sloppy sloppy sloppy

[asa book]0316059889[/asa] Every once in a while plagarism raises its head outside of the classroom. This time the accused is a young woman whose a Harvard undergrad, whose first novel (How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life) apparently borrows pretty directly from Sloppy Firsts, a novel that came out a year or so ago.

[asa book]0609807900[/asa] The sad details, if you care to look, are here, along with a comparison of the contested passages.

I see the similarities, and because there are quite a few of them, my guess would be that the courts are likely to decide in McCafferty’s favor. Which would mean considerable difficulties for Viswanathan, beyond legal and financial ones. Will she write another novel? Will she get it published?

What bothers me is how it all came to happen. This is obviously a bright kid, but then she was seventeen when she signed her first book contract. Seventeen. Seventeen is Mars. Seventeen is a universe all its own, no matter how smart you might be. And how does a seventeen year old working to get into Harvard even think about selling a novel? Where is the motivation? WHO is the motivation?

What I find really interesting about this is not so much the plagarism, but Viswanathan’s backstory.

9 Replies to “sloppy sloppy sloppy”

  1. i am interested to know if she has to give the advance back. basically i blame the coaches that the publisher hired to ‘teach’ her how to produce a novel.

  2. Good lord! Did she write “her” novel with Sloppy Firsts open on the desk next to her?? Seventeen years old or not, you still learn in high school that plagarism is a big no-no. Heck, even pre-schoolers know that stealing is wrong. This is appalling. It’s time to stop making excuses for misbehaving teenagers. She’s young, easily influenced, didn’t know what she was doing? No. She’s a published author and Harvard undergrad. She knew.

  3. Teresa — I’m not saying she shouldn’t be held responsible. It’s going to be a hard lesson, but a crucial one.

    What I was trying to say is, the real story (or at least, the story that interests me) is how the kid ended up where she is.

  4. She’s got a nerve just to try and sell a stolen story. But really – to even get it published as a plagerised story bodes well for McCafferty’s talents. Her ego can’t be too torn up about this.

  5. I read about this on Tom Tomorrow’s blog This Modern World— he Googled “book packaging firm” and found some very interesting facts. It seems Viswanathan may have been handed an outline and asked to fill in the blanks — series books like Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins were run in this fashion for decades.

    So does that mean the original novel was also a “packaged” book? Or that Viswanathan simply borrowed things, knowingly or not, to flesh out an outline she was given?

    I usually avoid reading when I’m heavily into writing partly because I compare my writing with published authors (sometimes counterproductive) but also partly because I and my boyfriend habitually memorize and repeat movie dialog, so it’s not too much of a leap to think I could do it with someone else’s words.

    There has been an interesting discussion of fanfic at Making Light — I think Teresa Nielsen Hayden hit it squarely.

    “There are no new stories, only new ways of telling old stories.”

  6. Not that this is terribly relevant, but it was my impression that minors couldn’t enter into binding contracts. Unless they’re joining the military– which I find funny in a not-very-funny kind of way.

    What I steal sometimes is lines from songs. I can’t help it– sometimes I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I hear a sentence I like, it sticks with me and it ends up rolling around in my head for so long, I forget where I got it.

    I remember once about 10 years ago I “accidentally” lifted a line out of a Counting Crows song for the last sentence of a short story that was, otherwise, pretty original and good (if I do say so myself). I have trouble with endings and this sentence seemed to fit so I just jammed it in there and forgot about it. The line in the song is, “Every word she says is nonsense, but I understand it.” I think my version was, “Everything she says is nonsense, but I understand it all.” And really, it was an honest mistake. I use overheard quotes all the time and I just forgot where I’d picked this one up.

    UNTIL all my friends who read the story kept saying, “And I really love that last sentence.” Once my attention was called to the text I remembered where I’d gotten it. When I finally caved and admitted to someone that I’d ripped it off she was (I thought) surprisingly disappointed. So I hacked the sentence into pieces and rephrased it clause by clause. Needless to say I was very much less pleased with the result than I had been with the stolen line, which I guess proved to me that I hadn’t just been using the purloined sentence as literary spackle.

    I can’t imagine stealing a whole book– much less expecting to get away with it.

  7. There are a couple of interesting articles on The Harvard Independent (found via CrankyReader) that go into details about the book packaging that Alloy Entertainment does, as well as sketchy details (speculation?) on how KV came to work with them.

    FWIW, Sloppy Firsts was published more than a year ago — it was published back in 2001, followed by a second book, Second Helpings, in 2003 or -4, I think. McCafferty’s third book about the same characters, Charmed Thirds, was released earlier this month. I wonder what effect, if any, this will have on her book sales.


  8. jmc — oh wow, that’s awful. Maybe I’m naive, but I had no idea that kind of thing was going on. Outlines and fill in the blanks.

    I think the fact that she signed on to do something like that is more disturbing than the plagarism itself.

    And Joshua, I think everybody who writes lives in fear of finding out that a sentence they’ve written (and published) was pulled wholesale out of a long distant memory. The idea gives me a sick feeling, but it’s almost inevitable, with all the stuff stuck in our heads.

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