Green's Hill-Amy Lane's Home - News

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fan Fiction, Plagiarism, and Writer's Back Up

"So I fired two warning shots.  Into his head."
"Cell Block Tango"
Chicago




Okay-- I'm trying not to be irritated, because that usually makes me rant, and when I rant, I'm like a race car which can, at any moment, veer off into a big tank of jet fuel and explode.  I don't want to explode--I have too much to do!

One of the crap things about vacation (no, surprisingly enough, not constipation, which I managed to defeat this time with a cunning use of fruits, vegetables, and drinking water!) is the work back-up waiting for you at your desk.  Unlike summer vacation at my other job, where I left my room and my desk and my responsibilities for weeks at a time and came back without anything being touched (well, sometimes they cleaned the carpets) taking a vacation in this business means you leave the stuff you can't get to when you're on your smart phone.  Hence, this plagiarism thing sitting in a big steaming heap in the middle of my computer.  Since I know some of you follow for the knitting (which I've been doing, dammit!)  and not the m/m I'm going to start roughly at the beginning.

Last year, Dreamspinner Press--my main publishing house-- put out a book titled Bear, Otter, and the Kid which sold a zillion copies.  It featured a young man and his much younger brother, who had been abandoned by their mother.  In the last few days, this book has been blatantly accused of borrowing much of it's plot and characterization from a movie called Shelter.  Now, I don't know if this is true or not--I have neither read the book nor seen the movie--I'm quite simply not in a position to say.  But as this accusation was being made, a number of other accusations were being thrown about, and, quite frankly, it's not fair to paint the whole mural the same color, just because you're seeing red.

"Universal affirmatives can only be partially converted: all of Alma Cogan is dead, but only some of the class of dead people are Alma Cogan."
"The Logician"
Monty Python


The basic shit in this particular storm has three different textures, and I'm going to address them separately, because they SHOULD remain separate and part of the problem in this matter is that they're not being treated that way.


A. People at Dreamspinner were aware of the plagiary and did nothing about it.  


This is not true.  Elizabeth, my publisher, had heard nothing about the possibility of plagiary until the folks at Dear Author contacted her and told her that they were upset that she hadn't done anything about it.  Now, at this point I understand that these accusations have been floating around on a couple of sites for a while--but just as I have been too busy to visit these sites, so has she.  Nobody e-mailed her or called her up and said, "Hey!  Here's the breakdown--isn't this plagiary?"  The article that accuses her of knowing doesn't provide any such instance because there is none.  Now, if this were a case of print journalism instead of a book blog, this would be time for a libel suit--or at least a severe dressing down for checking facts and sources, but that's not the case.  Unfortunately, the people being accused actually RUN a publishing company, and this allegation is serious.  So this blog doing the accusing?  It gets all of the buzz and faces none of the responsibility for the mess it is creating, and it has given the accused no forum in which to defend themselves.  Aces.  American journalism at it's best.  


(ETA-- Elizabeth North viewed this blog and e-mailed to let me know the following that someone DID contact her before the kerfluffle blew--the folks at the Dear Author book blog contacted her to let her know that "in light of various issues recently" the blog would no longer be reviewing DSP's books.  There was no other explanation given, and she didn't know to what "various issues" referred until eight hours AFTER the e-mail, when I sent her the link to the site of the kerfluffle. That actually doesn't help the accusers at all, does it?  Nope.)  


B.  That Dreamspinner doesn't care about plagiary because it encourages fan fiction.  


And wow.  Right here is a logical fallacy of gargantuan proportions. Fan fiction is not plagiary unless someone tries to pass off as their own work.  Fan fiction is ALSO not plagiary when it has changed the initial elements beyond recognition and ceased to be fan fiction anymore. Taking an idea you started in someone else's sandbox and then carrying it to fruition in your own garage is not stealing.  Fan fiction began because people wanted to capture a feeling, an idea, a dynamic between characters and they wanted to make it their own. If a piece of fan fiction changes universe, setting, plot, characteris, and theme, hello and voila, it's no longer FAN FICTION.  It has become an original work.  You may have used somebody else's tools to start with, but that's no different than using an archetype--and there are not that many of those, so just sitting down to write a story means you're going to be doing SOMETHING that's been done before.  So, essentially, it's like being given a friend's old Ford Escort, and eventually, after you've cranked on it for a while, changed a socket wrench for a crescent wrench, rebored the engine, refitted the bearings, cut down the body, changed the fenders for those racing jobs, switched out the rims, added a spoiler in the back, changed the suspension, added a chain-link steering wheel, tricked out the pinstriped paint job, and suddenly, it bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to a Ford Escort--you have created your own damned car.  


