Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Washing Off the Stupid

A 19th century engraving from The Astrologer.

The title of today's post is a straight plagiarism by me of a line by a commenter on Making Light somewhere in the messages ( over 650 and counting) that follow the October 11 topic, Weirdly Similar, about some extensive plagiarism of David Gemmell's novel Dark Prince.

The line references another comment made by Patrick Nielsen Hayden about a couple of years ago regarding someone who advised writers to lie about their credentials: This is stupid. Now I have stupid all over me.

The story broke at Dear Author with a post Ten Top Tips for Plagiarists.

Messages there amount to 350 and counting.

(If I've screwed up links, they're available at Writer Beware which also has background on the subject.)

I got hardly any work done over the weekend.

Found the full operatic glory of it all utterly fascinating: accusations of "slander", threats of law suits for "deformation of character" and super "Wicca" curses of ten-fold boils or fleas or something, and assertions that "mean" people will have "blood on their hands."

The disability card was also played in an irky enough fashion to keep the pot on continuous boil.

Of course, the conversations included the usual suspects -- the morally superior expressing their disgust at the low-lives who dared rush to judgment, as well as the occasional sock puppet.

Lots of long knives. But, for the most part, fairly wielded, I thought.

And rather than describe the situation as watching a train wreck in slow-motion, one poster compared it to "having a front-row seat to Krakatoa."

Besides the sheer soapy drama of it all, a number of related and interesting writerly issues emerged.

Since the original source of the plagiarism was/is, apparently and allegedly, a scam agent subsequently hired as a ghost writer -- another poster observed a difference between those who want to write and those who merely want to be published.

In defense of the scamee, Mary Kellis, aka Lanaia Lee, someone claimed that lots of bestselling authors do the same thing, ie. use ghostwriters.

If one excludes celebrity authors -- who, incidentally, often name their amanuensis -- I'm not sure that's true.

I don't think those who have research assistants or those who hire freelance editors to clean up their grammar and point out plot holes qualify as users of ghostwriters.

All in all, a riveting school for scandal.


StarvingWriteNow said...

Apparently, she fell asleep during HS English when the teacher talked about plagiarism being ILLEGAL. But wait, I better not say that or she might latch onto it as an excuse: "Ummm...I didn't hear that part, so it doesn't count against me, right?"

Robin S. said...

Hi Bernita-

This made me grin: "Of course, the conversations included the usual suspects -- the morally superior expressing their disgust at the low-lives who dared rush to judgment, as well as the occasional sock puppet."

Blogs are great, and I really enjoy both the seemingly instant gratification and getting the chance to meet people I most likely would not have had the chance to meet otherwise, and sharing common interests.

But you do see characters like the ones you've described above!

And I'd say that with ghostwriters, there's a fully sanctioned writing relationship. Quite a bit different from stealing someone's work. What a lame excuse, trying to compare them.

Bernita said...

Her refusal to comprehend the constitution of plagiarism - among other things - boggles better minds than mine, Starving.

And the messages posted on this topic certainly illustrate many facets of human psychology, Robin.
For that reason alone, they're worth reading - all thousand or so of them!
What she seemingly fails to understand is,that sanctioned or not, her use of plagiarixed material makes her culpable.

Jaye Wells said...

At times the blogosphere feels like a massive game of telephone in clique-ridden high school lunchroom.

Bernita said...

Quite true, Jaye.
But anti-plagiarists form a pretty big clique.

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, true. But sometimes no matter how well intentioned or justified, people start acting like angry villages calling for a witch burning.

Bernita said...

Having read through all the comments, Jaye, I saw very little evidence of torches and pitchforks.

spyscribbler said...

There are some ghostwriters who write for bestselling authors and get paid an insane amount of money to keep it a secret. Nothing wrong with ghostwriting, in my book, but of course, plagiarism is just wrong.

