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How Kaavya Viswanathan got wild, stole a book, and got a career

Stuff like this can be frustrating for aspiring writers (a group that includes many, if not most, active bloggers.)

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life is the first novel of Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore.

The book was well received, and even made it into the New York Times bestseller list. Now, however, some disturbing similarities to a 2001 novel called Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty (isn't that a great title, by the way?) have been unearthed by the Harvard Crimson.

It's interesting that the MSNBC article about Ms. Viswanathan runs two whole pages without once mentioning the word "plagiarism," or any form thereof. One wonders why, since many of the "similarities" with McCafferty's book are, well, pretty damned similar. Here are some examples.

On page 213 of McCafferty’s book: “He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych. class, and I instinctively sunk back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go.”

On page 175 of Viswanathan’s book: “He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me.”

Here's another:

McCafferty’s novel, page 23: “Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope’s house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other’s existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking.”

Viswanathan’s novel, page 49: “Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other’s existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it.”

There are more examples in the article. Dan Brown was sued for much less.

My first reaction to reading this was to wonder what the hell Viswanathan was thinking. How do these people think they can get away with this kind of thing in today's world? But upon further reflection, I realized she did get away with it. She's got a bestselling book and a multi-book contract. She's already sold the movie rights to this novel, and now she's getting tons more publicity. There's a moral in here somewhere, but I'm damned if I know what it is.



I wonder what book she'll steal next?

Oh, how was your vacay?

Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but it's also possible that she hired someone to ghost write the book, and then _they_ cribbed from the previous work.

Also, that advance and contract won't mean much if the publisher decides to sue her.

Wouldn't it be funny if the book turned out to be ghostwritten by...Megan McCafferty?

I remember reading of a strange case about 10 years ago involving a guy who cranked out about a jillion of these so-called "adult westerns" under several different synonyms. Turns out that eventually he began borrowing rather liberally from his previous works, sometimes lifting entire passages. There was this whole argument about whether it was legal to plagiarize oneself. I can't remember how it turned out.


are you kidding? the whole f..ing genre is one long daisy-chain, puhleeese, who gives a hoot? This is some third-rate shitter material anyway.

Oh god she is gonna be rich.

The moral is that Bush and his criminal conspirators have now taught American that crime DOES pay, and if you know the right people, the government will help you commit them!

Look at the Corporate War Bush has gotten away with, diverting billions into Halliburton and Exxon coffers who will now finance the next "Republican Revolution" with their ill-gotten gains.

Too bad this won't work when everybody starts doing it. If you haven't started, you are behind the curve. I went out of business and now do the very same business, only without paying taxes.

It's called lying, cheating, and stealing. It's called Bush America.

As someone who often reads books multiple times, I'm a bit less inclined to jump to the conclusion that this was deliberate -- or a crime.

I've written some fiction myself, and I often wonder if some of what I write is coming from other things I've read. We do internalize books that mean something to us. And I don't know about anyone else, but I also tend to internalize modes of speech that other people have. My speech is littered with idiosyncracies that I've picked up from people I've known. Does that mean I'm copying or plagiarizing them?

This is a young writer, who is probably less vigilant about recognizing this sort of "pickup", especially in her own writing. This is what a good editor is supposed to be for. Given that this is fiction of a specific genre, her editor should have picked up on this.

Does this mean that if I write a chick-lit book (may I never be so desperate!) and "internalize" the "Opal" book in which I use many of the same "Sloppy Firsts" phrases as in "Opal", I can be sued by both Little Brown and Random House or that I will only receive a $250,000 advance?
Then, if someone internalizes my phrases which inadvertently copy the previous works they become Public Domain?
Literature, go figure....

What's the big deal? She looks hot to me. So what if she copied a little?

What do you guys think this is all about? A Deleware senatorial campaign or something?

she didnt get a way with it, her publishers called back all the revisions for the novel and the cancelled their contract with her. And Dreamworks cancelled the movie

I think she is admirable for doing what she did in a way. I mean don't get me wrong she did steal other really famous peoples work, but she planned her method of cheating out really well. She got into one of the best schools and is currently now in Georgetown. She made lots of money and her life is set. I’m 100% sure Harvard accepted her because of this book deal. I also think the reason she picked a British publishing company is because it would be a while before it would come to the states.

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