Why do I let myself be muzzled by the PC police?

Thoughts from a first-world-Topic discussion on my Facebook page

Sorry I selected an image of a white male to accompany this article. There was a black male with a tape across his mouth on the iStock photo page but for about 100 reasons you can probably guess, I did not feel comfortable posting that. There was a young woman with a muzzle, but I did not want to go there either. People might think I was trying to avoid facing my age, among other things. Various subjects had both muzzles and chains. Nope. So I ended up with a white male. The PC Police will be right with you.

Apologies for selecting an image of a white male to accompany this article. There was also a black male with a tape across his mouth on the iStock photo page, but for about 100 reasons you can probably guess, I did not feel comfortable choosing that one. There was a muzzled young woman, but I did not want to be accused of denying my age. Various subjects had both gags and chains. Nope. So I ended up with a white male.
The PC Police will be right with you.

This morning I posted a statement on my personal Facebook page on a subject about which I have been thinking for quite a while. Here it is:

How ironic is it that the barbarians among us feel more free than they ever have in my memory to say aloud and do the most despicable things imaginable, while the humanitarians are often discouraged from speaking at all, for fear of being judged politically incorrect?
One of my many intelligent and interesting Facebook friends replied:
People gotta learn to speak up and damn the consequences. There is a word for that. It is called courage. And we must encourage people to say what they feel, or do what they feel.
Injustices were never corrected by not speaking up.
Evil triumphs when good men remain silent.
The future lies not in the stars but in ourselves.
Thus it has always been.
And then I said,
I agree, but when it reaches a point when I am hesitant to support a group or position that I actually agree with, not because I fear the reaction from people who disagree with the position, but because I have been made to feel that I have no right to comment on an issue where my demographic has been part of creating the problem (e.g., aboriginal issues, Black Lives Matter), or that I have no right to comment because I am one of the entitled (Caucasian), it makes my brain go into a twist that I can’t untie. I post comments [on FB, about current issues], and then I take them down.
And when I don’t agree with a position of a disadvantaged group (e.g., certain Palestinian leaders), I don’t even think about saying anything.
The same friend replied:
Yes, you are right Mary. Those who disagree are marginalized by the marginalized. You are immediately dismissed and your voice becomes irrelevant in the discourse.
If you do not support the prevailing ethos you are treated like a bad person with bad ideas whose views should be ignored and eradicated.
Then another of my intelligent and interesting Facebook friends said:
[W.B.] Yeats made the same point and I paraphrase: “A time will come when the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Written in 1922. Could have been yesterday.
And I marvelled at how much more clearly and succinctly Yeats had said it than I had. The line is from the wonderful poem “The Second Coming,” which contains another of my favourite lines: “Things fall apart: The centre cannot hold.” That, too, seems painfully relevant today.
On a more positive note, watch for an upcoming article here on The Militant Writer entitled How I gave away 19,159 copies of the ebook version of Rita Just Wants to Be Thin, and finally started selling the book on a regular basis in the US, the UK and Canada five or so years after it was first published under another title, thereby restoring my self esteem and motivating myself to get back to work on my next book.” Or something to that effect.
As always, I welcome and encourage your thoughts on these or any other matters relating to writing and the militancy necessary to get it done.

“You Must Never Put Down Your Pen,” by John Degen

“You Must Never Put Down Your Pen,” by John Degen

John Degen, Executive Director, The Writers’ Union of Canada (Photo: Claudette Boekstael)

Note from Mary: I am a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, and have been for many years. I cannot recommend highly enough the value to writers as individuals and as a community of belonging to this organization. Some of the concrete benefits of membership are outlined here, but there are many less tangible ones as well – such as the sense of community a writer feels as a part of TWUC, and the interesting people she meets. If you are eligible, I encourage you to consider joining.

One of the interesting people I have come to know recently is John Degen, The Writers’ Union’s executive director. This past year, he shepherded my co-presenter Caroline Adderson and me across Canada on a series of writers’ workshops about publishing (soon to be available on video!).  Over our post-workshop dinners, we had some great conversations on writing-related subjects – the kinds of conversations that sustain writers (or at least they do me) when we retreat once more to our own garrets.

In addition to his work with the Union, John is a poet and a fiction writer. His deep convictions about the importance to the world of writers and their writing, and the need to ensure our ability to continue to do (and own) our work, inform everything he does. His column in the most recent (Winter, 2015) edition of Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, speaks to this conviction on many levels.

I read his essay twice, and then asked for (and received) John’s permission to reprint it here. I hope you find it as moving (and wonderfully written, and absolutely true) as I did.

You must never put down your pen

By John Degen

As a student, I worked for a prominent bookstore chain, and I was on duty during the early days of the Salman Rushdie fatwa. Corporate management at my employer had us remove all copies of The Satanic Verses from the shelves, wrap them in brown paper, and store them under the front counter. Our instructions were to “assess” anyone who came into the store looking for a copy of Rushdie’s book. If they looked “harmless,” we would sell them a wrapped copy. I didn’t know then how to differentiate a harmless book-buyer from a dangerous one, and I still don’t. I remember a lot of semi-embarrassed nodding and winking at the cash register. I also remember selling an awful lot of plain-brown copies of The Satanic Verses. All of a sudden, a relatively expensive book with not much more demand than any other was flying out of the store.

