I’ve read with some interest—yet stayed almost entirely out of—the discussion of romance author Cassie Edwards’s plagiarism scandal. For those two readers who haven’t heard about it yet, here are the basic, quick-and-dirty details as I understand them:
Cassie Edwards has written scads of ‘trashy’ romance books. You know—the kind that helped to establish the stereotypes that exist in most people’s minds when they think of the romance genre. She has tons of fans the world over. (Hey, that kind of novel became the stereotype because it sold. It isn’t something I’d read, but it has plenty of proponents.)
Not too long ago, thanks to Google, people started to notice that various passages in her books—ones that didn’t sound the same as the words around them—had apparently been lifted wholesale from various research books. If you want a blow-by-blow listing, you can find it at the blog that’s chronicled most of this: Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books. Check the sidebar for the list of Edwards-related links.
Accusations of plagiarism started to fly. Cassie Edwards’s response was apparently to say that she didn’t know it was wrong to copy research material without attributing it. Leaving alone the fact that ignorance of the law is no excuse, it’s extremely difficult to imagine a writer not realizing that it’s wrong to take other writers’ words and use them as their own. It’s also extremely difficult to imagine a published writer who is completely and utterly unaware of the concept of copyright and what it means, which is essentially what she’s claiming.
Now, I can understand the idea that there are writers who’ve failed to adequately label their research when taking notes and ended up inadvertently plagiarizing a line here or there. I guess I’m somewhat generous by nature and that was my first thought when I heard about this, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t what had happened. First, the passages are far too long, frequent, and exact. They were clearly copy-pasted. Second, she’s apparently done the same with several novels. Yes, she plagiarized other fiction in order to write her fiction.
You might at this point be wondering why I’m bringing this up. After all, it’s very nearly old news. It’s clear at this point that she plagiarized, and that she’s going to keep claiming she didn’t know it was wrong, and perhaps even keep claiming that it wasn’t wrong, as stunning as that seems. (I’m also pretty amazed by the fact that so many of her fans continue defending her and claiming that the folks who exposed the plagiarism are just big ol’ meanies. I mean, she broke faith with her audience—she put forward others’ work as her own—and if I were one of her readers I’d at least want to know that.)
But here’s the deal: I had to bring this up today because this morning I stumbled across a magnificent article written by the guy who wrote an article on ferrets that she plagiarized: Move Over, ‘Meerkat Manor’. He explains what it felt like to find out his work had been plagiarized, and then what it felt like to realize what it had been turned into. And oh, it’s a hysterical read:
First I was angry. Then I had to laugh. To see my textbook descriptions of ferrets in a bodice-ripper, as dialogue between a hunky American Indian and a lustful pioneer woman who several pages later have sex on a mossy riverbank, is the height of absurdity.
And he’s right. Having read the copy-pasted material that apparently passes for dialogue in Cassie Edwards novels, I can’t imagine ever picking one up even out of curiosity now:
Let’s put aside for now that ferrets live on the prairie, where there are no bushes—never mind the forest where Edwards has set her characters. Seeing the cute animals, Shiona and Shadow Bear launch into a discussion about the cute little critters.
“They are so named because of their dark legs,” Shadow Bear says, to which Shiona responds: “They are so small, surely weighing only about two pounds and measuring two feet from tip to tail.”
Wow. Yeah, now that’s sexy pillow-talk right there!
I highly recommend reading the rest of Paul Tolme’s article, not only because it’s a hysterically funny take on the scandal, but because he takes the opportunity to use the unfortunate theft of his hard work to bring attention to something very important to him: the very real plight of these wonderful animals.