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How Opal Mehta got plagiarized...

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dawn

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The article that gives further comparison in the Crimson really makes me feel that this was done because she needed quotes to round out her lacking manuscript, and now that I know the story of how she got her amazing deal, she was probably under a lot of pressure to finish the novel and just started plugging quotes in and changing them slightly. No excuses, but I feel really embarassed for her.

This serves as a reminder for me that writing (or plagiarizing) for money, especially in a genre you're not naturally inclined to write in is a bad, bad idea.
#61 - April 24, 2006, 08:28 AM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 08:30 AM by dawn »

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From what I read, the novel was sold when she was 17 based on four chapters. She was trying to finish the novel at the end of her freshman year in college.

right. i had forgotten about the fact it wasn't finished until her freshman year. hhhmmm... so much for that theory. Too bad, cuz i really liked it too.
#62 - April 24, 2006, 08:57 AM

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Wow, this thread is generating so much conversation!

Just wanted to say that I didn't mean I was questioning KV's command of the English language, or even her ability to write dialogue. It's possible that she was close, just not quite there. Or even, she felt she wasn't quite there. It's a question of degrees, not absolutes.

I also wanted to agree with Jen who said that we shouldn't use this scandal to suggest that other writers her age aren't capable of handling the same kind of stress and producing a good book. She was young, but she was still old enough to know what plagiarism is. I remember as a freshman in college, that idea of plagiarism was drilled into our heads. My school also worked on an honor code (ie we had no proctors during finals -- it was all handled through the honor code system). 

So...this is one of those things where I want to stop reading about the scandal and get on with my own writing, but I CANNOT stop! I can't help feeling sorry for her, and that's what keeps me wanting to read more. I think we have another movie on our hands here!
#63 - April 24, 2006, 09:09 AM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 10:31 PM by springfever »

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There's one other possible reason for doing this...

...publicity.

Look at how much it's got us talking!
I'm not saying I believe that's why she did it... but I it's a possibility.  :-[ It's already garnered extra interest in the book.

I was thinking about this too. It seems pretty darn risky, though. After potential lawsuits and severe public humiliation, where's the real payoff? What kind of person would want that kind of publicity? Or the risk of being sued and losing everything? Wouldn't this put her education at risk as well?

No, I don't think she ever figured on anyone finding out.

UNLESS! KV spoke with McCafferty (sp?) and they plotted this together. M promised not to sue but they will both benefit from increased publicity and attention. Okay, that's a little far fetched even for me. I guess I'm just having a tough time accepting that a girl with so much potential and promise would throw everything away so easily. The whole situation is so sad.

*sigh*

I've got to go clean my house and stop obsessing now.  :eh:
#64 - April 24, 2006, 09:18 AM

Jaina

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You know you're really in the news when your headline hits the AOL "welcome" screen.  It had this link to a copy of the Boston Globe article:

http://news.aol.com/entertainment/articles/_a/mehta-has-passages-similar-to-sloppy/20060424072409990001
#65 - April 24, 2006, 10:14 AM

Reputations are tough to repair. We may never know if it was intentional or not. Or why she did it. But forever on, she will be known as dishonest. That's tough--especially being so young. It's obvious that she's used to being on top of the gene pool and thought of highly by others. Whether it was an honest mistake or huge deception, it's all catching up to her. 

:faint

 And who's going to ever take her seriously again? That would be hard to swallow.
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#66 - April 24, 2006, 10:37 AM
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I agree, Kelly...she's sunk now.  In a way, although I feel for her if she truly was simply careless (after all, how many of us have made careless mistakes before?), I hope other young people get something from this -- not to say that all writers won't, regardless of age, but reading about her has brought back so many memories of students I taught who truly thought they were above the law.  They were intelligent or gifted, and they had the attitude that others' rules didn't apply to them.  So I hope this is really hit hard in the schools once her consequences are determined!  Not necessarily even focusing on plagiarism, but rather the idea that intelligence doesn't excuse you from societal expectations.  :sb  Did I sound like a teacher again??  :uhuh

Anyway, I do feel for her...no matter why she did this, she's miserable now.
#67 - April 24, 2006, 10:59 AM
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jadedmetaphor

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I must be REALLY coldhearted, because if the author did willingly plagiarize (which seems likely, to me), I don't feel sorry for her. Of course, I also don't feel any ill will against her besides wanting to see this issue rectified for MM and a fair solution. And, I imagine her writing career is indeed sunk, which I think it should be.