Yeah.  THAT'S converting fan fiction to an original piece of writing.  


An example of this?  I told my husband about one of my favorite books--a hit-man with a heart of gold trope, where the supposed hit was a doctor, and the hit-man had been saving victims for quite some time.  


"Yeah?" said Mate.  "What did that start out as?"


"Brokeback Mountain." 


Mate just giggled.  "You know, when something changes THAT much..."


"Yeah," I said, nodding.  "It's an original piece of work."  


Now there is some absolutely lovely, lyrical, amazing fan fiction out there--some stuff that deserves to be read in it's own right, and not as an extension of someone else's work.  Why shouldn't it be "converted"--you know, from a Ford Escort to a tricked-out Fiat?  Why shouldn't people get to read it and appreciate the prose and the character nuances and the plot devices and the irony that were not present in the inspirational work?  


Like I said, once you've changed the characters, plot, universe, setting, and theme, it has ceased to have all connection with it's origins, and has, instead, become an original work on it's own.  You know, sort of like Hollinshed's Chronicles.  You all know about Hollinshed's Chronicles, right?  It was an epic work of history that every school boy knew in England in the 1500ds.  It has the history of the War of the Roses, a little town in Italy, the exploits of Rome in Egypt, and all sorts of other things in it.  Shakespeare knew Hollinshed's Chronicles like the back of his hand, but we don't praise Hollinshed as a great writer, now do we?  


So plagiarism IS bad--but fan fiction?  Fan fiction is not necessarily plagiarism, and therefore not necessarily bad, and not all of the classification of dead people is Alma Cogen.


Editing is the difference between "Your shit don't stink!" and "You're shit: don't stink!"
Writer's truism


And that brings us to 


C.  Editing.  See-- this is, again, where the whole logic of the shitstorm breaks down.  Plagiarism is not fan fiction, and fan fiction is not editing, but for some reason, this entire brouhaha has dragged up the rotting corpse of this dead horse to flagellate for fun.  


Now editing is a touchy subject with me, for two reasons.


The first reason is that you all remember my self-published days, when I was flayed up one side and down the other for editing.  When DSP started publishing me, I was both thrilled to have a professional editing job and trepidatious: I had developed a rather independent approach to grammar and punctuation and I was afraid that my own stubbornness would not make me any friends.


Well, I've managed to make friends in spite of the fact that I get two very thorough edits per manuscript, and I'm sure my editors have been devising ways to crawl through cyberspace and strangle me because I tend to color outside the lines.  Some examples of reasons that I personally should be kissing my editors' toes at the moment?


Hmm...


*  Making me change the name of Deacon's lover from Declan to Carrick, because NOBODY would have read that book if I hadn't!


*  Teaching me that there IS a right way to spell "hallefuckinglujia"-- even if I don't remember if that's it or not.


*  Saving me from all sorts of painful lawsuits involving misuse of printed material for all of the song quotes at the beginnings of the chapters in Making Promises.  


*  Checking my facts on basketball, because I had NO idea North Carolina didn't have a Freshman basketball team--or at least one that a superstar would play in.


*  Letting me include parts of dialog in the same line because I liked the flow, because even though the CMOS doesn't recommend the style as a rule, that doesn't mean that it's wrong--just out of fashion.


*  Helping me pare down the outrageous number of Em-dashes in Truth in the Dark.


*  Occasionally indulging my Em-dash habit when I need a fix, but generally making me behave in that department as a whole.  


*  Helping me with continuity, because sometimes I'm no better at plot math than I am at the regular kind.


*  Letting me lecture on metonymy and synecdoche and conceit without ever once calling me a pompous prick-bag in the margins of my manuscript as they probably should have.


