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Aug 25

“Any Way You Distort It” (It’s Still Plagiarism!) by Mary Deal

“How’d you like my story?” he asked, as I returned his edited manuscript.
We’d built up a good working relationship over the last few months but this was the limit. “C’mon, DH. You copied ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter’,” I said. He and I have been through this act before.
“Not really,” he said. “I saw a way to make it better.”
I almost laughed. “There’s no creativity in rewriting someone else’s stories. You copied at least one line verbatim.” He looked sheepish but shrugged it off. “Your lady, Sable Erwin, like Lawrence’s Mabel Pervin, after having been saved from drowning herself in the pond asks, ‘Who undressed me?’”
“I liked that line,” he said.
“You even used the same staircase scene from Lawrence’s story.”
“No, my staircase is on the opposite wall.” He held up his manuscript. “This is my story. All mine. And it’s better.”
“These are not yours. You simply rewrite other people’s stories by wearing out your Thesaurus. You’ve used lines straight from original bodies of work. Like…like that.” I gestured toward his manuscript. I was sickened by what he’d been doing all along. Frustrated, too, because I’d been editing his work and since I’m not as widely read, didn’t catch on right away. “When you submit these around, professional readers spot the similarities.”
“With all the writers around today, no one knows who wrote what anymore.”
“The only thing your rewriting is getting you is a reputation as the person with the most rejections.”
By now, I knew I’d better be careful of what I said. I wasn’t going to convince him of the error of his ways but I, at least, wanted to make a point. “I can’t edit you anymore,” I said. “And you needn’t continue to edit my work.”
“That’s fine with me. Your POVs are always confused anyway.”
“That’s because you read from a man’s point of view. I am woman. If I begin a story with “I” and the antagonist (opposing character) is named Bobby, and the “I” and Bobby is married, then the “I” is female. So you shouldn’t ask me to clarify “I” in the first sentence of the story.”
“Women use “Bobby.”
“Most likely spelled ‘Bobbi.’ You know I don’t write from a male POV.”
“Creativity works in many ways,” he snapped. He evidently thought the conversation on points of view too hot. “I happen to get inspired by the better writers.”
“But you’re not creating your own masterpieces. You’re just reworking theirs. That’s plagiarism any way you distort it.”
His expression told me I had said the dreaded word. “What about you?” he asked from the hot seat. “You read Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and that’s what inspired you to write ‘Caught in a Rip.’ That’s plagiarism. The Old Man is out at sea alone talking to himself. Your Lilly character is out at sea alone talking. What do you call that?”
“Well, first of all, The Old Man is talking to his marlin and to the sharks. He’s always safe because he’s in a boat and can see the lights of Havana to guide him back to shore.” I suddenly realized I didn’t have to defend myself but it was too late. “My ‘Lillian’ is in the water, out of sight of shore and most likely caught in the North Equatorial Current with nothing to her benefit but snorkel, mask and fins. And since she’s alone, it took practiced writing skills to get the reader to know that the dialog is interior monologue that everyone probably goes through before they die.”
“Same story,” he said. “You copied Hemingway.” Now he was acting like a person who saw the end of something good and meant to have the last say, but I wasn’t through.
“I read Hemingway’s book three or four times over two decades,” I said. “While it inspired my plots, by the time I wrote “The Tropics,” it had been three years since I last read the ‘The Old Man.’ I didn’t pick up Hemingway again until I was into the third draft of my ‘Caught in a Rip’ story.” He said nothing. I couldn’t help but finish making my point. “When did you ever put a book aside and never open it while writing you own story?”
“Don’t have to,” he said. He rolled the manuscript he held into a scroll and tapped it against a palm. “My plots come right from what I’ve read. Gotta catch inspiration when it happens.” He was so in denial.
“DH,” I said. “It’s one thing to be inspired by great writers; another to write your own story without copying.”
“You think I’m not writing my own stuff?” he said, whining.
“When’s the last time you’ve written your own story to final draft without looking at anything that someone else has written?”
He fidgeted, tapped the scroll against his hand again, thinking. He honestly looked like he didn’t understand, a way of acting at which I’ve come to learn he was very good.
I was into this way over my head but I didn’t want to read any more of his copy cat stories. And I didn’t want him reading any more of my stuff. Had anything I’d written inspired him, he’d probably already rewritten it and sent it out, so my stories wouldn’t have a chance if read by a same editor. “DH,” I said. “What about your name? You admit your DH Harvey is a pseudonym. No one knows your real name.”
“You think I care?”
“Well, now that I’ve read this takeoff on ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,’ I think I know from where you derived your pen name.” I smiled pleasantly when I said that. I had wanted to end this conversation shortly but my curiosity prodded me onward.
“Oh, tell me, please.”
“My guess is you fancy yourself a Chekov or a Steinbeck or any of the others you’ve copied. Now that you’ve copied DH Lawrence, you’ve given away the secret of your pseudonym. Lawrence is both a first and last name. So is Harvey. Everyone knows your name is not DH Harvey or DH anything.”
Again he hedged. “One reason people use pseudonyms is that they don’t want their identities known.” So what did he have to hide?
“Let’s just end this, okay?” I tried to soften my words because when he tries he really does do a fine edit of my work. “I don’t want to exchange edits any more.”
“Okay,” he said and shrugged. “That leaves me more time to write. I found an opening chapter that I can rewrite for my next novel.”
I dared ask, “And what are you borrowing now?”
He looked smug. “I’ve just finished reading ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoyevsky,” he said. “And I know I can make it better.”
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