For more than a week now, the publishing world has been talking about Cassie Edwards, the bestselling romance novelist who seems unclear on the difference between research and plagiarism. The romance fans who operate the blog Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books were the first to publicize the similarities between Edwards' prose and that of a number of other writers (some of whose works are in the public domain, and some of whose are not). As more examples were found by the Smart Bitches and their readers, Signet Books, Edwards' publisher, seems to have morphed its response from "nothing to see here" to "um...we're looking into it."
Edwards seems hurt and puzzled by the whole matter. She isn't talking to the press, but an alleged response from her has surfaced, which reads in part:
The sad thing is that I am writing these books now in a way to honor our Native Americans, past, present and in the future. And I am honoring my great grandmother who was a full blood Cheyenne. She would be so proud of me if she could read what I am writing about the Indians who have been so maligned for so long. And do you know? I feel picked on now as our Native American Indians have always been picked on throughout history. I am trying to spread the word about them and what do I get? Spiteful women who have found a way to bring attention to themselves, by getting in the media in this horrible way.
Paul Tolmé, a nature writer, Newsweek contributor, and plagiaree, is also feeling picked on. He wrote a remarkably generous, funny column about the experience of having his research about black-footed ferrets inserted clumsily into the sweet savage mouths of Edwards' characters:
First I was angry. Then I had to laugh. To see my textbook descriptions of ferrets in a bodice-ripper, as dialogue between a hunky American Indian and a lustful pioneer woman who several pages later have sex on a mossy riverbank, is the height of absurdity....
The prose is standard romance-novel shlock. Bramlett's bosom heaves. Shadow Bear feels a longing in his loins. On page 195, after several false starts to stoke the furnaces of readers, Bramlett and Shadow Bear finally get down to business. They have sex in his teepee on some animal pelts. Hungrily, their sinuous bodies rock and quake until both explode in rapturous pleasure. When the teepee flaps are rocking, don't come a-knocking.
Then, a few pages later, as Bramlett and Shadow Bear bask in their postcoital glow, my ferrets arrive on the scene....
"They are so named because of their dark legs," Shadow Bear says, to which Shiona responds: "They are so small, surely weighing only about two pounds and measuring two feet from tip to tail."
Shiona then tells Shadow Bear how she once read about ferrets in a book she took from the study of her father. "I discovered they are related to minks and otters. It is said their closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats," she says. "Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population."
Ohmygod that is so hot.
I think that Edwards truly believes that she's done nothing wrong (which doesn't excuse her behavior, of course), and that a very patient attorney will be explaining things to her.
Can't give the same benefit-doubt ratio in an alleged plagiarism case closer to home -- a case that, like Edwards', was originally discussed online and is now finding its way into local media. But I do hear that one of the Paul Tolmés in this particular tempest-in-a-tepee is weighing his options and his response, and other media are working on stories, stories that promise to be more savage than sweet.