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    « E-Panel: November Literary Journal Editor | Main | Best of 2005? Already? »

    December 05, 2005

    Comments

    Dan Wickett

    David,

    I understood what you meant - that was meant as a joke.

    David Milofsky

    Thanks, Dan. And thanks for following up on this. I'd lost track of the thread and am glad to have the update. And, P.M., those of us who deal with plagiarism on a regular basis do see it pretty much as a yes or no issue. I make no personal judgement of Vice or his intentions; he may be a terrific person. But he made a serious mistake in representing another's work as his own in his book.

    John McNally

    I haven't read either Vice's story in question or Carmer's work, but if I were going to intentionally plagiarize a story, I wouldn't simply change the title from "Tuscaloosa Nights" to "Tuscaloosa Knights." Only an idiot would intentionally plagiarize in such a way, and I'm sure Vice isn't an idiot. That's not to say that he didn't abuse fair usage -- clearly, he did -- but I hate to see his career implode because of an error in judgment, even one as serious as this one.

    The problem I have with the Robert Clark Young story is that it's full of logical fallacies. In Part Two of his story, he writes, "One of the many problems with plagiarists is that their behavior, like that of other people who steal, often tends to be compulsive." (In this fallacy, someone states something that’s controversial as being true and then proceeds with the argument as though his assertion were indeed fact. What’s controversial here is Vice’s intent.) And so the fallacy in the above passage is the implication of Vice as a serial plagiarist before proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Vice's motives. Young then goes on to present one other example of plagiarism on Vice's part, and an example that I happen to think is extraordinarily thin: the screwworm passages. And yet Young would have you believe that Vice's compulsion to plagiarize is rampant. He writes, "Plagiarism tends to be a first-draft offense; it is now possible to trace Vice's plagiarism from its genesis in his original documents. The pattern sketches itself out—plagiarism in manuscript form, plagiarism in a dissertation, plagiarism in a story appearing in the small magazine Five Points, plagiarism in a story in the Atlantic Monthly, plagiarism in a story reprinted in the anthology New Stories from the South, plagiarism in at least two stories reprinted in a book that is awarded the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction." After reading this last sentence, a reader might be inclined to think Vice has plagiarized over and over and over, when, in fact, Young is still referring to the Carmer story and the story with the screwworm detail in it. In other words, Young is trying to make his case sound bigger and more dramatic than it really is. Too bad he doesn't know the number of photocopies Vice made of each story so he could throw those numbers in as well, as in, "No fewer than fifty times..." In fact, the tone of the entire piece is so histrionic ("You knew, Brad, you knew.") that it's hard not to think that Young has an agenda for bringing Vice down. But what I find appalling is how Mr. Young starts rounding up anyone who's ever been in contact with Vice, as if they, too, are somehow culpable by association. His final section on Sewanee is nothing more than an ad hominem attack that should raise red flags about Mr. Young's own credibility. He ends his essay with what he seems to think is a parallel story, as if Vice travels only in circles with other writers of dubious intent: "Vice and [author Tim] Parrish have something else in common. The University Press of Mississippi threatened to pulp Parrish's collection, Red Stick Men, when it was discovered that Parrish had used the names of real people in his short stories. The offended parties threatened to sue Parrish and the press. His publisher, unlike Vice's, gave Parrish a second chance, and he quickly saw the benefit of succumbing to the pressure. He agreed to save his book by changing the names in the paperback edition, and he managed to keep his teaching job." There's no evidence provided in this essay that Parrish was going to lose his job. And there's really no corollary between plagiarism and having to change character names in a book for legal reasons.

    Young's article is irresponsible at best, and I can't help wondering, why is all of this so important to him? I'm certainly not making excuses for what Vice did. And I'm not shooting the messenger. The problem is, sometimes the messenger comes in the form of, say, Dick Cheney, who will say something over and over and over in a public forum until what he's saying starts to sound something like the truth. If you read what bloggers who've read only the Young piece have to say, you'd think Brad Vice was evil incarnate. Young's article is full of speculation presented as fact, and spin – lots and lots of spin.

    P.M. Cormano

    The comparison of Young to Chambers wasn't a joke, it was an attempt (albeit an offhand one) to say, "Just because a guy is unpleasant doesn't mean his information is bad." Generally a good thing to keep in mind, but not applicable here. There's obviously a direct relationship between Young's unpleasantness and the quality of his information.

