Last week, I woke up to an email from a reader, the subject of which was every author's biggest fear:
someone has stolen your work
Now, I get messages occasionally from concerned readers who find similarities of my books in other books (I got another one just over the weekend), and I'm sure other authors get these messages, too, and we're grateful for them. We can't have eyes everywhere. We don't see everything. So we appreciate that people are looking out for us (that they love our work enough to want to protect it!). Luckily, the vast majority of the time it's simply a case of coincidence. It's a matter of inspiration, of similar thoughts and feelings. Coincidence does, in fact, exist, and it happens often. More than once another author and I have created similar scenes, had our characters exchange similar dialogue, and we've laughed about it. Great minds think alike and all that jazz. And if I've ever inspired another writer, if my work has ever in any way spawned an idea in somebody else that turned into a book, that's AMAZING. I am absolutely honored, and you rock the fuck on with your badass writing self. I've read many books that have inspired me. None of my books would exist if Mario Puzo hadn't written The Godfather. I probably wouldn't have had the guts to ever publish something if it weren't for Twilight. I am a BIG champion of fan-fiction. I love fan-fiction, I support fan-fiction, and I've written fan-fiction. Creativity spawns creativity. Like Albert Einstein said, "creativity is contagious... pass it on." (don't quote me on that, because I haven't officially sourced it... but I'm sure he'd agree).
But that's not what this is about.
This isn't about being inspired.
This is about copying.
*back to the email I received*
So this reader of mine said she recently picked up a book, The Don: Sebastiano by Elle Raven & Aimie Jennison, and she was quite upset because as she was reading it, she was coming across passages that she KNEW she'd read a few times before... passages she was sure, without even having to crack my book open, that she'd read in Monster in His Eyes.
Here is one such passage (page 97, location 1517 of The Don):
It indeed rung a bell, so I fished out my handy dandy copy of Monster in His Eyes, and there is was:"There's no need to be afraid; I'm not going to hurt you."I kissed her then. Her lips were soft like velvet, a stark contrast to the roughness of mine. My kiss was gentle and I could hear her small, languid breaths against my lips which I eagerly inhaled, taking them all in. She was consuming me. I heard her let out a soft moan, and I barely caught it as I whispered, "Unless you want me to."
MONSTER IN HIS EYES (page 71, location 1149):"You don't have to be afraid," he says. "I'm not going to hurt you."He kisses me then. His lips are soft—so, so soft, like velvet, a stark contrast to the roughness of the rest of him. His kiss is gentle, little more than breaths against my lips that I eagerly inhale, taking him in. I let out a soft moan, hardly catching it as he whispers, "unless you want me to."
Okay, wow, that's super close. Maybe we just really think alike. Could be a coincidence, right?
THE DON (page 96, location 1496):"If you want me to stop, just tell me and I will," I reassured her."Should we..." Her voice was a strained whisper. "I mean, do I need to have a safe word just in case I don't like what you do? I've watched movies. I've read books and from what you've done to me already, I have no idea how kinky you'll get."I stopped mid-thrust, pulling back to look at her. I laughed, raised my scarred eyebrow and asked, "Is that right? Now what makes you think I'll give you reason to want to use a safe word?""I, uh... will I be needing one?"I considered what she said for a moment before shaking my head and pushing into her, a little harder this time, making her breath hitch."Not this time, baby," I said, fighting off a smile. "Relax, Sierra. Just relax and let me fuck you."MONSTER IN HIS EYES (page 74, location 1206):"If you want me to stop, just tell me," he says, "and I will.""Should we…" My voice is a strained whisper. "I mean, should I have a safe word or something?"I've watched movies, I've read books, and I'm not sure how kinky this man gets.He stalls mid-thrust, pulling back to look at me, his eyebrow curving. I can see the twinkle in his eyes, amusement, the monster intrigued by my question. "Do you want one?""I, uh… do I need one?"He seems to consider that for a moment, halfway inside of me, before shaking his head and pushing into me, a little harder this time, making my breath hitch."Not this time," he says, fighting off a smile. "Just relax, Karissa."
