-l

    Hope posting this is not against DA rules.

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  37. Michelle
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 03:39:44

    Frankly I don’t remember Candy or Sarah ever trashing authors instead of the books. I find it highly ironic when people claim otherwise but magically can’t back up their claims. They do often resort to profanity so I can see their site not being for everyone. But I find them articulate and engaging.

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  38. Seressia
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 03:49:51

    I just realized that my soon-to-hit-stores novella has a quote from Frederick Douglass in it. The hero says it. However, the hero starts with, “Frederick Douglass said…” and then the quote. It just never entered my mind to have my hero say it any other way.

    As for SBTB…they’ve never reviewed me, thank goodness (though they do plan to read AA romances for Black History month, so I might stand a chance) but while their reviews have been mouth-covering stunning, I’ve never read one that attacked an author personally.

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  39. Seressia
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 04:05:34

    Courtney said:

    Often the ways they've personally attacked authors, as opposed to their works, makes me wonder if they're frustrated writers who have never been published.

    I’ve seen this many a time when someone doesn’t like a review or a comment some random reader/blogger/reviewer made. Why is that? This is right up there with the “Mean Girls” invectives. So what if they are frustrated writers? Does that mean they can’t offer their opinion on a book they bought and read? I’ve read some commentaries on their blog that have been more laugh-out-loud funny than some romantic comedies I’ve picked up. And I say all this as a person who doesn’t visit the SBTB blog much.

    BTW, didn’t I read about a book deal for the SB’s in Publisher’s Lunch? I guess their frustrations will soon be at an end.

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  40. JC Wilder
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 09:10:31

    The SmartBitches do have a book deal – but I wouldn’t call them frustrated writers. I would say they write more in one day on the blog then most published writers do.

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  41. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 15:54:05

    I don't see the huge difference between academia and fiction. In both of you read many sources and write your own words based on your own unique understanding of all of these sources and your own experience-no attributions necessary.

    That’s exactly what you don’t do in academia.

    When you write academic articles or books (entries for encyclopedias are a different matter), you enter into a discussion with the secondary sources that already exist on the topic. Hence you constantly refer to these sources and embed direct or indirect quotations (always, always attributed) into your own argument. At least, that’s what you do in the philologies. The natural sciences might handle documentation of sources a bit differently.

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  42. Jackie L.
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 16:13:18

    Sandra, would it make a difference to you that someone found evidence of verbatim “borrowing” from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that is still under copyright? The SB’s just posted it.

    When it was just “copying” somebody else’s paper in the guise of very sloppy research, I was thinking, ok, an apology, don’t plagiarize again, and let CE keep publishing because getting anybody to read anything nowadays is just short of miraculous.

    But utilizing the words, even if they’re 80 years old, of a Pulitzer Prize winner is crossing a line in the sand for me.

    I’d like to see Janet (Robin) or Jane’s take on this new finding.

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  43. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 16:42:12

    Robin’s pissed. She said so on SBTB. We’ll have to see what Jane says.

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  44. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 17:01:29

    When it was just “copying” somebody else's paper in the guise of very sloppy research, I was thinking, ok, an apology, don't plagiarize again

    I wonder if maybe you’re distinguishing between plagiarism of fiction and plagiarism of non-fiction in this way because you think of non-fiction as “facts.” As an author of non-fiction, I can tell you this isn’t the case. Anyone who wants to write readable non-fiction needs to spend time choosing their words carefully in order to describe things accurately, vividly etc. We also spend time polishing our words, just as the authors of fiction do. So, as Sarah Frantz has said over at Teach Me Tonight, Edwards “stole the creative expression of the facts she wished to incorporate into her novels.”

    I’ve also posted at Teach Me Tonight, because I think Sandra’s got a point and I wanted to look at the issues she raised in a bit more detail. Lifting large amounts of text (from fiction or non-fiction) and plonking it down in your own work, without attribution, knowing that the sources are relatively obscure and will therefore be assumed to be your own work, is clearly plagiarism. But there are some greyer areas, and I think that Sandra’s been trying to encourage discussion of those much more complex cases of intertextuality, homage, use of real characters in fiction, use of common plots (e.g. writing a reworking of a Shakespearian play. West Side Story isn’t a case of plagiarism, even though it uses the plot of Romeo and Juliet), use of historical texts in historical fiction (e.g. an author writing a romance set at the time of the American War of Independence might include part of the real text of the Declaration of Independence in the novel, and that almost certainly wouldn’t be considered plagiarism, at least, I don’t think it would).

