A creative writing undergraduate classmate released a debut novel last month through a well-known publisher. The novel's intitial sales and popular acclaim are remarkable. The novel was instantly optioned by a well-known film production company, which had first noticed the novel at a trade book fair earlier in the season. The novel is in production for a broadcast network television series airing spring 2014. Kudos all around.
The novel's language is a little stale, at times trite, outworn, and cliché, the voice dialects a little forced. Overall, though, the novel is reasonably well-crafted.
The idea, premises, and dramatic complication are artful, if more than a little reminiscent of a similar European intellectual property released a few years back, based on a prior European property that is itself a reimagination within a Western genre canon's conventions. The title of the more recent European property and the novel are identical. The television series has another name.
At first, I felt that the novel infringed on another's intellectual property milieu. The idea is identical, which ideas are not copyright protected, neither country-wide nor worldwide. Then I suspected this is a ploy by the marketplace to import a popular European property into the U.S. under a cover of the writer's purported originality. The trail backtracked through the canon, though, implies the novel is a continuance of a line of creative expression, as if the conversation has branched onto a new trail again. The main premise of the novel is a newly reinvented, yet an ancient one, new again to U.S. markets but a decade old in Europe.
I conclude the novel's writer may have either experienced the original properties and skirted a thin boundary line of intellectual property propriety, if not ethics, or the novel is a later polygenesis of the same creative reimagination origins and processes as the first appreciable departure from the canon. Probably both, with cautious legal guidance from the publisher.
Ideas are not protected. Way to go, at least one way to go creativity-wise. And the writer is riding high on a wave of acclaim, celebrity, and no little financial rewards.
quote:Originally posted by extrinsic: Way to go, at least one way to go creativity-wise. And the writer is riding high on a wave of acclaim, celebrity, and no little financial rewards.
I recently saw a revival of Theresa Rebeck's Broadway play *Seminar* here in Boston. In the play, four young writers each pony up $5000 for private seminar taught by Leonard, an acerbic, rockstar-like editor and lapsed novelist. Leonard sets the tone for the seminar by trashing audience surrogate Kate's manuscript after reading no further than the first semicolon of the first sentence.
Leonard has nothing but contempt for the students, and truth be told there really *is* something contemptible about them. They all crave a career as a writer, which in the milieu of *Seminar* means getting stories published in the New Yorker and being invited to participate on literary discussion panels. It's not about making art, it's about somebody else saying you are an artist.
Leonard despises all the student's work, even the works that he admires as instruments of crass self-promotion, up until he finally sees the novel Martin has been refusing to show anyone. But in an ironic twist, that cracking of his bitterly cynical facade may well be the product of morbid self-love. Leonard has been doing the very same thing as Martin, hiding the fact he's been working on a novel while posing as a dried-up has-been with nothing more to write. Leonard clearly seems himself in Martin, and foretells for Martin a future of galling disillusionment with critical success.
So there you have the Scylla and Charybdis of a literary life: histrionic personality disorder and narcissism.
The thing that makes neuroses neurotic is that they compel you to pursue something while stripping that thing of its power to satisfy. If your colleague is a conscious plagiarist, then it would be better for him if he were utterly venal in his pursuit of the trappings of success, than to actually care what people think.
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I don't think now that the writer acquaintance is a conscious plagiarist so much as reinventing and building upon a premise that came before. Idea plagiarism is a peculiar phenomenon, with supporters and detractors. But when an idea has room for creative reimagination expansion, is it plagiarism?
We didn't see eye to eye when we workshopped fiction together, mainly a creative difference regarding subversive functions; that is, the writer felt a direct approach to promoting controversial topics was more artful than an indirect approach and that lecturing about them was a function of prose. I felt a deeper meaning that is nonetheless accessible though implied was a more persuasive method. Most of the workshop agreed with the writer. The professor, however, supported both positions and later asked me into his office to discuss mine. He is one of three writers, all published, out of hundreds in my writing community, mostly unpublished, who has appreciated the importance of intangibles, like theme, motif, imagery, symbolism, and subtext.
Several qualities of the writer acquaintance's debut novel are it does have a direct and tangible meaning and an accessible, implied, intangible meaning, and the ever-elusive, most desirable quality of larger-than-life meaning and appeals. The writer didn't care what I thought about intangibles those several years ago, but did discover what I meant, albeit on the writer's own.