Boy Bands, Girl Authors

At seventeen, I wanted to be a writer with every fiber of my being.

I carried hardcover journals everywhere, and filled volumes upon volumes with Great American Novels, essays destined for The New Yorker, ideas, biography in progress, etc.

They went in the trash years ago.

Absolute drivel – self-indulgent, naïve, derivative, melodramatic nonsense. An embarrassment to trees. Just thinking about it makes me cringe, as much from the diva attitude as the abuse of words.

That’s why I am having trouble wrapping my brain around How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, the initial chic lit offering of Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan.

Viswanathan, at 17, received a $500,000 advance from publisher Little, Brown and Company, who probably thought they were getting the next Paolini*. DreamWorks bought the film rights, probably for the same reason.

Before the bean counters and marketing reps finished congratulating themselves, The Harvard Crimson turned up evidence that Viswanathan had plagiarized Megan McCafferty’s two young adult (pre-chic lit?) novels, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings.

Viswanathan quickly went from “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” (insert hair flick) to “Oh, yeah, I read those years ago” (insert shrug) to “I loved those books! They were a primary influence in my life! In fact, I must have loved them so much that I internalized them and subconsciously used a bunch of passages from them nearly verbatim!” (insert bouncing and clapping).

I am entirely too cynical, because I can imagine being 17, and realizing that someone has given me $500,000 for my voice only I have nothing to say that could possibly be worth that kind of money. Actually, I’m not sure I do now, much less at 17, not that it would have stopped me from grabbing the money and contract.

I had hoped to be outraged by Viswanathan, infringer of copyrights, especially since it looks as if she will not only get away with it, but will make far more money than McCafferty.

I am far more affronted by the marketing department, who obviously went for the greatest marketing potential rather than kissing frogs until they found some substance. It is nice to see them exposed as the short-sighted corporate drones I always imagined them to be.

Authors are not like boy bands – you can’t put together a list of selling points and hit print.

* Nothing against Christopher Paolini – I used him as an example because he is a marketing dream. He was homeschooled, graduating from high school at 15, and went on to self-publish Eragon and hit the New York Times’ bestseller list by 19.

Several friends and I agree that although Eragon and Eldest are good considering his age and influences, he is definitely not setting the world on fire or introducing any new concepts or fresh approaches outside of marketability.


Anonymous said...

i thought that's where publishing was going with Paolini. a book isn't good if you have to measure it through special parameters.

snowballinhell said...

I keep hearing about the Opal Mehta controversy and have obliquely followed this thing with detached disdain. Hard to believe she hasn't had the bejesus sued out of her yet.

Paolini's works are definitely derivative, but entertainingly so. I'd say they're certainly no worse or more derivative than Terry Brooks' Sword of Shanarah series, to name just one.

Twinmama said...

Actually, they even have a name for's called "book packaging."


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