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.
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.