Halfway between work and my apartment there was a very small independent bookstore (remember the days when there might be two or more book retailers in a single neighbourhood?). The owner of that store was not one for looking retail horses in the mouth. His entire display window was dedicated to Rushdie’s book. I remember walking in and asking if he wasn’t nervous someone might throw a brick through the glass. He called that possibility “free advertising,” and laughed when I told him what was going on where I worked. I bought my own copy of The Satanic Verses from him.

I began writing this column on January 7, late in the afternoon, after a sickening day of reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, France. I have worked for and with small, underfunded political magazines for most of my professional life. I was, for a while, chair of the board at THIS magazine in Toronto. Many of my friends also work in this business. I believe I can picture exactly how informal, irreverent and alive that editorial meeting was just before masked gunmen broke through the door. Did they even have to break through? Do magazines lock their doors? When did that start happening?

The violence in Paris is an absurdity and an obscenity. People whose working tools are pens and keyboards suddenly confronted with Kalashnikov automatics? That anyone should be murdered over words and pictures is madness. I remain filled with nausea and anger. I’m also profoundly impatient to get back to my home office and write something.

On January 7, my Twitter feed contained sentiments and pronouncements with which I agreed, and many with which I didn’t. I assume the same is true for everyone reading these words, and I’m betting (maybe even hoping) our individual lists of what we do and don’t agree with might look quite different. I intentionally follow folks on social media whose opinions bother me, because I want diversity of thought all around me, all the time. I want to be challenged and annoyed. I think some of my best work comes from being annoyed.

Barely 24 hours after the attacks, many on social media were injecting nuance into their reflexive support for freedom of expression – removing “Je Suis Charlie” from their streams, and suggesting the puerile, clearly offensive cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo might not be a suitable hill to hold in the fight for free speech. Because I’ve been wandering the front lines of free speech my entire career, I value the existence of those arguments even as I strongly disagree with them.

Similarly, as someone who practices a private faith, I was distressed and even offended by a lot of the immediate anti-religion commentary that followed the attacks. The brilliant Salman Rushdie, whom I will defend to my last breath, called something I sincerely value “a mediaeval form of unreason” that “deserves our fearless disrespect.” These were hard words for me to read, but I’m so glad he said them. I’m so glad he was here to challenge and offend my own thinking. I cherish his fearless disrespect.

There’s a great deal published that I think is complete garbage. Had I paid better attention to it before January 7th, much of the work in Charlie Hebdo would likely have attracted my scorn and dismay. That doesn’t change my mind at all that those of us who deal in words and pictures are to be argued with or ignored, not violently attacked or censored.

By complete coincidence that same awful week in January, I was speaking with a respected colleague at Amazon.ca. You may recall the last issue of Write might have had a few less than complimentary things to say about the large online retailer. We were discussing the possibility of an Amazon response in Write (which I encourage), but we first took time to commiserate about Paris. My colleague became passionate on the phone and said to me, “You must never put down your pen.”

That goes for all of you as well.

© John Degen 2015. Originally published in Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada Reprinted with permission of the author.

Introducing the One-Book-Only Book Club: January 1 to 31, 2014

What better time to read a novel about a woman who is struggling to get thin than in January?

TWCD_cover_v2Join other readers and the author for a fun, easy, interesting, on-line book discussion from January 1 to 31, 2014 to read and talk about The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel – the story of 29-year-old Rita Sax Turner’s frustrating and funny but ultimately rewarding journey to rid herself of sixty unwanted pounds (or so. Maybe more. Maybe less).

Each week we’ll read 100 pages, and then we’ll talk about them together. There will be set questions and topics posted at the end of each week, but you can ask the author anything about her thoughts on the book, or talk among yourselves – about the book, families, marriages, walking in the park, your own food-related issues, anything. If you have ever used food for something besides sustenance – like to make you thinner, or fatter, or just plain warm and comfy – you’re going to love reading about Rita.

The Whole Clove Diet tells the story of a young woman caught in a frustrating marriage with two step-kids, a nagging mom, a whiny mother-in-law and no clear plan for her future… well, at least none that she wants to think about. Not long ago she was a slim young thing with her whole future ahead of her, but as her options decline, she is getting fatter and fatter (her words) – not from hunger, but from frustration and rage, and feelings of despair and sadness. Her husband thinks that her getting pregnant would be just the thing, but this idea only makes her feel more trapped. She goes on diet after diet, and guess what? They don’t work. It appears that reducing your calorie intake does not take any weight off your problems.

Rita’s redeeming features include her ability to hope (true of anyone who has ever gone on a diet!), her wits, and her sense of humour (black though it may sometimes be). When an injury gives her an excuse to escape the home-front action for a week, she starts to figure it all out – and to figure herself out. The novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will leave you cheering for Rita (and feeling even more hopeful for yourself, and for those around you who are battling with addictions of any kind).

Some of the issues we’ll be talking about:

  • Is overeating an addiction – just as bulimia and anorexia are now thought to be?
  • How does the western world treat people who are overweight differently than it does people of normal weight?
  • Do we invite any of this treatment ourselves, by how we act when we are above our ideal weights?
  • What is self-discipline? Can you acquire it, and if so, where?
  • What is the difference between deciding to make a life change and resolving to make one?
  • Do women and men approach food differently? How much does this have to do with our historic roles?
  • Does one diet work better than another?

