Romance novels, plagiarized? The hell you say!

Lunch with Wendy today led to a snicker-filled discussion about a flap in the publishing world I hadn't heard about yet. Apparently a prolific romance novelist, Cassie Edwards, who has authored over a hundred romance novels, was outed as a plagiarist by the romance-novel review blog Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, whose contributors used Google Book Search to spot numerous similarities between Edwards' work and other works.

If you're curious, check the site; Smart Bitches has posted transcripts. (Ouchie.)

The real winning moment, however, comes from this article in the New York Times:

"Ms. Edwards told an Associated Press reporter earlier this week that she did not know she was supposed to credit her sources. 'When you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that,' she said." (emphasis is mine)

Then again, I'm guessing after about the first fifty instances of writing the story of the hot, studly, yet psychologically wounded Native American warrior who kidnaps the innocent white woman (wearing a strapless gown) and then does carnal things to her on the harsh prairie, all while ignoring the lack of indoor plumbing and supermarkets ... well, I suppose I can understand why an author would start lifting source material.

I'd ask in exasperation "How many times could you write something like that?!?" and "How many times would someone want to read the same story over and over?" but apparently the answers to both questions contain numbers larger than I'm prepared to comprehend.

Maybe I should write a romance novel about romance novelists who plagiarize romance novels. The thought of the recursive plagiarism thrills me ... well, not quite to no end, but for at least long enough to go down the hall and fix myself another cup of tea before resuming coding.


I have read your long, throbbing look at the thick and steamy world of romance plagiarism. It makes me want more of your sultry and ample words. (yes, I know you'll kill me for this later, but it's probably worth it)

I'll strangle you on Friday for this. 9 p.m. work for you?

Hey, aren't you a librarian? I'd think you'd be above laughing about what people read in their spare time. Laughing about an author that blinks and says she didn't know about plagiarism is both sad and funny and worth a few laughs. Smacking people around because of what they read isn't very nice, kitty. Misty <-- feeing smacked

My problems with romance novels are not genre-wide, but the current publishing climate makes the kind of books I like a minority. I have read -- and own -- some romance fiction that I thought stood out as good, rereadable books in their own right. (Some of Laura Kinsale's come to mind; I've heard that Diana Gabaldon should be there as well but I haven't gotten to Outlander yet.)

I have issues with authors who recycle versions of the same plot over many books to the point that their books become interchangeable. I'm not talking about one or two books, or even five or ten. I can understand the idea that a specific topic could be mined into a few discrete books, but fifty? A hundred? (Cassie Edwards has written just over a hundred.) At what point am I allowed to say the obvious: we're no longer talking about creativity or inspiration here, but instead about following recipes?

I do think less of those books, because to me they seem to be the products not of inspiration, but the need to create a plotline that satisfies previously-dictated criteria of setting / explicitness / character types. Genre fiction of all stripes (science fiction, western, etc.) has this problem across the board.

(Further thoughts at lunch. I actually have to work now.)

All of this I agree with. There are certain romance writers that I won't read for just those reasons. I've never read much Edwards because I don't like the tone of her Indian/White Women stories and there are others that I don't care for for the reasons you listed. And there there are some that work within the genre to deal with a particular theme and still manage to tell different stories each time. Suzanne Brockmann is one of my favorites who can do this.

Two things in your original post got me:
1.) "How many times would someone want to read the same story over and over?" I think we all have certain things we like to read and we tend toward the same style of book whether it's scifi, romance, mystery, etc. etc. There's only so many ways to tell a particular kind of story and after you've read your genre's 10, 20, 50 plot lines it's going to start repeating. What you implied (or I inferred) was that people were stupid for liking what they liked.

2.) "Maybe I should write a romance novel about romance novelists who plagiarize romance novels." As you know, writing is hard work. Even writing a romance novel. Saying, "I could write that" is in mind, akin to saying, "I could paint that!" while looking at a Jackson Pollock painting. Again, maybe I inferred that you thought romance writers in general were too stupid to do anything but lift their writing from source materials.

I'll admit that I'm sensitive about being a romance reader. I read lots of things but I definitely read romance more than any other. I like the happily ever after aspect of romance novels. For me escapist reading is about things turning out okay and all problems being solved by love. Also, they are easy to pick up and put down without losing a great deal of momentum. A must for me right now! All that to say I might have taken your original post a bit too personally first thing this morning. No one likes to hear they are an idiot before breakfast.

Ok, whew. We're in agreement here. :)

What caused my reaction was reading over Edwards' titles. I saw a lot (I just counted - 44) that were two-word titles that all began with the word 'Savage.'

I hate slippery-slope arguments as much as the next person, but seeing that marched me past the slippery slope and out onto the Grassy Knoll of Sarcasm.

Though I should note I saw something on SBTB that I so wish I'd seen before I replied. I wanted to buy the writer coffee by the time I finished it. I think we should each have that engraved on something so we can beat people over the head with it when necessary. Yours can look like a romance novel and mine's either going to be a disco album or a sci-fi pulp novel with little aliens drawn on it. (Jeff's would look like an REO Speedwagon album, I think.)

There's a whole post brewing here about good things, bad things, and cheese food things, isn't there?

Yeah, I read that same article at SBTB and loved it. I was thinking of it when I replied. She says it very well, way better than I did in fact. I wish I could say that I've been reading that site for a while but I've only started since the Cassie Edwards thing started.

You know, I read these comments and was convinced I was going to have to go write my own web log entry talking about this and how it plays into my musical tastes. But then I took a look at the SBTB post (along with the one linked from there called "good books vs. bad books vs. books you love"), and there's really not a lot more to add. If you haven't read the posts, you really should.

She goes a bit far, in my opinion, in still declaring some people to have "bad taste". Despite what she claims, there's still a value judgment implied by that phrase (even if she doesn't intend it). Her basic premise, though, I think is spot-on.

I've struggled with this for a long time, and I've been slowly learning lessons on both sides of the coin. First, I'm trying to be better about recognizing the effect I can have when I make proclamations about something being "bad" (even if I'm justified in doing so). On the other hand, I've also had to learn to embrace the fact that some of the stuff I love is bad... objectively... and that it shouldn't feel like a personal insult or a moral judgment when someone points out that it's bad. It doesn't mean that I don't often have minor inferiority complexes around my friends who have more sophisticated (and easier-to-justify) tastes, but it helps. :)

Misty, I often wonder at the fact that you and I have never sat down and reveled in what I believe are our shared tastes. :) Romance is not my particular genre, but I totally relate to the reasons you gave for liking it, and I think they apply more generally to a lot of things. I've gotten this impression before from both you and Stephen talking about the kind of music you grew up enjoying.

Maybe another way of putting it is this: I can certainly appreciate it when a creative work challenges me in some way. I often enjoy that, and I can appreciate it intellectually even what I don't enjoy it. However, what I more often want out of a book or a song is that warm fuzzy feeling that I get when it reaches in and tugs at my gut, so to speak. There are different things that do that for me, but I've begun to realize that part of it, for example, has to do with when a chord progression or a melody line resolves itself around to exactly where I expected it to. Something about that just clicks and makes me happy. :) Just last night after Chorale practice, Wendy was pointing out that baroque music (and Bach's music in particular) is very formulaic (even mathematic), and I basically said, "Well, it makes sense, then, why I've always been drawn to Bach's music." :)

We do have a large common area with 80s hair bands. I liked me some Metallica and Whitesnake back then. My love of that has more to do with the guy I was dating then than any love for the music on its own merits. Regardless, there's still a lot of musical ground from that era that I think we both share.