by Leigh Lundin
|The Case of the Purloined Prose|
First there was the Cassie Edwards incident. Cassie Edwards, highly regarded romance writer, has sold more than ten million copies of her 100 novels in 25 years. She’s been honored with Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, the Reviewer’s Choice Award, and named one of Affaire de Coeur’s top ten favorite romance writers. Then Smart Bitches became involved with Google Books.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is the blog site of two flip-lip women who rip into– and occasionally review– romance novels. One of them, a law student, discovered a dismaying correspondence between Edwards’ novels and other sources. She delved deeper, and uncovered a mounting pile of evidence. In January, Smart Bitches published their findings on the web, prompting further digging.
The New York Times and our colleagues at Women of Mystery reported on it as well as several romance-oriented sites. Immediately, the world of romance responded to the charges of plagiarism. One of those voices was another top writer, Nora Roberts, who spoke out against Mrs. Edwards.
My friend Sharon, member of the RWA, brought the story to my attention. Looking at the PDF’d evidence, it appears clear that Mrs. Edwards lifted phrases, sentences, and entire passages from her research material. Last month, Signet stopped publishing her books "due to irreconcilable editorial differences."
One of my English teachers advised students that if they wanted to use material to be sure to change something in it. Recently, I brought the Cassie Edwards case to the attention of a law professor and asked his opinion.
Merely altering a word or two is not sufficient, he said. Unless it’s a quotation (which can be perfectly legitimate), it has to be clear that the text wasn’t copied verbatim with a word or two altered. Think paraphrase or rephrase, not copying. However, Cassie Edwards might have escaped censure if she’d simply cited her sources.
By all accounts, she was a fine writer and avid researcher. Women enjoy her books. Cassie herself has stated she didn’t know she had to cite references.
I feel sorry for Mrs. Edwards.
I don’t feel sorry for Deborah Anne MacGillivray.
|The Case of the Amazon Stalker|
Deborah MacGillivray hasn’t achieved the reputation or panache of Ms. Edwards, but nonetheless she’s a well received writer and principal of controversial Highland Press. What MacGillivray doesn’t accept well is criticism.
According to list servers and blog sites, her shenanigans came to light when a reader dared, dared, give her a mere 3 stars in an Amazon book report for MacGillivray’s novel, In Her Bed. This amateur reviewer, as you can see, gave her a mild review, pleasant but disappointed, as kind as it was insightful. She didn’t know she committed a sin by going against the grain of a claque of positive reviewers with her wee few words of dissent.
For that mistake, Ms. MacGillivray allegedly criticized her, privately calling her a bitch and publicly telling her in oily terms that any problems she had with the book were her own. But Ms MacGillivray didn’t stop there; she went to work to get her fan, Reba Belle, bounced off of Amazon.
On 14 April, Amazon deleted Reba Belle’s comments from the Amazon boards, placed her account in “bad standing”, and denied her the right to upload reviews, post comments, or even defend herself. She was, as DearAuthor.com pointed out, still allowed to spend her money on products.
DearAuthor.com is the Romance version of Criminal Brief, six women (mostly named Ja(y)ne) who write about the gender genre. They’re terrific detectives, though, because once MacGillivray and cohorts learned they were under a microscope and began deleting their posts, the Ja(y)nes kept up by falling back on Google cached pages.
And what exactly was MacGillivray and her coven up to?
For one thing, they’ve been accused of stalking, bragging about obtaining the names of Reba’s family members, her phone number, home address, and other personal information. According to one eMail, someone even engaged a private investigator to help ‘get the bitch’.
But who are MacGillivray’s friends? And what kind of pull do they have to get a reader/reviewer ejected from Amazon?
It turns out, the conspirators are members of a private Yahoo group called Ladies in Waiting, which claims it is "dedicated to supporting fellow authors". Uh-huh, you betcha– like Frank Nitti supported Al Capone.
Posts revealed prior to an orgy of deletions show that MacGillivray asked her group for "clickies", not-so-secret code for members to not only stack the deck with positive reviews, but to gang up on their victim and click the "not helpful" and "report abuse" buttons, effectively drowning Reba Belle in an avalanche of negativity until Amazon shut Reba down.
Once DearAuthor became aware of the situation, they floated a petition to have Reba Belle reinstated, and it appears Amazon has responded to the outcry. DearAuthor also submitted proposals to change how Amazon handles reviews, in the wake of this scandal on the heels of Amazon’s BookSurge offering to give positive reviews for $399.
When scanning Amazon reviews, I’ve long suspected friends of some authors must sit down and submit a clump of sweet-smelling write-ups to help offset a tide of terrible postings. If so, at least a reader has a chance to make his or her own decision because all those reviews are available to be read.
Not so in this case. Ladies in Waiting, not content to allow any review to question the author’s brilliance, decided upon intimidation. According to the evidence, these women had discovered a way to manipulate Amazon’s reviews and took it upon themselves to punish a fan simply because she had the temerity to question the mediocrity of one of their books.
The story has caused me to reflect upon something James said in New York last year when he welcomed me as a new writer. He told me that mystery writers are genuinely good and giving people, kind and willing to help.
To this day, I’ve seen nothing to the contrary. It’s an honor to be counted among mystery writers.