How Teen Authors can get burned

Have you been following the news of the very painful Kaavya Viswanathan situation? Read the article at CNN or NY Times or many others places for all the details, but I’ll summarize.

Briefly, Kaavya was given an alleged half-million dollar advance (which is an astounding sum of money – I have never come close to an advance like that) and a contract to write a novel for book packager Alloy, for a book that would be published by Little Brown. So far, so good. Kaavya wrote the book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, the summer before she started at Harvard. It was published.

And then it was pointed out by the newspaper at Harvard, that at least 40 passages in the book (long passages) appear to be plagarized from the works of Megan McCafferty (Sloppy Firsts, Second Helping). Edited to add – read the Harvard Crimson article and decide for yourself.

Kaavya admitted that she copied the passages and the book is being pulled from shelves today. From a New York Times article, we get to hear from Megan’s publisher: “Steve Ross, Crown’s publisher, said that, “based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”… “Mr. Ross called it “nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.””

This all makes me so sad, I don’t know where to start.

First – Megan McCafferty. She had her words stolen. If I were her, I would be enraged, outraged, tooth-spitting furious. Instead, she has been very, very gracious. Here is her statement, as printed in today’s New York Times:

“”In the case of Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarizing of my novels ‘Sloppy Firsts’ and ‘Second Helpings,’ ” she said, “I wish to inform all of the parties involved that I am not seeking restitution in any form.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult, and I am most grateful to my readers for offering continual support, and for reminding me what Jessica Darling means to both them and to me. In my career, I am, first and foremost, a writer. So I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can, too.”

Wow. Megan McCafferty wins both the Classy Dame Award and the Grace Under Pressure Award of the Decade.

Second – Kaavya. I DO NOT condone what she did. Not at all. The kid got into Harvard – she knows what plagarism is. So I can’t cut her a lot of slack. But I cut her a little, because she was in over her head. An obscene amount of money changed hands and she did not know what to do.

Third – the American publishing industry. Here is the moral of the story, as I see it: If the age of an author becomes a central piece of the marketing campaign, you have a problem. Because the truth is that only one or two kids/generation have what it takes to write an entire novel that is of a quality to be published. It is very, very hard to write a novel well. That’s why so few people do it.

I love teen authors. I encourage them, support them, cheer them on from the sidelines. But the truth is that 99.99% of them will have to let their craft and souls mature about another decade before they get to the point where they can produce the kind of work that will be good enough to be published. This is not a bad thing. This is a truth of writing.

And think about it – if you can have it all when you are 17, then what do you have to look forward to?

What do you guys think about this?


Today was an excellent day. I spoke at Fairport HS in Fairport NY (where Philip Seymour Hoffman went to high school – LOVED him as the writer in State & Main) and Minerva, the 9th grade building. Everyone was mellow and sweet. I think maybe it is because this is the end of April and school is almost over.

Speaking of PSH, did anyone see Capote?

Now I am in my hotel room (gorgeous hotel on top of a high hill) eating take-out Chinese and catching up on email. Can’t complain about that. If I can get the email monster tamed by the time I head home on Saturday, I will be one happy camper.

Peyton, a teacher in SC wrote in with a great idea for using FEVER 1793 in the classroom: “I’ve had my students pair up and write scripts that could be read as a TV commercial. Their topic was to convince their viewing audience to adopt one or the other method for treating Yellow Fever. Their task was to be persuasive, and I’ve had everything from ambulance chasers to sweet little grandmas take the stage. I was struck by the variety of their responses, and perhaps other teachers might want to try this as well.”

I’ve been meeting a lot of kids who were named after places recently: Brooklyn, Paris, Dakota, Holland, Austin, etc.

Makes me wonder: what does that do to a person? What does that feel like?

Applicious MacWonderful


::rolls on floor with glee like a cat on a mountain of catnip::

I have one million gazillion emails to answer plus a lot of other stuff, but it is all possible now because I HAVE MY COMPUTER!!!

:: more rolling and gurgling with happiness::

A deep bow of gratitude and humble thanks to Bobby and the rest of the crew at the Apple Store at the Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse. They went above and beyond the call of duty to take care of me. Remember that old-fashioned thing called customer service? This is the last store in America where you can see it practiced every day.

(If anyone out there has been trying to email me, please be patient. This is going to take a while, plus the next three days are crammed with speaking stuff.)

And now I’m leaving again..


But this trip is shorter and closer to home. I’ll be speaking at the Fairport schools in Rochester Thursday and Friday.

Saturday should be a blast – I’ll be at the Rochester Teen Book Festival, along with LOTS of other YA authors. This one is definitely worth the drive, folks. And it won’t snow.

I might have huge news about the condition of my computer… stay tuned.

One more thing before I go:

Print this article out and bring it to English class. Discuss!!!