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Archives: April 2006

Meet Your Orange Prize Nominees

The shortlist of nominees for the Orange Prize, the largest literary award exclusively for women, is being announced today, and it’s heavy on the Brits. And while one might think the Zadie Smith vs. Ali Smith competition would make for interesting headlines, they’re not even the frontrunners—English booksellers seem much more interested in Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black and Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch. Australian Carrie Tiffany’s Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living just came out here in the States, so she’s still a bit of an unkown factor to American observers (though the starred PW review is encouraging). And representing for the U.S. is Nicole Krauss, who edged her way past fellow Americans Lorraine Adams, Sue Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Marilynne Robinson, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Meg Wolitzer on the original longlist.

CopyKaavya: Crown issues the smackdown

It’s day three of the plagiarism scandal du jour, and Crown — who published the Megan McCafferty books Kaavya Viswanathan admitted to using as source material for her own book — isn’t exactly happy with the issued apologies by the author and her own publisher, Little, Brown.

Steve Ross, the senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishers and Three Rivers Press – two subsidiaries of Random House – characterized Viswanathan’s statement as “deeply troubling and disingenuous,” said the Harvard Crimson, who’s been at the forefront of coverage on this story. “This extensive taking from Ms. McCafferty’s books is nothing less than an act of literary identity theft,” Ross said yesterday. “Based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”

And the number of plagiarized passages has increased from 13 to 29 to 45 now, as McCafferty’s agent Joanna Pulcini said by email to the paper. “Many [passages] include identical phrasing, establish primary characters, and contain shared plot developments…It is understandably difficult for us to accept that Ms. Viswanathan’s plagiarism was ‘unintentional and unconscious,’ as she has claimed.”

The Boston Globe spoke to Ross by telephone, who reported that McCafferty “feels like something fundamental was taken” from her as a result of the copying. And there’s still no word on what Little, Brown will do next, but keep in mind that revisions to Viswanathan’s book would take many months — and as Ross added, “in the meantime, the current books would still be available.”

CopyKaavya: more on 17th Street, and another blast from the past

The Harvard Independent is doing their best to dig into the underside of 17th Street Productions, the book packager that shares the copyright on OPAL MEHTA with Kaavya Visnawathan. And to that end, the paper interviewed Lizzie Skurnick (a friend to both Galleycats) about her experience writing Sweet Valley High books for the packager some years back, before the company was purchased by Alloy Entertainment.

“A packager basically serves as both the writer and editor of a book,” Skurnick said in a phone interview. “The advantage for a publishing house is they don’t have to do anything – they don’t have to design the book, they don’t have to think about a concept… They can just say, ‘Here’s $80,000 for twelve of these books.’ They don’t have to do any of the work.”

Most of 17th Street’s work involves long-running series that are written by a slew of writers working on a work-for-hire basis. And many such writers, without protection of copyright, hope that someday they can leverage their packaging experience for honest-to-goodness publishing work. Skurnick explained, “They write books that already exist in series, they pitch series themselves, they pitch standalones, they sort of exist in this netherworld in which they have a relationship with the packager and then, maybe eventually, they’ll have a relationship with the publisher…”

So how does this relate to Viswanathan’s saga? For one thing, many of the copied phrases may have been part of the company’s “house voice.” But more importantly, as the paper concludes, “if Viswanathan’s contract with the packager was anything like standard ones in the past, 17th Street would have received ‘a healthy chunk’ of the author’s reported $500,000 advance. How much? Up to half, plus a cut of royalties. Packaging may not be well known, but it’s a big business.”

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Miss Teen Wordpower Debate Enters 3rd Day

kaavya-megan.jpgI love it when a literary scandal breaks on a Monday, because then I know PW Daily will be sure to reference it in “Talk Back Tuesday,” like this week’s question about Kaavya Viswanathan. “What is the best way to deal with charges of plagiarism?” PW asks. “Does plagiarism hurt an author’s career—or should it?” So far, the range of opinions seems fairly obvious: Little, Brown should’ve vetted the book harder; kids plagiarize all the time; y’all just hate Kaavya because she’s successful; and, from publishing contrarian Lynne Scanlon, “I just find it hard to believe that such a smart girl would do such a dumb thing.” Although former 17th Street Productions crew member Lizzie Skurnick, in an interview with the Harvard Independent, described how the factory-like setting could lead to such situations:

“There are just reams and reams of stuff that’s written… It’s unavoidable that certain phrases will be recycled or said in a certain way… Often what you’ll find is that, it’s not that anyone is copying, it’s just that [these phrases] are the first things a mediocre writer would reach for.”