    And I'm not arguing that Vice didn't make a serious mistake in failing to acknowledge Carmer --- I think he did, absolutely. I'm arguing that, the moment Young entered the fray, this issue jumped from being a technical debate about what constitutes plagiarism to a morality play about intent to deceive, insiderism, outsiderism, and revenge. And while I think it's fine, David, to focus on the technical question --- and while I do appreciate both your experience in dealing with these kinds of cases and your voice of moderation --- I think it's a little bit sanctimonious to deny that these secondary aspects have become justifiably central to what people are talking about here.

    david milofsky

    Well, P.M. all I can say (sanctimonious or not) is tht they're distinctly secondary to me. I have no problem with Vice being well connected or networking or using his friends for recommendations. More power to him--and anyone else for that matter. If Barry Hannah's backing him, it's because Barry thinks he's a talented writer and this is how the system works. In my view Young is just being naive about all of that. None of this is big news to anyone with any sophistication or experience. But for Vice or anyone else to claim that it's all right to use someone else's work and represent as his own is simply insulting to our collective intelligence. That's why Georgia pulped the book and why they should have. If that's technical. sobeit. I will say that I hope Vice is dealt with gently, especially if he shows any sign of knowing he made a mistake.

    P.M. Cormano

    Fair enough.

    Richard

    Just one more comment, if anyone's out there. It bothers me a lot that UGA Press pulped the book. I hate to see books destoyed. Rachel above commented that the press doesn't have the funds to sustain a lawsuit, but as I mentioned on the storySouth blog, state actors (and the University of GA Press is "the state") are immune to lawsuits for copyright violation because of the Eleventh Amendment. That's pretty settled caselaw. So it was not a question of liability.

    I hope someone else will publish the book.

    jdb

    Did anyone hear how an anonymous link to the RCY character assasination was emailed to all of Brad Vice's collegues? And when someone replied to said email account claiming that RCY sounded like he had a beef with Brad more than just the accusations of plagiarism, the anonymous sender, in not-so gracious language accused the woman, who is a well repected writer and prize winner herself, of being a literature whore and of having carnal relations with Vice. Niether of which are true.
    I wonder who this ananoymous person could be?
    RCY is an imbalanced man who teaches writing online for the university of phoenix. He got his feelings hurt that Barry liked Brad and not him. So, he has a score to settle.

    Does this mean RCY dealt out bad info? He certainly wasn't within the bounds of full disclosure.

    Also, folks, where are the questions of the bigger issue--literary tradition? With folks copywriting plot lines to pulp thriller novels and not being challenged we who write are about to be put in a hard spot. Again, what of Shakespeare and Seneca--Chaucer and Boccaceli. There is nothing new under the sun,so the Heavy Book says.

    For those of you who haven't read Vice, you are in no place to take RCY's allegations that butt kissing has landed Brad in print seriously. And anyone who fails to read the stories in question as whole pieces, take the art at full value, really has no platform to judge from. The excerpts were tiny and aren't even important to the story lines as wholes.
    Also, why do we claim that Brad has stolen from Carmer when Carmer's work was NONFICTION. A chronicle of the south. Songs, people, sayings overheard and put to paper. No doubt The Stars fell on Alabama is a fine work, but it is not creative material. Carmer heard these things and put them to print. Brad wanted to use a real clan rally, with authentic speeches and actions. He did so, I feel, beautifully.

    Zoe Clarkson

    I used to be close friends with Robert Clark Young.
    I ended our friendship many years ago due to his serious mental problems and his need to get "even" with me for self-perceived offenses. He is one of the most unbalanced individuals I have ever met and I would wager his article has a lot to do with a personal vendetta against Brad Vice. By the way, Bob has been misrepresenting himself as having an MFA from UC Davis. He does not. He has an MA. Please check out this link: ww-ucdmag.ucdavis.edu/fall99/ClassNotes_80s.html Bob's virtue in the categories of misrepresentation of himself are not spotless, to say the least (this is just the tiny tip of a very big iceberg). There are a lot of folks who've had the misfortune to cross path with him over the years who'd be happy to attest to his absolute lust for vengefulness and the satisfaction he gets from it. I would wager Brad Vice has been on his radar screen for some time. Bob, like the elephant, never forgets.

    Zoe Clarkson

    Sorry, link was broken--look in class notes for 1988. If you google Robert Clark Young, you will see articles and online entries he has made, claiming he has an MFA.

