Writing’s Dirtiest Word

There is a dirty word in writing.  Equivalent to the f-bomb in church (or the RT words to an Auburn fan- Auburn family, you know what I mean and War Eagle).

Plagiarism.

For a writer, it’s the lowest of the low. Despicable.  Dishonorable.  Disgusting.

And yet, it keeps happening.  It comes up again and again.  The biggest recent scandal comes from a man who calls himself Q.R. Markham.  He “wrote” a book called “Assassin of Secrets.” I use the term “wrote” loosely.  Almost the entire thing was plagiarized.  Entire paragraphs and conversations were lifted from James Bond books.  All you have to do is Google the title and you’ll get a slew of references on this, but here’s a few for you:Q.R. Markham: Plagiarism Addict, Assassin of Secrets Plagiarism Charges.  The saddest link I have for you on this comes from author Jeremy Duns’s blog.  Jeremy blurbed Markham’s “book” and had several conversations with him regarding writing, becoming a mentor of sorts.  Jeremy then discovered the heinous act.  His post on the subject, Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets, makes me sad to read, and sick at the same time.

The question everyone asked was: how did this happen?  How did publishers not catch it?  My question is: how could the writer do such a thing?  How can any writer do such a thing?

Several years ago, before she became popular for her own novels, YA author Cassandra Clare wrote Harry Potter fan fiction.  She wrote a trilogy of fan fiction books.  There was a huge debacle in the fan fiction community when it was discovered she had plagiarized large chunks from other books and from a variety of television shows.  Now, I don’t write fan fiction and have never been part of this community, however, this post, Cassandra Clare Plagiarism Debacle, pretty much spells out the details, complete with plenty of examples of the plagiarism.  I know this is just fan fiction, and I’ve never read any of her books, they just aren’t something that appeals to me, regardless, I find this appalling.

I could never plagiarize.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  Fan fiction, something I’ve written just for me, something for publication.  Never.  I fail to comprehend how you can take someone else’s work and put you own name on it.

Maybe I’m just jaded, but I write for the joy of writing.  I get a thrill from putting my thoughts down and wording a sentence just right.  I enjoy observing the world around me and putting that world into words.  I like creating characters and digging deep to see what makes them tick. Of course I enjoy reading others’ work.  But that’s their words, their impressions, their feelings.  My writing is my perspective.  It’s my release.

I get paying homage to something that inspired you.  I can even understand writing a new interpretation of a published work (like the re-imagined fairy tales that are popular right now-see Beastly by Alex Flinn– or modernizing of classic lit- see Jane by April Lindner).  Passing off someone else’s ideas as your own, though?  I don’t understand that.

I can even see how someone might plagiarize for a school paper or something.  I don’t approve and think it’s terrible, but I get it.  You have to get a grade, you don’t care about the subject, whatever. (If I were a teacher and caught the lazy, thieving student, they’d fail, no questions asked).  But writing is art.  If you’re published, not only are you making money from those words, you’re acquiring fans.  People love you because of your words.  When your words aren’t your own, not only are you lying, and cheating, and stealing, you’re misleading your fans, and I can’t support that.  If I discovered my favorite authors had plagiarized, I wouldn’t be able to continue supporting them.  Period.

Most recently, there has been a big scandal in the YA book blogging community.  I don’t follow the blog, and hadn’t heard of it until this week, but the Story Siren has been caught plagiarizing blog posts.  I’m not going to link to the Story Siren’s blog because, honestly, she doesn’t deserve the traffic.  She gets paid for blogging through ads on her site based on blog traffic.  If you want to check it out, you can search it on your own, but I don’t want to support a plagiarizer.  Worse, she even posted on plagiarizing before.

There has been a huge uproar in the YA writing community on this issue.  Some people don’t think it’s that big a deal because it’s only a blog.  Others think it’s a huge deal because she is part of the writing community and should know better and misled her followers.  I think she made it worse for herself by not apologizing, then when she did issue an apology, by not being sincere.

Plagiarism, in whatever form it takes, is a dirty, nasty thing.  I can promise you right now, you will never catch me plagiarizing.  I may draw inspiration from other blogs and other books, but everything I write is from my own head. And I think that’s the way it should be.

Motivating and Baby Animals

If you ever read advice on writing, from anyone, they’ll tell you a key is to write every day.  Every. Day.

It sounds really easy.  Set a word goal and just write.  100 words, 500 words, 1000.  That’s really not that many.  There are websites like Written? Kitten! that even help you meet your goal.  Seriously.  Written kitten lets you set a goal, say 100 words, and every time you write 100 words it gives you a different picture of a kitten.  It even saves your work for you (although if you use it I recommend copying and pasting into a word processor and saving it that way).  There are also programs like Freedom and Scrivener that block you from the internet for a time.  You can set the limit and it will disconnect you.

My problem is motivation, and I get easily distracted when not motivated.  When I’m tired, or not feeling well, or bored, or just bleh, I have a hard time writing.  I tried Written? Kitten! once, but found myself writing nonsense just to get to the goal and get a kitten.  Then I just ended up Googling pictures of kittens.  Which led to Googling pictures of other cute baby animals.  Which led to random baby animals.  Like a platypus.  I mean, look at how weirdly cute:

Don’t you just want to hold it? FYI, a baby platypus is called a puggle.  Baby opossums are also much cuter than one would immediately think.

