Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cassie Edwards and The Image of Romance

By now, if you are even remotely interested in romance novels, you've probably heard or read the whole mess historical romance author Cassie Edwards has made for herself. I first heard about it on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum, and then began following up. First, it was on Smart Bitches, where it's been continued in a series of posts. (I'm only linking to the first one because there are five separate posts on the subject.) The AP picked up the story, which means it ran in countless newspapers. And now I've seen in over on Dear Author as well. And if you have been following it, you know what's been said and just how many different works Ms Edwards has been accused of plagiarizing.

Now, the idea of taking someone else's work and claiming it as your own is abhorrent. It's one of the first things you learn when researching and writing papers in junior high. If you take someone else's words and/or passages from other written works, you cite the source to give credit. Otherwise, it's theft.

But again, this is not to debate the ins and outs of plagiarism, nor is it a debate over what constitutes fair use and expired copyrights and all that.

No, that's been discussed and debated in several venues and that's not what I wanted to write about.

I will openly and readily admit, I have never read a Cassie Edwards novel. I've read posts on the Smart Bitches shredding her novels, and the excerpts I've read have done nothing to make me want to go out and buy any. If it is proven that she did, in fact, plagiarize a number of her 100 novels, I sincerely hope she is never published again. Whether I like her writing or not is a personal choice. I don't like what I've read. But someone else out there does. A lot of someone elses do. The woman's published at least 100 historical romances. Quite an accomplishment. And it would be a shame if she is guilty (as so much evidence I've seen suggests) of plagiarizing.

And one of the things that bothers me almost as much is what she has done to the genre of romance novels.

Romance novels have forever been the bastard stepchildren of literature. They have been mocked, have been called formulaic, mindless drivel, trash read by lonely and bored housewives. They've been called bodice rippers, chick porn, and everything else imaginable. Often those of us who write romance have had to defend our genre, even when we aren't entirely comfortable with admitting that yes, we write romance.

What this has done is created yet more ammunition for those who feel it necessary to remind us that romance novels are not literature. That a trained monkey could probably write one. That they are fodder for those bored housewives who dream of being swept off their feet by a prince and carted from their dreary lives.

And that makes me angry.

For a long time, I didn't like to tell people I wrote romance. When I did, it was quite often to the response of, "Oh. You write that? Why don't you write real books?'

Um, excuse me. I do.

And now this has come along - this woman who apparently couldn't do the simple task of taking her research and making it her own. We all do research. We all take notes from other sources - books, magazines, old journals. The difference is, we take what we've noted and rewrite so that a)fits the story and b) is no longer the exact same (or nearly the same) thing as the passage from the journal or the encyclopedia.

In reading the passages that have been taken from other sources, it's plain to see that Ms Edwards didn't trouble herself. A lot of them were taken and replanted almost entirely word for word. Unforgivable.

Now, has she done damage to the genre as a whole? That I can't say. She might have, because it's one more thing for the genre elitists to add to their laundry list of why romance novels are one step above the dung heap. And I'm sorry, but that really ticks me off. Romance novels have been pigeonholed forever by critics who refuse to see that there is more than a damsel in distress and a hunky hero who's great in bed. They delve much deeper than that. They deal with issues and themes that are much darker and heavier than simply boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-into-bed. It's more than the perfect man and the perfect woman and the perfect sex.

I will wait and see what happens, will keep up with the story - as it appears to get worse and worse for Miss Edwards all the time. There is no excuse for lazy writing and theft of someone else's work. No excuse at all. At the least, Miss Edwards owes an apology. At the very least.

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