Monday, January 14, 2008


fountain in Aix-en-Provence,
photo by Wayne Rowe.

If it wasn't already sufficiently vile and disgusting ( Kipling, Stalky & Co., again), the Cassie Edwards plagiarism incident has reached a new plateau.

Evidence has been uncovered which strongly suggests that her "fair use" (snort) appropriation of countless passages from other writer's works expanded into the fiction field, including (though perhaps not limited to) the work of a Pulitzer Prize winner.

An edifying investigation.

Not only for the gauntlet of pov's expressed , but also for the discussion of and attempts to define, related subjects such as paraphrase, ethics, attribution, standards, public domain, intertextuality, and cryptomnesia.

Of course, the disclosures and debates have also been attended by the usual mental and positional cliches, like witch hunt, etc., jealousy, etc., meanies, etc.

Though the expression does not apply to the Edwards affair, I was particularly taken by the term intertextuality.

A word new to me ( if I've heard it before, I'd forgotten -- satisfied, no doubt, by the antique concept: allusion) whereby the writer intends and expects, indeed hopes and prays, the reader will recognize the uncited reference.

Sometimes as a form of literary in-joke. Sometimes as an invocation to shared culture and history, as a resonance, a weight, a code.

We do it all the time.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

ooo, firsties. early risers...

Isn't most of what we right intertextuality, intended or not? Our writing is always informed by what we know, and much of what we know is from stuff we've read.

I see spatterings of THE BLACK STALLION, NARNIA, British mystery, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, Tad Williams and Robin Hood and Carol Berg, and too many other books to list here throughout my work.

I might have to take a look and see if those intended references are "allowed" or not. :)

Bernita said...

I agree, SS.
Incidents of intertextuality on this blog alone are too numerous to mention.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow, thanks for the heads up, Bernita. This is the first I'd heard of this incident with Cassie Edwards. She was one of the first romance authors I read---in middle school. Whoa. I'll have to check this out!

Chumplet said...

The number of references was mind boggling. It makes me afraid to read other works in case they inadvertently affect my own writing.

I'm sure single word phrases are safe... uh, aren't they?

BernardL said...

Martin Luther King was a proven plagiarist from his time in college through to the end of his career. Even his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech was plagiarized in part from Archibald Carey, Sr.'s address to the 1952 Republican National Convention. If anyone during my lifetime, or after it, can do with my words what MLK did with Carey’s, they can have them… and welcome. I don’t know why Ms. Edwards did what she did, and I’m too old to care. Some part of me just hopes she did it well.

Bernita said...

You'll need a few hours, my Demon.

Sandra, I don't notice, raise eyebrows or suck in my breath over the odd word or phrase here and there. Plagiarism, to my mind, requires a little more than that.

bernard. She didn't( do it well).

Charles Gramlich said...

It's interesting to see how many different opinions there are on this subject. I've seen folks defending her and others who want to guillotine her. Each of these responses seems perhaps a little extreme. I think most of us have unconsciously borrowed a phrase or sentence here and there. We read it, we love it, we forget the details of it and at some point down the line it shows up in our work. I can't possibly consider that plagiarism. But the mind just doesn't work in the way of remembering sentence after sentence verbatim. When something like that appears in written work it was deliberate. I don't have any doubt. When it comes to borrowing ideas, I don't even know how to begin to think of plagiarism. How many retellings have there been of Macbeth? Is the next one to be published going to be called plagiarism? Does that even make sense? Personally, I don't really think so.

Robyn said...

What Charles said.

Angie said...

I've been following this one too and although the intertextuality discussions have been interesting, I think it's pretty clear that that's not what Ms. Edwards has been doing. She's admitted to lifting things, and has claimed that in romance, you're "not asked to cite your sources."

Throughout the discussion, I've gotten the impression that she's confusing research for facts, which get woven into a piece of fiction, and plagiarism of actual passages, word for word, which is what she's been doing. It's true that fiction writers don't have to cite sources for the facts we use in our stories, and the fact that there do exist novels with footnotes (which some people have brought up over and over) doesn't change that.

That's not what she's doing, though (or rather, I'm sure she is doing it but that's not what people are complaining about) and she honestly seems to be confusing the two. :/ I don't see this getting any closer to being cleared up until she figures out just what it is she's being accused of. [sigh]


StarvingWriteNow said...

intertextuality... hmm...

sounds more like a tantric position rather than a literary device...

The only question that comes to mind with the whole Cassie Edwards thing is the publication dates of the resources she used. What's the statute of limitations (or whatever they call it in publishing) on when an author's copyright expires? When I podcasted at work I was told 1923 was the cutoff date and anything prior to that is free game... but does that count in writing as well? Who knows. It's complicated.

December/Stacia said...

Yep, I do that all the time. And yeah, now I'm quite nervous--nervous enough that I changed a Gone With the Wind reference in the latest round of Personal Demons edits. It's wasn't a great reference anyway, but I liked it well enough until now.

