May 05, 2006

Schadenfreude Friday: Xerox, My Muse

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...
- Me

A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.
- Me

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
- Me

Aren't I brilliant? Wait. You, in the back. What? I didn't come up with those myself? Shit. Okay. I'm so busted. Like Kaavya Viswanathan.

(February 2006)
Out of the blue came a contract for close to $500,000 from publisher Little, Brown & Co. for a first novel she had only started and a second she had barely imagined. She was 17.

No problem. While taking a full five-course load, Viswanathan banged out ''How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" in her free time. The book is done and due out in April, and Little, Brown is convinced it has signed up one of the hottest young talents in fiction.

Michael Pietsch, the head of Little, Brown, said the publisher wasn't out beating the bushes for such a book but grabbed it when it was offered. ''It's purely a response to the work and idea," he said. ''She has a remarkable range of capabilities, a seeming effortlessness. That's more astonishing than anything." He added, ''I've been in this business since 1978, and it's my first experience signing up an author in her teens; in fact, with several teen years to go." There's enough early buzz and interest for at least a 75,000-copy first printing.

Want a giant buzzkill?

(April 2006)
The publisher of a Harvard University student's debut novel took the book off the market on Wednesday and canceled the contract on a second amid mounting allegations that she copied other authors' work.

The announcement comes less than one week after Little, Brown and Company asked booksellers to begin returning the newly published novel "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," to the publisher so that Kaavya Viswanathan could rework certain passages.

The publisher had planned to republish the book, but it will not do that now.

The 19-year old Indian-born Harvard sophomore admitted that she unintentionally imitated passages from Megan McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," which she read in high school.

Harvard's student newspaper on Tuesday reported that "Opal Mehta" also contained similarities to Meg Cabot's 2000 novel "The Princess Diaries" while the New York Times reported additional similarities between Viswanathan's book and work by Sophie Kinsella.

Is it me or are plagiarists just stupid? Not in the sense that they steal other people's stuff (that is unacceptable in my book) but they steal stuff from popular sources. Know why cars don't get jacked on busy streets? Because there's too much of a risk that someone will notice. If you're going to steal from existing chick-lit, steal from some of the unknown stuff. Come on, there's enough of it out there! If you're stupid, you steal from not one, not two but four bestsellers.

You know what bugs me the most? There are people killing themselves to write. The blogosphere alone is rife with brilliant writers who just want a chance to get published. Instead, this hack, with all the skills of a Xerox machine, lands a deal. So excuse me if I take a little pleasure out of it. Personally, I think we're looking at the first nominee for the James Frey Award for Literature (Fiction/Non-Fiction/Why Decide? category).

As I always say....Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. Okay, okay...that wasn't me either. Damn you Henry David Thoreau!

Posted by Chris at May 5, 2006 07:10 AM

First of all, people who steal ideas/entire passages for books or papers should be stuck with hot forks.

Second, I'm irrationally annoyed that she named her character "Opal." Grrr.

Posted by: Opal at May 5, 2006 07:20 AM

She "unintentionally" plagiarized? How is that possible?

But, what I really want to know is how she sleeps at night.

Posted by: Melissa at May 5, 2006 07:36 AM

OMG, what if someone starts stealing from my blog and makes a million bucks??? hahahahahahaha.
(Can you tell I'm sleep deprived? - that line stolen from Chris AND JuJu.)

Posted by: JuJu's Mom Linda at May 5, 2006 07:37 AM

I'll Tell you what I think...
Is it me or are plagiarists just stupid? Not in the sense that they steal other people's stuff (that is unacceptable in my book) but they steal stuff from popular sources. Know why cars don't get jacked on busy streets? Because there's too much of a risk that someone will notice. If you're going to steal from existing chick-lit, steal from some of the unknown stuff. Come on, there's enough of it out there! If you're stupid, you steal from not one, not two but four bestsellers.

That is my two cents.

Posted by: Bill at May 5, 2006 07:51 AM

When I saw her on the Today show, I wanted SO BADLY to believe her - but I couldn't. I think I even remarked, "Honey, you're a bad liar." There is just no way you could 'internalize' so many exact passages. It is completely and utterly wrong, but oh my God she's 17 (or 18 maybe by now?) A teenager. Bless her plagarizing heart, she totally messed up for the whole world to see.

