I started following this story about Cassie Edwards’s copying a couple of days ago, and I’m still shocked, dismayed, and yeah, even sympathetic to what she may be going through. No, I absolutely do NOT condone plagiarism. But I can’t help but wonder what she’s feeling right now and feel kind of sorry for her. I doubt she copied reference works maliciously, but the fact remains that she copied them almost word for word. And now she’s got Nora Roberts pissed off.

I’ve had my own brush with plagiarism. In college, a fellow student copied my A paper and turned it in as his own. He only got caught because I got suspicious when the professor said the same things to this student, in front of the class, that he’d said to me two weeks before. When I brought the matter up to the prof, he compared the papers and found that, except for a couple of odd verb changes, they were identical.

So what happened to this guy? The dean begged the prof to let him write another paper and not to fail him. The prof, who became a dear friend of mine and remains so to this day, was pissed off but had to comply. A few months later, the student got arrested for stealing from his church. The two aren’t necessarily related, but if he’d failed the class, if he’d learned there were consequences for dishonesty, maybe he’d have thought twice about stealing church money.

What will happen to Cassie Edwards? No idea. Her publisher initially claimed that she’d done nothing wrong, but that was before Nora got publicly involved. The side by side examples of the reference works she used and her own work are damning. The words are the same, with a couple of changes here and there.

I read the examples and I feel like Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie tells Jane, when she keeps trying to make Darcy and Wickham into nice guys, that they can’t both be good if the facts are as Darcy has related. I keep trying to make CE into a blameless victim, and I know that’s not right. She typed the words she read in her research books as her own. She typed them. She either did a cut and paste, or she sat that book open on her desk or her lap and she typed. And that is clearly wrong.

Should writers of fiction be required to list bibliographies? I think a lot of historical writers wouldn’t mind because their research can be very extensive. But to cite chapter and verse in the manner of an academic paper? Uh, no. If I had to do that, I wouldn’t write. No reader wants endnotes in her fiction. It’s ridiculous.

Do you think, if you’ve read the examples, that she should have known it was plagiarism? Or is there room for people to be confused about what “put it into your own words” means? I’m clear on what constitutes plagiarism, but do you think it’s possible for someone not to be clear on it? To think that changing a couple of words makes it okay? Or am I being too much of a Jane Bennett?

Update: The more I think about this, the more I’m coming around to thinking that apparently Mr. Wickham did do some bad things with full knowledge they were bad. I keep picturing this writer with her research books open on her lap and transcribing what she’s reading into dialogue for her characters. How could she not know that’s wrong? How could she not want her characters to sound like HER characters? I know so many fine writers, and as I prepare to head off to a Heart of Dixie meeting tomorrow, I just can’t imagine any of our published authors sitting down at their desks and doing the same thing CE has done. Their work means too much to them, as listening to them talk about writing for the past year has made apparent to me. Same with the fine unpublished members we have, of course.