lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Double Exposure

How Kaavya Viswanathan Internalised, Apologised and Got Yanked.

The image that comes to my mind is an emoticon. I have a picture of Ms McCafferty folding her arms in a huff and shaking her head in a snit. She will not accept the apology, she will not consider it great publicity for her own books at not extra cost, and she will not stop being miffed. In my mental picture she adds a childish "So there", and stamps her foot.

Popular literature, or what they are calling chick-lit, is by no stretch of imagination a breeding ground for a literary gem which will last long into the future centuries and be quoted and ahem, internalised as Billy the bard has been. We quote Shakespeare without realsiing that we are doing that, so deeply entrenched some of his lines have become in our collective vocabularies. Greek to me. That it should come to this. To thine ownself, be true. Brevity is the soul of wit. Off with his head. There are so many, they have become catchwords.

Chick lit aimed at teenagers is hardly going to be deathless prose. Ms Viswanathan internalised Ms McCafferty and she when she wrote her debut novel that became famous for the advance, she wrote some scenes almost word for word like Ms McCafferty. Hmm. The mind boggles.

Even if publicity claimed that she has been a great reader since age 3, much of what she read couldn't have been great literature. At her age Ms Viswanathan is bound to be influenced and swayed by most of what she reads. She is bound to write like her favourite writers. It is part of the process of finding one's own voice. It is part of evolving as a writer. Ms Viswanathan will be a courageous writer if she manages to write the second novel she has been paid for. It will be a formidable feat.

As someone who published poetry as a teenager myself, I know it is impossible not to be influenced by your favourite authors. But surely a writer strives to find a personal voice, his or her own style? It is perfectly permissible to write about daffodils, they are free, but if you lift lines from Wordsworth, you are a plagiarist, not a poet. Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but copying is theft. Unintentional plagiarism is an oxymoron, as Robert Zelnick says.

I am a great admirer of Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series, and we fans have internalised a lot of Pratchettisms. We talk of headology, we say going bursar or librarian-poo. But if we went about writing novels with Granny Weatherwax- like witches or a city like Ankh-Morpork we would be plagiarists. It is not a franchise universe, and Pratchett is the sole creator/owner of the Discworld.

What is exposed here is not just Ms Viswanathan's internalising the voice of another author, or being forced to apologise. The entire process of book packaging is exposed as a marketing racket. Like Silhouette romances, like Mills & Boon novels, popular books aimed at teenagers and the tweens are an assembly line product, apparently. Someone figures a plot, characters, and a story-line and passes it on to someone else to write. Then someone else edits it, and someone else decides how to market it. It makes the whole business of writing seem cheap and sordid.

If young authors weren't published with such hype and fanfare, they might grow and find their voices. Paolini should have been told to think about his opus, write it again a few years later. But he was published and what could have been a good trilogy turned into bilge. And lets not forget the French girl, Flavia Bujor.

To think that forests are dying in their hectares for fantasies like that and teen-lit and chick-lit.

And Ms McCafferty is not satisfied with the public uproar and the apology. Oh dear, oh dear.



Blogger Speech is Golden said...

First time here (linked in prav unplugged).

Good article - very well written. I have been following the fate of Kaavya's book. Looks like she may take a break from Harvard (or expelled???). Plagiarising or no, this is lots of publicity and I wouldn't be surprised if Kaavya's books (including her forthcoing ones) ride high on this wave.

Incidentally the ruling on Da Vinci Code has come around the same time - 'not guilty'. (Vaguely remember even JK Rowling was accused of lifting characters of another not-so-successful book)

What is the publishing industry upto anywayz, I wonder?

11:54 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Da Vinci Code acknowledged the source.

If she had to lift, Viswanathan could have found better books to lift from than a current and popular chick lit novel.

She is well prepared to become an investment banker, I must say; she has practice making money from other people's property. :D

12:37 pm  
Anonymous Badari Narayanan said...

Nice title

7:06 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Badari, the master of understatement. :D

Thanks, and keep visiting.

8:44 pm  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

I am sure you have read the latest development in the kaavya double exposure issue.


6:04 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

She doesn't know the difference between a term paper that is stitched together from various sources and an independent work, it is clear. It's a bit sad, actually.

7:23 am  
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11:53 pm  

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