Look at it.  It’s like something from a Disney movie.  (Speaking of which, my brother was a huge fan of “A Goofy Movie” as a kid.  I mean huge.  He watched it repeatedly.  There’s one scene where Goofy and his son Max go to a tourist trap and it’s called the Opossum Palace or something like that.  The emcee comes on the stage and says, “Who’s everyone’s favorite opossum?” and the kids yell, “Lester!”  Ever since then I’ve called opossums Lesters.  Coincidentally, my Evidence professor and trial team coach in law school’s last name was Lester.  He was not a opossum).

See how easy it is to get off topic?  Not to mention, as an animal lover, I could look at baby animals for ages!

I’m also a perfectionist.  I tried writing something, anything, every day.  Meet that word goal!  But then what I wrote was utter crapola.  I mean, bad.  Advice you hear a lot is “just write and edit later” and “don’t self edit in your first draft!”  I can’t do that.  I mean, I can to a certain extent, but if I’m not feeling it, I end up deleting the entire thing.

I think I’ve gotten spoiled.  When an idea takes hold and really takes root, it takes off.  I get in the zone and next thing I know I’m at 10k.  Now, I don’t know how to write when I’m not in the zone.  I start and stop and write and delete and Google baby animals.

How do you stay motivated?  Do you force yourself to write, even if you don’t like what you’re putting out?  Do you take a break and do something else for a while?  I would love to hear what keeps you going!

And, if you like more “normal” baby animals, here are couple of darn cute ones!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle??

We all know the phrase.  It’s been drilled into our heads since the early 90s.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Certainly you know the green arrow logo (these are my loving stylings in Microsoft paint):

Especially this time of year, with Earth Day looming and everyone getting in the “let’s save the planet!!” frame of mind for a month.  (Coincidentally, raise your hand if you remember Captain Planet.  Raise it again if you’re now singing the theme song.  Keep it up if, as a kid, you felt sorry for the kid who got stuck with “Heart” when you were pretending at recess).  I’ll admit, I don’t recycle.  Go ahead, throw the aluminum cans you’ve been hoarding.  Even though I’ve been beaten over the head with reduce, reuse, recycle since childhood, I never think about putting it into practice.

Maybe, however, that’s a good thing.  It seems like people have incorporated this into more areas of their lives than not throwing away newspapers and plastic bottles.  I’ve posted before questioning whether there were any original ideas left, but Michael Bourret at Dystel Goderich and editor Molly O’Neil raised a good point today.

They’ve been having a blog discussion on middle grade fiction (while focused on MG, their points are incredibly useful in all areas of writing).  Today, Molly brought up the subject of the viral internet and creativity.  She called it an “echo chamber” and it got me thinking: have we incorporated reduce, reuse, recycle into writing?  Sure, the internet can be a great tool to get your synapses firing and the creative juices flowing, but with trending topics on Twitter and viral videos on YouTube, and with the writing community being as small as it is, are we creating new ideas or recycling old ones based on what’s current?

Molly says “I’m not convinced that the viral internet is an environment that breeds personal creativity—for a few it might, but for others, it might actually stunt creativity.”  I tend to agree.  I know I have drawn inspiration from blog posts I’ve read and discussions in the writing world I was a part of at the time.  Heck, I did it with this post.  But where is the line between drawing inspiration and recycling the same old ideas?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to put a new twist on old ideas, or to write something “ripped from the headlines”.  The problem I see is when you find yourself in a rut of only discussing the same ten topics or being inspired by the same recycled ideas.  For example, I frequent the Young Adult section of the AW forum since I write mostly YA.  While I absolutely love being a part of this forum and learn so much from the people there, lately, I’ve noticed the same topics being discussed over and over.  “Is Dystopia dead?”  “What’s the next big thing?”  “What do you think of Dystopias?” “Why I don’t like the Hunger Games” “Love Interest Pet Peeves” “Teen boys becoming more romantic?” “Ditching romance in YA?”  These are all current topics being discussed.  I’ve taken part in most of the discussions, so I’m not knocking it or anything.  I don’t want anyone to misinterpret what I’m saying.  Do you see a pattern though?  The same basic topics are being recycled.

Molly and Michael implore writers to dig deeper.  Go beyond the trending topics and viral videos and memes and explore the depths of the internet (I don’t mean porn, get your mind out of the gutter), and other venues, for inspiration.  Oh, and in honor of Earth Day, go eat a dirt cup on Sunday (the 22nd), or plant a tree, or go see Disney’s “Chimpanzee” or something.  (I might add that I am totally in love with the Disney Nature movies.  Every Earth Day when they come out I am in the theaters, usually crying because they all have sad parts, but they’re so dadgum cute!  So far “African Cats” has been the best!).

What are your thoughts?  Do you feel inspired or stymied by internet trends?