Longtime GalleyCat reader Susanne Fogle, in pointing the PW survey out to us, took the hard line: “Plagiarism should do more than ‘hurt’ an authors career—it should end it… Rather than defend her, Little Brown should sue to try and get back some of that fat advance.” (Somebody’s bound to get sued, at any rate, since Megan McCafferty’s publisher continues to push their case, describing Viswanathan’s actions as “nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.”)

Neeraja Viswanathan (left, and no relation, “to the best of my knowledge, [and] I feel like I’m going to be saying that for a while…”) comments on sharing a name with an infamous writer: “Viswanathan is actually a common South Indian name—I know at least six Viswanathans myself—but this is the first Viswanathan who has made an ass out of herself in my profession.” (It was actually quite a pleasant surprise to hear from Neeraja, as I’ve been looking forward to her nonfiction book, The Devil Inside Her.) But she also eases up a bit on Kaavya, noting that most teen writers remain unpublished until they’ve burnt through their influences and found their own voice. “This is solely at the feet of the publishing industry,” Neeraja decides, “thinking that writing is some sort of game that anyone can play, if they get enough high-powered advance press on their side.”

Or, as John Scalzi puts it, “A teenager plucking choice passages from someone else’s work to give her own work additional resonance? That’s what happens on MySpace 13,000 times a day.” Meanwhile, Valerie Frankel writes in to remind us that while Kaavya Viswanathan may have “absorbed” Megan McCafferty’s line about girls being either smart or pretty, she (Valerie, that is) is the one who wrote the book on Smart Vs. Pretty, way back in 2000. “I’m planning to sue both of them!” she jokes. “For big money!”

This Book Party Will Save Your Life

amhomes-party.jpgTop: A.M. Homes looks upon the crowd gathered in the Bubble Lounge to celebrate the publication of This Book Will Save Your Life and finds them pleasing; the photographers from BlackBook and Gawker’s Team Party Crash gear up for a night’s work.

Middle: Melissa Kirsch takes a break from the final revisions on The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything, coming this August ; Alex Mar of Rolling Stone and Rebecca Godfrey (Under the Bridge) enjoying the party, where refreshments included champagne (a Bubble House staple, natch) and donuts (which I’m told hold great narrative significance to the novel).

Bottom: A Public Space editor Brigid Hughes chats with contributing editor Fiona Maazel.

treisman-trillin.jpgAnd though I couldn’t fit this snapshot of New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman listening to Calvin Trillin into the main spread, I liked it so much I’m including it anyway. I hear tell that Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney also dropped by to pay their respects, but I didn’t see them; I did see Maud Newton and Dana of Number One Hit Song, though.

Personnel changes at Harper & Morrow

The revolving door keeps going that much faster, especially since former Dutton editor Laurie Chittenden — whose authors there included Melanie Lynne Hauser, Lauren Willig, Carrie Kabak, Marisa de Los Santos, T Cooper, Amanda Brown and Jean Sasson — has moved over to William Morrow as executive editor beginning May 15, where she’ll report to Lisa Gallagher.

At the same time, Clare Wachtel has been reassigned from Morrow to Harper to serve as an executive editor, though Publishers Marketplace reports that she’ll “continue to edit a select number of Morrow authors.”

Jane Jacobs dead at 89

The author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” which transformed ideas about urban planning, has died at the age of 89 at a Toronto hospital, AP reports. She is survived by three children, James, Edward and Mary.

“She inspired a kind of quiet revolution,” her longtime editor, Jacob Epstein, said Tuesday. “Every time you see people rise up and oppose a developer, you think of Jane Jacobs.”

