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How Opal Mehta got plagiarized...

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And yet another article in PW daily.  It seems Random may press plagarism claims.  Here's a quote from the article:

Stuart Applebaum called Viswanaathan's explanation about how she came to use passages from McCafferty "at best disingenuous and at worst literary identity theft." He noted that there are approximately 40 cases where Opal mirrors passages from McCafferty's works. Although Applebaum declined to comment if Random will file a lawsuit against Viswanaathan, he said "Crown and Random House support our author in seeking a proper and full resolution to this matter."

And here's a link to the entire article

#121 - April 25, 2006, 11:36 AM
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Yeah, and the rest of us nineteen-year-old novelists are working our tails off without the benefit of Harvard professors finagling $500,000 deals for us before we've even finished a novel.

Small point, but no Harvard professors were involved in her book deal.  She got the deal through her agent and the agent through a private college counselor she hired when she was applying to schools.
#122 - April 25, 2006, 12:16 PM

linda s.

I'm not sure if this was brought up yet, but I wonder what would happen if you looked at another handful of very popular titles in this genre. Would you be able to find many similarities between how the teenage characters spoke, what they wore, what brand names were important to them, etc. I'm just not absolutely clear from the examples I saw in the original piece in the Crimson that this is plagarism as opposed to overused commonality. I don't know. But I do wonder who thought to compare the two books and wonder if a few more should be looked at to get a clearer sense.
#123 - April 25, 2006, 12:30 PM


a boston globe article with all of the passages in question listed next to one another for easier comparison:
#124 - April 25, 2006, 01:02 PM

sbk, I didn't mean to imply these posts are whispers.  I was referring to Jen's point about the author living in the dorm on a college campus, dealing with her peers pointing and whispering.  I agree that you're entitled to write whatever you want here and I couldn't agree more that we as humans need to be accountable for our mistakes.  Each one of us. 

And Vijaya is right that this is a discussion about plagiarism but I can't help thinking it's much easier to get all wound up about the smaller stuff rather than the bigger issues.  But again, this is a writing community so plagiarism is the highest crime.  Please understand that I wasn't pointing the finger at anyone here, just making a comment with the big picture in mind.  I appreciate the thought and analysis that went into this discussion.

Oh geez, Vinca. I read your post when I was in a bad mood before. I guess I should have reread my comments before posting. I didn't mean  to sound like  a total *****. I did understand what you were trying to say. I'm sorry. I still stand by what I said but I shouldn't have made it sound like I was attacking your comments. Those weren't my intentions.  :love
#125 - April 25, 2006, 01:49 PM

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sbk, don't beat yourself up for your earlier comments.  I didn't think you sounded like a total **** but wanted to clarify that I wasn't accusing you of anything.  So now that we've cleared up our little miscommunications, how about a group hug?   :hug1:
#126 - April 25, 2006, 02:07 PM
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Wow. I've been following this story since yesterday. It's just unbelievable and makes you wonder what kind of pressure she was under to finish. Remarkable writing for 19, and she's published, which I'm not and have 10 years on her. But, I won't go that route to get there! Interesting studies that AM mentioned about students on campus. As for the original author, MM, phrases, I read them thinking, "why can't I come up with phrases like that?" But, I'm not writing chick lit either.  . . . .And, what is this about Amazon pulling posts?
#127 - April 25, 2006, 02:11 PM
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I've been following KV's success with great admiration (and admittedly a degree of envy :)) then the rumours about an 'apology' from her and a promise to make changes in the book? Isn't that an admission of guilt?  So now I'm a little annoyed and pissed off... if life were fair her contract would be revoked and the 500k would go to authors who actually writher there own stuff!!!!

#128 - April 25, 2006, 02:39 PM


Wow. I've been following this story since yesterday. It's just unbelievable and makes you wonder what kind of pressure she was under to finish. Remarkable writing for 19, and she's published, which I'm not and have 10 years on her. But, I won't go that route to get there! Interesting studies that AM mentioned about students on campus. As for the original author, MM, phrases, I read them thinking, "why can't I come up with phrases like that?" But, I'm not writing chick lit either.  . . . .And, what is this about Amazon pulling posts?

Yesterday there were a few post talking about the plagarizing--they got yanked, but there are more today--Opal is now ranked in the 60's on the Amazon bestsellers list--it keeps improving as the day progresses.
#129 - April 25, 2006, 03:22 PM

Opal is now ranked in the 60's on the Amazon bestsellers list--it keeps improving as the day progresses.

you know... that just pisses me right off. I hate it when people benefit from doing crappy things.

oh, and  :hug1: back to you vinca. :)

#130 - April 25, 2006, 03:32 PM


Any word from her agent on this?  Any word from any agent on this, or is everyone keeping mum so as not to jeopardize relationships with LB?
#131 - April 25, 2006, 04:05 PM


The article in PW also points out that not only are passages lifted nearly verbatim, but the offending passages come at the same points in the respective books.  Plus Random House is claiming that the characters and plot have been borrowed as well.  Ouch.  It sounds like Opal is a "copy cat."