We’ll also get down to the nitty gritty:

  • Why exactly is Rita sexually attracted to a doctor who has been verbally abusive to her?
  • What can Rita do about the fact that her husband’s first wife keeps getting more and more attractive in everyone’s memory the longer she is dead?
  • What IS the recipe for Nanaimo bars?

As we read, your feelings of despair and sympathy for Rita will alternate with a sense that you want to sit down and have a talk with her, or maybe just give her a good shake. But she’ll also make you laugh and cheer.

Find out what the author was thinking when she wrote the novel, and what her own experiences with weight issues (and other addictions) have been, in this perfectly timed opportunity to join a book club that is reading only one book, ever.

Whether you’ve already read The Whole Clove Diet or have been intending to read it – or have never even heard of it until this minute – join us. (Check out the reviews by other readers first, on Amazon or GoodReads, if you’re so inclined.) If you have ever wanted to lose (or gain) a pound or two, are planning to make a new year’s resolution (about anything – the same principles apply if you’re on a weight-loss program, cutting back on the booze or cigarettes, or training for a half marathon), or just love reading some good writing, snuggle up with this book – and with us – for a truly satisfying launch to the new year.

Note: The WCD One-Off Book Club will meet on the The Whole Clove Diet blog, but the discussion will be copied to Mary W. Walters’s Author Page on GoodReads. Regular updates will also appear on the Mary W. Walters, Writer Facebook page, and on Twitter (@MaryWWalters). If you are not an on-line-forum kind of person, you can have printouts of the discussions emailed to you on request, and you can submit questions by email each week that will be answered and/or discussed by the group. (mary at marywwalters dot com)

The Whole Clove Diet is available from amazon.com in both print and e-book versions, and as a Kobo e-book.

Writers and Violence: Our obligation to at least wonder if there’s anything we can do

I have written the first draft of the article describing the publishing panel at the LitFest in Anguilla last weekend, an event that seems somewhat seminal to me – situated as it was amid the mudslide of turmoil that surrounds the impact of electronic technology on our industry. So it is taking me a while to write that post. But today did not seem like the right day to be polishing sentences. After several days of relative isolation from the news online, and the shock of coming back to it, I felt I needed to stop and think about the bigger picture for a moment.

Today in Seattle, a gunman killed five people and himself. Here in Toronto, a young man shot another at a subway station after an altercation on the train. These are just two senseless incidents of violence out of thousands I could report from today’s headlines alone that have not only affected the hearts and minds of those immediately concerned, but aroused the horror of bystanders and online readers and viewers everywhere.

A few days ago, a drugged-up man in Miami ate the face off another man, and was shot to death by police on camera. A man in Montreal killed another man, chopped him up, put his torso in a suitcase and a few of his other body parts in packages and mailed them to innocent recipients: the murder scene is now open for public viewing. A couple in England has been charged with setting fire to their home and killing their six children. A young woman in Sudan is about to be stoned to death for adultery.

It makes me wonder if there is any justification at all for sitting around and writing stories. We should be doing something more constructive. Jackie Chan is starting to look like the only sane person in the news.

On the other hand, the eminent and distinguished speakers at the conference last weekend seemed to be fairly unanimous that it is the loss of story/heritage that leads to a lot of this insanity, drug abuse, and senseless violence. We must give people back their voices, and we must tell our stories. This new publishing era is certainly facilitating that.

But I think at the very least the endless endless horrific headlines should make us, as writers, think about our ethical responsibility to push away the chaos, instead of adding to it.

Along with talent, growing expertise at writing, the universal ability to publish whatever we want to say, and our increasingly fevered and competitive efforts to reach (i.e., capture) audiences, comes responsibility. That’s all I’m saying here.

* * * * *

June 6, 2012: Adding a link to PEN International, and one to Amnesty International. We can at least write letters.

How writers can stop plagiarism: individually, and as a powerful, united, “pen”-wielding group

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but copying is theft. And yet stealing the writing of others has become so commonplace that teachers and professors feel impotent to put a stop to it, and many writers seem resigned to the inevitability of being ripped off, scraped, plundered, robbed and screwed.

I am not resigned. I can only begin to imagine my outrage if someone ever attaches his or her name to a story, essay or article I have written and tries to pass it off as his or her own (which has happened to many other writers but not to me yet, as far as I know). It was aggravating enough to discover that a post from this blog – which I had spent hours and hours creating (or years, it could be argued, if you consider the experience that went into it) – had been altered enough to make it hard to trace and almost unintelligible, then posted as part of a money-making machine set up by some scuzzbucket with a website registered in Russia.

Thanks to the diligence and knowledge contained within my fellowship of on-line writers, with whom I communicate at last count on about ten different sites, I managed not only to figure out who was doing this to me (and hundreds and hundreds of other writers), but also why – and what I could to do to address the problem.

How I Discovered I’d Been Pillaged

About three weeks ago, I Googled “Militant Writer” to get the link to my blog (usually I just use the autofill function on the Google toolbar but I was on another computer). To my surprise, the results included not only my site and a few unrelated items, but also a couple of links to what turned out to be mangled versions of one of my blog posts — on someone else’s website.