It's interesting how several people (not only on this forum) have mentioned her being a smart Harvard student and expressions of sympathy in the same breath. It seems as though people assume that since she was such a capable girl she *must* have done this out of pressure. Personally, I'm not so sure that's why or that it even matters. Does her pressure differ from an older, established writer's pressure to put out a better selling novel? Does it differ from my pressure to succeed after letting my family support me to write fulltime this past year? Does it differ from the pressure you've felt? Other writers face immense pressure without stealing. Sure KV was young, and obviously not stupid- She accepted admission to Harvard. She accepted a half million dollar publishing contract. IMHO, with those, she also accepted responsibility.

Jen makes a good point- there are plenty of young, talented authors who have gained their spoils through honest work. Feeling sorry for KV, imho, is patronizing/insulting to the other young authors who've earned their success.

I don't feel any more sorry for KV than I feel for Vanilla Ice, K-Fed (who recently "sampled" a track from Dolby's Blinded me with Science), Richard Ashcroft (who took from the Rolling Stones), the student who took Pickles' poem, or anyone else who steals another artist's work. If the inverse were true, and MM had stolen from KV, would people feel as sorry for MM? I don't think they would.

Further, I'm sure she has felt a lot of pressure as a Harvard student, but if she plagiarized a term paper we all know there would be severe consequences (even if it was "unintentional"). If that were the case, I wouldn't feel any more sorry for her than the other students so many of you have mentioned. Quite frankly, as a recent student and teacher, I have no sympathy for cheaters.  I, personally, don't see why this should be any different.

* Note, to me, the plagiarism seemed strong- if this were a case where an author had accidentally copied one or two lines, or something similar, I might feel more sympathy for that person, since it would seem their stealing was minor and completely unintentional. To me, she took a lot of passages and it seems like it had to be intentional. My point is I feel her reasons are inconsequential.

#68 - April 24, 2006, 12:12 PM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 03:13 PM by jadedmetaphor »

Jaina

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I just want to be clear on what I mean when I say I feel sorry for KV, or anyone else who plagiarizes.  I DO feel bad, in my heart, for anyone who finds themselves doing this.  I don't know how else to express it.  I don't excuse them.  I don't feel like they're justified.  I don't feel like we should "go easy" on them or just give them a hug, or whatever.  But I can't help how I feel about their situation.

When I taught Fresh. comp. I think I flunked at LEAST one kid each semester for plagiarism.  My strangest case was once when I was actually babysitting for another professor's kids.  The prof. gave me a ride home and on the way we were discussing our composition classes.  I was giving mine all the standard boring assignments, while he was taking a more unusual approach.  He started telling me about some paper he'd assigned that had some convoluted title I can't remember now... something like "The Dichotomy of Popular Culture and ..." blah blah blah.  He wanted his students to compare and contrast something or the other and he'd been very specific about the content.

Anyway, minutes later I got home to my apartment and decided to grade some papers--my students' essays.  FIRST one--right on top of the stack--was titled "The Dichotomy of Popular Culture..." and something-something.  Yeah, one of my students had just turned in her roommate's essay for Professor Whathisname's class to me.  I'm not sure what I would have thought of her odd subject matter if I hadn't just had the conversation with the professor two minutes prior.  I called him up and he found the same one in his stack.

I had given my students plenty of warning, verbally, in writing and all that--plagiarism meant failing my class.  I pulled her aside the next week and give her the news.  She cried.  I had failed other students before (and I've failed them since), but the crying is the worst.  I felt sorry for this girl and her poor decision, as I always do when people do dumb stuff they can't take back (speaking as a person who has done plenty of stupid things).

