Archive for April, 2006

What Would Happen if an Alligator Fought a Chainsaw?

Posted on April 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Apparently the alligator would win…..

Which makes one think that, along with coyotes in the New York subways as a means of rodent control, alligators might be one solution for urban sprawl…..

More Thoughts on KV

Posted on April 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This from a smart piece by Ann Hulbert in Slate (which, almost as an afterthought, obliterates the notion that KV wrote How Opal Mehta…):

[After the bogus publication process] Viswanathan might almost be forgiven for having forgotten that originality was even the goal she was striving for. Not that she would think twice, either, when Little, Brown’s publisher touted the “freshness of the voice” in a special publicity letter about her book. ….It’s tempting to wonder whether Viswanathan, if she could find her own voice, might foist some of the blame for her borrowings onto her endlessly enabling elders. But that is, of course, the last thing a much-mentored superkid, intent on success, has been reared to do.

Also in Slate, Joshua Foer shows that KV can not have a photographic memory because, to put it bluntly, there is no such thing.

“If Viswanathan really wants to stick to her story,” Foer writes, “I know a few scientists who’d probably like to meet her.”

The Republicans Throw Money at Us

Posted on April 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Don’t you just love the GOP plan to give every taxpayer a $100 gas “rebate”? Having given the oil companies vastly expensive and totally unneeded tax breaks, the Republicans are now turning on a dime (as it were) and throwing money at the public.

This is a boneheaded idea in so many ways.

First, as policy it makes no sense. The federal government can’t just give money to people every time a commodity goes up in price. (So much for the free market!) The knowledge that the government will subsidize prices actually encourages producers to raise them. (Same thing with the asinine policy of giving tax breaks to people who buy hybrid cars.)

Second, it does nothing to address the causes of the problem.

Third, it’s fiscally irresponsible.

Fourth—and this may be most depressing—it sends a terrible message to the country. There is no talk from Republicans of why citizens should use less energy, cut back on gas-guzzling SUVs, take public transportation when possible, and realize that every citizen is a participant in energy policy. There is nothing having to do with shared sacrifice. No one is saying, “Use less gas”—just, “Here, here’s some spending money.” The Republicans want to make us like dogs sniffing around the dinner table, hoping that some scraps will get tossed in our direction. This is not the way to make our country stronger.

And, of course, all this essentially constitutes a bribe in the months before the midterm elections.

I wonder if it will work?

At Duke, It’s Getting Hot in Here

Posted on April 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Essence magazine reports that the alleged rape victim at Duke has cried rape before, a decade ago, when the 17- or 18-year-old claimed that she had been raped by several men, one of whom she knew. Police declined to pursue the case, according to relatives, “out of fear for her safety.” (Huh?) One likely reason: the alleged rape had allegedly occurred three years before.

Sports Illustrated gets the police report: According to the Creedmoor police report in August 1996, when the woman was 18, she told officers she was raped and beaten by three men “for a continual time” in 1993, when she was 14. She told police she was attacked at an “unspecified location” on a street in Creedmoor, a town 15 miles northeast of Durham.

The magazine also reports that the woman was hospitalized for about a week a year ago and treated for a “nervous breakdown.”

The family is also trying to get the young woman to meet with civil-rights attorney Willie Gary, recommended by Jesse Jackson, but she will not. (Check out Gary’s website—”Growing up in a poor migrant family, Gary beat the odds to become a multi-millionaire nationally renown [sic] attorney…. Gary keeps rising out of the shack he and his ten sisters and brothers shared.” Sheesh. This next to the picture of him and his two Rolls-Royces.)

(By the way, let me give a shout-out to the Harvard Crimson here—the Duke Chronicle, which doesn’t even have this story yet, makes me appreciate the job you guys do.)

Sports Illustrated also points out that the woman pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors in 2002.

What does all this mean? Got me. (Lawyers, would a judge allow this material to be entered into evidence?)

If I were a prosecutor, though, I wouldn’t be feeling too confident about putting this woman on the stand.

How Opal Mehta Got Recalled

Posted on April 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Little, Brown has decided to pull How Opal Mehta… from bookstores….apparently 45 passages of plagiarism was just too much. Now the publisher says it will allow Kaavya Viswanathan (KV from here on in) to revise the book, and they will re-release it.

Don’t bet the ranch on that.

Maybe it’s from reading these reviews on Amazon—where, as of this writing, Opal Mehta is ranked #29, which would likely make it a bestseller—or maybe it’s because I still feel that the truth hasn’t come out, but I have started to feel sorry for Kaavya Viswanathan. She must be going through hell.

It’s not that I let her off the hook. A photographic memory? Please. She had a photographic memory of 45 passages? It’s laughable. I don’t think she even read Megan McCafferty; that was the work of the good folks at Alloy Entertainment. (Remember, this is the young woman who claimed that her preferred reading was Henry James and P.G. Wodehouse.)

