I’ve been plagiarized, and yeah, it sucks


Words.

When you get right down to it, there really aren’t that many of them in the English language. I’ve got all the volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary in my library, and while there are multiple volumes, each with teeny tiny print, at the end of the day there are a finite number of words inside them.

They’re just words, right? What’s the big deal? Words like green and like and I and am and boat and Sam and fox.

Just words. But move them around–apply some thought to the order in which the words appear–and then they’re no longer just words. They’re the product of someone’s mind. The representation of their work. The words become a unique representation of an idea. Of a story.

In the case of the words set out above, those plus a few more became the classic Green Eggs and Ham. Just words? I’m betting millions of children and parents would disagree.

When I sold my first book to Harlequin, the thrill I experienced was beyond anything I’d experienced up to that point in my life. Since then, the only thing that has come close has been the birth of my first daughter and the adoption of my second, and honestly, even that is a different kind of thrill. I’d created a universe: people, a situation, a world. But it was more than just those simple elements; more than just words. It was the way the words were put together. The voice–my voice–that told the story a certain way. That made the characters behave a certain way. That brought the situations to life in a certain way. That creative process was something I worked damn hard at, and the result was something I was proud of. And that pride didn’t lessen with the next book or the next, nor with any book since.

I can remember early on in my career I was asked to write an online read for Harlequin. It would be a flat rate. A work for hire in that Harlequin would own the copyright, and I wouldn’t receive royalties. But it would be a fun project, the way to explore a shorter format, and a good way to introduce readers to my voice. That story was Wrapped & Ready, which has since been reprinted in a number of anthologies for Harlequin. I remember being so excited to write it. I remember the fun of thinking up a flirty Christmas story. Of being excited that my editor and the powers that be at Harlequin had thought of me to do this.

Yesterday, I learned that the story had been stolen. Someone had taken the end product of my creative effort and passed it off as her own. That is theft, folks, plain and simple. And in my opinion, it’s a much more vile theft than if she’d broken the window of my car and run off with my purse. Because it wasn’t my *stuff* she stole, but the product of my mind.

I first heard about the theft on Dear Author, but it’s now my understanding that the story first broke, I believe, on Liz Fielding‘s site. Liz was also a victim of this woman’s theft.

So what happened? Apparently Kristal Singletary, who was the treasurer of the Kiss of Death Chapter of Romance Writers of America (she has since resigned) has been using other people’s work and passing it off as her own (as a number of pen names including Kay Manning and Payton Bradshaw). I suppose that whole “writing is easy, you just open a vein” truism seemed too difficult for her. Why do the work yourself when you can just steal it, hmm?

As reported by Dear Author, Singletary published “An Early Christmas Present” as Payton Bradshaw with MuseIt Up Publishing…trouble was, that was an almost word for word copy of my Wrapped & Ready. (MuseIt Up has taken the infringing work down.)

Here’s a slice of what Singletary/Bradshaw wrote:

Karen swallowed. “There he is. Over by Santa’s Village.”

Melody sucked in a breath, a warm flush enveloping her entire body just from the thought of seeing Jason again. A sudden overwhelming panic washed over her making it almost impossible to look at him, fearing she’d melt right into the floor.

“Go on!” Karen gave her a little push on the shoulder.

“I don’t think I can.” At the moment, she was having trouble even forcing the words past the tightness in her chest.

Karen rolled her eyes. “Forget nerves. This is your last chance, sweetie. Jason’s the only guy I’ve ever known you to be truly hot for. You want this. You deserve this. A last fling before you escape this little hole-in-the-wall town and fly off into the sunset.” She grinned. “Go get ‘em, girl.”

Here’s the original chunk from my story:

Faith swallowed. “Over there. By Santa’s Village. Brent’s here.”

Annie sucked in a breath, a warm flush enveloping her entire body just from the thought of seeing Brent again She was almost afraid to turn and actually look at him, for fear she’d melt right into the floor.

“Go on!” Faith gave her a little push on the shoulder.

“I don’t think I can.” At the moment, she was having trouble even forcing the words past her lips.

Faith rolled her eyes. “Forget nerves. This is your last chance. Brent’s the only guy I’ve ever known you to be truly hot for. You want this, and you deserve it. A last fling before you fly off into the sunset.” She grinned. “So go get him, girl.”

I’m grateful to Liz Fielding for first blogging about her story that was stolen, to the diligent, wonderful fans and other authors who discovered that it wasn’t a single incident, and to Dear Author for providing a venue to spread the word. I certainly wouldn’t have been aware otherwise. In fact, I was rather late in finding out, and by the time I did learn of the infringement on Saturday afternoon, Dear Author had amended the original post to include an apology from Ms. Singletary. [Edited to add: I've learned that Smart Bitches has blogged about it as well, and Catherine Mann, who was also plagiarized, posted her thoughts today. Check out the quote at the end of her blog. Talk about apropos.]