It turned out that the site, entitled Publish A Book, is a compilation of hundreds of articles previously published in dozens of different on-line publications – some from blogs such as my own, but others from more established commercial outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. In each case every fourth or fifth word has been replaced with a synonym, most of them slightly “off,” so that the articles come out sounding as though they have been translated into a different language, and then translated back to English. One sentence in my article reproduced on the other site read, for example, “It looks unpreventable to me now that except they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or maybe bath salts to sponsor themselves, the major publishing homes are going down,“ while the original version was “It seems inevitable to me now that unless they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or bath salts to subsidize themselves, the major publishing houses are going down.”

Screen capture of an article on canyoupublishabook.info

In addition to all the other articles,  I noticed that there were lots of ad links on the website but I didn’t yet understand what that meant. I looked around the site – without success – for an email address to which I could send a complaint. On July 20, I put a notice up on my blog to tell my readers what I had discovered, and I also started threads about it on FaceBook, Twitter, Google +, authonomy, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA) discussion forum, a couple of LinkedIn writers’ forums I belong to, and The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) listserve. I also sent a letter to Access Copyright, which is the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – with which I am registered (you will notice a copyright notice on my on-line posts). I cc’d TWUC, my lawyer, and a few other people.

It was a few days before I heard back from Access Copyright, and the representative there explained that they could try to help me to get some payment for having had my work used by someone else. I said that what I wanted to do was to have my post removed from the other website, and they told me that they could not help with that.

In the meantime, my fellow writers on the forums had been working overtime. One person (thanks again, tvguy) found the email address I had been unable to locate on the website (by going to the Privacy Notice page and scrolling down, down, down) and he discovered that the same email address was also the contact address for a whole lot of other sites (there were about 80 at that point) which offered advice and guidance (and links to more ads) for people who had questions about lung cancer, loans for bad credit, migraine headaches, and a whole lot of other conditions and issues. Another writer helped me by tracking the websites and the email address to an internet host which included an actual name and functioning email address, albeit one located in Vladivostok (which didn’t sound like a place that was going to honour my copyright).

Another writer colleague explained the rationale for all those sites – and the dozens of others like them that are proliferating on the Internet. He explained that these larcenists set them up to attract hits by people using search engines to look for information on certain popular topics – in this case, self-publishing. When unsuspecting visitors to these sites click on one of the many links contained within them, the owner of the site gets a payment – from Google AdSense or similar advertising programs. They probably get only a few pennies when someone hits one link, but when you have 80 sites and hundreds of links, they start to add up.

In the meantime, I had been going through the perpetrator’s websites attempting to work backwards to identify others who were, like me, being victimized by the owner of these websites (if you are looking for a new way to procrastinate on the Net, there is meaty potential here. The articles become puzzles that you can solve by trying to guess what word was in the article originally before they replaced it with a less meaningful synonym, then Google the result and see what happens). I guess I was thinking of “class action” remedies to the problem – if enough of us who had been wronged complained together, perhaps we could get the sites taken down.

I found the originals of several articles – including a few from blogs and some by writers for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Toronto Star. I wrote to these latter writers, and ultimately to the papers themselves to tell them what was happening. (In response, I have had one “Thanks for the heads’ up” response from the WSJ, but that is all.)

What I Did

Despite really significant support from the writers on the aforementioned forums and this blog page (“Go get the slime, Mary,” was a typical response) and their excellent sleuthing skills (thank you, people), in light of the lack of interest exhibited by almost everyone I had written to directly, I lowered my expectations. I did have other things to do besides bringing down one scumbag. I decided I would settle for having my own blog post removed from his website, and alerting other people as to how I had done it.

On August 8, I sent the “Cease and Desist” letter I posted on the same day on my Militant Writer blog. I sent it to the email address that was posted on the “Privacy Policy” page of all those websites (which turned out to be a non-functional email address) and to the email address that was listed on the site where ownership of the website was listed (which seems to have been working). I sent a copy to Google AdSense (which required me to walk over to the FedEx office several blocks away and spend $12 to fax it, since Google and Google AdSense don’t have email contact addresses. Which makes me laugh). I sent copies to my lawyers in Canada and the USA, and to the papers to which I had previously written whose work had also been plagiarized.

Even though it was a big hassle to go and fax the letter to Google AdSense, I think that was the step that brought results. Google is based in a country that does have copyright laws, even if the plagiarist is not. (I have since heard that the perpetrator might not be just one person – that businesses to set up advertising-money-generating websites are popping up all over the Middle East and Asia, employing hundreds of workers at $1/hour to comb through articles in western newspapers, magazines, and blogs, alter them, and post them on these money-making websites. Others have suggested that the perpetrators use complex computer algorithms rather than slave labour.) It seems unlikely to me that Google is going to want to be seen as knowingly paying someone on the basis of stolen copyrighted text.

Whether it was the fax to Google AdSense or the email to the website owner, all of the articles I had pointed out had disappeared off the websites by the following morning (not only mine, but the examples I had provided from the NYT and the WSJ). The sites are still up, although there seem to be fewer associated with the fake email address grishina@addictiontreatmentinfo.net,  which leads me to believe only that there are probably now sites with a whole new fake email contact address on them. But it is time for me to get back to my own work.