Posted by: samantha at May 5, 2006 07:55 AM

I have a hearty laugh every single time I read anything about this girl. There are a few reasons.

1. In her interview with CNN she said she copied these passages "unconsciously." Ummm, don't you go to HARVARD? Shoudln't you know the difference between "unconsciously" and SUBconsciously? Yeah, I thought so.

2. HOW ENTITLED CAN A PERSON BE? I mean honestly, how brazen does someone have to be to steal work from someone else and then have that stolen work published? How great must she have thought she was that she wasn't concerned about getting busted?

3. A lot of people who go to Harvard are Idiots with a capital I. I went to a nearby school (not in Boston or Cambridge, but within 20 miles) and I swear on everything I know, I met so many Harvard-ites who were bordering on mentally retarded. I guess that's what money will buy you! But, it can't buy you your way out of a huge plagarism case! Or, as they like to call it "literary identity theft."

/end rant

Posted by: DCOE at May 5, 2006 08:28 AM

oh my god..i see Pearl Jam on your side bar...did you buy it yet? I downloaded the single a few weeks ago. AND I LOVE IT. And he has hair again. He is totally back on my list..oh didn't need to hear that.

Do you love the new pearl jam? I feel like polishing my docs (ok I still where some everyday) and donning some long john and flannel.

Posted by: Pamalamadingdong at May 5, 2006 08:34 AM

James Frey Award for Literature!! OMG, I am ROFL at that one. And can I add my own little semi-related vent here. As you know, I am a reporter, so obviously I write for a living. My publisher will, on too often an occasion, drive me completely insane by trying to change DIRECT QUOTES from people - you know the kind you put inside "these suckers?" - because they didn't say something grammatically correct or in proper English. Who knows, it may get me fired one day, but I never ever change quotes to what he suggests. It's all about being honest and ethical.

Posted by: Traci at May 5, 2006 08:34 AM

here you can check if anyone is plagarizing you.

Posted by: Pamalamadingdong at May 5, 2006 08:36 AM

This girl has future politician written all over her!

Posted by: MrsJoseGoldbloom at May 5, 2006 08:54 AM

Yeah that one got me too.

And with all the technology we have today, why don't publishers have software that scans manuscripts for such glaringly obvious similarities?

And, yes, unbelievably stupid. How DOES one UNintentionally plagiarize? I think she has confused her adverbs and meant to say INTENTIONALLY.

Posted by: HR Mommy at May 5, 2006 08:57 AM

What kills me about this story is that she got the book deal in the first place. I mean aren't these people in the business of selling books? You think they'd be the first to notice that she was plagiarizing. Do you think they've ever heard of this simple little thing called a Google search? Unreal.

Posted by: Beth in StL at May 5, 2006 08:58 AM

Irks me as well. I'm guessing that her book proposal didn't contain anything about her intent to plagiarize. How funny would it have been if it had. "These are the books I am plannig to 'unintentionally' take passages from:"

PS - I'm copying your entire entry and posting it on my blog as if it were mine. Unintentional, I SWEAR!

Posted by: smartjuice at May 5, 2006 08:59 AM

I want to smack the SHIT out of people like this because they make it hard for actual writers -- you know, people who come up with THEIR OWN DAMN IDEAS -- to make it. Stupid ho.

Posted by: Fraulein N at May 5, 2006 08:59 AM

I wrote about this earlier this week. There are no excuses for plagarism. Accidentaly mimicing someone's style I can see, but actually using their words or not-so-subtle variations thereof, not so much.

Posted by: suze at May 5, 2006 09:02 AM

LOL My TT blog is so incognito that copyscape can't even FIND it. It must be that new disclaimer, "You steal my stuff, I'll spork your face off."

Plagiarism is for unoriginal people. When you get caught stealing other's works it's like branding yourself with a big red "U." No one will ever trust their writing again.

Posted by: Tink at May 5, 2006 09:05 AM

Wow. If I were the pope, I'd make plagerism a mortal sin...(do Catholics even have mortal sins? What is a mortal sin anyway?)

Seriously though, that's another Harvard retard. I thought smart people went to that school...

Posted by: Ginny at May 5, 2006 09:23 AM

Hey I actually read Sloppy Firsts. Good Book. Chick-lit is the best.

I really can't believe someone didn't catch on to a lot sooner though... like um... her editor.

Crazy fool.