"a difference between those who want to write and those who merely want to be published"

That cracked me up. I want to write and be paid for it, LOL. I think those who write without monetary compensation are a noble and admirable crowd, but it doesn't follow that those who write with pay are ... whatever is implied in that sentence, LOL.

I hate it when people use religion like that. (I'm Wiccan, and I've never heard of a ten-fold anything.)

Demon Hunter said...

Stealing someone's work is not ghostwriting. I have to go read that post on my lunch break! Thanks for the link, Bernita! :*)

Bernita said...

I think what was implied about "published", Natasha, were those who didn't want to bother with all the work that goes into writing.
And one doesn't have to a a Wiccan to be offended on their behalf over that threatening garbage.

You may need more than an hour to savour the full flavour of the entire story, my Demon!
Even the links to the links are interesting.

raine said...

Muy gawd--is it still going on?!

It IS fascinating to watch, lol. Must confess, I sat with my bag of munchies and coke and read ever unsavory bit, even going back to the "un-apology" of Janet Dailey from years ago.
And felt a secret delight when even the Wiccans jumped into the fray.

Ghostwriters, freelance editors, etc. perform legitimate services and do honorable work.
But Ms. Lee's refusal to admit it when confronted...claims of 'disabilities' as an excuse when cornered...threats against those who revealed the truth, and refusal to take responsibility or remove the offending passage for quite some time caused much of the uproar, IMHO.

Who needs soap operas?

Gabriele C. said...

I made it through 300 comments, after which I decided I could use my time better. Like writing original work. ;)

Bernita said...

Yep, because the plagiarized material is still up.
The site owner states (I hope I have the right party) that it will stay - which implies that Lee's claims she tried to remove it, but is experiencing a time delay of some sort, are somewhat mendacious.
Raine, you need to see Dear Author's defense post on libel chill!

Bernita said...

Then you missed the "polograph," Gabriele!

Charles Gramlich said...

This story just makes me sad.

Bernita said...

Charles, colour me confounded.

December/Stacia said...

The excerpt has finally been removed from the LongStoryShort website, but that it took so long casts them in a terrifically unflattering light--that their first impulse was to say that if the plgiarism wasn't deliberate it doesn't count marks them for me as people to stay away from.

As for the rest of it...sigh. I don't understand people who say "writing is [their] gift to the world" and yet don't actually do it.

Bernita said...

December,it must have gotten though to LSS that while innocence from intent is one thing, once apprised of the fact of plagiarism, allowing that plagiarism to flourish, defiantly and unimpeded, is quite another - and they were a party to it.
One wonders, however, if the "dragging through the mud" threats by Lee et al will proceed.
The conduct of the principals in this case is...um... remarkable.

Gabriele C. said...

It is. I liked Cindy' pseudo-Wiccan curse best so far. It's a change to the usual Libel/Slander/Lawsuit threat.

Though it seems she doesn't trust her cursing abilities, and came up with a fake lawyer as well.

Sam said...

Good heavens, where Have I been? Missed all the brouhaha - I must have been asleep, lol.
Plagiarist - word theif - I can't stand the creatures. I just found out yesterday my doctor has Regine Desforges as a patient. I may have to change doctors. That woman makes me absolutely insane with anger.

Bernita said...

She may well have a lawyer, Gabriel, but she obviously hadn't consulted her/him.

It's still all there, Sam, for your bedtime reading.

Robyn said...

A front-row seat to Krakatoa.

I'm stealing that line.

Bernita said...

I like phrases like this one, Robyn.
It was quite appropriate too - lots of eruptions and lava flows and plumes of ejecta and we were all supposed to be shaking in our boots.

Angie said...

ML had about 250 or so messages when I came across it. I read through those and that was enough. [wry smile] Definitely entertaining but in a facepalming sort of way.

I feel a bit sorry for the writer. It seems she honestly doesn't get it, which weighs in favor of the theory that her stroke left her cognitively impaired in some way. If this is the case and she's not just being stubborn or faking it, then that throws even more guilt on both her agent/friend and the scammer/ghostwriter IMO, for taking such horrible advantage of her.

