Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What The Story Siren Can Teach The Story Siren About Plagiarism & the Blogging Hierarchy.

I’m sure you’re all sick of me going on about this but there are still questions that need to be answered, real apologies to be made and a serious discussion about the blogging hierarchy that needs to be had in the wake of this story.

For those of you who unaware of the events, Kristi Diehm, a.k.a. The Story Siren, was caught plagiarising content from other blogs. There is no ‘apparently’ about this, nor ‘accused’ or ‘possibly’ about what happened here. The facts are clear and the evidence is present in this post. I emphasise this because last night I saw a lot of people being deliberately obtuse with the facts in Diehm’s defence. IP loggings idenfity Diehm as a visitor to these blogs for long periods of time on the days where her own blog posts were made. That’s pretty damning evidence in my book.

Of course, twitter exploded, even more so after Sarah and Jane from Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author posted their entries which named Diehm, something the plagiarised bloggers never did. To anyone familiar with The Story Siren, it was evident straightaway from their post that Diehm was the plagiariser from her photograph. It took a while for Diehm to post her apology, which you can find here. The bolded part was not in the original entry. That was added after being e-mailed to and posted on Dear Author. I said it on twitter and I’ll say it again – I call bullshit on that apology, and here’s why.

The Story Siren is the biggest name in YA blogging. She’s had over 1.6million visitors to her site in her 5 years of blogging. Her In My Mailbox weekly feature is extremely popular and links book bloggers globally. She receives a large number of ARCs a week from publishers as well as author/editor/publisher exclusives. Regardless of what you think of the content of her site, she has a large number of followers and fans. If she is plagiarising content, in posts that have been known to receive a lot of web coverage, then what does that say to publishers and the YA industry about the rest of us? The past year that The Book Lantern has been blogging has seen some turbulent times for YA bloggers, many of which are documented on this site. Whether we like it or not, or deserve it, we’ve been saddled with a reputation. Diehm’s actions exacerbate that.

Of course, nobody wants to be the shining beacon role model of YA blogging, if such a thing exists, but for the biggest name in YA to be caught doing this, and for her to make such a non-apology in response that’s far more concerned with her publisher and author connections than her readers is very revealing to me. If you’ll notice Diehm’s ‘explanation and apology’ once again, you’ll see that she doesn’t explain herself, nor does she apologise. She also locked the comments, a move of sheer cowardice in my opinion. A passer-by coming to her site with no knowledge of what happened may look at this entry and have no idea what she’s talking about. The sheer about of double-speak in that ‘apology’ is dizzying. She continually asserts that she is not the sort of person who plagiarises, and yet she did. The evidence suggests she knowingly spent time on those fashion blogs looking at their entries and doing her own ones. She doesn’t ‘expect you to understand’, which reeks of pushing the blame around, something further emphasised by her still refusing to admit her wrongdoing. As she puts it,I was accused of doing something that I am vehemently against, and intentionally or not, I know that there will be consequences’. It wasn’t until later on that she even apologised to the bloggers who’s trust she has lost. She’s far more concerned with free stuff.

I have a serious question to ask those who continually defended Diehm’s actions last night. Actually, I have a few, one of which being, do you seriously think calling a plagiarist a plagiarist is in any way comparable to a lynch mob? Grow up. Diehm is a blogger who frequently rallied against blog plagiarism, and also admitted her own tearful heartbreak over having been plagiarised herself. I ask you this: Did you feel any sympathy for those who Diehm plagiarised? I saw no offers of hand holding and support for those women on twitter last night, only abuse. If this had been any other lesser known blogger, would you have been so kind? If Diehm had been an author (and she says she’s a wannabe writer on her twitter profile), would the level of professionalism expected be higher or lower than what you’re judging Diehm by? This is a blogger who knew exactly what she was doing. The IP address logs back that up. This is a blogger who should know better, one who wrote several pieces on blog plagiarism, one with a reputation that she has smashed to pieces. I saw many cries of bullying and ‘bitch’ from people defending Diehm against those calling her out. Here’s a brand new piece of information; it is not bullying to want Diehm to be held accountable for her actions. She plagiarised, and she knew it. She stole other bloggers’ work, passed it off as her own, and when caught by the bloggers to whom she caused a lot of upset and pain, she wanted them to keep it quiet, which speaks volumes about her guilt. Why are you defending her when the evidence proves her guilt? I have seen much smaller YA blogs receive much larger amounts of criticism and anger for doing exactly what Diehm did. What makes The Story Siren untouchable?

If I had done what she had done, I know for a fact that I’d be run out of blogging, and justifiably so. There is nothing lesser about blog plagiarism in comparison to what someone like Cassie Edwards or Cassandra Claire did, especially when Diehm is receiving a lot of publisher support and ARCs for her site. Yes, there are some people online taking it too far, but there is nothing bullying about demanding accountability on this issue. I’ve been bullied, both online and off, and what the Story Siren is receiving from the vast majority of the criticism being levelled at her is incomparable to that. She lost the trust of many of her readers and they are justifiably angry.