Didn't mean I didn't still give her an F.  I think it's fine to have a heart, long as you don't let it interfere with justice.  So, yes, I do feel bad for KV.  Even if someone isn't the least bit sorry and gloats about their misdeeds, I still feel bad for them.  That's just how I am.
#69 - April 24, 2006, 12:42 PM

lurban

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I hear you Jaina.  I had to do this, too, in my teaching days.  And I feel sorry for KV, too.  Intentionally or inadvertantly, she made a big fat mistake that will most likely have long lasting effects.  That's rotten.  It just is.

And since somebody else brought up Clinton's affair -- I felt sorry for Ms. Lewinsky, too.  Young kid, dumb move, lifelong consequences.
#70 - April 24, 2006, 12:49 PM

HB

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Wow, so much to read in this thread, and so many theories. (And so many comments about to be made by MOI! ;D )

Although I firmly believe that amazing coincidences can be had in books by authors who hadn’t read each other, in this case, with so many random little quirks that are the same (as opposed to one big similar plot), it looks like the author had definitely read the MM books. Whether the plagiarism was deliberate is another story.

1. Jen has a point about the amount of time those quotes would save her. It would probably take her MORE time to write herself into the situation where she could use the quote. So would she do it intentionally? The book got a generally good review in the earlier Crimson article that was linked here so it seems that she has the talent to write 300+ pages, so what would the point be of slowly…painfully going through other books looking for a few cool lines to steal? Or is it more likely that she absorbed those novels and subconsciously added what she thought were brilliant, original ideas to her own manuscript without even a pause in her typing? I do think other YA authors should read her book and see if there is anything that sounds disturbingly familiar. There’s a good chance others will recognize lines as well. (Hey, no fair! That gets her more publicity!)

2. I too wondered whether the book packager might have had something to do with the similarities. I’m not saying I definitely think that’s what happened, but if they admit that this book required more massaging than other books they’ve accepted, I do wonder which parts were written by her and which by the packager. Hmmm.

3. 170 specialty stores? When pulling a random number out of head, the number that appears most often for me isn’t so random after all (42.)  Yes, I’m a geek. I know the number well enough to know where I get it from so if it’s for literary use, I change it. (For the non-geeks in the crowd, the number figures prominently in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) I can picture the author writing a scene where the MC gets dragged around to all the stores.  It’s not a unique plot point to MM. How many movie montage scenes have there been where the ugly duckling gets transformed into a swan by trying on multiple articles of clothing, all set to cool music? So anyway, she’s writing the scene. How many department stores should the MC go to? Well, there’s 4-5 she can think of so she’ll use one of those numbers. And specialty stores? Let’s generate a completely random, ridiculously high number of stores. 200? No, that just sounds exaggerated and not so funny. Oh! How about 170? It’s so specific, like she actually went to that many and counted. Why 170? She doesn’t know why that number jumped into her head, but somehow, it’s perfect. Of course it seems perfect. The exact phrase is hanging around her subconscious.

(ASIDE: when I first typed this, I accidentally typed 176…twice, which I consider much more random and funny than 170. I think both authors should plagiarize from me. Then again, maybe my random number generator stole 176 from someplace else.  :eek5: )


Food for Thought:

I have wondered in the past whether some of the best authors are simply people who have a superior subconscious memory and can reach into their vast internal library to find the perfect turns of phrase they require to say exactly what they want at the time. How much of what we write is 100% unique? How many times have you had the muse flowing and you just write like crazy. When you’re done, you look at your story with amazement. You didn’t even know you had that idea inside you. Ever consider that maybe it wasn’t originally your idea?

I recently read a book about the power of the subconscious mind. I can’t remember the author or the title – that information is apparently buried in my subconscious mind. Anyway, it states that everything we’ve ever seen, read, or heard is stored up there in your brain someplace. If you have a gut feeling about something that turns out to be right, it isn’t because you’re psychic. It’s because although your conscious mind didn’t know enough to predict the future, your subconscious mind had enough information to logically figure out what would happen and trigger what you think is just a “gut-feeling”. People who can harness their subconscious and allow separate ideas to connect into something new are those who come up with amazing inventions, $$$-creating business ideas, and yes, genius novels.