I told some online friends what happened and tweeted about it. This morning, I received an apology from Ms. Singletary in which she apologized to me personally. I confess I’m not particularly impressed or moved by the apology or the fact that it was publicly (and then privately) made or even the extent of sincerity. As to the last, I do think she’s sincere–sincerely sorry she got caught. But beyond that, my inclination to be moved by an apology is limited.

As far as I’m concerned, Ms. Singletary’s actions were far worse than stealing my tangible property or even pirating an ebook and selling it through a torrent site (something I’ve spoken out against on my blog before). At least in those instances the product in question was still represented as mine. (Hey! Wanna buy Julie Kenner’s stolen wallet? Her lipstick? Her nail clippers? or Hey! Go to this site and download 5 Julie Kenner books! Sure Julie won’t be getting her royalty, but so long as we’re all sneaky about it….)

Not a good situation, as I’ll be the first to say. But as noted above, I believe that what Ms. Singletary has done is far worse. She didn’t steal my stuff and pass it off as mine. She stole my stuff–and the stuff of a number of other authors– and passed it off as her own.

In her apology to me, she says that she’s seeking professional help. I hope that is the case, and in that endeavor, I wish her well. But it doesn’t change the reality of what she did. Something that, I fear, will happen more and more often as digital publishing becomes even more prevalent.

Readers and fans have, in many ways, been pushed into the role of watchdog against such abhorrent behavior, and I for one am grateful that they have so vigorously stepped to that task.


39 thoughts on “I’ve been plagiarized, and yeah, it sucks

  • Julia London

    I am so sorry this happened to you and the other authors. I am so incensed on the behalf of all of you who were robbed and authors everywhere. It’s not easy to build the fictional worlds in a way people want to read. It is a lot of lonely hours, teasing out the story, the characters, and making it work so that readers have an experience. This job is hard enough without have to worry about people who belong to your writing organization stealing you words and profiting from them. To me, the apology that comes after being caught, and even attempting to deny it, is no apology. It’s more of a throw-in-the-towel, I-can’t-get-away-with-it-anymore kind of move.

    Sorry you had to go through this Julie.

    • Julie Post author

      Thanks, JL

      Obviously, I agree with everything you’ve said, and you know I appreciate the hugs and support!

  • Annabeth Albert

    I am so, so, so sorry this happened to you. As I said on twitter and over at Dear Author, I’m just appalled. And I’m also not moved by the apology. Pathological liars are great at beautiful apologies that deflect attention away from their crimes. And then they strike again. And I’m so sorry you seem to have the double whammy with the Fan Fic Syndey mentioned in the comments on DA. Hopefully HQN gets that fan fic taken down and hopefully they decide to take legal action against Manning. She stole willy-nilly from so many authors, including several HQN ones, and I don’t think an apology makes up for that. I’m a long time fan of yours and I’m eagerly awaiting your next release.

    • Julie Post author

      Annabeth, thanks so much for your support; it means the world. I saw the mention of the fan fic streaming over Twitter, but missed it entirely in the DA comments. I’ll go back and look for that this evening — going to take the eldest out to a Girl Scout function and enjoy this gorgeous day.

  • Jane Myers Perrine

    I think this is terrible. I cannot imagine what it must be like for you.

    This thief has to live with herself and face the kind of person she is. She has to live with everyone in the writing world, the world she aspires to, knowing what she did. At least that’s some punishment.

    • Julie Post author

      Thank you so much, Jane. I’m going to go out, enjoy this beautiful day, and think as little about it as possible for the next few hours!

  • Sidney Ayers

    Julie,

    So sorry this happened to you. I will point out while Googling texts from “Wrapped and Ready” I noticed someone also posted your book on a Fan Fiction site. I know they aren’t getting paid for it, but I imagine it is still theft.

    Here’s the link in question. I already left a comment in the review section under my other pen name. She also lifted words from one of Nancy Warren’s books as well.
    http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2723655/1/Wrapped_and_Ready

    Sidney Ayers/Arianna Skye

    • Julie Post author

      Wow. I probably should no longer be floored, but I am. Thanks for the info, and i’m glad it’s been taken down!

  • Diana Peterfreund

    Julie, I am so sorry to hear about all of this. I am shocked and appalled, not only because of the pain this has caused you, but also because the woman is apparently an RWA chapter board member and should SERIOUSLY know better.

    • Julie Post author

      hat was my first reaction as well. This was not someone who could claim ignorance. (To be clear, I wouldn’t be impressed by such a claim of ignorance, I think simply being a moral person even w/o knowing the ins and outs of copyright law should prevent someone from thinking that copying someone else’s work is a good idea–but in this case, she’s not only part of, but was an officer in, an organization that educates its members regarding such things!)