    Rachel Solomon

    Well, Mr. Robert Clark Young may or may not have an MFA, but his novel ONE OF THE GUYS from HarperCollins is still in print, unlike Mr. Brad Vice's, which is floating in a landfill somewhere, and there has never been, as far as Google has revealed to me, any allegations of plagiarism, which is really what his article is about, so let's stick to the matter at hand, folks.

    David Milofsky

    I'm pretty sure you meant Boccaccio, JDB, and actually he and Chaucer were contemporaries. I've read Seneca and can't really see how Shakespeare stole anything, though retellings of the same story do occur in his oeuvre. But Rachel's right: Young may be an absolute scumbag, but that doesn't excuse Vice's plagiarism, defined generally as representing the words or ideas of someone else as your own. Doesn't matter if it's fiction, non-fiction or a cookbook.

    Dan Wickett

    I'd have to disagree with a bit of the recent postings:

    JDB - While I do agree that one should really read the entire works before making judgement, I disagree with the statement that "The excerpts were tiny and aren't even important to the story lines as wholes." At least when it comes to Tuscaloosa Knights - after all, Vice meant the story as an homage to Carmer and has stated he wanted his characters to see what Carmer did - the sections he has "borrowed heavily from" (to quote Brad) have quite a bit of stature within the story. I would agree, however, that the screw worms in Report from Junction were quite minor as to the storyline as a whole.

    I also have to disagree with Rachel's statement that "...allegations of plagiarism, which is really what his article is about." The article uses an example of plagiarism to attack cronyism in the literary world. Young spent more than half the words in his article blasting the Sewanee Writer's Conference and how the cronyism there helped, and allowed, (in his words) a plagiarist to continue moving forward. His response to Letters to the Editor from Richard Bausch and Sheri Joseph in a later edition of the paper notes this ("What I object to is the cronyism of review trading, blurb trading and the inside route to publication.", "In myopposition to cronyism, I rejoice in the ...", "Out of the small number of people who have either defended Vice or attacked me, the vast majority have connections to Sewanee, which demonstrates yet again that the conference is a center for an ugly straight of cronyism.").

    I must also add though, the disappointment in the delving into name calling - referring to Mr. Young as "an imbalanced man," and having "serious mental problems". I had just had an email conversation with another gentleman noting that things had remained very civil in a lengthy comments section about a seemingly divisive topic. If one finds faults with another's arguments or statements, have at it, but please refrain from making general statements about one another.

    Zoe Clarkson

    I apologize to the members of this board for not sticking to the topic and saying negative things about Robert Clark Young, however based in fact they really are. I did not wish to divert from the very important topic of whether Brad Vice plagiarized or not--I was attempting to add personal experiences to the concerns within this subject as to whether Bob may have had a run-in with Brad Vice and if Bob's attack in his article was based on a need for vengeance. I have had first-hand experiences of this directly from Robert Clark Young, but I'll leave the subject of Mr. Young himself to those of us who discuss among ourselves our own recollections of Bob and his ways. By the by, I am on the side of Brad Vice. It is a shame his book was so quickly pulped. There is something called due process in this country, even in small-press publishing!

    Zoe Clarkson

    By the way, having one's book still in print while Brad Vice's languishes in a landfill someplace still does not salve the concerns that Mr. Young may (or may not) have written his article because he ultimately "had a score to settle" with Brad Vice and the Sewanee Writers Conference. And yes, Bob does misrepresent to the public that he has the terminal degree of an MFA. To me, that is dishonest--maybe not as dishonest as plagiarism, but it's still misrepresentation. Follow the link (not broken, I hope) and page down for a bit to the letter Robert Clark Young wrote about his degree from UC Davis (the letter is quite far down and has the heading "MFAs "weed out the whiners" . . ) Research Mr. Young on the 1988 Class Notes from UCDavis and you will find he has no terminal degree. There are also Internet articles in which he claims to have an MFA. I am only posting this to show that Bob maybe doesn't have plagiarism that can be found by a Google search, but he does seem to disseminate false information about his academic degree. Granted, I am comparing class notes with other information, but it seems UC Davis did not award an MFA in creative writing at the time Mr. Young attended. I think one really does have to maintain at least a reasonable amount of personal integrity if one decides to blow the whistle publicly on folks about plagiarism or anything else. Thus the concerns coming out about Bob having a personal score to settle in this plagiarism scandal--stories of which are coming out elsewhere on the Internet from people who were at Sewanee with Robert Clark Young. That is my point for this post and I do not wish to steer it out of the direction of this important plagiarism topic--I just wanted to clarify something for a previous poster.

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