*  Letting me edit a heinous piece of prose in the GALLEY STAGES of Bewitching Bella's Brother that had been left there because of my own fuckery and not theirs.


* In general, helping me produce the best possible product that I possibly can and working very hard at not letting me make an ass of myself.


Does DSP have a brisk editing process?  You betcha.  Does DSP ever tell an author how to write a book, or what plot points he or she MUST fix?  If the book they accepted is not good enough to go out, they wouldn't have accepted it.  


Are there still errors?  I dunno--are there still humans involved in the process?  Probably.


"Troll!  In the dungeon!  TROLL!  IN THE DUNGEON! I thought you'd want to know."  
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--movie
based on the book by
J.K. Rowling


I have stuff to do.  I need to work on the Bodi/Peter story, because it's eating me alive.  I need to edit Country Mouse, because I promised my co-writer on that one that I would get it done today so we can have it out by April.  I need to shower and get ready to go teach Art History to third graders, because they LOVE it when the art lady comes, and I don't want to let them down.  I have to take my daughter to dance lessons tonight and fix some sort of sustenance and maybe clean the kitchen table so the kids can eat at it, because they think that sort of thing is only for holidays and vacations and that makes me feel bad.  The one thing I did not want to spend my morning doing was addressing an attack on the company that gave me my start when I was weary of forging my own, and that held my hand when I thought I had lost every friend and ruined my life with this strange obsession to write about people treating each other as people.  


But there was a troll in the dungeon, and it was wreaking all sorts of bloody havoc on the people I loved.  I thought you'd want to know.  









19 comments:

Tiffany said...

BRAVO! Very well put.

Jackie B. said...

As a print journalist, let me state unequivocally that bloggers are in fact not journalists, whatever they say. As you pointed out, they aren't held accountable to the same standards, and while there is certainly a place and a use for what they do, it's not journalism. And yes, as I write this, I'm aware there are many people who disagree strongly. But a one-sided, poorly researched piece as described would never appear in print in a respectable publication. Just sayin'.
Also, having read "Bear, Otter and the Kid" and seen the movie "Shelter," there are certainly similarities, but it didn't strike me as plagiarism. If you apply that label to every book that has a similar setup to some other work, there wouldn't be much left. LOTS of romance novels share similar setups and even characters and manage to be great stories in their own right.
Personally, I highly recommend BOATK. In a review I wrote after I read it last year, I actually compared it to "Keeping Promise Rock" for emotional intensity. I don't know the story behind it, but I do know it's a good book in its own right.
Just my opinion on all of this.

K. Z. Snow said...

What the HELL are you doing still publishing through Dreamspinner? Don't you know all their (formerly) "best authors" have jumped ship? I hope you realize that by staying, you'll no longer be Amy Lane. You're going to be lumped together with the rest of us losers under the label "collateral damage" . . . because this is, after all, a holy war.

OMeffingG . . .

DarienMoya said...

BRAVA!!!!

I watched Shelter sometime back, and now I am reading BOATK and I can see where it came from, but the book is something else entirely. I notice the similarities but the differences far outweigh it all.

Is it fanfic, I am calling it mad inspiration.

pointycat said...

I've already left a (horribly long) comment on someone's LJ about this, but it's worth saying twice...

As a reader I like Dreamspinner - they have some great authors, they frequently do special offers - and if the books are reduced then I'm likely to take the chance on a new author. I've not noticed a problem with the editing.

That story with the hitman with the heart of gold and the doctor? I've read that, I loved it. If they hadn't published it then I would have missed out on that. And another one (FBI agent and drug runner, same fanfic background) that I also loved. I haven't really read any fanfic; I've nothing against it, just haven't got round to it. I'm really happy that Dreamspinner chose to publish those two stories; I enjoyed them both, have re-read one, will re-read the other.

The quote that was used on the Dear Author site from Chicks & Dicks was taken out of context - I read the original article back in january. I remember thinking that I needed to get a friend to read it as she writes fanfic and we're always suggesting she move to something she could publish - and that article seemed an excellent guide for a new writer to mover from fanfic to being published. The Dear Author post just made me wince.

Marisa O'Neill said...

Brava Amy!

Marisa O'Neill said...

Brava Amy!

Roxie said...

