Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A request on behalf of a friend and...ethics in writing

Last night I received an email from a writing friend of mine. Yanina Gotsulsky wrote:

My novel, The Speed of Life has made it to the semi-finals at the Amazon Breakthrough novel contest. Now I NEED VOTES. Please read the opening chapter which they have posted (and I've attached for your convenience) and give me a vote. Also I'd appreciate your passing this along to anyone you know who wouldn't mind spending a couple of minutes writing shameless flatteries.

SYNOPSIS OF THE NOVEL:

Karen Zumoff, a Russian immigrant, once a successful playwright, is obsessed with Tolstoy. Particularly with his reasons for killing Anna Karenina. She turns to his journals for answers, and there discovers a voice that is helping her to deal with the suicide of her lover and the utter failure of her first novel. Gradually Tolstoy's voice not only becomes real to Karen, it becomes her chosen reality. She believes that she has gone to the 19th century to help the great master rewrite Anna Karenina and to keep its original ending, where Anna lives.


Amazon.com notified Yanina of her being a semi-finalists and suggested that she encourage friends and family to spread the word and write reviews for her entry and other entries as well.

You can read the first chapter of Yanina's story here (it is a quick download to your computer) the main contest page where all the entries are located can be found here.

Winning contests can help launch a writing career. Just ask David Skibbins whose first novel was published when he won a contest by St. Martin's Press.

I scanned the homepage for the Amazon.com contest and discovered that Yanina's story is classified as General Literature. Her story is listed on the fifteenth page of entries. If my math is correct, there are 420 semi-finalists in that category.

Feel free to browse through the various titles and read those which sound interesting if you have the time. It might help give you some sympathy to agents who wade through hundreds of submissions looking for something that grabs their interest.

The one title that intrigued me the most during my scanning was The Chocolate Armadillo. I have no idea what it is about, but I have this strange fondness for rodents with armor and I adore chocolate. The story might be lousy, but I am intrigued by the title.

So, please if you have time and are so inclined, stop by Amazon.com and download Yanina's story and post a review. The stories that have "the most thorough, thoughtful feedback" are the ones most likely be narrowed down to the top ten finalists.

This stage of the contest runs through March 2nd, and Amazon not only is awarding writers, but reviewers as well. "The three customers who provide the most high quality reviews will be qualified to win one of three customer prizes, including an Amazon kindle reader, $2000 in Amazon gift card value, and an HP photo printer."

Quantity and quality matter for that competition. If you've ever wanted to be a professional reviewer, you can use this as practice. You might also realize after reading a dozen or so why it is difficult for agents to provide personalized rejections.

--

Okay, now onto ethics. I read a lot of agent and author blogs. It seems I discover a new blog or two each day to add to my Google Reader. The other day I came across a mention of a brouhaha regarding accusations of plagiarism by romance author named Cassie Edwards.

I mostly read non-fiction whilst doing my never ending research, and so my knowledge of romance industry is limited. I had never heard of Cassie Edwards before, nor had I read any of her over 100 books published.

However, the story begins with this post from the site SmartBitchesTrashyBooks

So my friend Kate (not to be confused with HaikuKatie of Nebula Haiku fame) was in desperate need of new reading material recently, and since she’d never read any romance novels before, I decided to throw some at her to see what she thought, since she’s a Classicist and an SF/F geek. I gave her examples of what I thought were the best (Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase), the most popular (Dark Lover by J.R. Ward) and the worst (Shadow Bear by Cassie Edwards) of the genre.

Shadow Bear introduced poor Kate to all-new levels of pain--she’d never encountered a book in which ellipses and exclamation marks were abused with quite that much abandon, or in which the characters spoke in Glossary with such distressing consistency. What especially caught her eye, however, were the didactic passages in the book. They were written in a distinctly different voice, and out of idle curiosity, she decided to Google certain phrases and sentences.


It was at that point that they discovered all kinds of eyebrow raising stuff.

The full story is chronicled in one massive PDF file that is now 51 pages in length.

One of the writers whose work was apparently lifted by Cassie Edwards was tipped off by the bloggers at SmartBitches and his response is now on Newsweek.com.

He never expected that an article he wrote about black-footed ferrets would be turned into stilted dialog in a romance novel.

I could spend hours pontificating on this issue, but I came across an entry on Dear Author that echoes most of my thoughts. So instead, I shall suggest those interested read those remarks in full.

I especially liked this passage:

Integrity connotes both wholeness and honor, two concepts that are fundamental to the whole notion of intellectual honesty and the violation that is plagiarism. The plagiarist conspires against his fellow writers to claim what they have created as his own, dishonoring his own work and the professional respect among those whose reputations as writers vest in their written work – be they writers of academic scholarship, fiction, poetry, drama, essays, etc. The plagiarist’s transgression exists on a material level (conversion of another’s work) and a philosophical level – a blow against the spirit of the general community of writers and readers.
I agree.

Incorporating historical facts in fiction is difficult, but the details should be woven into the narrative and not just words slightly rearranged from your research material.

If a work is in the public domain such as the works of Shakespeare, you can adapt them any way you choose. You can also publish them verbatim without permission of anyone. However, you cannot publish Hamlet and say that you wrote it.

It comes down to a question of personal integrity. The side by side comparisons of Cassie Edwards' writing to many different source materials is illuminating. A pattern quickly emerges that before the advent of modern computer and internet technology she would have propped books open in front of her and slightly rearrange wording to fit her needs. Now, all she has to do is cut and paste from browsers then shift words around.

I hope this case serves as an example for how not to write.

Linda















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