What To Do If You Are Plagiarized

  1. Make screen captures (Command, Shift, 3 on a Mac) so that you have evidence of what has been posted and where it was copied from, with date stamps;
  2. Write a cease-and-desist letter (like the one I wrote) to the person who has done the plagiarizing. Use any contact addresses on the site to track down the legal owner of the site, or try http://who.is/

If you want to start strong – or with your followup email if the first one doesn’t work – send copies to:

  • the site’s web host if you can find it (e.g., if the name on the site is scuzzbucket at yahoo.com, send a copy to Yahoo);
  • any commercial interests that the plagiarist is working with via links or other promotional initiatives;
  • legal representation in the country where the commercial interests are based;
  • the media.

If that doesn’t work, then:

  1. If any of the stakeholders are based in the U.S., send the website a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. The act is explained on Wikipedia and this WordPress site gives excellent guidance on how to complete a notice: http://en.support.wordpress.com/content-theft-what-to-do/
  2. Advise the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN. Note: I didn’t get around to exploring their site so I’m not sure if they have any interest or power in this area)
  3. If you still don’t get results and you can afford it, sue the bastards. If you can’t afford it, try to gather a group of other writers together whose copyright is being infringed by the same website owner, and put your resources together or find a pro bono legal service to help you to sue the bastards

Attitude Attitude Attitude

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that we don’t just accept that plagiarism is the new reality. If anyone in the universe should be able to fight back eloquently and passionately against the theft of our writing, it is writers.

We can prove that the pen is mightier than the sword, and if we are fortunate (as I was) we can use our words to diffuse the problem before we have to start paying lawyers. Sending a copy to a lawyer is a good preliminary indication of your serious intent, however, as far as I’m concerned.

For many of us, our writing is our stock-in-trade. Most of us aren’t making very much money from doing it, but we invest a lot of time, thought and heart into what we write, and if our work is stolen and we don’t speak up, we are devaluing what we do.

We need to constantly remind our students and our readers that plagiarism is theft. We need to be familiar with, support and monitor the copyright legislation that affects us. We need to join copyright collectives like Access Copyright and post copyright notices on our work. (I am not a copyright lawyer, but I do know that you don’t need to pay to copyright everything you write in order to protect it. If you have evidence you wrote it — as I do here with my early drafts of this blog post on my computer — you are covered.)

We need to make a BIG, FOCUSED, ARTICULATE NOISE when someone rips us off, or steals the work of any of our fellow writers. We, both individually and as a group, hold the strongest weapon there is against the theft of our creative enterprise: our own eloquence. It is up to us to use it.

P.S. I welcome comments that include any additional information you may have on fighting copyright infringement. And stay tuned — I WILL be getting back to the important subject of self-publishing very soon, as I move closer to publishing The Whole Clove Diet.

Note: If you want information on how to detect plagiarism, or where to find plagiarism-detection apps, visit this blog post by Jennifer Murtoff. And tvguy, mentioned above, has found a way to warn off prospective plagiarists before they even start.

Dear Plagiarist/Vile Wretch/Scumbag

Update: On Tuesday, August 9, the stolen and mangled articles I linked to in this blog post were removed from the sites associated with the grishina email address. I suspect this had more to do with the copy of the letter I faxed to Google AdSense than to the letter I sent by email to the perpetrator (with copies to all and sundry). I will write a blog post soon about what I did — and what steps I would have taken if this step had not worked. For now I am just pleased to see that a letter does work (power to the pen!), and relieved that it was not necessary to hire a battery of lawyers to achieve my goal.


To: grishina@theaddictiontreatment.info *

Copy faxed to Google AdSense Violations.

Additional copies sent to: The New York Times, Toronto Star, my legal representatives in Canada and the U.S., Access Copyright, The Writers Union of Canada

Subject: You are stealing my work. Please stop immediately.

Dear Grishina:

You have posted at least two of my blog posts on two of your 50 or more websites. You have riddled my text with links to Google AdSense ads and other commercial entities. It is my understanding that when unsuspecting people come to your site for information for their problems or answers to their questions and click on one of those links, you get a payment.

I don’t imagine you get paid much for each click, Grishina, but whatever you do earn from these articles of mine is more than I have earned from them—and it took me days and days to create them: thinking, writing, revising, researching, selecting the exact right words and phrases to communicate what I wanted to say. All you did was set a computer to work, crawling the Internet for articles that might fit into one of your “topical” websites, copying the articles, replacing every fourth or fifth word with a happenstance synonym so that plagiarism search programs won’t find you, stripping off the name of the author, and then posting the resulting text as if it were owned by you on one of your many sites.

You have posted the articles you have stolen from me on at least two of your websites that purportedly offer information about writing and publishing. You have stolen additional material for those sites from dozens of other writers and bloggers as well.

But that’s just the beginning, isn’t it? You have also stolen the writing that you have posted on other of your sites to attract people who are looking for information about such subjects as:

You have stolen from magazines, newspapers, community group newsletters, online health sites, and hundreds and hundreds of other sources. Every single piece you stole was written by a writer – some of us professional, some not. None of us gets paid well when we create information that is directly useful to others, and most of us from whom you have stolen do not get paid at all.