Posted by: Carrisa at May 5, 2006 09:28 AM

Dude, whatever, copying rules. How do you think I got through High School? And it's really okay in the long run, because I can't even read long posts let alone full-on books.

I was going to say something funnier, but I read Bill's comment above and instantly felt unworthy. Like a karaoke singer with David HASSLEHOFF HIS DAMN SELF in the room, I got nothing close.

Posted by: andy at May 5, 2006 10:07 AM

I felt a little tiny bit sorry for her at first, but now that it appears that half of her book is stolen from other authors, not so much.

And you're right -- it is really annoying that there are so many original, creative, interesting writers out there who will never get the publishing deal they deserve, and she gets $500,000. Do you think she has to give the money back?

Posted by: bad penguin at May 5, 2006 10:19 AM

It's wrong, wrong, wrong.

You didn't declaim "all the world's a stage"? Not unless you changed your name to Jacques when I wasn't looking.

Posted by: ann adams at May 5, 2006 10:26 AM

Seriously, how stupid can one person be. Did she think she wouldn't get caught? That being said, can you imagine being a college freshman at Harvard, having to take all your classes and do well in them, party as much as she seemed to (and, of course, put pictures up on myspace or facebook), and then have to write a book? She was setting herself up for disaster. Not that I feel sorry for her at all - she made her bed and now she has to lie in the uncomfortable mess she made.

Posted by: Jessie at May 5, 2006 10:41 AM

No shit, if you're going to do it, atleast make it so you won't get caught! LOL With what Andy was saying about highschool. Think of how many people made it through all the term papers with copying crap off the internet or blogs. I bet the number of kids or college kids doing it is outrageous. Google does wonders ya know.

Posted by: Sabrina at May 5, 2006 10:45 AM

As I've said since I was a wee babe in my crib:
"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
And then some dude named Einstein totally tried to take the credit for it.

Posted by: kara at May 5, 2006 10:46 AM

The first AP report of her plagerizing the book actually have the quote from her book and the book she's copied off of.

Pretty much substitute name here and switch a few words there.

You can't unconsciously or subconsciously copy THAT exact.

Posted by: oakley at May 5, 2006 10:56 AM

Having read those Megan McCafferty books, I was especially outraged. They are excellent (even if you're not a younger adult) precisely because the author's tone/narrator's voice are so unique. GRRRRRRRRRRR!

But, at least this is bringing extra attention to McCafferty's work!

Posted by: Vaguely Urban at May 5, 2006 11:59 AM

Okay, so I'm going to play "devil's advocate," please don't start spamming me...
But, Very Few countries even view plagarism as "bad." Yes, it's true. Maybe for them, it's a "compliment" for somebody to want to copy you?
And, as a graduate student, I am sometimes confused by the line between paraphrasing and plagiarism. I mean, how many ways can you say that "pathogenic bacteria in water used for recreation, drinking, and irrigation can lead to widespread disease and illness" (Phelps, 2006). I'm sure a million people have said it, and thousands have written/published it, but I'm claiming it as mine, because I just put those words together on my own.
Okay, I know that's not like what this girl did. She copied straight text from another person's work, and I believe that is wrong. As far as Harvard, and being educated, whose responsibility is it to teach international students what our (American) laws are concerning things like this? How long has she been in the US? Is she aware of the plagiarism law?
If you believe that eating meat is wrong, can you punish a meat-eating person for going against your beliefs? What is vegetarianism was the law? What if you went to India and cooked up a hamburger? Could they arrest/punish you for breaking their law (if it were a law to not eat beef)?
Okay, so I do think that "her" book should not be published (at least not in the US), but how much is she going to be punished (that's what I'm arguing about).
And, with the internet making it so much easier to put your "stuff" out there, it's getting much harder to take credit for anything--seriously, everything has probably been said by somebody at sometime! How far do I have to go to give credit, especially when I believe that I came up with an "original" thought? And, of course my "original" thoughts are going to come from my personal experiences (people I've met, books I've read, movies I've seen, etc), should I cite those too?
Maybe I should've left this for a post on my own blog. So, sorry for the rant, just wanted to get a little off my chest! :) Thanks

Posted by: Celina at May 5, 2006 12:22 PM

I'm coming to the defense of the young and stupid here. I do need to say, having gone to one of those schools, it is true, there are many idiotic people there. Also, the assumption is that a 17-year-old has a clear understanding of copyright law. I work with 50 and 60-year olds (teaching at a university) who clearly do not understand copyright law - in an academic setting! I don't expect this chick to understand it. And, having a few favorite books that I read once or twice a year, I don't know if I would internalize some of the passages from those books and they could, without any premeditation, come out in my writing (if I was a writer). So, give the chick a break folks. She's already embarrassed herself and her publisher. I don't think it was on the level of Frey yet.