Back in Black

And I’m back!  After the doctor fixed two meniscus tears and performed a lateral release of my knee cap, I’m finally off the couch and on the road to recovery!  Okay, so maybe I’m only off the couch long enough to sit with my leg propped up at work, only to return to the couch in the evenings, but at least it’s a change of scenery. I’ve got a leg brace for five weeks, which won’t be fun, but hopefully after it’s all said and done I’ll be better than ever!

Thanks for the book recommendations and the well wishes.  Unfortunately, my pain meds kept me too high to concentrate on reading over the week.  However, I did rediscover the joys of old school Super Mario (we downloaded it to the Wii) and I discovered there isn’t much on tv during the day except for marathons of House Hunters, et al on HGTV.   Coincidentally, I could tell you how much a house will run you in pretty much every part of the country now.

I’m super stoked to be coherent again and I’m ready to resume writing.  I’ve recently resumed edits on the first book I wrote.  By resumed edits, I mean I realized the whole thing was crap and I’m rewriting pretty much the whole thing.

I added a new feature to my blog.  Yes, I bit the bullet and got a twitter.  You can see recent tweets over there on the right.  See it…down…no up a little…there!  Follow me! (Yes, I cringed a little while writing every word of this paragraph).

Feed Me Seymour!

Tomorrow is a day I’ve been dreading.  I’m having knee surgery.  Last night I tried to convince my husband I don’t need it and will be fine.  He then reminded me I can’t walk around the block without limping.  I’ve already had it once, but have had lingering issues, so here I go again.

It’s not really the surgery I fear. I mean, I won’t know what’s going on most the time, then I’ll be drugged to high heaven the rest of the day.  I’m dreading the recovery.  Physical therapy *shudders*, and having to rely on others.  I’m a VERY independent person.  For the next few weeks though, I won’t be able to drive myself because it’s my right knee and I drive a sedan.  I’ll need help carrying things, and won’t be able to do all the little normal things on my own.  Last time, it drove me crazy!

I’m also not looking forward to a week on the couch.  Well, that’s what the doctors said.  I’m planning on a couple days at home then returning to work by the middle of next week.  I love down time as much as the next guy, but a whole week unable to do anything?  Ugh.  I’ll be bored out of my mind.

So, I’m taking reading suggestions.  Something to stave off boredom while I’m immobile and while I’m sitting in waiting rooms.  Right now, I’m re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” (I’d forgotten how much I love this book!).  In the queue is “A Wind in the Door” then “11/22/63” by Stephen King.  I’m a fast reader though, and will have a lot of time on my hands, so I don’t know if those are going to be enough to satiate my hunger for books.  I may take a trip to Barnes and Noble later and browse–partially to get some new books (yay!) and partially to enjoy my last day of autonomy.  Any suggestions?  What are you reading right now?  As Audrey II said in “Little Shop of Horrors”: “Feed me Seymour!”

Contests!

I’m quite competitive so I LOVE contests.  I’ve stumbled across a few writerly contests and thought I’d share them with you, dear readers:

The first is a blog contest from Ruth Lauren Steven.  It’s an agent judged contest that opens on April 18th (judged by Gemma Cooper of The Bright Literary Agency, and Julia Churchill of Greenhouse).  You have to follow her blog to participate.  Submit a query and the first five pages of your manuscript.  It’s open to YA and MG fiction.  You can find the details here.

Next up is a logline contest. The winner receives free registration to the Backspace Writers Conference and tickets to the play “Seminar” featuring Jeff Goldblum, Alan Rickman, Jerry O’Connell, and Justin Long.  The loglines don’t have to be from a particular manuscript and can be something you created just for the contest.  If you don’t know what Backspace is, it’s a huge conference at the end of May.  Writers meet with agents, yes ACTUAL agents (like Janet Reid, Brooks Sherman, Kristen Nelson, Sarah LaPolla, and so many more!), one on one and in small group sessions.  The agents will critique your queries and first pages, AND there are lots of great speakers.  This year’s keynote speaker will be Donald Maass of the Donald Maass agency.  It’s a great opportunity!

Finally, the publisher Strange Chemistry is opening its doors for unsolicited (i.e. unagented) manuscripts from April 16 through April 30.  These entries must be YA science-fiction or fantasy.  They’ve got some pretty strict guidelines so check out Open Door, 2012 Strange Chemistry.  This isn’t exactly a contest in that there isn’t a winner.  They’ll just read your manuscript, which is a BIG thing!  Last year, they signed three authors from this opportunity.  This is also something you should do at your own risk.  If you get an agent later, and Strange Chemistry has already seen your manuscript, there is a good chance they won’t give it another look, even if you revise/rewrite, etc.

Other places you should continually check out are Cupid’s Literary Connection.  One contest is wrapping up there, but another will be coming along soon!  Janet Reid also frequently has contests and is famous for her 100 word stories.  She’s also wrapping one up now, so check there in the future. Gabriela Lessa also hosts contests, so check her out too.  Right now, she’s accepting submissions for a short story anthology, but has also offered query critiques.

Know of any other contests you’d like to share?  Good luck to everyone who decides to enter these!