Regarding non-fiction plagiarism:

You know the old saying:  Copy one and it’s plagiarism. Copy many and it’s a research paper. Way back in my day, English papers were 100% out my own fertile mind. (NOTE: The phrase ‘fertile mind’ appears 210,000 times in Google – I’m not very original) I didn’t use Cole’s / Cliff’s notes on principle and it was pre-Internet so other than ‘borrowing’ an older friend’s essay (which we all knew was wrong), there were no other sources available.  However, in four years of psychology we only did a few original experiments. All the other papers we wrote were document reviews which involved searching all the relevant journals and summarizing the results.  Sure the introduction and conclusion were in our own words, but everything else was either quoted or paraphrased from the original research papers. I can remember attempting to change words in factual sentences. Eventually I’d decide it was stupid to even try and I’d quote it instead. Not all that different than what SBK’s son did with his non-fiction paper. Then again, he broke the first rule by copying one instead of copying many.  ;D


Irony:

I went to the plagiarism link that Anne Marie provided. One of the links there sent me to an interesting article on catching plagiarizers. At the bottom of the article? Multiple Google ads for college paper mills.   :banghead:banghead:banghead:
#71 - April 24, 2006, 12:58 PM

katep

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I think every angle has been covered so I'll just say:  What a smart, thoughtful, eloquent group. 

#72 - April 24, 2006, 01:13 PM

steph

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I must be REALLY coldhearted, because if the author did willingly plagiarize (which seems likely, to me), I don't feel sorry for her. Of course, I also don't feel any ill will against her besides wanting to see this issue rectified for MM and a fair solution. And, I imagine her writing career is indeed sunk, which I think it should be.





What's wrong with the fact that I empathaize with  a young girl who is facing quite a large problem? Do I condone what she did - no.

Interesting that you feel that at 19 her career is sunk. Someone earlier had mentioned Janet Dailey, and I just quickly plugged her name with the word plagiarsm into google and hit upon a forum dated April 28, 2001 discussing that it had only been 4 years since her plagiarism case was settled and she had just received a 7 figure deal. This is where I empathize with KV. Why should her transgression be dealt with any more harsh than any other author caught in the same fashion has suffered? Because she received so much attention from her 500k deal? Because there is a certain amount of envy/jealousy towards a such a young author receiving this deal? I don't think that a person is sunk at 19 for this type of error. She has her entire life ahead of her.

I don't think it is patronizing to other young authors to empathize with any human being who is clearly suffering.





** just as a disclaimer, as much as I hate to admit it, as a person in my late thirties I am not a 'young author'.
#73 - April 24, 2006, 03:57 PM
« Last Edit: August 12, 2006, 07:21 AM by steph »

Margherita

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I must be REALLY coldhearted, because if the author did willingly plagiarize (which seems likely, to me), I don't feel sorry for her. Of course, I also don't feel any ill will against her besides wanting to see this issue rectified for MM and a fair solution. And, I imagine her writing career is indeed sunk, which I think it should be.

Well put.

My sympathy is reserved for the author who was actually wronged here.  ;)
#74 - April 24, 2006, 04:18 PM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 04:24 PM by Margherita »

steph

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Umm... I sympathize with MM, but I'm not sure she will suffer. If anything I think it will bring her 2 books back into the limelight - as it should.

Not to mention a nice chunk of change from the offending publisher :EmoticonDollar:
#75 - April 24, 2006, 04:32 PM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 04:39 PM by steph »

Margherita

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Umm... I sympathize with MM, but I'm not sure she will suffer. If anything I think it will bring her 2 books back into the limelight - as it should.

It's very true that she won't suffer financially.  Not all hurts are money-related, though, right? ;D  Being victimized in this way stinks.
#76 - April 24, 2006, 04:38 PM

steph

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Yes, I agree, and I think she has handled herself admirably. Her book is from 2001 I believe. Perhaps they are no longer in print - I'm guessing there will be a re-print.

If any one was going to steal my thoughts I'd want it to be someone in the spotlight :momkid:.

Put it this way - who knows how many other peons have lifted work from her two books...i'll bet it happens more than we'd like to think, this way I only see positive for MM.