Bernita said...

I've only followed to two blogs I mentioned above. I thought that, by and large, the discussion was articulate, though pointed at times.
The sort of "copying" you describe, Charles, may fall under the definition of the term cryptomnesia.
We probably all do it on some occasion or another.

Angie, I find it difficult to understand how she, as a professional writer, could be that unaware of the generally accepted norms about plagiarism/research/fair use, etc.

Starving, some of her "sources" are clearly not out of copyright.

Bernita said...

December, probably wise - if for an other reason,than to avoid possible hyper-mode hassle.
It's clear from a number of comments on those boards, that it's not just Ms. Edwards who seems confused about plagiarism and related issues.

Angie said...

Bernita -- I'm having a hard time with that too, but it's the impression I've gotten. Unless she went, "Damn, they've caught me!" and immediately turned on the Confused Old Lady act and is hoping to slide out of it by making people feel sorry for her? I'd prefer not to assume that level of duplicity, though. For right now, I'm assuming she just doesn't get it, as amazing as that sounds. :/

Starving -- plagiarism isn't the same thing as copyright violation. Even if a source is out of copyright, you're supposed to credit direct quotes. You can't be made to pay copyright fees, and there's no one who owns the copyright who can tell you not to publish at all, but taking someone else's actual words and presenting them as your own is plagiarism no matter how old the source is.

And as Bernita said, some of her sources are still in copyright, so it's a violation there as well as plagiarism. :(


Bernita said...

Angie, I argued for that very explanation with my daughter, ie. that somehow she just didn't "get it."
So I understand the logic behind that opinion.
I think the fact she also copied from fiction is finally what changed my mind.

Gabriele C. said...

If she hadn't gotten it (and looking at some students who should know better*, I was willing to cut her some slack), there would have been an easy way out some days ago. An apology on her website along the lines, I'm sorry, I have integrated my research material into my fiction in a way that is not acceptable as I have learned now. I apologise to my fans and the writers of those books, and will post a list of books I used on my website, together with a proper acknowledgement that I did, indeed, quote some passages verbatim, and a link to the list the SB girls put up.

But it's too late now, and copying from a fiction book stresses the boundaries of ignorance a bit far.

* My favourites were, "I was supposed to put that in quotation marks?" and, "Yes, it's what XY said, and I mention XY in the bibliography thingie you told me I should add to my essay."
I have no idea how those people ended up in an univeristy course.

Bernita said...

I know, Gabriele.
It appears the option you suggest may have been impossible for her because her plagiarism appears to have been continuous, pervasive, and habitual.
So far, SB have identified multiple examples in 12 of her novels from 28 separate sources.

Dave F. said...

The one thing I don't understand is what anyone hopes to achieve.

I don't condone the plagiarism. She copied with insufficient modification quite a few passages that had nothing to do with technical matters. (by technical, I mean historical accuracy). She copied image laden descriptions and recreated scenes from another's work without attribution. That's plagiarism.

Besides exposing the bad deeds, what do they want to have happen to Cassie Edwards?

Gabriele C. said...

Well, it would definitely have been better than the "fiction writers don't need to quote their sources" statement she made. And if the post on MySpace where she hides behind the whole Persecution of Native Americans argument was written by her, she's dug herself in deeply.

Gabriele C. said...

Dave, I think what's behind the whole mess is to make clear that plagiarists will be caught some day, that it's not worth it, and that publishers should not condone it just because books sell - so far, critical feedback from Edwards' publishers has been lukewarm, to put it mildly.

Angie said...

The first thing I'd like to see from Ms. Edwards is an acknowledgement that she's done something wrong. I don't think anything else pertaining to this specific case will mean anything at all without that.

After that, an apology and promise not to do it again would be good. I'm sure the latter would be easy, given how many people will likely be scrutinizing anything she publishes from this point on. I'm not sure what to do with the plagiarized books themselves; my first thought is that they should be pulled from the market, as has been done in the past.

My main concern, though, this specific case aside, is as Gabriele said, making it very clear to other writers that plagiarism is not condoned, not ignored for the sake of sales (as Signet seemed ready to do at first), not winked at by other writers or tolerated by readers, that someone who plagiarizes others' words will be caught eventually and it won't be at all pleasant when it happens.


Scott from Oregon said...

I am too old to do it myself, but the modern, youthful text messaging crowd really should steal the word intertextuality and claim it as their own.

Travis Erwin said...

Witch hunt or not at this point the truth seems rather obvious and frankly it pisses me off.

As a struggling writer trying hard to get my foot in the door it angers me that some of the limited spots are being taken up by cheaters.

raine said...

Ye gods, it's everywhere, isn't it?

I think it's pretty much beyond doubt that Ms. Edwards 'took liberties' with certain books on more than one occasion.
And I definitely think Signet dropped the ball with their initial 'pooh-pooh' response. In fact, that's probably what incited most of this particular riot. You cannot condone the act, whatever the reasoning behind it was.