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  45. Robin
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 17:57:43

    Lifting large amounts of text (from fiction or non-fiction) and plonking it down in your own work, without attribution, knowing that the sources are relatively obscure and will therefore be assumed to be your own work, is clearly plagiarism. But there are some greyer areas, and I think that Sandra's been trying to encourage discussion of those much more complex cases of intertextuality, homage, use of real characters in fiction, use of common plots (e.g. writing a reworking of a Shakespearian play. West Side Story isn't a case of plagiarism, even though it uses the plot of Romeo and Juliet), use of historical texts in historical fiction (e.g. an author writing a romance set at the time of the American War of Independence might include part of the real text of the Declaration of Independence in the novel, and that almost certainly wouldn't be considered plagiarism, at least, I don't think it would).

    Laura, as I said in my response to Sandra above, I think the key is the distinction between *conversing* with other texts and *trying pass them off as your own words, ideas, symbols, etc.* And in cases where there might be confusion in the readers’ minds, I think some form of acknowledgment — say in an author’s note — isn’t out of line.

    It’s particularly difficult, IMO, in a genre like Romance, where so much of what happens in the genre is already borrowed across texts, and in that sense, the entire genre is one big vat of intertextuality. So, for example, I don’t think Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me requires anything by way of acknowledgment of its fairy tale structure, but if an author were to use passages or characters or the plot of a pre-Norman Invasion fairy tale that is only available in Anglo-Saxon and hasn’t been published since 1800, I think an author’s note is a good idea.

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  46. azteclady
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 18:24:17

    I think author’s notes are always a good thing–as Martha would say.

    I’m hoping, praying, wishing… that out of all this discussion, some sort of baseline standard for research vs plagiarism will be agreed on. Even if it’s relatively informal, a widely acknowledged consensus would help educate both readers and writers.

    I’ve been both baffled and saddened by people arguing that changing punctuation–punctuation!!!–is enough to make wholesale lifting NOT plagiarism. And this person claims to be an ex English teacher!

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  47. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 19:20:35

    Robin, I think we’re in broad agreement about this, though perhaps I’ve been focussing more on the areas at the margins where things are least clear. Which is not to say that you’ve been ignoring them, just that you’ve been addressing other things too, and I’ve mostly been trying to work out the possible exceptions to the general rules, and why those exceptions might exist, e.g. the general rule is “don’t quote verbatim without giving a source” and I’m saying “but perhaps in fiction you can quote verbatim from a well-known source like the Bible without explicitly citing the source”.

    And apologies if this seems obvious. I seem to have been a bit unclear on the TMT thread, or at least, I seemed to have given you a wrong impression, and I don’t want to do that here too.

    in a genre like Romance, where so much of what happens in the genre is already borrowed across texts

    But isn’t that also true of literary fiction? Is genre fiction more prone to borrowing? Is it a different sort of borrowing? Is it a similar sort of borrowing but perhaps the borrowing comes from different texts (e.g. romance readers might be expected to know Woodiwiss, whereas literary fiction authors perhaps would be less likely to expect their readers to know that particular author’s work)? Obviously there are the constraints of writing within the genre (i.e. the ending is “optimistic” and there has to be a “central” love story in romance) but does that in itself mean that romance borrows more “across texts”? I don’t know. Hmm. Would this tie in at all with your ideas about how readers “do the work” (I think that’s how you phrased it) sometimes of filling in the gaps in characterisation in some romances?

    And I realise that what I’m really trying to do now is tempt you into writing a full-length post about that. Which is bad of me, because I know you’re busy and I’ve already been pestering you to write about other things too. It’s meant as a genuine indication of interest in your ideas, even if it comes across as pestering.

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  48. Robin
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 19:41:52

    Laura, I’ll address the second part of your post at length when I have a bit more time, but in response to the first, I understand what you’re trying to carve out over at TMT, and I think it’s great. I commented a lot on the SBs about this intertextuality issue, too, and made basically the same point you just did about some of these sticker points of acknowledgment. Ultimately, I think that even in those grayer areas we can use as a benchmark the question of whether one is trying to pass off material as one’s own as a way of making some of these distinctions within the realm of intertextuality. Conversation or monologue to put it in a quick and dirty way. My objection on TMT was to the notion that I or Jane or Candy or Sarah are demanding full-on academic standards for fiction, which I’ve said at least three times I’m not (and I haven’t seen any of them make that claim, either).

