Ruffled feathers and connected dots.

A friend of the bloggers at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books stumbled upon proof that noted –and, indeed, not just noted but representative — romance author Cassie Edwards plagiarized much of the factual content of several of her novels. A grand exposé, much gnashing of teeth, much ridicule, and some drawing of lines in the sand has ensued.

Okay, first quit laughing that I said Savage Winds and its ilk had any “factual content.” Yes, Cassie Edwards did some version of research to “accurately” portray the Chief Manly Pecs in each of her books. Anyone who has read romance for even the shortest length of time knows who Edwards is. Her name is synonymous with exploitative and fetishizing Native American-themed bodice rippers. Now, like Kaavya Vishwanathan and Janet Dailey, her name is also synonymous with “plagiarism.” What floors me about Edwards’ particular situation is that it took so long for someone to stumble upon this. The woman is 71 years old and has written over 100 romance novels. Why didn’t someone realize the hinky differences in her prose before this? It took someone not as entrenched in the genre to pick up on the stylistic differences and investigate.

I know that, for me, when I’m reading the umpteenth book by an author, there’s an element of flip-through-flip-through-whatever. You start to accept that they have a formula and quit reading too closely. Or, also in my case, you quit reading that author altogether because you’re bored. Is that what most people who read Edwards do? Moreover, is that what anyone who reads any kind of genre fiction does after a while? In this day and age, genre fiction is still struggling to gain acceptance as a “legit” craft. It’s not literary fiction, it’s not “respectable” fiction, there are no book club discussion questions in the back. It’s pure pulp and enjoyment…which automatically makes it suspect. The reveal of Cassie Edwards as a plagiarist does not help this misconception. Someone fell asleep at the switch. Her publisher, her editors, her agent. Her own culpability is one thing, but why didn’t anyone else catch it? It starts to feel like a quality control issue, like romance publishing isn’t interested in accuracy or originality, they just want to keep churning. It’s mass production, plain and simple.

Unfortunately, that’s hardly unique to romance. More and more, you see brands and labels and series in fiction. Authors writing book after book. Be it Gossip Girl or Meg Cabot’s various series (I love her, but how many does she HAVE now?) or Laurell K. Hamilton’s neverending Anita Blake and Merry Gentry pseudo-porn. And what happens? It gets derivative. It gets tired. You lose the characters. You lose your voice. How much can one person realistically write without 1)burning out, 2)writing the same thing over and over, 3)hiring a staff to ghost write for them or 4)resorting to plagiarism of some kind?

I remember when books took time. Even romance novels. You had to wait years for a follow-up from your favorite author. While it was maddening, it was also comforting, because you knew someone was really working at it. Putting out a book a year, a book every six months… it’s turning a creative craft into an automated one. A book is not a car. It shouldn’t be built by machines on an assembly line. But, on the other hand, cars have to go through stringent safety tests before they’re put on the market. Why are there no crash test dummies for books?

Then again, flipping through the likes of Savage Love and Running Fox might be cruel and unusual punishment for a beta tester.

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