Talk about Train Wrecks

Brad Vice, the author who saw his career go up in flames over "unacknowledged use of source material" (something less charitable people call ...um...plagiarism) has discovered once people find out you lied about one thing, they go looking at everything else. And it turns out, of course, they found it.

Another guy who had his background looked at with zeal was the guy who espoused lying on cover letters, or puffing up your writing credentials. He had his own credentials looked at by the folks who hang out over at Making Light. I'd rather be interrogated by the IRS than have these guys after me. They're not only thorough, they're hilarious. And it's one thing to be discovered to be a lying, cheating scene stealer. It's worse to have them doing it with wit and style.

But the point of course is now that everything in the world appears to be up on the net, people WILL look. Plagiarism has always been wrong. Now it's just stupid.


lady t said...

Truly a cautionary tale to keep in mind there.

Dee said...

advice is cheap, but plagiarism is expensive. If not financially, certainly in the deadening of your moral fiber.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

Wow. Just wow. All I know is that in college (which was only 2 years ago) I never even CONSIDERED plagiarism... as they put the fear of God (ie - the academic board) in me.

This guy deserves everything coming to him. Watch, next they're going to find out he lifted his pre-school application three-sentence composition from another kid.

Feisty said...

Oh, the silly things people do to get in print.

It's really very sad, but then being published is such a huge thing to some folks that nothing they'd do would surprise me.

We're all making so much money at this. We're so famous. It's just a constant party. No wonder everyone wants to get on board.

Brady Westwater said...

Yes, but if you have enough supporters in the academic world - all is forgiven!

I exposed Mike Davis - City Of Quartz & Ecology of Fear - as a lying fraud in the late 1990's in the first international internet literary war - but he still gets book after book published.

He was forced to admit he had fabricated every single word in entire interview in the LA Weekly back then and it was also proved that he had made up hundreds of imaginary 'facts' in his books, but even those sins did not disqualify him employment at a major university.

My favorite example was when he got all his facts wrong about Bunker Hill in LA - and then his footnote cited an article he had written in which the facts were all... correct!

So Mike Davis lied about what... Mike Davis... had said! More likley though, he was misquoting which ever of one of his grad students who had actually written that article.

And yet, still another book of his has just been published.

Stephanie Bose said...

I'm paranoid, I'm sure, but I worry that I'll unconsciously plagarize something. What if my book is so similar to another (come on, there are jillions out there) that someone perceives it as plagarism? How do you defend yourself?

Okay, I shouldn't worry... Need to get pubbed first...But I DO think about it...


Brady Westwater said...

Yuu need to hit the 9AM on the article to link straight to the story.

Existential Man said...

It's tough (but not impossible) to believe that Todd Pierce could have actually graduated from the U.C. Irvine MFA program -- a very tough program to be accepted to and complete--and still end up telling people to lie about their writing credentials, let alone that he's working on a Ph.D.

Here's the curious thing about his web site: his list of ways to get an agent has been read by thousands of wanna-haves looking for an agent over the last few years as well as many agents themselves, who willingly sent him notices of their availability to be posted on his site--it took YEARS b.b.(before blogging)for any writer or agent to complain loudly enough about what he was posting. Why?

Now it may be told: I sent this guy an e-mail in the early daze of his site, telling him I thought a number of his suggestions were innacurate and should be reconsidered. Not surprisingly, he never replied. Don'tcha hate it when that happens?

Bernita said...

Someone sued Rowlings on that basis, a child wizard or some such - and lost.
The fact that Rowlings was a best seller by then may have been a factor. The celebrity syndrome.
Not that many of us will ever have to worry about be plagarized but I wonder what first sends up the red flags? A tickle of memory by some reader?

Kate S. said...

The fact that Rowling was a best seller is the reason why she was sued; it's not the reason why the woman who sued her lost. The reason that the woman who sued Rowling lost is because she had no case. She was even found to have fabricated much of the "evidence" that she put forward to back her claim. By the end of the court case it was pretty clear that she was just trying to make a buck off a successful writer. Very different from the Brad Vice scenario.

archer said...

Suppose I write to an agent that her wit and charm has reduced me to a state of priapic delirium. I think the phrase is in Sophie's Choice,but I'm not really sure. Does the agent Google the phrase right away? Do I immediately make her plagiarist-of-the-week list?

TillyLost said...

The accusation against J.K. Rowling seems to have been particularly silly, but I'm not sure how it was covered in the media.

Making light has a good post about it:


Feemus said...

But doesn't this whole affair point up the difference between "plagiarism" in, say, academic writing and in fiction? Is plagiarism even a useful category when discussing fiction? I followed the links to a discussion of Kathy Acker, whose brilliant and sadly shortened career was devoted to putting pressure on the whole idea of originality and authorship, to denaturalize and revalue these terms which achieved the status of a fetish in the 18th and 19th centuries. I'm not familiar withthe Vice (hah!) fellow's work, but I wouldn't get rid of Acker's _Great Expectations_ for all the world (ditto Burrough's cuttings, Joyce's _Ulysses_, all of Virgil), and I certainly think that "plagiarism" is not the right word for the consciousness of literary borrowing, for the acknowledgment that all art is, to some degree, theft.

