So I woke up late today, read my e-mail, and found out that my interview with Sarah Wendell has provoked some controversy which means it’s only a matter of time before somebody posts somewhere that I did it on purpose to improve page views. This is because the internet is full of conspiracy theorists, conclusion jumpers, and general all round shallow thinkers, none of whom are us. (That’s a joke. I have to say that here because I’m going to get flamed all over the internet about five minutes after I post this, so it’s good to point out the jokes to the humor-impaired. Yes, that’s mean. New here, are you?)
So here’s the gist of the storm: I did an interview with Sarah Wendell which I showed to her in its entirety and which she approved of before I posted. Neither of us saw anything wrong with it. We still don’t. Other people did which caused a kerfluffle.
Full disclosure: I’ve never heard of any of the people who kerfluffed, never been to their websites, never interacted with any of them to my knowledge, although I don’t think any of them are using their real names so I may have met them unwittingly.
The kerfluffle is over a perceived conflict of interest because Sarah is part of an author consulting firm with my daughter, Mollie Smith, and she also writes the Smart Bitches blog which reviews novels, although Sarah has not reviewed any of the authors on the Simple Progress client list. But she might some day, according to the kerfluffers, so there’s a conflict of interest which she’s been hiding from people. She’s been hiding it by putting her name on the Simple Progress website and by talking about it on my blog, so she’s remarkably bad at hiding things, but that’s not the point. The point is . . .
I’m not sure what the point is. Her name is on the site. She’s not reviewing her clients. She and Mollie aren’t promoting their business because it’s by referral only so there’s no point in promoting. Is there a potential conflict of interest? Yes. Is there an actual conflict of interest? No. Do a lot of people not know what conflict of interest is? Yes. Do I want to be part of this mess? No. Why. Because it just doesn’t matter.
I learned this lesson the hard way over the whole Cassie Edwards plagiarism mess during which I suggested that witch hunts were not the way to deal with legal issues and that possibly the people who were fox-trotting all over Edwards’s literary grave might be out of line in a general humanity sort of way. For that, there are still people who despise me. My favorite example didn’t even happen to me. Bob Mayer was at Thrillerfest several years ago while we were still collaborating. At the time we were fighting pretty much 24/7, so he’d had it with me anyway. Then the poor guy walks into a cocktail party, and some woman comes up to him and says something along the lines of “I think Jennifer Crusie is the scum of the earth because she loves plagiarism, so what are you going to do about it?” Bob said, “I don’t give a damn what she does.” To which said wingnut said, “Well, then, it’s your fault, too, and I’m never going to read you again either.” At which point he showed great restraint in not killing her with his little finger.
These people are everywhere, wrapped warm in their outrage and their sense of superiority which insulates them from any outside thought or reasoned discourse. A couple of years ago it was plagiarism. Today it’s conflict of interest. Tomorrow it’ll be something equally cut and dried from a legal point of view and equally distorted from the outrage-insulated point of view. This is the internet-mean-girls version of “SQUIRREL!” Yes, it’s annoying if you let yourself step in it, so it’s good to remember that most of this stuff is Meatballs Chant Territory: “It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just . . .”
Full disclosure: I own a copy of the Meatballs DVD just for the chant, but I do not receive any monetary compensation from the Canandian Film Development Corporation, Ivan Reitman, or Bill Murray.
Take plagiarism, the issue that started when I disagreed with Sarah and Candy Tan on their handling of the Cassie Edwards issue (yes, the irony is strong in this one). Here’s how the argument went from my point of view. I’m quite sure the Other Side sees it differently. They always do.
Me: I think you’re all over-reacting about the plagiarism thing.
Rest of the Internet: But it’s stealing.
Me: First of all, I don’t think she knew she was plagiarizing because the stuff she took she considered research. She didn’t steal stories, she lifted out the parts of her research sources that described aspects of her story, so in her mind she wasn’t plagiarizing. If she’d paraphrased, she’d have been just fine. She had the same grasp of fair use that most college undergraduates have. “Somebody explain plagiarism to her” posts and comments are appropriate. “Burn the witch!” posts are not.
Rest of the Internet: But it’s stealing.
Me: Second, to really get anywhere with a plagiarism claim in court, you have to show damages, and she didn’t hurt anybody. She’s not in competition with the guy who wrote the ferret book (unlike Janet Dailey who was in competition with Nora Roberts when she pulled big chunks of prose from Nora’s books). In fact, you can argue that the ferret guy should be grateful because he got a whole page in Newsweek to make fun of romance writing which is a higher profile than he’d ever had before.
Rest of the Internet: But it’s stealing.
Me: Last, it just doesn’t matter. Well, it matters to Cassie Edwards because it kneecapped her career, so good job, internet mob. Nothing else changed except that Bob got mugged by a wingnut at Thrillerfest. Oh, and the Jennifer-Crusie-Loves-Plagiarism meme is still alive and well in the hearts of many. Was it plagiarism? Yes. Could the industry use a refresher course in what plagiarism is? Yes. Does is matter? In the Dailey-Roberts case, yes. In the Edwards/Ferret case, no.
Rest of the Internet: But it’s stealing.
Me: Did you ever read Les Miserable? Because all theft is not created equal, and I’m getting a real Javert vibe from you guys.
Rest of the Internet: Wait’ll it happens to you, then you’ll sing a different song.