#132 - April 25, 2006, 04:09 PM

#133 - April 25, 2006, 04:11 PM

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Yesterday there were a few post talking about the plagarizing--they got yanked, but there are more today--Opal is now ranked in the 60's on the Amazon bestsellers list--it keeps improving as the day progresses.

I think at least one of the reviews that got removed yesterday was removed because it copy and pasted the Crimson article in its entirety into review form- which is probably a no-no, especially if you're complaining about plagiarism...
#134 - April 25, 2006, 04:46 PM


so reading this more I wonder about the whole stealing of work thing.....we all ask to have our work critqued and let others read it is anyone at all fearful of someone taking their hard work?  My faterin law is always warning me against having anyone looking at my stuff Ijust laugh and say trust me no one is going to take it......anyways back to my question at hand is anyone fearful of that?
#135 - April 25, 2006, 05:47 PM


i must admit, when i first heard of the book, i was riddled with jealousy.  unbearable, seething, ugly jealousy of a caliber that i was ashamed to admit to even those who know my ugly side.  :devil:

however, in my defense, i'd like to note that part of that may have to do with the fact that i had a book with that very publisher (a book that was under serious consideration, i might add) but was passed over around the same time that KV's was picked up (for a half-million, no less  :reading2:).

however, i can't help empathizing.  at 19, i was still trying to figure out my morality.  still trying to get my bearings in this big, scary, unforgiving world.  and, at 19 i was desperate to prove my own worth, all around.  i was vulnerable to the whims and influences of the big-wigs around me.

there is another element of this story in the blogosphere.  it seems that KV originally proposed a different novel to her agent (or publisher, not sure which).  however, her idea was apparently "too dark" for the agent/publisher, and she was "encouraged" to make the story more chick-lit.  maybe she was given MM's books in the meantime to show her what they were looking for?

i'm not excusing, just wondering.  if that part of the story is true, it's a hard lesson to learn about integrity and sticking to your own ideas.  i can see a writer that young wanting to prove she's worth her salt and wanting to please her parents and her editors and everyone else.  the holy grail in her palms.  and then snatched away before she can even savor it.

sad, just sad.   :(
#136 - April 25, 2006, 06:42 PM


Ug. What a mess. Still, why jeopardize everything for something like this? I know, I know. I've caught up with this thread and all the ideas and theories, but still I'd love to know why. As for her ranking going up on Amazon, that happened with Frey, too, when he was exposed. Folks love a scandal.

#137 - April 25, 2006, 07:02 PM

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I'm mostly a lurker on these boards, but wanted to raise a point I don't think I've heard anyone else bring up. I'm fascinated that this story was broken by a college student - I'm not a journalism expert, but I know enough to know that it's a big deal to be the first to report on something. Granted the writer may have had a vested interest since he's on the same campus as K.V. But still! To be a college journalism student, writing for your school paper and break a story that makes headlines and gets huge coverage in the NY Times, the Boston Globe, the A.P., etc. etc. etc. Pretty impressive.
#138 - April 25, 2006, 10:53 PM


Here's the latest from The Crimson. I'm glad people are finally giving their journalists (esp. David Zhou, the author of the original article) due praise.

This latest article is very thorough. It's interesting to finally have a lawyer weigh in. I was surprised to read that MM may not be able to sue for copyright infringement:

I'm afraid I don't totally understand the legal implications (or lack, thereof?). Any lawyers willing to speak up (even anonymously) and tell us more about what this might mean for MM?

Of course, Little, Brown, may be able to sue KV if she's violated an originality clause in her contract with them, but I somehow doubt they'll want to, considering their response, thusfar.
#139 - April 26, 2006, 12:40 AM
« Last Edit: April 26, 2006, 03:32 PM by jadedmetaphor »


All along, what’s bothered me most is the “170 specialty stores.” As so many others have pointed out, it just doesn’t make sense to plagiarize this when the exact number and even the type of store could easily have been changed. Internalizing another’s story and subconscious memory may be plausible explanations, but both are abstract concepts that I’m not sure I understand. I want to know the WAY it happened. I got a partial answer last night at 3 AM when I found myself half asleep and rehearsing lines (without consciously meaning to) from a book I’d read the day before.

I’d read part of “Saving Francesca” yesterday and had found the scene where one character mixes up Trotsky and Tolstoy particularly clever. In a later scene, Francesca suggests that the outcome of a basketball game that became a grudge match “would have turned out very differently if Trotsky had written Anna Karenina.” I loved this line when I read it and found myself rehearsing it, as well as the lines from the earlier scene that led to it, repeatedly (much the same way you might go over conversations you’ve had during the day). It’s unlikely I would have remembered this at all the next morning if I hadn’t made a point to do so because of this plagiarism issue.

This seems to me to be a parsimonious way to understand some of the more troubling aspects of this incident. If I’m not even reading this book to study style and structure and I’m rehearsing it during the night, I can only imagine what I might be doing under pressure to perform. If I’d inadvertently rehearsed it enough over time, I’d certainly remember the exact line without necessarily remembering where it came from. I don’t think, by any means, that this explains the “approximately 40 cases where Opal mirrors passages from McCafferty's works” that Applebaum refers to. It just gives me a better understanding of the how some of it might have happened.