You have chosen our articles to steal because of the key words in them that, when posted on your site, will help you rise to the top of search engines when people are looking for answers to their problems – some of them life-and-death problems – so that more people will click on the ads you have inserted into our work and earn you a few pennies.

“Plagiarist” and “thief” are only two of the words that apply to people like you.

I am attaching screen captures of just two pages of Google searches that I have found this morning with your return email address on them. How many clicks from all over the world have they provided you today? What you have stolen from me may add up to mere pennies in your pocket, but I’m sure the return on what you have stolen from all of us together is more significant. And even if you are earning no money from us, you have still plagiarized our work, and that is theft.

Here is one paragraph from a post on my Militant Writer blog that you have transformed for your use:  This is your version at http://canyoupublishabook.info/the-author-as-publisher-the-militant-writer/

It looks unpreventable to me now that except they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or maybe bath salts to sponsor themselves, the major publishing homes are going down. There’ll surely be a part for niche publishers in future (literary presses that concentrate on poetry or maybe esoteric fiction amongst them, teetering on the edge of ending as they constantly have, and non-fiction homes that focus on such restricted regions as the plants and creatures of Paraguay or maybe the struggles of Planet War II), however for almost all mainstream fiction and non-fiction book writers, autonomous publishing will shortly end up being the norm.

This is what I originally wrote, at https://maryww.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/how-much-more-do-you-really-earn-when-you-self-publish/

It seems inevitable to me now that unless they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or bath salts to subsidize themselves, the major publishing houses are going down. There will certainly be a role for niche publishers in future (literary presses that focus on poetry or esoteric fiction among them, teetering on the brink of expiration as they always have, and non-fiction houses that specialize in such limited areas as the flora and fauna of Paraguay or the battles of World War II), but for the majority of mainstream fiction and non-fiction book writers, independent publishing will soon become the norm.

Here is an example of an article you have stolen from The New York Times and posted, slightly changed, on your “Early Signs of Lung Cancer” site at http://earlysignsoflungcancer.info/costello-loses-battle-with-lung-cancer-thechronicleherald-ca/

Billy Costello, who ended up being an undefeated light welterweight champion in the mid-Nineteen Eighties regardless of not putting on boxing gloves till he was Nineteen, died June Twenty Nine in Kingston, N.Y. He was Fifty Five. The cause was lung cancer, said his woman, Dolores Costello.

The original, on http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/sports/billy-costello-who-won-light-welterweight-crown-dies-at-55.html?_r=1

Billy Costello, who overcame a troubled youth to become an undefeated light welterweight champion in the mid-1980s despite not putting on boxing gloves until he was 19, died Wednesday in Kingston, N.Y. He was 55. The cause was lung cancer, said his mother, Dolores Costello.

Here is one from The Toronto Star, republished on your “What Is High Blood Pressure” site at http://whatishighbloodpressure.info/reducing-salt-no-cure-all-new-study-suggests-toronto-star/

A recently published assessment implies there’s no indication that temperately cutting back on the quantity of sodium in the every day meal plan — not just salt from the shaker though also the stuff poured in processed meals — decreases the danger of developing heart ailment or perhaps dying before the time.

The regular study by British scientists working for the Cochrane Partnership, a non-profit organization that takes a second look at the indication after medical care, published in the American Journal of Blood Pressure on Wednesday concluded that lessening salt does result in a slight decrease in hypertension however had no effect on coronary disease.

Compare to the original at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1020928–reducing-salt-no-cure-all-new-study-suggests

A newly published analysis suggests there is no evidence that moderately cutting back on the amount of sodium in the daily diet — not just salt from the shaker but also the stuff poured into processed foods — reduces the risk of developing heart disease or dying before your time.

The systematic review by British researchers working for the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit organization that takes a second look at the evidence behind health care, published in the American Journal of Hypertension on Wednesday concluded that reducing salt does lead to a slight decrease in blood pressure but had no effect on cardiovascular disease.

Plagiarism is theft, Grishina. I have a copyright notice on my blogs, but even if I didn’t, you have stolen what I have done. I insist you take down my writing from your sites immediately and never steal anything of mine again. I have copied this letter to my legal representatives in Canada and the U.S.A., as well as to the Canada Copyright Licensing Agency and The Writers Union of Canada.
Thank you for your immediate compliance.

Mary W. Walters


Note: many thanks to my on-line friends on The Writers’ Union of Canada listserve, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards forum, the authonomy forum, and readers of this blog, who helped me figure out who was doing this and why after I found my mangled text on-line. Special thanks to ABNA super-sleuths tvguy who found the perpetrator’s email address and showed me how to find his ISP, and Simon N Schuster who led me to this link: http://rising.blackstar.com/how-to-send-a-dmca-takedown-notice.html.

* The email I sent to the email address that the plagiarist puts on his “Privacy Policy” page does not work, by the way. The emails are returned with a “permanent failure” notice. Quelle surprise.

My blog posts are being plagiarized —

Check out this site I found today with my material from a recent post on The Militant Writer, only marginally changed, reproduced without credit:


Compare it to my original post.