One does not treat the popular differently from the lesser known. Blogging’s not a democracy but there’s absolutely no reason why Diehm should receive such mollycoddling treatment while those she plagiarised get called bitches. The Be Nice culture shouldn’t apply here, not that it should ever really apply anywhere in YA. We shouldn’t change our standards for people who give away a lot of free stuff. You want to know why people are still mad at Cassandra Claire for her mass plagiarism in her fan-fiction writing days? Because she never apologised for her wrongdoings, and that paid off well for her because post-Draco Trilogy she retained a mass internet following who defended her every word even when the evidence presented showed otherwise. Diehm may have offered some form of apology, one which you are free to accept, although I don’t, but she refuses to take full responsibility for her actions, and the mass of defenders on her side shows she can get away with it. Only time will tell what the long term impact is of Diem’s plagiarism on her blog, but Diehm is a grown woman who should be treated as one, and we bloggers should strive to hold one another accountable because the last thing YA blogging needs is more controversy. The queen bees and wannabes live to blog another day, as do we. The Story Siren, her hypocrisy and that of her defenders make me embarrassed to be associated with her as a YA blogger.

EDIT: Diehm offers further clarification here, comments now open and being moderated by a third party, so I suggest you screen-cap any replies you leave. If she'd done this right off the bat then things would be much more different.

EDIT #2: So, defenders of Diehm. Do you condemn her going after an 11 year old blogger?

EDIT #3: If this is indeed an 'established author' making these comments, including trying to downplay the extent of Diehm's proven actions and turn the blame onto those demanding accountability, he or she is an idiot

Friday, April 6, 2012

Augustus Waters: Hero or Zero?

By: Meghan from Coffee and Wizards

(Warning: Minor spoilers for John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" might be present)

Heroism can take many forms, but only a few of them are recognized as such. The Fault in our Stars by John Green's August Waters wants to be the recognized kind of hero, but that's kind of difficult when you only have one leg and are only seventeen years old. What Augustus doesn't realize is that he is the other kind of hero: the unsung kind who shows us that everyone can be a hero.

Augustus Waters is the kind of guy who has his video game character jump on a grenade to give virtual children the possible chance to evacuate from their virtual school. He says he fears oblivion, as so many of us do, but what he really means is that he fears to be forgotten. He fears to live a life worth being forgotten.

Augustus's need to live a life that has an impact on the greater good is one of his biggest weaknesses. He is always looking for the big gesture. He can't just take Hazel out on a date; he needs to take her to Sweden and arrange a meet-up with her favourite, estranged author. As Isaac says, "that kid never took a piss without pondering the abundant metaphorical resonances of human waste production." Augustus can't take something at face value, and this is why he can't see his own simpler form of heroism.

Augustus Waters doesn't see how he changed Hazel's life, not because he spent his Wish taking her to Amsterdam, but just because he was there. Before Augustus, Hazel was stuck in a world of reruns and rereads. Augustus broke the cycle and taught Hazel how to live again. He saved her from herself.

Augustus Waters is blind to his affect on Isaac, also. (Too soon?) When Isaac loses his sight and girlfriend all at once, he is on a downward spiral. Augustus instinctively knows how to help: he lets Isaac smash his trophies. I'm sure the metaphoric resonance of this action was not lost on Augustus (even if the importance of it was). In a way, Augustus was jumping on the grenade of Isaac's pain, and the trophies are his body being blown apart. Later Augustus brings Isaac peace when he takes him to egg his ex-girlfriend's house. These actions don't seem heroic, but they save Isaac, and what is more heroic than saving a friend?

Augustus affects other characters lives without even realizing it. While he's searching for some great heroic moment to save himself from being forgotten, what he doesn't realize is that he's already a hero to people like Hazel and Isaac. The "okays" that Hazel and Augustus exchange are more than just a synonym for "I love you"; they're a message to the reader. It's okay to be okay, to be average, to be normal: you can still be a hero. You are still important. You can still make a difference. Don't wait for your "big moment." Just, as Patrick would say, live your best life today.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Is the Fault truly in Our Stars?

“The Fault in Our Stars” has been causing a stir among YA readers long before it came out. At first the talk was about how John Green was finally writing from a female perspective, and that this was a serious cancer book, and zomg, ANOTHER JOHN GREEN NOVEL! Then the early shipping thing happened and tumblr was full of passionate pledges by fans to hold back reading until the release date.