It's called a 5 year marketing plan :reading2:
#77 - April 24, 2006, 04:45 PM

I feel that it isn't my place to judge her.  She may have stolen the passages, and if she did, that's lousy of her.  But maybe she didn't.  I love L. M. Montgomery and I've caught myself using phrases from the Emily books before because I've read them soooo many times.  Sometimes I don't realize until later.  I wonder if she would get so much criticism if she wasn't young and with a huge deal?  I don't really want to condemn her without knowing if it's intentional.
#78 - April 24, 2006, 04:50 PM
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almarrone

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http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512999

Here's Kaavya's response to the allegations.
#79 - April 24, 2006, 05:00 PM

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http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512999

Here's Kaavya's response to the allegations.

Well, really. What else is she going to say? I did it on purpose? Right.

Sorry, I'm not buying it.
#80 - April 24, 2006, 05:07 PM

almarrone

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I was shocked Little, Brown intends on rereleasing a Sloppy Firsts free version of Opal in the future!  I guess they have a huge investment to protect.
#81 - April 24, 2006, 05:09 PM

almarrone

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Opal's rank on Amazon has gotten better throughout the day--and Amazon yanked some reviewer comments mentioning the plagiarism.
#82 - April 24, 2006, 05:14 PM

jadedmetaphor

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What's wrong with the fact that I empathaize with  a young girl who is facing quite a large problem? Do I condone what she did - no.

Interesting that you feel that at 19 her career is sunk. Someone earlier had mentioned Janet Dailey, and I just quickly plugged her name with the word plagiarsm into google and hit upon a forum dated April 28, 2001 discussing that it had only been 4 years since her plagiarism case was settled and she had just received a 7 figure deal. This is where I empathize with KV. Why should her transgression be dealt with any more harsh than any other author caught in the same fashion has suffered? Because she received so much attention from her 500k deal? Because there is a certain amount of envy/jealousy towards a such a young author receiving this deal? I don't think that a person is sunk at 19 for this type of error. She has her entire life ahead of her.

I don't think it is patronizing to other young authors to empathize with any human being who is clearly suffering. In fact, the comment I believe Jen took offense to was, in my opinion, far more patronizing and lumped all 'young authors' together as not having developed a 'voice' yet. What???





** just as a disclaimer, as much as I hate to admit it, as a person in my late thirties I am not a 'young author'.


It's patronizing for the same reason it's patronizing to say that a minority who robs someone shouldn't be held to the same standard as a white person. Holding them to a lesser standard implies they are not capable of meeting the ethical standard others can meet (and, FWIW, I am a minority and so is my husband). There are many young authors who can not only meet standards of ethical writing, but excel in doing so (I like to think I'm one of them, although 23 may be outside the edge of what's considered "young"). Claiming her age as a reason to feel sorry for her (you, yourself, referred to her often as "young") insults me because it implies that I, as a young writer, am  incapable of the same work older writers create. I don't think age should have anything to do with it.

Also, empathy and sympathy are very different. Do I empathize with her? Yes. I can understand why she may have done this (whether intentional or not) and how she must feel now. Do I feel sorry for her (sympathize)? Not really. When I put myself in both authors' shoes, I agree with Margherita- MM is the only one who seems wronged.
#83 - April 24, 2006, 05:18 PM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 07:39 PM by jadedmetaphor »

jadedmetaphor

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I was shocked Little, Brown intends on rereleasing a Sloppy Firsts free version of Opal in the future!  I guess they have a huge investment to protect.

I'm surprised, too. Apparently, this has happened at their house before. Jason Epstein's debut novel, Wild Oats, plagiarized passages from another author's work. It ruined his book writing career but he found success later in Hollywood.*

* Info paraphrased from:
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/

Not sure how to link to the exact article. It's titled "Oops, did she write it again?" from Apr. 24 and refers to the Opal Mehta situation.
#84 - April 24, 2006, 05:24 PM

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I read Kaavya's response, and I must admit, I'm a little skeptical- it's not that I don't believe she could have internalized parts of the book and then accidentally written them into hers, but I become much more incredulous when the timeframe of reading the books is brought into it.  If she'd said that she read the books WHILE she was writing Opal, that would be one thing, but even though she got her book deal while still in high school, sources have her working on it primarily while in college, and her quote gives me the impression that she's claiming to have read it long before writing her own book (maybe that's just me?).  While the memory is a funny thing, I really don't think it's funny ENOUGH that you would pull MULITPLE phrases almost verbatim from a book you read several years previously...
#85 - April 24, 2006, 05:30 PM

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Jademetaphor

My referring to her as young does not negate the fact that she is an author, I use it in this thread to make a point. 