And as readers of this blog know, I have somewhat strong feelings about plagiarism.

But I do feel that KV got caught up in something many young people (and adults, for that matter) would have been seduced by: the publishing machine. Her fancy-pants college advisor sends her to a literary agency, which snaps her up. A wan sample of her work is circulated to publishers, who on the strength of—what? certainly not her writing, it’s entirely pedestrian—snap her up. (I’d be very curious to know if a photograph was included with the sample pages circulated to publishers.) When KV, at the beginning of her freshman year at Harvard, finds that writing is hard, she’s told not to worry about it, the “packagers” at Alloy Entertainment can help. And they do. Somehow, a manuscript is produced.

At every step of the way, an adult is telling her that this is business as usual, standard operating procedure. And when that happens, it’s easy to lose your moral compass. (If, to be sure, she ever had one.)

Yes, KV made mistakes. (And from Harvard’s point of view, this kind of episode really ought to prompt some campus soul-searching about why people go to Harvard, what they do to get in, and whether the university has lost its soul. To that effect, check out these thoughts from Crimson editors on the deep inner meaning of the scandal, particularly Lauren Schuker’s short essay.)

Yes, KV was a complicit pawn, but she was still a pawn. The ultimate responsibility here lies with the adults…who, of course, will not bear the brunt of the bad publicity.

Someday, I’d like to hear KV tell what really happened along the route to publication of this book. Wouldn’t it be nice if Michael Pietsch—who, the Crimson points out, is also a Harvard grad—stepped up to the plate and said, “It’s a common practice with young adult literature to enlist the help of ghostwriters, and in this case, one of those ghostwriters committed plagiarism. We apologize for violating the trust between a publisher and our readers.”

Never happen, but it would be nice.

Meantime, KV, as someone who has himself lived through literary scandal—we both got harassed by Katie Couric—I can tell you, this will pass. The best way to survive it is to prove everyone wrong, and write a good book next time. Along the way, you have to discover the real joys of writing, the satisfaction that comes from doing it the hard way—i.e., sans ghostwriters— and the growth that comes with knowing that you did it something extremely difficult by yourself.

I wish you luck.

At Duke, Stories of a Broomstick

Posted on April 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The father of the accuser in the Duke rape case is claiming that his daughter was sodomized with a broomstick, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Taking to the airwaves, the man told Rita Cosby of MSNBC that he hadn’t learned of the allegation until recently—”she told me afterwards because she didn’t want me to know that part.”

The Observer writes, In papers filed with the court, police who searched the Buchanan Boulevard house where the party occurred made no mention of seizing a broomstick. And a broomstick was not among the items that police said they wanted to seize when they applied for the search warrant.

Couple of thoughts.

This could be one explanation for the lack of DNA.

This could also be an excuse for the lack of DNA.

The father also said that his daughter is under immense pressure, which is surely true, and that she has considered dropping the case.

My cautious prediction? If the price is right, she will drop the case. I’m guessing that she pushes for an out-of-court cash settlement, and the players involved will agree to it because either a) they’re guilty or b) a trial would be hellish, and you never know what could happen.

Will the Real Plagiarist Please Stand Up?

Posted on April 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

There’s a rather astonishing fact in today’s Times piece on book packaging and Kaavya Viswanathan: both Viswanathan and the woman whose work was plagiarized from shared the same “editor.”

Here’s the Times:

….the same editor, Claudia Gabel, is thanked on the acknowledgments pages of both Ms. McCafferty’s books and Ms. Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.” Ms. Gabel had been an editorial assistant at Crown Publishing Group, then moved to Alloy, where she helped develop the idea for Ms. Viswanathan’s book. She has recently become an editor at Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, a sister imprint to Crown.

Ms. Gabel did not return calls for comment. But Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, the publishing company that owns Crown, said Ms. Gabel, who worked at Alloy from the spring of 2003 until last November, had left the company “before the editorial work was completed” on Ms. Viswanathan’s book.

“Claudia told us she did not touch a single line of Kaavya’s writing at any point in any drafts,” said Mr. Applebaum, who added that Ms. Gabel was one of several people who worked on the project in its conceptual stage.

Could Claudia Gabel be the woman who plagiarized material from one author to use in Viswanathan’s “book”?

That is an interesting quote from Stuart Applebaum—”did not touch a single line of Kaavya’s writing.” Careful readers will note that it does not say whether Ms. Gabel added any material to Viswanathan’s writing, which may have constituted ten pages, for all we know. Visnawathan herself says that her first contribution to the book was an autobiographical e-mail sent to the good people at Alloy, and they took it from there.

Here’s a hilarious mistake from the Times, by the way:

Ms. Viswanathan was, in some ways, an unusual Alloy author. She was not recruited by the packager, but rather, was introduced to it by William Morris, the agent.

