08 January 2009

Thou shalt not steal.
 - God, according to the King James Bible

Man. Just when I think I've heard it all, I hear something new that just leaves me scratching my head, wondering how we ever got into this mess in the first place.

This one's a beauty, though.

According to a January 6th article by Motoko Rich that I read in the NY Times, Neale Donald Walsch, who wrote the wildly popular "Conversations with God" series, has been revealed to be a plagiarist.

That's not the head-shaking part, though. Hardly a week goes by now that we don't get wind of yet another publishing scandal, whether it be a faux memoir, copied articles, or even wholesale lifting of entire books,plots, characters, and all.

No, friends, what made my eyes widen in wonder is what Mr. Walsch did when he was confronted with incontrovertible proof that he did not in fact write the essay, published on Belief.net, to which he laid claim. Mr. Walsch hauled out the Kaavya Viswanathan Defense, insisting that he was surprised, no, in his own words, "chagrined and astonished" that his mind "could play such a trick on me." According to Rich's article in the Times, after apologizing to both the publisher and his readers, he went on to expand on his theory of the trick his mind played upon him.

"All I can say now--because I am truly mystified and taken aback by this--is that someone must have sent it to me over the Internet ten years or so ago," Mr. Walsch wrote. "Finding it utterly charming and its message indelible, I must have clipped and pasted it into my file of 'stories to tell that have a message I want to share.' I have told this story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized...and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience."


Spare me this disingenuous response. It's one thing for a 19-year-old student who thought she was going to wriggle out of trouble with her "I loved the book so much, I must have memorized it, and then forgotten I did" interview, but it's another matter entirely for a 50-something man, a professional writer whose books have been topping the New York Times Bestseller lists for years, to offer up such a lame excuse for his dishonesty. And why should anyone want to excuse him? The real writer of that essay, Candy Chand, doesn't--in the article, she makes several very good, valid points about why what Walsch did was bad. Bad for him, bad for her, bad for the publisher, and bad for the readers.

I completely understand how it's possible to find yourself so overloaded with bits and snippets of writing, that you might find yourself hard-pressed to remember their origins. What I don't understand, though, is why a writer of Walsch's reputation and stature in the writing world didn't have enough sense to at least label the essay when he filed it--no matter what the operating system, there are free utilities that allow you to annotate the file information. In this case, with a date and three simple words: by Candy Chand.

Is that really too much to ask of a professional?

Maybe, but it surely puts a new spin on how I'll view Mr. Walsch's writing in the future. Perhaps his next series could be titled, "Conversations With God: How I Don't Pay Attention to a Word He Says."

Excuse me. I want to go find Ms. Chand's essay, read it, and write her a fan letter.


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