And thanks for the analogy, but I'll stand by my assertion that it does not patronize any other person to empathize with another human being. I don't feel sorry for her merely for being 19 - I empathize with her period. Thanks for allowing me to clarify that.

What I  am saying is 19 is far too young to be sent out to pasture.
#86 - April 24, 2006, 05:37 PM
« Last Edit: August 12, 2006, 07:24 AM by steph »

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All in all, I'm thinking the consequences are not going to be strong enough to keep other aspiring authors from 'unintentionally' doing something very similar...too bad.  I don't want to see this girl's life ruined over this; but I do want some kind of serious consequence to show others that this just isn't the right thing to do.  And I agree with Jen that it's unlikely that she told the 'whole' truth in her rebuttal...probably far more likely that she didn't think she'd get caught (or hoped she wouldn't), and now she's falling back on the best possible excuse for what's happened.  She reminds me a bit of a student I had...wonderful girl, very nice, hard-working -- but not afraid to do whatever it took to get to where she wanted to be.  *shrug*  That's just my take, though.  It's not like I've met her or anything.  I wonder if there's any way to give some of her advance to MM...now that would be a lesson!
#87 - April 24, 2006, 05:50 PM
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What I  am saying is 19 is far too young to be sent out to pasture - I don't think her career is over by far.

I think it really depends on how much publicity this all generates. If enough people learn about the situation (I'm talking household name here), she will ALWAYS be known as the girl that cheated. Her writing career will be over before it starts. I know I will never buy any book she writes because in my eyes, she's dishonest and I wouldn't be able to trust her words.
#88 - April 24, 2006, 05:52 PM

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I do really empathize with KV- not because I think she's at all the injured party in this (obvious MM is, and she has my full-on sympathy, though I hope this will boost her novel sales in the long run) or because I sympathize with the "pressure" KV was under or think her age is an excuse for this happening- I don't.  I empathize with KV, because even though I don't think a young author is any less capable or culpable in this situation, I do think that a nineteen year old is likely less equipped to deal with the consequences.  She's old enough to know better, but is she old enough to handle being a scandal picked up by the AP and blasted all over the world?  I know some people will say that if you do the crime, you do the time, but I can't help but think that this will be harder for her than it would be for someone older.

She's living in a college dorm, and her college newspaper just printed an expose.  She's the person to laugh and whisper about, and people are GLAD that something happened to knock her off her pedestal.  The college environment is surprisingly conducive to a high school type cruelty, and while the real world may be as well, it's not as concentrated.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't help but think that the scale of the impact on her daily life of this fallout is going to be much, much bigger than it would be for someone in a later stage of their life.

I'm not excusing her.  I'm not saying that what she did was right, or that she shouldn't be punished.  I'm not saying that she didn't bring this media circus down on herself, or that her age somehow excuses it.  I'm just saying that, even at twenty-two, nineteen seems awfully young to me to be dealing with this.  I'm not thinking in terms of career plans (if no one wants to publish her again, that's just tough), but I'm thinking of her personal life, and I'm afraid that the personal day-to-day fallout might be really huge, and I feel really sorry for that.
#89 - April 24, 2006, 06:00 PM

steph

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I respect that view SBK. I had no intention of buying the book to begin with, and I certainly wouldn't go purchase the book because she plagiarized :uhuh.

Clearly others will though. Just took a  quick look at Amazon. It shows Janet Dailey's latest is due out July/06. Hasn't seemed to hurt her any.

Hasn't hurt James Frey's numbers either.
#90 - April 24, 2006, 06:02 PM

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