Hundreds of other articles by other people have been stolen — just click on the right margin.

They even have a warning privacy policy that they know who is reading “their” stuff.

I’m looking into this but if you know anything about what is happening here, please let me know.

More to come….

Why I am not opting out of the Google Settlement

by Mary W. Walters

Most of the reasons for opting out of the Google Settlement are based on highly respectable principles — Google did a bad thing, and it should be punished. Google says we’re “in” unless we say we’re “out,” and that is not fair. A big company should not have so much power over all the words one writer has strung together in new ways to make meaningful sentences, stories and articles.

Sorry kids. Individual writers are no more than mosquito bites to Google. I’m a realist. To me, here is a GREAT opportunity for promotion of my entire writing career. If someone can find one of my out-of-print (OOP) books on Google, which no one will ever find otherwise, and read a paragraph or a chapter of it, and like what they have seen, maybe they will take the link to my website and buy the SAME book as an eBook or print-on-demand (POD) book directly from me (ebooks are not covered by the Google Settlement, and according to Access Copyright as of TODAY, the opinion on whether an OOP book that is reissued as POD has not been answered, and may be exempt as well, since it will have a new ISBN. The worst that can happen is that it will no longer be considered “unavailable,” and will be excluded by Google), or maybe on-line readers will buy ANOTHER novel of mine that is IN print by then, published after Jan. 5, 2009 (the cutoff date for the agreement)–such as The Whole Clove Diet, or my newest novel.

I love this chance to join the digital community and access its promotional opportunities in a new way. We’re in the same boat as the musicians now — we cannot protect text individually. The digital world is too big. This settlement is actually helping us to protect our text — because now Google has a vested interest in protecting it. This is good for my career, and I am staying in.

In short, Google did a bad thing, and the settlement they have come up with to compensate writers as a result of the lawsuit that was launched against them is of benefit to me as a writer. It is not perfect, and there are “issues,” but there are issues with everything and the ones in this case are not enough to dissuade me.

I’m in.

(For more information on the Google Settlement, visit the Access Copyright website. The “Overview” is a worthwhile document to download and there is a link to the settlement itself.)

“Chick lit”? “Women’s lit”? Plain old “lit”? Someone! Please tell me the difference.

by Mary W. Walters

A few years ago, I was less confused than I am now about the distinction between “chick lit” and other fiction. Chick lit usually had a brightly coloured cover that featured a stylized young woman, handbag, stilettos, and a martini glass. The title was written in a light-hearted often cursive font. The word “shopping” figured largely in the jacket copy, and the main characters had much in common with the main characters of  Sex in the City in regard to their sizes, shapes, occupations and consuming (!) interests. They generally had (minor) weight issues, men issues and life issues which were written about in a light-hearted, gently self-mocking way. Bridget Jones’s Diary was an early contribution to the genre.

I must admit to not having read much chick lit (aka “chic lit”). I didn’t have too much trouble avoiding it: I was able to distinguish it from other books by the aforementioned covers, plot summaries, and tone. I avoided these novels partly because I am happiest reading really well written  prose and poetry (I am a literary snob, as many readers of my blog and fellow contributors to literary fora have disparagingly pointed out before) but that is not the entire reason: I am sure there is some wonderfully well written chick-lit out there. (In fact, I did read Bridget Jones’s Diary, and found it thoroughly engaging.) But the main reason I haven’t read much in the genre (or sub-genre) is because it concerns subjects I’m not much interested in – such as shopping, hanging out with girlfriends all day long, dating, and seeking true happiness with the right man.  Or woman, for that matter.

I’m just not much of a “girly girl.” Never have been. My female role models are people like Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, A.S. Byatt, k.d. lang, Renee Fleming. Brainy, independent women who happen to be beautiful. “Chicks” in a whole different sense. No bubble-gummers there. (Although Fonda had her moments.)

Women’s lit vs chick lit

“Women’s literature,” on the other hand, I have always read. Women’s fiction is quite different from chick lit, at least in my understanding of it. Women’s literature is generally  more serious than chick lit. It concerns bigger issues that are of concern to women – self-realization, domestic violence, philosophical inquiry, life and death.

I must admit I have often wondered why we feel the need to label women’s fiction. Is it to warn off certain men who might not like it? (Wouldn’t the jacket copy do an adequate job of that?) Or are we trying to get these books noticed by people who choose titles for study in university courses or reading groups?

It is true that men and women often have different interests and foci when they write, but the idea of pointing out that Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison or Alice Munro write women’s fiction makes as much sense to me as saying that John Updike, E.L Doctorow, Salman Rushdie and Joseph O’Neill write “men’s fiction.” We do not label the men that way. Why not? Does Cormac McCarthy write men’s fiction? Yes. Because he is a man.  So what?

Why not just call it all “literature”?

My efforts to figure out the difference between women’s literature and literature in general are further confused when I consider books like the wonderful Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Is that book women’s fiction because it was written by a woman? The main character is a man who is talking to his son about his life and his god. What is “women’s lit” about that? How about Amy Tan? She writes domestic dramas. So does Anne Tyler. What about Joyce Carol Oates? Does she write literature, or women’s lit?