Um…William Morris is not an agent; William Morris is a literary agency (which, by the way, happens to represent me) founded in 1898 by one—surprise—William Morris. It is rather astonishing that the reporters who cover publishing for the New York Times could make that boo-boo. (Well, on second thought, maybe it isn’t.)

One final thing: Readers of the Times piece may also note that everyone at Little, Brown is very careful to say that Alloy Entertainment couldn’t have been responsible for the act of plagiarism and that it was, boo-hoo, Kaavya Viswanathan.

Little, Brown, for one, was not blaming Alloy. “Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself, so any problems are entirely the result of her writing and not the result of the packager’s involvement in the book,” said Michael Pietsch, the publisher.

Read between the lines: The Little, Brown people are distancing themselves from Viswanathan…cutting her loose, because they care more about preserving their relationship with a book packager.

Note that quote too: “Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself….”

This is not the same as saying, “Kaavya wrote the book herself….”

In other words, Michael Pietsch is giving himself some wiggle room, because, frankly, Kaavya probably didn’t write the book. But now that Viswanathan has publicly claimed that she did, Pietsch, who probably knows the truth, can say that “our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book,” thus letting Alloy off the hook.

Later, if it comes out that Alloy wrote the book, Pietsch can come out with a statement like, “We were, sadly, led to believe by Kaavya Viswanathan that she had written the book by herself…”

The legal interests of Little, Brown and those of Kaavya Viswanathan—because that’s what this language is really about—are starting to separate. Viswanathan herself is quoted all over the place, in this article and elsewhere, and her quotes are not helping her case. If her publisher were still in her corner, you have to think they’d tell her to shut up already. My bet is, she’s out there on her own, exiled by the lawyers at Little, Brown.

This is getting ugly.

Lest We Forget…

Posted on April 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

…at Duke, there’s still a rape scandal going on, and the attorney for defendant Reade Seligmann wants the D.A. to release the accuser’s medical, criminal and educational records.

According to the Duke Chronicle, “The complaining witness has a history of criminal activity and behavior, which includes alcohol abuse, drug abuse and dishonesty, all conduct which indicate mental, emotional and/or physical problems, which affect her credibility as a witness,” defense attorney Kirk Osborn wrote in the motion.

Interesting. If true, that would both be intriguing (though not necessarily relevant) and, one presumes, an attempt to subvert the prosecution before this case comes to trial.

Meanwhile, D.A. Mike Nifong may reinstate misdemeanor charges against five of the lacrosse players for underage drinking and noise violations stemming from the infamous party.

He is tireless in his pursuit of justice, that man. Or, at least, someone he can convict of something.

Why Plagiarists Do It (Between the Sheets)

Posted on April 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

(That’s an old Lipton tea bag joke, by the way.)

Jack Shafer has a nice piece in Slate today on why plagiarists plagiarize. (I’m tempted to say “because they can.”)

Among the reasons Shafer lists: writing is hard work, ambition exceeds talent, and contempt for the business.

I’d guess that Kaavya Viswanathan matches those three descriptions, and I’d throw in one more: In over her head. A young woman who dreams of being an investment banker—what kind of 16-year-old dreams of becoming an investment banker?—is told that she writes really well and she should write a novel. “I had only vaguely thought of becoming a writer,” Viswanathan once admitted. But a book publisher throws money at her and says, We’ll hook you up with some people who can help you with this….

The young writer gets the idea—probably not without reason—that everybody in the business employs ghostwriters. And so she isn’t morally troubled by the fact that she’s out promoting a book largely written (I’m guessing) by unknown scribes who “produce” content for the Generation Y market. And there you have it—the perfect ingredients for a literary scandal.

Viswanathan should have known better. But the ultimate responsibility here lies with Little, Brown, which was committing just as great a fraud as James Frey and Nan Talese at Random House….

What’s the difference? Well, Frey and Talese were deceiving people who suffered from addiction. Viswanathan and her editor, Michael Pietsch, were pulling the wool over the eyes of teenagers.

Which is worse? Does it matter?

KV’s Ghostwriters

Posted on April 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

I’ve been waiting for someone to do a piece looking into 17th Street Productions, the ghostwriting agency that’s part of Alloy Entertainment, the marketing company behind Kaavya Viswanathan’s How Opal Mehta…..

Good for the Harvard Independent for doing it. (Where’s the Times on this seedy aspect of book publishing?*)

The Independent interviews Lizzie Skurnick, a former 17th Street editor and ghostwriter.

The impulse at a place like the 17th Street is to have a house voice,” Skurnick tells the Indy. “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.”

I wonder if the teen readers for whom these books are generated care whether or not the people who are claimed to have written them actually wrote them.

I know that when I was a kid, I would have been pretty broken up to learn that John D. Fitzgerald or Roald Dahl or Tolkien or E.B. White didn’t really write the books that carried their names….

P.S. A reader who has gotten to the paper earlier than I points out that the Times weighs in—oops—with a piece on exactly this subject on today’s front page. (Did I say oops?)

Here it is…..