I "unvented" moebius knitting. Cat Bhordi also came up with the idea. She ran with it and published books and made lots of money. Good for her! I wasn't aware that you could steal ideas. Decades ago I came up with the concept of a bag that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. I'm not about to sue JK Rowling.

Amy Lane said...

Uhm, because Amy is a total dork, she accidentally deleted Alex W.'s comment when she was checking e-mail on her phone. (Sorry Alex! I have big hammy fingers!) Anyway-- it was a very nice, neutral comment about how he liked BOATK very much, but hadn't seen the movie yet, and would be interested in similarities. Alex, you're welcome to post your comment again--and sorry about my inner goober not being as inner as I would like:-)

chrysalis1975 said...

2 thumbs up & very well said, Ms. Amy!

Tame

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Wonderfully said, Amy, thank you!

BlueSimplicity said...

**delurking**

This whole thing is so frustrating to me as a reader. I LOVE BOATK and I LOVE Dreamspinner Press. Has it released some stinkers? Surely. But so has just about every other press. And their titles CONSISTENTLY amaze me. (I wouldn't have found so many authors I love if not for DSP, KZ Snow and Amy included.)

Yet all of these people crying afoul "For I shalst never readeth another title from these horrid publishers" pisses me off. And the whole DA thing strikes me as a very high school mean girls kinda attitude.

And ultimately, I want to tell everyone to just calm down. The reactions are so strong on both sides, and really, mostly over one review, and from something DA took out of context. (And when I say calm down, I meant myself included.) Did you or did you not love the book, or do you feel it stands on its own merits? Everyone has a right to how they answer this question. That's all.

Shiessh. Sorry for the rant, and um...**blushes** Hi Amy! I TOTALLY love your books!! =)

Donna Lee said...

You know where you stand in my heart sweetie. I can't always pretend to understand everything you write when you're explaining the finer points of writing/editing. You're a great teacher and I'm a lackadaisical learner. (too much mental health on the brain!)

But even I am aware of the difference between fanfic (which I know is not popular with all authors) and plagiary. I would be flattered and very interested in why a fan took characters that I created in a different direction. I'd want to know What they were thinking, Why they did that and so on.

I hope Dreamspinner not only survives this but continues to thrive. There has to be a place for all kinds of writing.

KnitTech said...

Love the first quote.

If that's all it takes for plagiarism is for a similiar plot ideas, then why isn't everyone being sued?

Mimi said...

Fan Fic = Plagiarism?? o.O Has the world gone mad?

The first thing written in the beginning of a Fanfic's chapter is the disclaimer, giving the author all the credit for the creation of the character/universe...

Fanfiction is a fan's dream written in paper, is a wish, that didn't or couldn't come true in the real work.

Haven't ever read/watched something where you wished had a different ending? Where you found a character that you thought was overlooked or more interesting than the protagonist? I have, and it was through fanfiction that I learned how to create my own characters, my own universe.

I love fanfiction, and it makes me sad and angry when I discover that there are people out there that doesn't understand the art that fanfiction is, and how difficult it is to write it...

Plagiarism is when you take something, change a dot or two, and takes the credit for something you didn't do. THAT is plagiarism!

Inspirations are different, they are everywhere, on books, on movies, on LIFE!

Shakespeare's Romeu and Juliet's tragic story can be found in a greek poem, written way before the famous writer was even born, did you know that? How many movies were inspired by him as well? Tell me how many romance stories have you read where love conquers all? In how many stories the good girl is able to transform a bad boy kind of guy into a "saint"? In how many stories do we have a happy ending?

I think we should stop reading books, watching movies, listening music, and a lot of other things, if we think that plagiarism is when you take a known plot and makes it your own. There are so many over used plots out there, but they can be magical when in good hands.

(I can get a little lost when I care too much about something, and for that I'm sorry)

On a side: I'm new in this kind genre ( In books that is, I've being reading yaoi manga for a long time now), and I just wanted to say that you have become one of my favorite authors, Amy Lane. You made me cry in almost every book I've read of yours, and Truth in the Dark is my favorite fantasy book, I've always loved all the Beauty and Beast plot, but your tale took it to another level, made it real, made it beautiful.

Thank you for writing!

Mimi said...

