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.
In fourth grade, I wrote a book summary by copying what was written on the back of the book, but changing a few words to make it slightly different. I didn’t know the word “plagiarism” at the time, but it felt wrong at the time, and years later it still haunts me as this Horrible, Dishonest Thing that I did (I’m 23 now). This gives me a bias in plagiarism situations — if me, at age 9 or 10, knows it’s wrong to “copy and tweak,” then an adult should know as well.
Also, the article said this woman has written over 100 books in the last 25 years. If nothing else, I would be inclined to think she understands voice and knows that it takes more than a couple of verb changes to make something her own.
I don’t think writers should be required to have a full bibliography, but I think the idea sounds cool. It would save future writers a lot of time, since they could go straight to a (presumably) reliable source instead of spending time finding them.
What a horrible situation for Ms. Edwards! Now several historical writers feel threatened. They fear someone, anyone will find something wrong with their work.
I’ve read the noted sections in Ms. Edwards books online. Both are alarmingly simular to the reference material posted. Yet, I have to wonder… Ms. Edwards has written 100 books. Has the well run dry? Was she forced to take shortcuts because of deadlines? What leads a writer of this stature to plagiarize?
How many ways can you describe a historical process? Sometimes ceremonial actions are cut and dry. A+B=C. But if Ms. Edwards did this knowingly, she has sadly made a tragic mistake. And even worse, it will reflect badly on the historical romance market.
Matt, thanks for your perspective! Yes, if you knew it was wrong as a kid, then presumably what is and is not correct in citing is something being taught in schools, at least when you were going through. You’re a bit younger than the 71 yr old Ms. Edwards, but I have to think teaching kids how to write papers didn’t just pop out of the woodwork a few years ago. I learned it back in my day (which is closer to yours than to hers, thank God — yeah, I’m vain and all that). 🙂
Plagiarism was clearly defined, though I understand how kids could be confused. How many times was I told to put it in my own words? I think it’s probably clearer now, with the Internet and all the sources available. When I wrote my master’s thesis, I was clear to footnote even the hint of an idea I got from my research, even when it was my words entirely. Whew! No way did I want to be accused of stealing ideas.
Kathy, I can understand the paranoia in the historical ranks right now. What if you copied notes, then transcribed your notes later into your text without remembering you’d copied those EXACT words? It shouldn’t happen, but it could.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of deadlines and the well running dry. They’ve found it in her very first published book from 1983.
Who knows why she did it? Because it’s a small part of the book, historical processes like you say, maybe she figured it wasn’t a big deal. Or maybe she really didn’t know how to put it into her own words (hard to believe, but possible I guess).
Honestly, though, when you look at her work and compare it to the things she copied, there ARE other ways to say what she transcribed. She used EXACT words and phrasing, even though she changed it around here and there.
I’m sad for her and angry with her at the same time. This is bad for romance in general, though like everything else, it will blow over.
I am afraid that I cannot condone CE’s actions. It was a clear case of plagarism. Because she copied the words.
For the idea to be plagaraized, it has to be stolen… And it has to be an uncommon thought or idea. It think that type of plagarism is the one that is hard to understand.
Yep, I agree Cyn. Do you remember that Kimberly loved CE? She was such a fan of the novels.
Yes, I remember. I wonder what she thinks of this brouhaha???? or if she reads CE anymore?