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Nora Roberts Speaks Out on Plagiarism

Too often writers--especially unpubbed--toss out accusations. But usually they're groundless and soon prove so. It isn't at all the same as documented fact of infringement. I think it's vital, absolutely vital, for writers' organizations such as Ninc to take a strong and public stand on the issue.

If the victim doesn't want a stand taken on his or her particular case, I think wishes should be respected--UNLESS it's become public. Once that happens, the complexion changes.

Personally, while I understand the initial reaction to keep the difficulty private--as that was my first reaction, too--it doesn't work, and it just complicates everything. Plus, this lets the offender off the hook, and keeps the issue underground. After word gets out, if the victim continues to play it down, fine. But there's no reason for others, particularly organizations formed to speak for writers, to do so.

Ninc, and other organization for writers, can support the victims of plagiarism by making it clear--loud and clear--that this offense is inexcusable. No exceptions. That it won't be tolerated--no exceptions. And by spelling it out. It's NOT all right to take someone's work you admire and fiddle with it a bit and decide that makes it yours. To make this clear to the writing community and the publishing community.

Deadline stress, personal problems, writer's block, and so on are not acceptable excuses for stealing someone else's words. IT IS NOT a form of flattery. I can't tell you, just can't tell you, what that does in my gut when people say it to me. It's the same as being told well, your rapist must have thought you were really attractive. Jesus.

Being plagiarized is a violation, and it hits you on every possible level. Professional, personal, emotional. And this idiotic trend to feel sorry for and excuse the offender--gee, she was having such a rough time, golly, she's really a nice person, piles the stress and misery onto the victim-especially when this sort of comment comes from an associate.

It takes guts and time and money to pursue a case against your violator. And the emotional weight is enormous. It was the worst two years of my life, and it's never really over. I know exactly what Gina's [Wilkins] going through now, and hate to think of it. In my case it was horribly public--due to Janet's decision to send out a press release the day before RWA in Orlando. And not once during this nightmare did any writer's organization issue a statement decrying plagiarism. Libby [Hall] and others at RWA were incredibly supportive of me on a personal level, and I honestly don't think I'd have gotten through the week intact without them. But there's such a baffling hesitation to take a stand, a public one.

At the same time, some other writers--a very small minority-made sympathetic noises toward Janet--obviously some still do. This hurts, again personally, but it also hurts on a professional plane.

Until we, the writing community, take a strong, public and no-nonsense stand against plagiarism, the publishing community will, I think, continue to downplay it, to keep violation after violation quiet--or attempt to. And the reading community will go on largely in ignorance.

Do you know what it's like for me to be told that there are readers, writers, booksellers who aren't really sure who plagiarized whom? God almighty.

At the time I was in the worst media blitz over this, much of the press joked about it, treated it with amusement or contempt. Romances are all alike, and here's why. Should we as writers, as organizations tolerate this? Or should we make it clear that all areas of writing, including popular genre fiction are legitimate and to be respected?

In my opinion, Janet counted on her fan base, the affection held for her by the romance writing community and the careless attitude of publishers to protect her. Do you think she went public right before RWA by accident? She's done nothing by accident. In a very real sense she got what she was looking for. She was punished, sure, but only because I didn't back down--and not backing down cost me two years, emotional misery and a great deal of money. And even then, within a year of settlement, Harper published her again, sent her on tour, generated media for the book by USING the plagiarism as a hook. For me, it was like being smacked in the face again. And she's still getting sympathy.

It's long past time to let those who would copy another's work and call it their own know that they won't get away with it. That as writers we condemn this practice. It's time to let the publishers know that if they continue to publish a plagiarist, we won't be buying the book, and will do what we can to inform booksellers and readers of our stand. It's time for solidarity. [And] if after all this I don't speak out, who will?

Nora Roberts


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