“So I fired two warning shots. Into his head.”
“Cell Block Tango”
Okay– I’m trying not to be irritated, because that usually makes me rant, and when I rant, I’m like a race car which can, at any moment, veer off into a big tank of jet fuel and explode. I don’t want to explode–I have too much to do!
One of the crap things about vacation (no, surprisingly enough, not constipation, which I managed to defeat this time with a cunning use of fruits, vegetables, and drinking water!) is the work back-up waiting for you at your desk. Unlike summer vacation at my other job, where I left my room and my desk and my responsibilities for weeks at a time and came back without anything being touched (well, sometimes they cleaned the carpets) taking a vacation in this business means you leave the stuff you can’t get to when you’re on your smart phone. Hence, this plagiarism thing sitting in a big steaming heap in the middle of my computer. Since I know some of you follow for the knitting (which I’ve been doing, dammit!) and not the m/m I’m going to start roughly at the beginning.
Last year, Dreamspinner Press–my main publishing house– put out a book titled Bear, Otter, and the Kid which sold a zillion copies. It featured a young man and his much younger brother, who had been abandoned by their mother. In the last few days, this book has been blatantly accused of borrowing much of it’s plot and characterization from a movie called Shelter. Now, I don’t know if this is true or not–I have neither read the book nor seen the movie–I’m quite simply not in a position to say. But as this accusation was being made, a number of other accusations were being thrown about, and, quite frankly, it’s not fair to paint the whole mural the same color, just because you’re seeing red.
The basic shit in this particular storm has three different textures, and I’m going to address them separately, because they SHOULD remain separate and part of the problem in this matter is that they’re not being treated that way.
A. People at Dreamspinner were aware of the plagiary and did nothing about it.
This is not true. Elizabeth, my publisher, had heard nothing about the possibility of plagiary until the folks at Dear Author contacted her and told her that they were upset that she hadn’t done anything about it. Now, at this point I understand that these accusations have been floating around on a couple of sites for a while–but just as I have been too busy to visit these sites, so has she. Nobody e-mailed her or called her up and said, “Hey! Here’s the breakdown–isn’t this plagiary?” The article that accuses her of knowing doesn’t provide any such instance because there is none. Now, if this were a case of print journalism instead of a book blog, this would be time for a libel suit–or at least a severe dressing down for checking facts and sources, but that’s not the case. Unfortunately, the people being accused actually RUN a publishing company, and this allegation is serious. So this blog doing the accusing? It gets all of the buzz and faces none of the responsibility for the mess it is creating, and it has given the accused no forum in which to defend themselves. Aces. American journalism at it’s best.
(ETA– Elizabeth North viewed this blog and e-mailed to let me know the following that someone DID contact her before the kerfluffle blew–the folks at the Dear Author book blog contacted her to let her know that “in light of various issues recently” the blog would no longer be reviewing DSP’s books. There was no other explanation given, and she didn’t know to what “various issues” referred until eight hours AFTER the e-mail, when I sent her the link to the site of the kerfluffle. That actually doesn’t help the accusers at all, does it? Nope.)
B. That Dreamspinner doesn’t care about plagiary because it encourages fan fiction.
And wow. Right here is a logical fallacy of gargantuan proportions. Fan fiction is not plagiary unless someone tries to pass off as their own work. Fan fiction is ALSO not plagiary when it has changed the initial elements beyond recognition and ceased to be fan fiction anymore. Taking an idea you started in someone else’s sandbox and then carrying it to fruition in your own garage is not stealing. Fan fiction began because people wanted to capture a feeling, an idea, a dynamic between characters and they wanted to make it their own. If a piece of fan fiction changes universe, setting, plot, characteris, and theme, hello and voila, it’s no longer FAN FICTION. It has become an original work. You may have used somebody else’s tools to start with, but that’s no different than using an archetype–and there are not that many of those, so just sitting down to write a story means you’re going to be doing SOMETHING that’s been done before. So, essentially, it’s like being given a friend’s old Ford Escort, and eventually, after you’ve cranked on it for a while, changed a socket wrench for a crescent wrench, rebored the engine, refitted the bearings, cut down the body, changed the fenders for those racing jobs, switched out the rims, added a spoiler in the back, changed the suspension, added a chain-link steering wheel, tricked out the pinstriped paint job, and suddenly, it bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to a Ford Escort–you have created your own damned car.
Yeah. THAT’S converting fan fiction to an original piece of writing.
An example of this? I told my husband about one of my favorite books–a hit-man with a heart of gold trope, where the supposed hit was a doctor, and the hit-man had been saving victims for quite some time.
“Yeah?” said Mate. “What did that start out as?”
