What the Blog Intends

“The intentions of a tool are what it does. A hammer intends to strike, a vise intends to hold fast, a lever intends to lift. They are what it is made for. But sometimes a tool may have other uses that you don’t know. Sometimes in doing what you intend, you also do what the knife intends, without knowing it.”

— Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

I’m reminded of this passage when I think of this blog, surprisingly enough. Havealittletalk, I’ve discovered, has its own intentions.

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When Stealing is Not a Crime, or My Rough Guide Ordeal Continued

If Paul Simpson had been my student, I know just what I would have done: taken out a great big fat red marker and covered his title page with a blazing O-F. Then, depending on if he were a middle school or high school student, or a college freshman or upperclassman, or a graduate student, I would have stopped there, failed him for the course, sent him to the dean or VP for Academic Affairs, filed an Academic Misconduct notice with Student Judicial Affairs, or whatever other route was appropriate. Our little talk would have been the first in a long line of unpleasantries for Paul.

But he’s not my student or anyone else’s. He is a professional writer and I have yet to find a direct route to the man. “Paul Simpson” is a fairly common name, and for all I know could be a pseudonym. He’s quite the Renaissance man; his other Rough Guides include titles on Cult Pop, Kids’ Movies, Westerns, Elvis, Muhammed Ali, and Superheroes.

Publishers are the ones who usually deal with this, anyway. First I started with Elements’ publisher and was unsurprised to find that Fell Press wouldn’t pursue it. It is tiny. Rough Guides is a division of Penguin, and in the US Penguin is a division of Pearson. In other words,  if you don’t have a stable of idle lawyers and very deep pockets, forget it. I thought I might fare better with Scholastic UK, but there were some other problems there. Scholastic UK published The Definitive Guide a few months after The Rough Guide to His Dark Materials. Although the passages Simpson weakly paraphrased from Elements are also in The Definitive Guide, Elements is the one Simpson used. Scholastic UK didn’t consider the case strong enough to pursue.

I consulted Jonathan Bailey, who runs a very informative site called plagiarismtoday.com.

Continue reading “When Stealing is Not a Crime, or My Rough Guide Ordeal Continued”

What do you mean? I rearranged the words…

 I would love to have a little talk with Paul Simpson, author of The Rough Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a title in the Rough Guides Reference Series, published in 2007 by Rough Guides, a division of Penguin in the UK and of Penguin Putnam in the US.  First I’d sit him down and we would visit How to Recognize Plagiarism, a service of the School of Education, Indiana University where we would look at its fine collection of examples of plagiarized passages, paying particular attention to what is and isn’t a paraphrase.

Then we would open my book, The Elements of His Dark Materials (Niles, IL: Fell, 2006), and the US edition of his and compare a few passages. I’d take three highlighters and mark exact copying in blue, near exact in green, and close substitutions in pink. Look how colorful the passages become! Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me to mark the similarities in sentence structure, but it will do.

Elements 255: Mrs Coulter reaches for Metatron’s hand as she leads him toward the abyss, but there is nothing for her to grasp, even though the angel seems to yearn for physical contact with a woman. Moments later,Metatron delivers skull crushing blows and experiences great pain when Coulter stabs her fingers into his eyes.

Rough Guide 54: When Mrs Coulter reaches for Metatron’s hand near the abyss, there is nothing to grasp. Yet the dusty regent is soon delivering a few skullcrushing blows and cries out in pain when Mrs. Coulter stabs his eyes with her fingers.

Continue reading “What do you mean? I rearranged the words…”

Rights and Wrongs: a little talk about publishers and authors

Publisher to Author: You do the work. We pay you nothing. You relinquish all rights to your work forevermore. Oh, and about that word “commissioned” in the Guidelines. It means nothing.


You’re thinking, she’s kidding, right?


You are wrong. Let me tell you a little story.


I am the author of a book about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. You’ll be hearing more about that later.


I was asked by a press, founded in 1887, which I will call – wait while I pull something out of the blue here, don’t want any litigation in my life —  “Closed Session” to write an essay for a book about His Dark Materials, a forthcoming volume in a series. By the way, there are 37 titles in this series.


The Guidelines sent by the editor included this statement: “4. This is a commissioned essay. Be prepared to revise your essay several times in cooperation with the volume editor and the series editor. Even the very best essays require some revision.”


Commissioned=money, right?


As the deadline approached I started fretting. If this is a “commissioned” work, does that mean it is a “work for hire.” Won’t that mean I’m selling my rights? And why haven’t I gotten a contract or agreement or something of that ilk? Shouldn’t that come before I’ve done the work and sent it off?


So I asked for clarification. The volume editor told me that there is no payment for the work (but I would get 10 copies of the book! If I had 9 kids, I might have some use for these.). And he included a clause from previous contracts to indicate what I could expect:


You hereby grant all right, title, and interest in the Work of every
kind, nature, and description to us, including, but not limited to (a)
the right to use, print, publish, license, exploit, sell or otherwise
dispose of the Work and any translation thereof in such form as we may
at any time see fit; (b) all subsidiary rights therein, such as internet
or intranet on-line network rights, electronic database, CD-ROM,
mechanical, or other electronic storage system (video or audio) rights,
including without limitation, e-book rights, and stage, radio,
television, and commercial exploitation rights, and the like; (c) all
publication rights therein, whether in book form or in magazines or
newspapers or electronic form, or otherwise; and (d) the right to secure
copyright in the Work in our or the Publisher*s own name and for us or
its own benefit in any country throughout the world and in any language
and to secure any renewal of copyrights.  Without limiting the
foregoing, you agree that we may transfer all grant of rights hereunder
to the Publisher.”


Reader, I bristled. Time to have a little talk…

Continue reading “Rights and Wrongs: a little talk about publishers and authors”