“Death and Life,” published in 1961, evolved from opposing the standards of the time to becoming a standard itself. It was taught in urban studies classes throughout North America and sold more than half a million copies. City planners in New York and Toronto were among those who cited its importance and her book became an essential text for “New Urban” communities such as Hercules, Calif., and Civano, Ariz. Jacobs also received a number of prizes, including a lifetime achievement award in 2000 from the National Building Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Chick Lit Is Dead, Long Live Chick Lit

An intrepid Variety editor slipped us a draft of this morning’s feature on the rush to declare chick lit over (which was nice, since we don’t have a subscription to the paper), so I spent some time last night looking at it, and, to be honest, I don’t really see how it’s any different that what we’ve already been talking about in publishing for months already. So “the single gal in the big city who is more adept at shopping than relationships” is on her way out and brides, divorcées, suburbanistas, nearly-forty-somethings, and even women of color are moving in on her turf; this is news?

“Contemporary women’s fiction—dubbed chick lit, to the chagrin of many authors and publishers,” the article notes early on, “has spawned a seemingly endless bumper crop of titles with varying degrees of success.” You don’t say! Just how is “a seemingly endless bumper crop of titles with varying degrees of success” any different from, when you get right down to it, the entire publishing industry? Even as analysis of the chick-lit market, the article falls somewhat short; there’s nary a mention, for example, of the various erotic-themed lines in development at houses like Avon and Harlequin. And when it’s suggested that “some of the most eagerly awaited books in the genre have replaced sex with power as the key ingredient,” well, come on, workplace power struggles have always been a significant theme in the post-Bridget landscape. Lauren Weisberger hardly invented office drama, after all.

Sarah adds: my take on the piece is fairly similar to Ron’s, but I can’t help thinking that chick lit was ultimately one half (along with the current erotica boom) of a subgenre that reigned supreme in the 1980s: glitz & glamor, sex & shopping, whatever you want to call it. And since enough time’s passed, perhaps it’s also time for those melodramas to make a proper comeback? If Dallas can be made into a potential movie (though J.Lo as the Victoria Principal Character, um, no), and the Bagshawe sisters sell millions in Britain, and OAKDALE CONFIDENTIAL, the tie-in mystery for the soap opera As the World Turns, can top bestseller lists, it does look like a sea change is in order.

Besides, there’s plenty of power in those shoulder pads…

Who’s That Teacher Dissing Kaavya?

The Harvard Independent continues its coverage of Kaavya Viswanathan by deducing the identity of the teaching assistant who described, in a Metafilter posting, how Viswanathan was allegedly a poor writer who fell asleep in class (“as if you don’t notice a snoozing person sitting at a conference table for ten”). The Independent sifted through other postings by “mowglisambo” and has tentatively IDed her as a former Harvard research assistant now at MIT. We say tentatively, but, really, when a post includes somebody’s email address and declares “this is [me],” I think it’s safe to make some conclusions. As well as ask some interesting questions about why a woman with such a Teutonic last name would run around posting to Metafilter as “mowglisambo.”

Viswanathan Confesses to”Unintentional & Unconscious” Echoes

The controversy surrounding Kaavya Viswanathan’s deployment of Megan McCafferty’s turns of phrase came to a head late Monday as the Harvard Crimson, which first broke the story about the problematic passages in the sophmore’s debut novel, How Opal Mehta… Got A Life, ran a public apology from Viswanathan: “I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty’s words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.” If you read Publishers Lunch, though, you know from Michael Cader’s reporting that doing so may conceivably take a lot of revisions…and PW Daily is also reporting that sorry isn’t good enough as far as McCafferty’s publisher is concerned.

The Crimson also continued its coverage by uncovering a letter from Random House to Little, Brown that declared, in part, “Given the alarming similarities in the language, structure and characters already found in these works, we are certain that some literal copying actually occurred here.” (They also have some legal analysis that lays out the issues involved quite neatly.) Dinitia Smith is forced to play catch-up, but her NYT piece does at least contain a new wrinkle with Michael Pietsch’s declaration that future printings of Opal Mehta will contain “an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty.” It’s like when James Cameron made The Terminator and forgot to mention how many times he’d watched The Outer Limits, and he had to put Harlan Ellison’s name on the credits when the video came out!

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