Mate just giggled. “You know, when something changes THAT much…”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “It’s an original piece of work.”
Now there is some absolutely lovely, lyrical, amazing fan fiction out there–some stuff that deserves to be read in it’s own right, and not as an extension of someone else’s work. Why shouldn’t it be “converted”–you know, from a Ford Escort to a tricked-out Fiat? Why shouldn’t people get to read it and appreciate the prose and the character nuances and the plot devices and the irony that were not present in the inspirational work?
Like I said, once you’ve changed the characters, plot, universe, setting, and theme, it has ceased to have all connection with it’s origins, and has, instead, become an original work on it’s own. You know, sort of like Hollinshed’s Chronicles. You all know about Hollinshed’s Chronicles, right? It was an epic work of history that every school boy knew in England in the 1500ds. It has the history of the War of the Roses, a little town in Italy, the exploits of Rome in Egypt, and all sorts of other things in it. Shakespeare knew Hollinshed’s Chronicles like the back of his hand, but we don’t praise Hollinshed as a great writer, now do we?
So plagiarism IS bad–but fan fiction? Fan fiction is not necessarily plagiarism, and therefore not necessarily bad, and not all of the classification of dead people is Alma Cogen.
Editing is the difference between “Your shit don’t stink!” and “You’re shit: don’t stink!”
And that brings us to
C. Editing. See– this is, again, where the whole logic of the shitstorm breaks down. Plagiarism is not fan fiction, and fan fiction is not editing, but for some reason, this entire brouhaha has dragged up the rotting corpse of this dead horse to flagellate for fun.
Now editing is a touchy subject with me, for two reasons.
The first reason is that you all remember my self-published days, when I was flayed up one side and down the other for editing. When DSP started publishing me, I was both thrilled to have a professional editing job and trepidatious: I had developed a rather independent approach to grammar and punctuation and I was afraid that my own stubbornness would not make me any friends.
Well, I’ve managed to make friends in spite of the fact that I get two very thorough edits per manuscript, and I’m sure my editors have been devising ways to crawl through cyberspace and strangle me because I tend to color outside the lines. Some examples of reasons that I personally should be kissing my editors’ toes at the moment?
* Making me change the name of Deacon’s lover from Declan to Carrick, because NOBODY would have read that book if I hadn’t!
* Teaching me that there IS a right way to spell “hallefuckinglujia”– even if I don’t remember if that’s it or not.
* Saving me from all sorts of painful lawsuits involving misuse of printed material for all of the song quotes at the beginnings of the chapters in Making Promises.
* Checking my facts on basketball, because I had NO idea North Carolina didn’t have a Freshman basketball team–or at least one that a superstar would play in.
* Letting me include parts of dialog in the same line because I liked the flow, because even though the CMOS doesn’t recommend the style as a rule, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong–just out of fashion.
* Helping me pare down the outrageous number of Em-dashes in Truth in the Dark.
* Occasionally indulging my Em-dash habit when I need a fix, but generally making me behave in that department as a whole.
* Helping me with continuity, because sometimes I’m no better at plot math than I am at the regular kind.
* Letting me lecture on metonymy and synecdoche and conceit without ever once calling me a pompous prick-bag in the margins of my manuscript as they probably should have.
* Letting me edit a heinous piece of prose in the GALLEY STAGES of Bewitching Bella’s Brother that had been left there because of my own fuckery and not theirs.
* In general, helping me produce the best possible product that I possibly can and working very hard at not letting me make an ass of myself.
Does DSP have a brisk editing process? You betcha. Does DSP ever tell an author how to write a book, or what plot points he or she MUST fix? If the book they accepted is not good enough to go out, they wouldn’t have accepted it.
Are there still errors? I dunno–are there still humans involved in the process? Probably.
“Troll! In the dungeon! TROLL! IN THE DUNGEON! I thought you’d want to know.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–movie
based on the book by
I have stuff to do. I need to work on the Bodi/Peter story, because it’s eating me alive. I need to edit Country Mouse, because I promised my co-writer on that one that I would get it done today so we can have it out by April. I need to shower and get ready to go teach Art History to third graders, because they LOVE it when the art lady comes, and I don’t want to let them down. I have to take my daughter to dance lessons tonight and fix some sort of sustenance and maybe clean the kitchen table so the kids can eat at it, because they think that sort of thing is only for holidays and vacations and that makes me feel bad. The one thing I did not want to spend my morning doing was addressing an attack on the company that gave me my start when I was weary of forging my own, and that held my hand when I thought I had lost every friend and ruined my life with this strange obsession to write about people treating each other as people.
But there was a troll in the dungeon, and it was wreaking all sorts of bloody havoc on the people I loved. I thought you’d want to know.