Fan Fic = Plagiarism?? o.O Has the world gone mad?

The first thing written in the beginning of a Fanfic's chapter is the disclaimer, giving the author all the credit for the creation of the character/universe...

Fanfiction is a fan's dream written in paper, is a wish, that didn't or couldn't come true in the real work.

Haven't ever read/watched something where you wished had a different ending? Where you found a character that you thought was overlooked or more interesting than the protagonist? I have, and it was through fanfiction that I learned how to create my own characters, my own universe.

I love fanfiction, and it makes me sad and angry when I discover that there are people out there that doesn't understand the art that fanfiction is, and how difficult it is to write it...

Plagiarism is when you take something, change a dot or two, and takes the credit for something you didn't do. THAT is plagiarism!

Inspirations are different, they are everywhere, on books, on movies, on LIFE!

Shakespeare's Romeu and Juliet's tragic story can be found in a greek poem, written way before the famous writer was even born, did you know that? How many movies were inspired by him as well? Tell me how many romance stories have you read where love conquers all? In how many stories the good girl is able to transform a bad boy kind of guy into a "saint"? In how many stories do we have a happy ending?

I think we should stop reading books, watching movies, listening music, and a lot of other things, if we think that plagiarism is when you take a known plot and makes it your own. There are so many over used plots out there, but they can be magical when in good hands.

(I can get a little lost when I care too much about something, and for that I'm sorry)

On a side: I'm new in this kind genre ( In books that is, I've being reading yaoi manga for a long time now), and I just wanted to say that you have become one of my favorite authors, Amy Lane. You made me cry in almost every book I've read of yours, and Truth in the Dark is my favorite fantasy book, I've always loved all the Beauty and Beast plot, but your tale took it to another level, made it real, made it beautiful.

Thank you for writing!

Cara said...

I just want to expand on a point that Jackie B. made because it is absolutely TRUE. "LOTS of romance novels share similar setups and even characters and manage to be great stories in their own right."

I think people don't realize how often plots are copied and transformed. Romeo and Juliet is just a retelling of the Roman myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. And the movie Clueless retells the book Emma. If you want to get into over arching themes this list would be endless and have to be edited for the sanity of the readers. Writers have been using the same plots for hundreds of years. And I would hesitate to call any of the people above plagiarists.

Did TJ Klune plagiarize or just use plot devices that have been used hundreds of times before? I really don't know. Luckily, I have Netflix so will be renting "Shelter" to make that decision for myself. All I can say is I have to hold out until I can make an informed decision with more information. I'll be honest, I hope not cause dammit! I really liked that book.

There is a youtube series that really expands on how plot elements are copied and changed in movies, inventions, culture etc. I think it's really well put together and very thoughtful in it's exploration of this idea that everything is a remix. I think it's fitting for this discussion. I would recommend watching "Everything is a Remix Part 2" by Kirby1. It goes into depth about the remixing of story plots focusing on movies. The whole series is great but 2 is the one the seems the most related to this conversation.

Kenny Deheart said...

Very Well Written!

I came here from the Blog of Mary Calmes, which is the first I have ever heard of this situation.

I haven't seen the movie but that doesn't matter, when media is thought to have been plagiarized there must be a point by point comparison written out to show how similar something is as proof. As it is when googled I can only find second hand accounts by Ann Somerville who is the accuser, but she is vague and list nothing specific in her article.

And as for the people who swear that they will never go to dream spinner press to buy again? A month down the road they will end up back buying the books again. This is like saying I hated a certain movie by MGM or WB so I will never watch another movie by that company again.

This is an opinion based rumor with vague facts behind it. The fact that a couple of authors are directly attacking DSP more than the author themselves makes it suspect.

Of course this is MY opinion based on the very few articles I could find about this situation. Articles full of speculation and very little or no proof.

Kenny Deheart said...

This is an edit to my prior comment.

Right after I commented I found Somerville's point by point comparison. I found that there is a lot of similar plot points and dialog. In my opinion that would indeed constitute plagiarism. There were also a lot of points that I would consider standard for m/m type books and not necessarily copied over.

But again I see overall most of the heat going against DSP rather than Klune. The whole situation and how the 'Official' blogs and authors reacted to the whole situation was and still is inappropriate.