Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How She Got Caught, Got Dissed and Lost Her Movie Deal

I usually don't do this sort of thing but I have to say something about KaavyaViswanathan and her alleged photographic memory that has been making the news.

Let's take a ride in the way back machine to 1997 when Nora Roberts sued fellow author, Janet Dailey for copyright infringement. Dailey allegedly plagiarized 13 of Nora's books. By the way, Dailey has published novels since then and she claimed that severe emotional distress was the cause of her eh, faux pas. Articles about the scandal can be read here and here.

Anyway, it seemed that the only people who took the issue seriously were Nora and romance writers. One news writer referred to the sordid affair as a mere bodice-ripping cat fight and a reader claimed that one romance novel was no different than the other.

Fast forward to "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" and its similarities to Megan McCafferty's novel (and didja hear that there are claims that Viswanathan "may have internalized" passages from Sophie Kinsella's "Can Your Keep A Secret? The AP story is here). Now it seems that everyone understands that plagiarism isn't just a crime against the writer, it's also defrauding the reader. Less than a week after the first claims of plagiarism were made, Viswanathan's book was pulled from book shelves by her publisher and her movie deal has been reportedly nixed.

As an author who has put my heart and soul into every page of my books, I am so happy that publishers, readers, my fellow writers and the media are taking plagiarism seriously. And I believe we have Oprah and James Frey to thank for the more responsible handling of the Viswanathan scandal by her publisher, Little, Brown and Co. When Oprah made Frey take responsibility for his not-so-honest memoir (and humiliated his cell-phone packing publisher on national TV), it has made us stop and think about the importance of the written word. There is an unspoken agreement between author and reader that the book, fictional or non-fictional, are expected to come from a place of truth and originality ... not his or her photographic memory.

UPDATE: This just in from today's PW Daily

No Encore for 'Opal'
By Rachel Deahl

Readers who have a copy of Kaavya Viswanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life may want to hold on to it, as the book is now a collector's item. In a statement issued from Little, Brown, the publisher finally said that it will not be releasing a revised edition of the book. And Viswanathan's second book in that two-title deal she signed with LB is dead too. The brief announcement came this afternoon from LB's senior v-p and publisher, Michael Pietsch.

While LB would not comment on what this means for the highly publicized $500,000 advance the young author received, agent Robert Gottlieb told PW that it's certainly possible the imprint could request that the money be returned. Explaining that every author signs a contract stipulating that the work they're submitting is wholly their own, Gottlieb said in cases of plagiarism an author is always breaking this legal agreement. "Technically the author is in breach of her contract," Gottlieb said, referring to Viswanathan's plagiarism. "If the publisher decided that they wanted to demand the advance back, they could."

Though Little, Brown could sue Viswanathan—for losses it has incurred in publicizing, printing and distributing the book—Gottlieb believes that this is unlikely. "I've always recommended to publishers that they avoid suing authors, because it just doesn't look good," he said. He then added: "We all do live in a community." That we do, and it seems that Kaavya Viswanathan has officially been kicked out.


Dana Diamond said...

Thanks for writing this. It says it all.

:) d

Desiree said...

Yes! Thanks for posting about this. That chicks a fraud!

Unknown said...

Hey, Mary,

Thanks for pointing out the one positive thing about this whole affair. Readers are taking note and standing up for genuine authors by ferreting out the poseurs. In my anger at both Kaavya and Little, Brown et al, I lost sight of the silver lining.

Take care,

Louise said...

OK...I apologize in advance for a long response.

When the allegations of this first came out, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. I worked with a couple of young reporters early in my newspaper career who were accused of copying someone else's work, and in both cases, it really was unintentional. They had been researching stories, got used to reading certain phrasing in their heads, and put those phrases in their stories. Their careers suffered largely for a lack of creativity and inexperience. Was it plagairism? Yeah. But they didn't sit down at their computers one morning and say, "Today I am going to copy someone else's work and pawn it off as my own." We all learned important lessons from their mistakes -- most notably, the importance of always searching for new and fresh ways to write about repeat topics.

So when this hot, young author was first accused, I thought maybe we were looking at something similar. A young, inexperienced girl who got caught up in an overzealous publishing industry.... Blah blah blah.

But as more and more allegations surface, and as we see that some of the passages are nearly word-for-word copies, I'm disheartened to realize that this is a clear case of taking someone else's work and pawning it off as her own. This chick got into HARVARD. She knows what plagairism is.

I, too, am glad to see the publishing industry taking this seriously. Plagairism is fraud. And I hope that this is a huge wake-up call about something that my elementary-principal mother has been complaining about for years. Young people today, who have far easier access to information than previous generations, are not taught that it is wrong to cut-and-paste what they find and call it their own work.

Just last year, a fourth grader in my mom's school cut and pasted an Amazon.com review and turned it in as his own book report. The teacher knew immediately this little kid could not have written it. When my mom met with the kid's parents to let them know that the boy wouldn't get credit for the assignment, the father said that his son should at least get some credit because it took a lot of work to go online and RESEARCH.

OK...sorry for the long response! Thanks for addressing it, Mary.

-- Weez

Charli Cole said...

It's funny you decided to write about this.

The news report on my blog is centered around this issue, for I was very disgusted with it.

My report is quite different from the way you put things here...but that's the way I do the news on my blog. You're guaranteed to have a laugh.

In case you want to check it out, it's under the post KY-Jel News.

Have a great one, luv.

Erica Orloff said...


When the story first broke, my heart ached for this girl--and she is a girl-woman. I at first, like you, wanted to believe it was just what she said it was because I was dumbfounded anyone could be THAT STUPID. I have a near-photographic memory and retain a LOT of useless facts and information in my brain. I was a book editor for fifteen years, I have read thousands of books, I have ghostwritten quite a few, and I have edited hundreds upon hundreds. I presume in my brain are passage after passage, phrasing after phrasing. Mistakes happen, I told myself. It is possible for the subconscious to internalize phrasing. But then the sheer volume of passages in a couple of hundred pages? Not possible to be a mistake.

The sad thing, is I--as I am sure all of us--would not want to be judged for the rest of my life on the errors and idiocy of what I did at age 17 or 18. THAT'S really what is heart-breaking, too. For the rest of her ENTIRE life, whether she becomes doctor, lawyer, teacher, whatever . . . THIS will haunt her. Forever. And that's a damn shame.

As an aside, I find what James Frey did to be so morally bankrupt as to be in a different league altogether.