THE DON (page 127, location 1980):"Really, well, who are you then?"I took another step toward her. I was so close I could see the chocolate and hazel flecks in her eyes. I stared down at her, keeping my expression deathly serious."I am someone you should stay far away from."The minute I said those words to her, I felt her tremble and noticed gooseflesh all the way down her arms. I loved the effect I had over this woman. With only one word or look, I could make her tremble."I don't think I can. I don't think I want to stay away from you."Sierra responded by reaching out toward me, running her hand across my chest and brushing it against my thigh. I yearned to touch her back but I was too angry, so I snatched hold of her hand, stilling it on my leg, my grip strong."I'm telling you," I said, my voice strained. "I'm warning you. I'm not a good man, Sierra, and I never will be. So don't think you can fix me, or that I'll ever change, because I won't. I can't."MONSTER IN HIS EYES (page 81, location 1807):"Who are you then?"He takes another step forward, so close that I can see the blue in his eyes now. He stares down at me on the bed, his expression serious. "Someone you should stay far away from."Those words make me tremble. I believe it—he has a way of making someone believe whatever he says—but still, they don't stop the traitorous feelings inside of me. Maybe I should stay away from him, but I don't want to.I don't think I can.Instead of responding, I reach out toward him, running my hand along his thigh. The yearning to touch him still lingers in me. His reflex is startling fast as he snatches a hold of my hand, stilling it on his leg, his grip strong."I'm telling you," he says, his voice strained. "I'm warning you. I'm not a good man, Karissa, and I never will be. So don't think you can fix me, or that I'll ever change, because I won't. I can't. You have to know, if this goes any further, if you ask me to stay, I'm not going to be able to let you walk away."
THE DON (page 116, location 1819):Removing his hands from between my legs, he cupped my chin with his hand, tilting my face to his so I had no choice but to look him in the eyes. His thumb swept along my bottom lip, and I let out a shuddering breath as he leaned closer, tilting his head as if he was going to kiss me but pausing instead. His gaze burned through me, seeping down into my soul, seizing me like a prisoner.I am his willing captive.MONSTER IN HIS EYES (page 71, location 1144):He cups my chin with his hand, tilting my face so I have no choice but to look him in the eyes. His thumb sweeps along my bottom lip, and I let out a shuddering breath as he leans closer, tilting his head like he's going to kiss me, but he pauses there instead. His gaze burns through me, seeping down into my soul, seizing me like a prisoner.I'm a willing captive.
I could go on, but you get my drift.
Monster in His Eyes released in April 2014.
The other book? It came out in November 2014.
It was on sale for well over a year before the reader discovered these passages. A year, before anybody noticed. Without this reader, it might've been another year. Hell, it might've never been noticed. And that makes me sick to my stomach.
Not to be melodramatic, but I poured my heart into those words. It doesn't feel good, you know, having them ripped out and used. (Okay, sorry... that was totally melodramatic... but that's sort of how it feels). I could make some guesses as to how this happened. I could speculate all day, but I'm not going to. I contacted the authors of The Don about the situation last week, and one of them responded by promptly pulling the book from sale and saying they were going to speak to a lawyer. They've also pulled the sequel to it. Not going to speculate why. Just laying it all out.
I'm sure there are some people who will think I'm in the wrong for making this public. They'll think I should've kept it as a personal matter, that I should've dealt with it in private. They'll maybe even call me a bully for standing up for myself. But this isn't something that should be swept under the rug. This type of behavior, this 'patchwork plagiarism' shouldn't be tolerated. I see other authors dealing with this who keep it private, who make deals behind closed doors for 'restitution' and are then barred from speaking about it publicly, so nobody knows it ever happened. And that's their right. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I've sought legal counsel and I'm fully following her recommendations in this situation. But we've got enough problems in the book world, dealing with piracy. We shouldn't have to also deal with other authors--authors we do takeovers with, authors we sit near at book signings and interact with in author support groups--hijacking our words on top of it. We shouldn't have to sit down and shut up and take it, like we're in the wrong for calling it out.
I'm not saying anything bad about the authors in question. I don't know them. All I'm saying is that while most of the time similarities are coincidences, sometimes they're... not.
*end of talk about email*
When something inspires you, you pay homage to it. You acknowledge it. You appreciate it, and you create something that showcases that. It doesn't have to be directly, but in your soul, in your heart, you know. Something got inside of you, it touched you, and it came back out through your art. ALL of us do this. Every single person. Whether we're conscious of it or not, everything that's touched us somehow becomes a part of who we are, and we in turn pass it on to somebody else.
But taking passages someone else wrote and using them as your own is not 'being inspired'. It is not imitation. It is not the greatest form of flattery. It is stealing. It is plagiarizing. And it's not cool. At all. The book world is supposed to be a big family. We're all in this together. We share struggles. We celebrate each others victories. We should respect each other. And sometimes this book world is so beautiful that it makes my heart want to burst.
But sometimes, it's disheartening.