Why it matters

The labels bother me because I think that labeling certain books as “women’s fiction” discourages certain other people from reading them—or gives them an excuse not to read them.  And for no good reason I can think of. (I have a friend whose husband was happily reading a P.D. James novel, and was talking about reading more by the same author. But he thought P.D. James was a man. His wife was going to hold back the truth for as long as she could because if he’d known the author was a woman, he’d have stopped reading immediately. He didn’t like books by women.)

The fact that there is also a “chick lit” category adds another dimension when it comes to discouraging readers. While some men may happily venture into books by “literary” writers who happen to be female—e.g.,  Margaret Atwood, Ann Patchett, Jeanette Winterson and so on—they are not likely to pick up a Candace Bushnell or a Sophie Kinsella. In fact, they are likely to turn their noses up at those books. For that matter, so are some female readers. (How come I get flak from female readers when I turn my nose up at chick lit, but guys just get an indulgent little shake of the head?)

What do I write? I may have no idea.

Do I write chick lit? Well, I didn’t think so. I am not interested in reading it, and have not read much of it, so how can I possibly write it? And yet within the past few months I have been told several times—and not only by readers and fellow writers, but also by two agents—that the reason I am having trouble placing my newest novel is because it is chick lit, and I am not marketing it properly. It is not “literature,” they tell me. It is not even “women’s literature” per se. It is “chick lit.”

An agent who read the first few chapters of my new novel responded to my statement, “This is not chick lit” by saying, firmly, “This IS chick lit.” As a result of this feedback from a person I respect, I have now started marketing my novel as chick lit. I have changed the title from The Whole Clove Diet to Finding Rita. I have revised the pitch to put the focus on Rita’s weight problems and her peculiarly dark lightheartedness about it and her sexual attraction to a mysterious doctor whom she meets by accident.

The book itself has not changed—it is still about a young woman who has buried her misery about some wrong choices she’s made so far in food, gaining 80 lbs in the process, and who must deal with some serious family crises and even the death of her father-in-law on her way to finding her way through it all–which she ultimately does. Her biggest problem is her isolation—she’s cut herself off from her friends. She can’t shop because she’s too fat. She doesn’t drink martinis, or work in publishing or advertising. Although her husband is the books editor of a newspaper.

Does that sound like chick lit to you? It does not to me.

So what has led these readers of the first few chapters of my new novel to insist that it is chick lit? Is it because the main character has a weight issue? If so, does that also make Wally Lamb’s fine novel She’s Come Undone chick lit?

The Questions

I need your help here, people—both male and female people. Not just for the sake of my novel and my writing, but because now I can’t stop thinking about this. I have heard in recent months that “chick lit” is going out of style. Is it gobbling up other kinds of women’s fiction in an effort to stay alive? Or is it going to take women’s fiction down the drain with it?

What does chick lit mean to you? Is every book that deals with women under the age of 40, who are looking for themselves, that includes some  humour, chick lit?

Does Tama Janowitz write chick lit? Fay Weldon? Laura Esquival?  Sue Grafton? Ruth Rendall?

Do these people all write women’s literature–as well? Instead?

Is everything written by a woman “women’s literature” or “women’s fiction”? Even if it’s detective fiction?

Do any women write plain old literature?

Do men ever write “women’s literature”?

And how can you tell?

The Google Book Settlement: Are you in or out?

by Mary W. Walters

Whether you live in the U.S.A. or not, if you published any book before January 5, 2009, you may be affected by the Google Settlement, which is a directive by the courts to Google to pay a very modest fee to writers/publishers for books that Google scanned from major U.S. libraries and intends to make available on-line. (This is a vast over-simplification. I hope that people who come to participate in this discussion will have apprised themselves of the relevant issues before making comments. I’ll probably need to revise this post several times before I get the wording right, but I want to get it posted. Here is the actual Google Book Settlement site.)

Writers and publishers owning copyright to these books have the option to ‘opt out’ of the settlement by September 4, 2009 — which means that they won’t receive the pittance of money that Google is paying to acknowledge its indebtedness to the people who created the original books that they have scanned. If you opt in, however, you give up your right to argue about the issue in the courts in future (in relation to the books in question).

I am not going to put down an explanation of the Google Settlement here. It is available in lots of places (you can Google it!!!) but as the writer of a few books that may be affected, I am waffling about whether to opt in or out. The opting in (which requires no action on our part. I know. I know!) has the advantage of making us and our book(s) part of a huge system of electronic data that is going to be available whether we’re part of it or not (being part of that, as opposed to not being part of that, appeals to me a lot) and leaving the door open for future payments by other users who get permission from Google (I know, I know!) to use our stuff. Opting out means retaining rights to intellectual property. Retaining intellectual property rights is a huge issue, and has always been very important to me, but while it’s a great principle, so far it is not producing much actual income in my case. I have reached a point where I see my earlier books as resources that will make people want to read my future books — over which I am not giving up control — and for that reason, I’m inclined to make my earlier books accessible.

This is very much related to what musicians and filmmakers are going through, but it is also totally different. We need to talk about it together. Please link to places where we can do that, or talk about it here.

If you are affected by this Settlement, tell us what you’ve decided. As writers, we have to think about this and make our own decisions — not be swayed by Google, the publishers, or our writers’ groups. We must be personally accountable to our own work.