April 24, 2006

Kaavya Viswanathan: Too Good To Be True?

Eeeeouch! Last April I mentioned the story of a very lucky girl who got into Harvard just about the time she got a very lucrative two book deal. At the time, I was a bit scared for her -- only 17, and already -- wow. I spoke at my undergrad alma mater about this 17-year-old girl who had gotten a $500K book deal based on a couple of chapters she'd written and told them that no, they'd have to work a bit harder, this kind of stuff never happens. It seems I may have been more right than I knew...

Like many other writers, I was a bit green with envy over this young woman's succeess -- but now I'm a bit nervous for Kaavya Viswanathan, now 19. Recent allegations claim that entire phrases from her book
How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, are taken from Megan F. McCafferty 2001 novel "Sloppy Firsts" and the 2003 sequel "Second Helpings." There is, in fact, a full 14 word paragraph that is all McCafferty with only the names changed.

My stomach just
knots as I read the comments from the Harvard newspaper, where Viswanathan is a student. Much has been made of this obviously bright girl, but it does seem that her fairy-tale beginning was just too good to be true, and that sharp readers are already joining the fray to make sure and pick out every single incidence where she could have taken her pieces of work from somewhere else.

Viswanathan is the youngest author signed by Little, Brown in decades, and the movie rights for the novel have already been sold to DreamWorks.

Ouch.

4 comments:

TadMack said...

It seems now that she has stopped saying that she doesn't know what anyone is talking about; Kaavya Viswanathan has now made a statement admitting to borrowing inadvertently from another source. This brings up the real question about reading while we're writing -- should we be reading YA work while writing it? Does anyone else feel like they have so absorbed the work of others that it could easily spill into their own work? I've never really experienced this, except I noticed someone using names of my characters in one of their pieces -and one of the names was quite unusual. I asked the writer about it, and they changed the names. It does happen, but...

a. fortis said...

<sarcasm>I get it! All I have to do to get my six-figure book deal is copy someone else. Apparently I've been going about this all wrong. Forget spending months or years honing a manuscript so it sounds as much like MY writing voice as possible.</sarcasm>

TadMack said...

Heh. Well, here is the end of the affair... I really do think that several factors came into play on this one -- one, that the girl was Indian, and two, that she was young and cute. I think Little, Brown thought: "chick-lit + ethnicity = MONEY FOR US!" and took a chance, giving her writing coaches and packagers to make this work. American Idol trumps American literature yet again, as someone on my SCBWI list-serv said. It's really disheartening!

TadMack said...

This story has big reverberations, and has really brought out a lot of discussion from the writing world. Most people know that J.K. Rowling has been sued, but others don't know that Jane Yolen has even felt that borrowing pinch. There must be some sort of collective unconsciousness in storytelling - after all, there are maybe about five real plots out there... It's just too bad that this chick had to take a plot, dialogue AND storyline and try to play them off as her own. The movie is scrapped, the book is now pulled, and Little, Brown has announced NO PLANS for any revision. I think they're coming down harder after the Oprah/Frey thing -- people aren't too keen on forgiveness at the moment.