And I liked that too, the observation that some people want to write and some just want to be published. [nod] I think both groups start out wanting to write but members of the second group give it a shot and find out how difficult it is. Because what they really want is the attention and back-pats and autograph requests instead of the personal satisfaction of having written something that got published, they decide that rather than put in the years of practice and study it takes to become skilled they'll start looking for shortcuts.

Makes one wonder whether they do that with the rest of their lives as well. Someone who goes through life with the belief that when other people succeed it's just because they've found The Shortcut would make a great tragic character. :/


Bernita said...

In that case, both the site manager, her agent, and a number of "fans" must have suffered from strokes, Angie, they sang the same song - though in the agent's case it could more accurately be called a stroke of luck.

Travis Erwin said...

I have missed all of this but will have to check it out.

Scott from Oregon said...

Internet battles can be amusing, at times, for the simple reason that tiny, bespectacled and meekly apportioned individuals become HUGE and menacing while enclosed in a comment box.

Those whose wit and acumen are squashed in the real world due to physical fears are given free reign in cyber-space.

I can imagine a squawk-fest involving writers being some of the best of the worst.

alliterative slanderings...
metaphorical punches...
thematically relevant aspersions...

Oh the joys!

Bernita said...

An interesting issue, Travis.

Some of the posts were very clever, Scott.

Dave F. said...

There are over 750 posts there now.

If there is any use for a spell check or a proof read or just being careful - polograph - is that word. I'll still be giggling about that for days. I imagine it's like the Polo Ponies the rich folks ride at Hartwood Acres?

How can any defend that plagiarism without seeming like a fool?

A bloggers dream come true, it might be an endless thread,

ORION said...

I too have been following this debacle!
It's what we all learned in school...you don't copy someone else's paper! LOL
I do know what you mean Bernita - I have meet people at conferences who want to be authors i.e. they don't write - oh they want to but they want to be an author more than they want to write-
Not like most of us here who - while we love to write - have the goal of being published so readers read our words...

Angie said...

In that case, both the site manager, her agent, and a number of "fans" must have suffered from strokes, Angie, they sang the same song

I'm way behind at this point and don't have time to catch up, so there might've been more definitive evidence of deliberate and knowing wrongdoing on the part of the writer past that point. Even when I stopped reading there were some definite signs of sockpuppety, so it's not surprising that a lot of the folks who showed up sounded alike. [wry smile]

It'd make a good story, anyway. Tragic protag (agent) who's just trying to pay the bills while making this "writer" who'll never get published through legitimate channels happy. And hey, this writer is too disconnected to know the difference anyway, so long as she has a book with her name on it in her hands. The the plagiarizing ghostwriter tosses the pebble that starts the avalanche, slowly. By the time agent figures out it's hopeless and realizes exactly how she herself laid the foundation of her own ruination in her chosen field -- first by taking money to steer people to vanity presses, and second by encouraging her "client" to pay huge bucks to this ghostwriter -- it's too late. Undone by her own flaws (greed, laziness and a habit of self-deception) and unable to ever recover her reputation. [heavy sigh]

Angie, who sees everything in story terms these days

Church Lady said...

I'm just now seeing this. Wow, I have some catching up to do.
LOL--Dave's "An endless thread. A blogger's dream come true." That was very funny.
I will have some reading to do later today.
Love the sketch you posted. It's one of my favorites so far.

Bernita said...

It well might, Dave, because infringement of copyright and theft of intellectual property are issues that affect us all.
And the continuing refusal to mitigate in this case was particularly egregious.

Knowing how hard you have worked, Pat, both before and after publication, you must have found this insouciance particularly outrageous.

Sometimes it struck me that way too, Angie.

Thank you, Chris. It's an educational incident!

archer said...

Deformation of character!

My day is made. :-)

Bernita said...

Archer, I likewise viewed that phrase with unutterable delight.