  • Sarah

    I surely support this post, it just doesn’t seem right to ‘like’ it.
    My reaction, if this happened to me, would probably result in the creation of a new story where the original characters encounter the false ones attempting to replace them and the general reactions of everyone would just become closely tied to however it actually plays out. Be meticulous, pull out anything that can be toyed with in their writing. Not only do you get a new story out of it, but, forever more, if anyone tries to look up ANYTHING about the stolen story, they would pull up a description of your story that essentially details how the forged story is nothing but a forgery.

    • Julie Post author

      I love this idea! You gave me a huge morning smile! I don’t think I’ll actually do it (though I love thinking about it!). I have too many stories I want to write, and too little time. That’s part of what is so galling about plagiarism–I homeschool my kids; before that I practiced law full time. Time is PRECIOUS, and yet I found the time to think about my books and to sweat out the words onto the page. sigh :)

  • Ginger Calem

    I saw on Twitter that this had happened to you and I was appalled!! So sorry! {{HUGS}} It just feels a bit creepy. And I agree that it will be harder and harder to avoid this happening in the digital age but that’s where we are. To me, the most disgusting thing is what Diana said above and that she was a board member of RWA. Talk about getting stabbed in the back from the inside.

    I do hope she’s getting help and then goes forward and tried to do something productive with the lesson she’s learned (I do hope she’s learned a lesson) and helps prevent what she did from happening to other authors.

    • Julie Post author

      “Creepy” actually describes it pretty well.

      To clarify, she was on a chapter board, not the National Board.

    • Julie Post author

      A few years ago, it’s possible no one would have. But with Google, and diligent readers/fans, it’s harder and harder to hide that kind of thing (which is good, as the very nature of digital publishing makes it easier and easier to do).

  • Irene

    The whole deal is rather pathetic.
    Stealing someone’s words, changing a few names to make it original? A high school English teacher would rip it up and give the kid an F. Since we’re out of school, there’s no recourse?
    I used to teach high school English. I’m giving Ms. Singletary her well-deserved F right now.

    • Julie Post author

      Sadly, there are a lot of kids going through school who seem to think that “if it’s on the internet, it must be free to appropriate.” I know a lot of folks in education, and they’re seeing more and more plagiarized papers. Ridiculous and sad.

  • Marianne Hansen

    I’m interested what type of professional help she will get. I think that is too easy an apology now… “I screwed up but getting professional help so you must accept apology.” Sometimes people are just wrong.

    • Julie Post author

      Yes, it’s like I often tell my kids: Saying your sorry is all good and well, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. Think before you act.

  • Brimag

    Plagarism just makes me so angry. I always feel bad for the author whose words were stolen. I cannot write and have a lot of respect for those who do. It is not just your words that are taken, but your thoughts and time as well. I am so sorry that happened to you.

  • Sonia G Medeiros

    It’s always so sad to me when I hear about these situations. The joy of writing is in the writing. I can’t imagine passing off someone else’s work as my own. I’d rather just give up writing.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. I can imagine it feels like such a violation.

    • Julie Post author

      I am, thanks. It was a wretched thing for her to do, but in the end there’s only so much mental energy I’ll put toward it, you know? I’ve got books to write, kids to hug. Life goes on :)

  • Amy Keeley

    Holy cow! Heard about this through Twitter. This stuns me. I mean, you hear about this and expect it to be someone…well, certainly not someone who’s an officer in RWA. And I agree about the apology.

    I don’t know what else to say, except that I’m glad this has been exposed and stopped. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thank you for spreading the word about this.

  • Valarie

    I’m so so very sorry that this happened to ya! You are a wonderful and brilliant author who deserves credit for your endeavors! Just remember: God doesn’t sleep and karma is a bitch! xoxo

  • Casey Wyatt

    Julie – I’m really sorry and sad to hear this happened to you. I imagine if it happened to me, I’d be really angry too. What is even worse is she was an RWA member and the treasurer to boot (if I was the KOD chapter, I’d be auditing my financial books too). At least with today’s technology, it’s easier to catch people. Not that it makes the pain you’re feeling any better!

  • Beth R

    I think it is terrible and very sad.
    It’s not ok to steal it’s worse to steal and pass it off as your own and I really do hope she is getting professional help, but I think you are right it’s that she got caught.

    • Julie Post author

      That’s a very cool site, but to be honest, I don’t think it will be a boon for authors. I don’t have the time (not if I want to write books!) to upload a book as html (not to mention that it would then be even easier for pirates to grab). But it’s a great resource for folks wanting to make sure that their original web content isn’t being plagiarized (and I could see educators using it to check the authenticity of a student’s work)

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