To start, for those who don’t know what Infinite Jest is: (From Wikipedia) Infinite Jest is a 1996 novel by David Foster Wallace. The lengthy and complex work takes place in a North American dystopia, centering on a junior tennis academy and a nearby substance-abuse recovery center. In 2005 it was included by Time magazine in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Some critics have since qualified their initial stances. In 2008 Scott called Infinite Jest an "enormous, zeitgeist-gobbling novel that set his generation’s benchmark for literary ambition" and Wallace "the best mind of his generation."
Infinite Jest was mentioned by Washington post reporter, Justin Moyer in his article titled: Gay-romance novelist accused of plagiarizing straight-romance novelist. This is about the alleged plagiarist and self-published author Laura Harner (I wrote about this last Sunday) who has been accused of plagiarizing Becky McGraw and Opal Carew, and the latest plagiarism to rock the publishing world, specifically in self-published and the Gay romance community. Justin, based on the tone of his article and mentioning Infinite Jest, he believes romance novels aren’t complex, among a slew of other chose words such as the good old fall back of calling romance novel “bodice- rippers” as an insult.
There’s been some updates in the Laura Harner plagiarism story, mainly form the reporting of some main stream media outlets, such as The Guardian, The Washington Post and Daily Mail UK. The Guardian was the first to report about Laura Harner plagiarizing in a post titled: Prolific romantic fiction writer exposed as a plagiarist: Gay romance by Laura Harner withdrawn from sale as ‘almost word-for-word copy’ of novel by New York Times bestseller Becky McGraw.
The tone of The Guardian’s article and the full report wasn’t too bad, especially when they quoted from Becky McGraw, and from Jenny Trout. But the WTFckery that occurs in this article is specifically a statement from Laura Harner when The Guardian reached out to her for comment:
Harner said she realized she had “made mistakes”. “I own them, and I will deal with the consequences. In transforming two M/F romance stories into an M/M genre, it appears that I may have crossed the line and violated my own code of ethics,” she wrote.
“For those who know me best, you know that responsibility for my actions begins and ends with me. I will also add there are some personal and professional issues I’ve had to deal with in the last year that have stretched me in ways that haven’t always been good for me. I write about certain concerns related to military service for a reason; however, I am not offering that as an excuse. I just think whenever someone acts so out of character, it’s helpful to ask why.”
Harner added that she was “working to address concerns raised by two authors who have accused me of plagiarism”, saying that she would provide a more complete statement later this week. “Until then, please do not judge me too harshly.”
Harner doesn’t want us to judge her too harshly for violating her own code of ethics for stealing intellectual property from an author, who writes straight romance, and how Harner took it upon herself by changing it to a Gay Romance (M/M) by just changing the genders to male, but keeping the same story intact and the same words Becky created (and possibly other authors out of the 75 books she has published in 5 years). And by the way, she just has to point out for some reason (can we say, for the sympathy vote ?) that she writes about concerns related to military service in her own novels, so be kind to her even if she is guilty of stealing another author’s work.
I leave it to you to decide if this is a satisfactory statement or a WTFckery from Laura, who we all know is only sorry because she got caught.
The Washington Post picked up The Guardian story last week also. But the WTFckery invoked in Justin Moyer’s article has tempers flaring because the tone and certain descriptions he used to describe this plagiarism incident. Here are some of these WTFckery statements Justin came up with where he can’t help but put down the romance genre, including romance authors and romance readers:
“Any writer knows that finishing any book isn’t easy. It takes craft. It takes persistence. It takes guts. But a romance novel isn’t exactly “Infinite Jest.” Though some bodice-rippers are dirtier than others, there is a formula — at some point, the wealthy heiress or the lady-in-waiting hooks up with the horse wrangler or the errant knight, and jeans come off or, well, bodices get ripped.”
(Based on this introduction from Justin, if you write romance novels, it’s easy, it doesn’t take persistence, guts or craft. Also romance novels are dirty and bodice-rippers. Can someone give me an example of a romance novels published in the last decade where the heroine gets her bodice ripped?)
The very un-romantic spat began on Oct. 19 when Becky McGraw, no stranger to the New York Times bestsellers list, not ed a rumor that an “M/M” author (that’s male/male) had cribbed from her F/M work.
(Notice the mention of “un-romantic spat”. “Spat” belittles the issue here, because a female author stole from another female author. If a male author accused another male author of plagiarizing, would it be described as a “spat”? What’s the masculine alternative to “spat”? Also a spat is known as a “minor squabble that’s silly”. When an author is accused of plagiarizing another author’s work, and there is a lot of the proof to that fact, the accusations are silly? I don’t think the victim of the plagiarizing would find their hard word that was stolen, to be silly.)
The snarky, almost condensing tone of Justin’s article makes light of Laura’s alleged plagiarism because it’s regarding romance novels, including Gay romance. Romance as “bodice-rippers” or being “formulaic” is an old tired argument for a genre that makes over $1 billion a year ($1.08 billion in 2013). Most genres do follow a formula, but why is Romance always pointed out and laughed at? What about Mystery, Science Fiction, Young Adult and all the other fiction genres out there? Again I ask, what if this plagiarism scandal had occurred between authors who write for another genre? Would the tone of Justin’s article be different? Also keep in mind popular historical romance author, Sarah Maclean also writes for The Washington Post in a monthly column promoting the romance genre by recommending new romance novels each month. It doesn’t make any sense to me why The Washington Post would let Justin Moyer’s article be printed as is because of the insulting tone toward the romance genre in general. WTFHUH?
Also there is a bigger concern here that shouldn’t be shrugged off and ignored because I can see it happening again- Author, Jenny Trout makes an excellent point: “Harner’s clever trick here was to pick a book that was not M/M, but M/F contemporary romance.” As far as readers go, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two genres; M/M readers will in general read M/M voraciously, while M/F readers won’t stray to M/M often, either. What were the chances of a reader from both genres just happening upon both the plagiarized book and the book it was plagiarized from?”
Straight romance readers don’t always read LGBTQ romance. The cross-over is small. What’s stopping an author (much like Laura did) from taking straight romances and just changing the genders from male to male or female to female and passing them off as their own original gay romances? If said author can find a straight romance (usually self-published) by an author who may not have a big fan base or readership, that author will have an easier time (and under the radar) passing that originally straight romance off as their own gay romance and get away with it.
So much WTFckery to make your head spin, right?
But keep in mind romance readers are some of the most passionate readers of any genre I’ve seen. The romance community, whether it’s straight or gay are very supportive and are ready to stand up and right the wrongs done to others in this community that includes bloggers, authors and readers. If you read the comments on The Guardian and The Washington Post articles, the vast majority of them give very insightful and give valid arguments why the romance genre is more than just the outdated term of “bodice-ripper” and “porn’. Read them and you will cheer. Based on those comments, and many others who wrote various blog posts in light of the plagiarism and The Washington Post article, including on Twitter this past week, it's the complete opposite of any WTFckery I’ve seen. Something positive in light of everything.
Other recommended posts on some of these issue I've raised here:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: Plagiarism: The Pattern and the Response
Jenny Trout: No, romance novels are not all the same, but thanks for offering your uneducated, unsolicited opinion.
KJ Charles: Starving Artists, Team Players and Plagiarists: a post on writer obligations