Friday, April 28, 2006

A Writer, Not Necessarily an Author

Kaavya Viswanathan is a writer, defined as ‘a person who is able to write and has written something,’ which is the general definition. Further defined, ‘writes books or stories or articles or the like, professionally for pay.’


KaavyaviswanathanF. Scott Fitzgerald, Ayn Rand, Stephen King and Anne Rice are authors, people who create an alternative reality that may or may not keep you up late at night, engrossed in imaginary worlds. The difference between a writer and an author is that a writer writes and an author originates.


All of them, whether using a Remington typewriter or Microsoft Word, are essentially creations of Johannes Gutenberg. Nearly 600 years ago, he invented movable type and the printing press.


He did not invent plagiarism, that came way before the invention of various ways to present someone else’s thoughts. Actually, it’s something we all do. Our lives are based on what we hear and read and intuit from others, whether it’s granny or dad, a teacher in school or the kid down the block. It’s called learning. Some call it life.


GutenbergpressBut there are rules that came as the result of Gutenberg and his marvel. It was at last possible to read words on one printed page and compare them with words written on another printed page and, as soon as dates began to be included in books and manuscripts, the writers of those musings and phrasings began to get very picky.


Shortly after we got movable type, movable lawyers were invented and the rest is history.


The Internet, as Al Gore would no doubt agree, allows us to search vast gazillions of printed words, musings and phrasings. The corner-cutters among us found that an inestimable source of content for the Monday homework assignment that’s been put off until late Sunday night. The trick was to take pretty good stuff and reduce it to pretty ordinary stuff, enabling A) not getting caught and, B) a grade that’s passable, but not too far from our norm.


Gutenberg would not approve, but then Gutenberg is long dead and doesn’t have to bust his ass to get into Harvard.


Recent embarrassments into the realm of plagiarized work notwithstanding, Viswanathan’s publisher, Little, Brown and Co., pulled her chick-lit book from the bookstores nationwide in a record seven days from the first whisper of impropriety.


KaavyabookThe whole stink dropped directly into Kaavya’s lap and it’s a big one (the stink, not the lap) because chick-lit  is big business. Her first ‘novel’ attracted a $500,000 advance (for two books), a ten-times-the-usual printing of 100,000 copies and a DreamWorks film deal. Quite incredibly, the whole brouhaha is supposed to have begun with a consultant Kaavya’s family hired to help her get into Harvard, who recommended another consultant, a book packager.


What book packagers have to do with getting into Harvard is less clear, but 17-year-old Kaavya was off and running.


Story line, plot direction and editing was by 17th Street Productions, since acquired by Alloy Online, Inc., who shares copyrights to the book with Viswanathan.  Alloy describes itself on its web site as  ‘a leading Internet destination for the 56 million teens in Generation Y.’ The acquisition promo names 17th Street Productions, ‘a leading developer and producer of media properties for teens.’


So, what we have is not an author caught out, but a writer caught filling in, as in the blanks.


Alloy grinds this stuff out for big bucks, but they need a writer they can publicize, someone attractive and with an immigrant-on-the-way-up story of their own to serve as their version of Cinderella. Who better than Kaavya? A literary marriage not only of convenience, but profit. No one will yet confess who got how much of the half mil advance, but I suspect Kaavya is off the hook for whatever part of it was hers.


Amazon.com 'reviews' reinforce the politics and profit: Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes and Good In Bed, says 'A funny, fast-paced, and utterly winning first novel . . . an irresistible read ' Kavita Daswani purrs, 'A treasure. Kaavya Viswanathan’s voice is fresh and funny, her protagonist instantly relatable'


A ‘reader from London’ who is obviously not on the payroll, writes, ‘Pathetic attempt at chick lit..., about a third of the novel is product placement for various make-up brands, designers and teen TV series, the rest is full of stereotype characters.’




MeganmccaffertyNo one in this incredibly manipulative crowd wants this to go to court. Court is unprofitable, although it occasionally makes for good marketing.


Megan McCafferty, author (writer?) of the two chick-lit novels from which Kaavya plagiarized, said

"I am not seeking restitution in any form. I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can too."

Spoken like a true capitalist. McCafferty, deeply and profitably sitting the saddle of her own brand of chick-lit, considers the matter ‘closed’ and is no doubt cranking out sequels as fast as her well-polished little fingers can fly.


The really cool finish to this recent example of the banality of writing pumped out for the semi-pornographic teen market consumption, is Kaavya’s professional hopes for her future. Writing? Not a chance, never was a goal. She expects to become an investment banker.


With her credentials, you can bet J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch will be busting her door down. If Kaavya Viswanathan  was a stock, listed on the exchange, even I would buy 100 shares.
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See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.