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  49. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 20:08:27

    I'll address the second part of your post at length when I have a bit more time

    Oh good! I’ll look forward to that. It seems like a very interesting topic, even if it would lead the thread off at a bit of a tangent to pursue it here.

    I commented a lot on the SBs about this intertextuality issue, too, and made basically the same point you just did about some of these sticker points of acknowledgment.

    Yes, I noticed those comments, and I thought they were important ones because it seems like there does need to be clarification of these greyer areas, even if they’re not directly relevant to the Cassie Edwards case, which is clear-cut.

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  50. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 03:59:11

    Because taking a scholar's exact words or paraphrasing those words or taking their ideas without attribution *and passing them off as your own* is plagiarism, regardless of venue. Outside of the intertextuality issue, which I'll address in a bit, how is this an apples/oranges comparison?

    Apples and oranges because what would be considered plagiarism in academia is not necessarily considered plagiarism in fiction. Again, I’m taking historical romance as an example simply because that’s what I write and because I know how I incorporate research into my novels. Most of the times, what I use for research are books on aspects of everyday life, ranging from Mark Girouard’s LIFE IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE to C. Willett Cunnington’s ENGLISH WOMEN’S CLOTHING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, and to a lesser exten primary texts such as Captain Gronow’s or Harriet Wilson’s memoirs. And in most cases, I use these research books to fill in bits and pieces: in Steven Parissien’s REGENCY STYLE you can find lists with wallpaper designs and colors that were popular in the Regency era, e.g. “‘Picture Gallery Reds’ (red being by far the most popular background for pictures)” (139). Hence, one of the country houses in my next novel will have a picture gallery done in shades of red — no attribution necessary. However, if I were to write an academic article about wallpaper designs and colors in the early nineteenth century, and would use the aforementioned bit of information from Parissien’s book, I’d need to properly document my source, of course.

    Similarly, in an academic article on food, I can’t just write, “In the early nineteenth century, people greatly enjoyed chicken baskets, and considered black butter as a special treat,” but would need to give my source (either primary or secondary; in this case the info is taken from Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye’s THE JANE AUSTEN COOKBOOK), whereas if I use this for a novel and have my characters eat black butter for breakfast, I don’t need to give any sort of attribution.

    Sandra, would it make a difference to you that someone found evidence of verbatim “borrowing” from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that is still under copyright?

    Jackie, I’ve tried to make it clear from the beginning that this is definitely a no-go area, and that I’m not trying to make excuses for Cassie Edwards. I’m sorry if that didn’t become clear. However, in the course of this discussion on both the Smart Bitches blog and here on Dear Author, so much has been said about plagiarism, standards of academia applied to fiction, why can’t authors properly document their sources, etc. (and I’m including the comments here), when it’s obvious that a lot of people either don’t know what would constitute plagiarism in academia or how research is incorporated into fiction.

    When it was just “copying” somebody else's paper in the guise of very sloppy research, I was thinking, ok, an apology, don't plagiarize again,

    Uhm. Actually, if one of students did that, I would fail them and they would get the dressing down of their lives. In addition, I would be flipping mad, cause I told them at least half a dozen times that they ought to document their sources, whether they are using direct quotations or simply summarizing somebody else’s findings.

    My objection on TMT was to the notion that I or Jane or Candy or Sarah are demanding full-on academic standards for fiction, which I've said at least three times I'm not (and I haven't seen any of them make that claim, either).

    Robin, in one of the blog posts at the very beginning of this whole discussion, namely in Plagiarism Is a Community Issue, Jane used academic standards as a jumping board to discuss plagiarism in fiction and wrote, “In a profession that makes its money off the written word, the ethical standard should be of the highest form. It should exceed that of what is required by Universities of its students.”. What I’ve been trying to do ever since, is to point out that, well, this whole issue is more complex than it seems to be on the surface on things.

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  51. Robin
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 12:14:38

    Sandra, let’s go at this from a different direction. What about the Edwards situation do you think is not okay?

    As for starting with the academic standards, IMO where else do you start since no one seems to even agree on the fictional ones, let alone have a clear understanding of what they are or are not. I think starting somewhere the bar is high makes it easier to set the bar somewhere else. But as I said above, I’d like to know how you’re drawing the line with Edwards such that what she did isn’t okay, because what you’re saying there about the use of certain things in historical fiction still doesn’t get Edwards or fiction writers off the hook, IMO, relative to the basic assumptions driving the plagiarism definition in academic or any other kind of prose — namely the prohibition against claiming another’s work *as your own*.

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