Posted by: Hannah at May 5, 2006 12:27 PM

As someone who's done a fair amount of writing over the years-- I can't really buy the "internalizing" defense when it's such a vast percentage of the work. I have certainly accidentally mimicked a sentence or two out of something I've read and then had that "d'oh!" moment the next time I read the source material. But whole paragraphs? Maybe she's got a really photographic, yet stealthy, memory, but I am dubious.

As devil's advocate-- Yes, she may technically be an adult, now, but she was only 17 when this thing took off, and even at 20, she's really still just a stupid kid, as 99.99% of all 20 year olds are. I wonder how many of us would have handled it any better if someone looked at a few chapters we'd written, and said, "give us 15 more chapters and we'll give you this large pile of cash." Maybe she got writer's block, maybe she panicked, maybe she just didn't think it was really all that bad to use something she admired.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all against plagiarism, I just think this particular case is getting more media attention than it would have, pre-Frey.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at May 5, 2006 12:58 PM

The big question is: which one of you is going to get on Oprah first?

Posted by: bhd at May 5, 2006 01:32 PM

it's funny that she stole from "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings" because her book seems to be made up of sloppy seconds...

okay...that wasn't as funny as it sounded in my head...

Posted by: ali at May 5, 2006 02:22 PM

The plot thickens:

(I got the link to that from a most excellent blog, written by the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Roger Sutton:

Posted by: HG at May 5, 2006 02:38 PM

Is THAT what I've been doing wrong all this time???

Posted by: Queen of Ass at May 5, 2006 03:31 PM

SO what your telling me is I should scratch the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings 6 series I am working on?

Posted by: Melissa at May 5, 2006 03:34 PM

the talented people, who would kill to write for a living, do not always have the sheer NERVE that people like Kaavya Viswanathan. Nor do they have the overabundance of vowels in their first name.


Posted by: jodi at May 5, 2006 03:48 PM

I didn't even buy that she had "unintentionally imitated passages" of one book, never mind three or four. I don't know about you, but I don't remember exact passages in the books I read.

And I was not happy when the publisher said it was going to allow her to fix the passages when it looked like she had "only" plagiarized one book. Sorry, once they knew she had plagiarized, they should have kicked her to the curb. Seems to me a book publisher would want to send the message that plagiarizing is a big no-no.

And I wonder what happened to the $500,000?

Posted by: Carolyn at May 5, 2006 05:26 PM

Yeah, I think some caregiver dropped her on her head too many times. If that was my child, I would still be yelling at her. And when I was "done" I'd banish her to her room for the next 50 years!

Posted by: Lisa B at May 5, 2006 06:29 PM

All I know is, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee are gonna sue your ass, Chris.

Posted by: Jason at May 5, 2006 07:31 PM

I'd leave a response similar to the one I left on Suze's blog when she posted on this earlier in the week, but Bill's already done it, the scoundrel! :) I'll just say that - as heinous as it is - this situation doesn't surprise me. Which is unfortunate, perhaps, because I never used to be cynical...

Posted by: Kristina at May 6, 2006 03:22 AM

That's a lot of money she isn't going to get!

Posted by: cas at May 6, 2006 07:53 AM


Mr. Frey is from my neck of the woods (West Michigan), so he's been in my line of vision more times than I care to recall.

I'm ashamed of both of them (including their publishers), as well as anyone else is soooo desperate to be published and soooo untalented, to have to resort to these kinds of tactics.

But then again we must also include many musicians of today who can hardly arrive at anything new and must re-record old stuff with a new "twist". Sends the same message: soooo desperate to make sales and soooo untalented. The sick thing is, after their quick rise to fame, they are being held up to kids like mine as role models.

Posted by: Kristen at May 6, 2006 09:31 AM

I just dont' know where to begin with this so I'm leaving it alone.

I think it's ok to be influenced by the authors you've read, it's ok to aspire to write like they do but the life entire sections of other people's work is just clearly wrong.



Posted by: Nat at May 6, 2006 09:36 PM