HOWEVER...I think the point has been made, and made, and made on some of these blogs. The mud throwing has become downright nasty in some instances--and really, the Edwards case is surely in the hands of attorneys and a few poor schmucks at the publishing houses who've been assigned to go over every paragraph with a fine tooth comb.

And holy's only January...

spyscribbler said...


I love it! I love that word!

About Edwards. Such acts of plagiarism make me feel a little embarrassed for all authors, as if the whole world is looking at our dirty laundry. Or our black sheep. Or something.

Just the whole thing feels yucky.

Steve Malley said...

I always figured (maybe wrongly) that intertextuality was the way twentysomethings (and those of us 20ish at heart) can have entire conversations using nothing but Simpsons quotes.

For the rest of it, so much erudite discussion already has chased any feeble thoughts out of my head....

Sid Leavitt said...

My compliments on your headline. While I have no opinion on the Edwards affair, the whole thing does seem as distasteful as l'eau nonpotable gushing from the fountainhead.

(Oh my, have I plagiarized Ayn Rand?)

Bernita said...

Sorry, I've been absent, but you all seem to be doing just fine without me.

Steve, you should hear a bunch of actors with a script they're rehearsing.

"Just the whole thing feels yucky." - which is why some people would like the whole thing to go away, Natasha. Until the next time.

Raine,I'm not sure the point has been made until each individual act of theft has been discovered. It's not just a single crime. There are mutiple victims. Some who may not yet know they have been ripped off.

"As a struggling writer trying hard to get my foot in the door it angers me that some of the limited spots are being taken up by cheaters."
That, Travis, is an important point. Actually a retroactive one, as well. One that expands the culpability of this sort of theft.
Pity this took so long to come to light.

Scott, for all I know, they already have.

Well said, Angie.

Dave, don't know who you mean by "they." Different people will have different goals.
As Angie said, many might be happy with admission, apology and amends.
Or to use the "R" version: remorse, restitution and resolve not to do it again.
Some people would definitely desire to see consequences beyond a slap on the wrist pour encourager les autres.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sam - though I went for the visual pun rather than the audio.

Dave F. said...

Once every five or so years, we used to catch a technical writer plagiarizing another technical paper. Not so much stealing the data but reusing it and presenting it as their own without attribution. And in that case, where the author's professional career depends on published papers, we went after everything they did. Not quite as eagerly and gleefully as the Smart Bitches, but close. No one would let them near an authorship again, or if they did author another paper the scrutiny was "rabid"...

Plagiarism usually guaranteed that an academic researcher would spend the rest of their career in obscurity.

Angie's nice, succinct statement: "admission, apology and amends..." is good enough for me.

If these novels are that representative of native Americans, she would be better off owning up to the plagiarism and trying to maintain the novels as worthy of being read. As it is, with all this idiotic "point/counterpoint, type of denial, she's assuring that her novels will not be remember for the good they might do for native Americans, but as bad examples of something you shouldn't do.

writtenwyrdd said...

It keeps getting worse, doesn't it? I don't know what high school the lady attended, but surely she was taught the gist of writing a research paper, and should know what rules apply for paraphrase? (And what kind of writer paraphrases like that? Oh, a hack. Silly, how could I have forgotten...)

And, via reading all these articles, I learned a new thing: OMGWTFBBQ!

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and I have to add something that is probably a bit snarky: Anyone else notice that the apparent paraphrases were usually worse than the original? Like she didn't have the skill to do it well?

Church Lady said...

What Robyn said.

I like to read authors who have a similar voice to my own when I'm writing. It inspires me. I read Jerry Spinelli while writing my first MG to capture the art of punchy sentences. My book (the concept, the characters, the setting) are sooo different from his. But I love his voice. It helped me, and I in no way copied anything from him.

I'm reading a different author now who I find funny.

Great post. I'm sorry I haven't been here in a few days.

SzélsőFa said...

I think many people are waiting for some sort of an apology and amends. But there will always be new people fresh to the (now apparent) plagiarism to anyone. Things will get written, plagiarised and published.
A little turmoil here and there... (a reasonable one for sure, with rightful accusations) but it will be over and she and her fellow plagiarists will do it again and again.
I'm raged, but pessimistic.

Bernita said...

Dave, a number of people have have described her novels as singularly racist in their stereotyping of First nations. So her claims of 'homage" appear to be on shaky ground.

Right,Written. Often painfully inept.

" I in no way copied anything from him."
Chris, it would never occur to you to do so.
Which accounts for the shock/surprise expressed by countless people.

Which is why, Szelsofa, there may be the need to hunt down every last example in her work,to outline the ( apparent) enormous breadth and depth, to drive the point home.
It might reduce some of the ignorance about plagiarism, and perhaps deter those with a bad case of sliding ethics.

M.E Ellis said...

LMAO @ code.

Ah, if it's a code, it's all right then.... Ahem.


Bernita said...

Perhaps I did not explain it well, why certain references are not considered plagiarism.

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