Ah, but to steal wisely.

Miss Snark said...

Archer, it's plagiarism only if you actually look like Kevin Kline when you say it.

Bernita said...

Kate, I beg your pardon.
I meant that the reason why Rowling was sued was because she was a best seller, and that the woman's claims were based on alleged similarities between a book of hers and Rowling's
Harry Potter/Hogwards etc.
I certainly did not intend to suggest that the suit failed because of inequalities between the contestants.
Thank you for expressing my intention much more clearly.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking up Todd James Pierce and come across a very interesting interview. Clearly the interviewer worships the ground Pierce, uh, slithers on.


Anonymous said...

The Making Light/Todd James Pierce saga continued: Taking Your Own Bad Advice

lecrown said...

Sometimes when I come up with what I think is a particularly good analogy I Google the phrase and am dismayed at how many others have already used it. Actually, I do this when I come up with an awful one, too, for comedy.

Usually more people have already used the awful one.

Anyway, the point is every phrase has been used before in some capacity. It's just when many phrases and sentences, in succession, were used by somebody previously -- as in Mr. Vice's case -- it's no longer a case of two people independently coming up with the same turn-of-phrase.

Rick said...

I was curious enough when I read the Teresa Nielsen Hayden thread to go to Nancy Stouffer's website and see what the ruckus was about. So far as I can tell, her whole case amounted to one made-up word, "Muggles" - not the hardest word to invent, and it has a completely different meaning in the Rowlings-verse than in Stouffer's book.

I've never read any of the Harry Potter books, only seen the first film, but that is plenty enough to know that they are utterly unrelated to anything Stouffer wrote. Rowlings couldn't have plagiarized Stouffer if she wanted to (and even if Stouffer's books were any good) - it would be like lifting prose from a hardboiled detective novel to use in a Regency romance.

The curious thing about the Vice affair is some of the defenses from literary circles. Writers steal from each other all the time, but it's swiping themes and styles, not "appropriating" actual text. I guess the whole lit-crit thing about text has gotten a bit out of hand.

I said...

A direct link to the actual Brad Vice story on Galleycat, since it will become harder to find from simply linking to Galleycat as it moves further down the page.

My dad once told me a story about Benjamin Britten going around a museum looking at muscial exhibits with the museum's curator (it may have been the British Museum), and the curator idly commented that it was no longer possible to write music that no one had written before.

"Nonsense," Britten said, and jotted down a few notes on a piece of paper and handed it to the curator. "There, no one's ever written that before."

A few days later, Britten heard back from the curator. The notes he'd written had previously been written by a Christian hymnist in the twelfth century.

That said, there's a definite between borrowing or building upon another's work and outright plagiarism. And the plagiarists--who, in my opinion, certainly know they're doing it when they do it--deserve to have their typing fingers amputated.

jessicacrockett said...

On what Stephanie Bose said - it's not really possible to accidentally plagiarise something, as far as I know.
The Nancy Stouffer case was ridiculous, alleging, among other things, that the word Muggle was stolen. There are works with much stronger comparisons (The 1980s novel The Worst Witch, about a boarding school for witches, shows many similarities. Neil Gaiman’s hero in The Books of Magic comics shares common character traits with Harry. The Lord of the Rings also draws parallels, with giant spiders, mountain trolls, wizard mentors, dogs named Fang, orphaned heroes, Dark Lords trying to regain physical form and more. There are numerous examples.). To what extent can plagiarism go? Does this mean that Rowling stole her ideas?
No – I don’t think so. You can’t own the idea of learning to be a wizard. Plagiarism is when you intentionally base your work on the ideas of others – and if you do it will probably show. But, if you write your own work, it should naturally stand on its own in a fresh and original way.

Rick said...

The one kind of accidental plagiarism I can see is a well-turned phrase that sticks in your mind till you forget what book you got it from, and even that you got it from a book. This, I suspect, must happen fairly often. (Equally if not more often, the phrase that sticks in the mind turns out to be slightly different from its written inspiration.) But while someone might forget the source of a phrase, it's hardly likely that anyone would accidently reproduce a passage of more than a few words.

Kristin said...

The first time this happened to Vice, I said something along the lines of "Bless his heart." (hey, we're both from Alabama)

This time? Not so much. Get your act together, dude.

Bunneh said...

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here's a fascinating, detailed article about Vice:


There's an interesting bit down at the bottom regarding the Sewanee Writer's Conference that kind of left me feeling a little sick. I don't know how true or accurate it is, but it's daunting to the unwashed, unpublished masses.

Cornelia Read said...

Robert Clark Young (author of the NY Press article) and I were in a writing group together, and I can vouch for his being an extremely objective, thoughtful, and stand-up guy.

Sal said...

anonymous links to THN's blog again with a reference to "The Making Light/Todd James Pierce saga continued"

Thanks! I'd been rummaging through the TNH references when this first popped up again because I vaguely remembered posting some comments during that contretemps back when. With anonymous' link, I found that my befuddled brain hadn't tricked me.

For others interested in the saga, Scalzi also had some things to say at the time, including a response from TJP hisself:

19 May 2004 - Cover Letters
20 May 2004 - Todd Pierce Responds
24Jun 2004 - A Little Libel