Me: It has happened to me. Somebody took the dock scene from Welcome to Temptation, changed Phin’s gender, and published it as a lesbian-erotica short story. My publisher quietly contacted the short story anthology publisher, that publisher was appalled and offered to pull all of the books, my publisher asked me what I wanted to do, and I said that since the publisher was a small press (and therefore poor) and since the anthology had many worthwhile authors in it, and since the publication of the anthology was doing me no monetary damage, to ask the publisher to give any royalties from the short story to a charity that the anthology was published in support of. Why didn’t I pursue this woman to the limits of the law? Because it just doesn’t matter. She didn’t hurt me. Nobody was harmed in the execution of the plagiarism. Yes, she’s scum because, unlike Cassie Edwards, she knew what she was doing, but karma will take care of her. She just doesn’t matter.
Rest of the Internet: You love plagiarism. BURN THE WITCH.
Me: Bite me.
Full disclosure: There’s a limit to how long I’ll stay on the high ground. It’s not my natural habitat.
So let’s move on to the conflict of interest kerfluffle. Sarah joined Mollie’s business in February of this year. They devise internet marketing strategies for authors. They are not looking for clients; in fact, they only take clients by referral, usually through the agents of the authors they work for. There’s no point in publicizing the business to the world at large because it’s not available to the world at large, but they’re not hiding it, either, which is why Sarah’s name is on the website and why I put the disclaimer in and Sarah had no problem with publishing the interview as it was. Sarah does not review her own clients’ books, and in fact, most of the client list on the site is Mollie’s not Sarah’s. So there is no conflict of interest. The potential is there, just as the potential is there for me to some day plagiarize Lani Diane Rich and Anne Stuart, just as the potential is there for me to some day lose the fifty extra pounds I’m carrying, just as the potential is there for me to some day have a hot fling in the Gulf of Mexico with Bruce Campbell, but at the moment, these are all just possibilities, so no conflict of interest. So it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t . . .
Full disclosure: I have never met Bruce Campbell and have certainly never had fantasies of having a fling in the Gulf of Mexico with him.
Full disclosure: Okay, okay, there might have been some fantasies BUT THOSE ARE NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
But shouldn’t we be morally outraged at any plagiarism, any potential conflict of interest? You know, that’s up to you and your god. If you want to spend your time, energy, and emotional intelligence haring after perceived injustice, you fit in well with much of the internet community where someone somewhere is always outraged over something. But since about 90% of these outrages always turn out to be the $16-dollar-Pentagon-muffins-that-weren’t-really-$16, I tend to save my energy for stuff that’s important. What’s important? My family. My friends. My dogs. My stories. My business contracts and obligations. My blog. Real injustice. Bad government (I’m lookin’ at you, Congress). Finances. Health. That kind of stuff. So somebody plagiarizing an obscure book on ferrets or failing to disclose that there’s no conflict of interest in her two jobs? Uh, no. Those are Meatball Chant Issues because nobody gets hurt, nobody loses money, nobody is damaged, at least not until the internet mobs pick up their pitchforks. Those people who yell, “But it’s the principle of thing,” walk away unscathed after they’ve savaged somebody who didn’t deserve it, having sucked the energy out of everyone around them, leaving wreckage in their paths. You know what really makes me mad? Internet mobs. I’d rant about them, but in the larger scheme of things, they just don’t matter.
And now somewhere somebody is saying, “Jenny Crusie doesn’t think plagiarism is important!” and “Jenny Crusie thinks that conflict of interest is okay!” I’d be outraged over that, but that, too, just doesn’t matter.
However, just to cover my bases:
Full disclosure: I am close personal friends with Anne Stuart, Lani Diane Rich, Patricia Gaffney, Cathy Maxwell, and several other authors who may or may not be annoyed that I didn’t mention their names here. I am lets-have-lunch-and-dish-inappropriately-because-I-trust-you-completely friends with Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Anne Krentz, Alisa Kwitney, Kristin Hannah, Toni Blake, Laura Resnick, Susan Holloway Scott, Dale Burg, Gail Parent, John Saul and Mike Sack, Bob Mayer, Susan Wiggs, Pam Regis, and several other authors who may or may not be annoyed that I didn’t mention their names here. I am represented by Writers’ House and the Jane Rotrosen Ageny, I write for Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press and have written for Shauna Summers, Malle Valik, Birgit Davis-Todd, Sherie Posesorskie, Gail Chasen, and several other editors who may or may not be annoyed that I didn’t mention their names here. My daughter runs an internet marketing firm that I have no association with beyond being a client and make no profit from. I am 5’8″, weigh 195 pounds, am 62 years old, have no church affiliation although I was raised a Lutheran, which I think explains a lot. I’m a Virgo with Scorpio rising and a Cancer moon. My mortgage is too large, I’m having trouble sleeping, and last night I looked up from my work to see a three-dachshund-and-a-poodle gang bang happening on my bed, although I did not take part aside from yelling, “HEY STOP THAT!” My favorite quote from literature is “All right then, I’ll go to hell,” my favorite site on the internet is Ravelry, and the song that makes me happiest is John Hiatt’s “What Love Can Do” although Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” runs a close second. I’m a moderate liberal Democrat who votes across party lines. I’m divorced, have no wisdom teeth, am a stage three cancer survivor, have an incurable blood disease, and really need to get my blood pressure down. I like Sharpies. Any views expressed in this post are those of the author and should not be attributed to anybody else. Anyone who disagrees with these views in a reasonable and adult fashion is welcome to comment here. Anybody who comes here to get off on his or her outrage can bite me.
I think that should cover it. And now, back to work.