#140 - April 26, 2006, 07:14 AM


Janz, it fascinates me too, so I think I'll start another thread--not in "Book Talk" but another section--about how we read and memorize or internalize . . . that way it will be separate from the Opal trainwreck (I keep thinking about the TV traffic report phrase "significant onlooker delay"--I just can't stop reading this thread!).
#141 - April 26, 2006, 07:37 AM

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There's video up of the author on the TODAY show this morning at

I can't access it myself so I don't know how it went.  Anybody?

#142 - April 26, 2006, 07:39 AM
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Does anyone understand why this book got a half-million dollar advance?  To a 19 year old for a first book?  A book that needed a book packager to work on?  What was Little Brown thinking? 

To whoever it was earlier who said their ms was rejected around the same time Opal was taken up, my sympathies.

Too much of publishing is hype and commercial idiocy.  I hope they all take a lesson from this.
#143 - April 26, 2006, 08:39 AM

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She was interviewed by Katie Couric. Katie was alternately tough on her and kind toward her, I thought. KV said she read MM's books probably 3 times each when she was in high school, between 14 years old and her senior year of high school. She again stated that any similarities were completely unintentional. She recognizes that some passages are very similar but said (about one passage in particular) that when she was writing and the words came to her, she heard them as if the charcater would have used them, that was the way her character thought and it seemed like her words. She seemed a little desperate to prove to MM that she didn't do this intentionally. At the end when Katie told her she wasn't sure that she had convinced everyone of her innocence, KV said, "all I can do is tell the truth."

My summary is that the interview didn't hurt her image anymore than the situation already has hurt her image but she didn't convince anyone of her innocence either.
#144 - April 26, 2006, 08:44 AM
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She didn't say anything new in the interview.  In the end, Katie asked KV why she decided to do the interview.  She said she wanted to explain herself.  To this, Katie said "But some would say you haven't really explained anything."  [I'm paraphrasing, but I think it's pretty close to what KK said].

KV definitely looked like someone whose world has come crashing down around her.  She looked quite young, scared, and vulnerable.  If she were my own daughter, I'd be furiously protective, regardless of her mistake.  I wouldn't tell her it was okay, but I would definitely be livid about the media frenzy and character assinations.

There are more people involved in this debacle, and no one else is having to be accountable.  As was pointed out earlier in this thread, why did NO ONE else, in the two years it took to get this book to print, discover this "mistake"?  (Unless it wasn't a "mistake" and more of a marketing ploy...?).  I agree with the earlier post -- where were the book packagers and editors who propped up the idea for this book?  Was everyone too busy salivating at the possible profits?
#145 - April 26, 2006, 09:05 AM


Does anyone understand why this book got a half-million dollar advance? To a 19 year old for a first book? A book that needed a book packager to work on? What was Little Brown thinking?

I believe they were thinking about the ka-ching factor.  :EmoticonDollar:
Look where it got them.  I know this is a business and all, but there is another side of it.  Maybe they lost that balance.  You're right, hopefully this will be a wakeup call.
#146 - April 26, 2006, 09:25 AM

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Been following this thread with great interest...who but a group of writers could get their minds around all the facets of the issue at the same time?

As to huge advances, I think it is a marketing ploy. New author, huge advance, big news story, now everyone wants to buy the book and find out why. This isn't the first time in the past six months that I've heard of a huge advance from Little, Brown to a first-time YA author (the last one I heard of was worth it, IMO; but even so, I think it was still advertising). I'm sure other publishers do the same thing sometimes. (And hey, if you get one of these advances, then yay for you! I'm certainly not against that sort of thing  :)). Still, in this case it seems there was too much thought about  :EmoticonDollar: and not enough about the actual  :books: product.
#147 - April 26, 2006, 10:52 AM



Here's the a link to the latest from Crown publisher Steven Ross

According to Mr. Ross :

" The media storm has derailed Crown’s plans to promote McCafferty’s just-released third title, Charmed Thirds. After a strong couple of weeks, the sales momentum has slowed, Ross said, as the focus has shifted to the plagiarism issue. “We can’t book anything,” Ross said. McCafferty will honor a commitment to appear at 4 p.m. today at the New York Public Library's Teen Central branch on 53rd St."

#148 - April 26, 2006, 11:11 AM


By claiming that the sales momentum has slowed, it certainly sounds like Ross is setting the stage for the time when, as he puts it, the dispute moves “out of the media and into the hands of lawyers.” I can't figure out why the sales momentum would be slowed by the controversy. The sales of "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" both rose during that plagiarism suit.
#149 - April 26, 2006, 11:52 AM


The most disturbing thing I read was a jr. high student's review on Amazon. The essence of the review was, "So what if KV copied, MM is just jealous because she's old and not as successful." Ack!

I still have a gut feeling that someone else besides KV was behind those passages. She's taking the fall, because they think there will be more pity and compassion for a young girl, and she can play the "It was an accident because I'm super smart with a photographic memory," card.

There's something fishy here. I just feel there's more to the story. I don't think anyone in the publishing industry would be this stupid, but some of her other "handlers" perhaps.
#150 - April 26, 2006, 12:06 PM


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