I admit, my own feelings varied between “meh” and “wtf”, although I greatly enjoyed the many, many, many photoshopped images of TFIOS that cropped up (because if the President of the United States swears by it, then by golly, it’s an IMPORTANT BOOK). Maybe it’s just me, but I never got swept away by the hype around that one – okay, so the protagonists have cancer, what about it?

To me, the book wasn’t a far cry from the original Green formula, but it wasn’t until my last post on friend-zoning that I realized just how deep that formula runs and how many problems I have with it. And since I want to establish that I have no soul, I will talk about it here, today.

Warning the first: This post is really long, so get comfortable.

Warning the second: There will be SPOILERS! Spoilerific spoilers, not just for TFIOS, but all JG books! Spoilers so big they make King Kong look like a pet goldfish. If you have not read them and you want the pure, unadultered experience, do not scroll down!

I’m serious.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Clarification: Friend-zoned is when one person (usually male) wants to be more than friends with another person (usually female), but his feelings are not reciprocated.

I know I said this last week, but I think it bears repeating since the Green formula basically revolves around friend-zoning and friend-zoned guys. Miles, Q, Will Grayson (the straight one) – they all have one thing in common, and that is that they pine for a hot girl who wants to be their friend, who has a boyfriend, and who generally makes their lives seem more interesting. The plots may vary, but the evolution arc of the hero ultimately includes his revelation that his lady fair is, in fact, selfish and entitled.

Which is fine. MPDG are not my favorite trope and I like it that they’re not romanticized. While Green’s books start off as a quest to get out of the friend zone, I don’t have a problem with them overall. But the way this translates into TFIOS… worries me.

Here’s the plot, in a nutshell: Hazel is sixteen years old, and has been living with thyroid cancer for three years longer than she expected to. Since she believes herself to live on borrowed time, she’s careful not to form close connections with people and minimize the damage when the inevitable happens. Enter Augustus, who lost his leg to osteosarcoma but is otherwise healthy. He believes in living life to the fullest and leaving a legacy, and takes it upon himself to get Hazel out of her shell.

So far so good. Hazel manages to convince Augustus to stay in the friend-zone, for his own sake, but then he turns things around when he uses his wish (from the “Make A Wish” foundation), to take her to Amsterdam to visit her favorite author. The author himself wasn’t as impressive in person as Hazel expected him to be, but the trip does bring her and Augustus together. They even have sex once, before Augustus drops the bomb – his cancer is back, and he delayed treatment so that he could help Hazel fulfill her wish.

There’s a running theme in the novel about heroism and how our legacy might help us transcend death. Hazel is very pessimistic about that at first, arguing that in the bigger context of things, nobody can transcend anything. Augustus dreams of being a hero, and his coaxing Hazel out of her recluse is made to look like an attempt to get her to embrace lif. Only at the end of the book, after she has opened up to her parents, do we learn that Augustus thought she was right – that he admires her greatly for her selflessness and that what she does – holding back on others to spare them pain – is truly heroic.

I’m not going to discuss the themes of heroism in the book. What I do want to talk about, however, is how the quest out of the friend-zone turned out.

The campaign was successful. Gus and Hazel were happy together, if only for a while. People seem to think that it only adds to the tragedy… but am I the only one who thinks it’s horrible that Gus waited until AFTER Hazel was in love with him and that they had slept together to tell her he is terminal? I know that his credo is “better to have loved and lost,” but in the context of the book’s ultimate revelation, it’s terrible.

Gus acknowledges he’s selfish, but Hazel (and therefore the narrative), does not. The characters often claim that cancer kids are not any smarter, or saintly, or in any way different than normal kids, yet his tragedy seems to have absolved him of that. He hurts Hazel. Moreover, he knows he would hurt her, and still goes along with it. If their love was meant to be, shouldn’t he have come clean immediately and let her decide if she wanted to go on, instead of sweeping her off her feet first?

Yet another side note: The book often quotes the movie “V for Vendetta”. At first, it seems like a sign of Gus’s desire to be a hero, but there are more parallels drawn between V and Gus, and Evie and Hazel. In a way, the narrative implies that Gus’s role is similar to V’s – to awaken Hazel/Evie to the truth of the world, and help her grow.

Here’s the thing though: In “V for Vendetta”, fear was the weapon. For Evie to be free and grow into the new world, she needed to let go of the fear first. Moreover, it is established that the government V tries to take down is doing harm and that it needs to go – he wasn’t just working for the sake of one person, he was trying to help a country.

What does Hazel’s emotional awakening mean in the context of the book?

What does she earn by opening up, when Gus himself says, in the end, that he admires her for her selflessness, and thinks she is more heroic for holding back?

The revelation of “The Fault in Our Stars” makes Hazel’s whole journey to be pointless, nothing more than the whimsy of a selfish, dying boy. Her opening up to her parents, her taking part of the grief ceremonies she used to despise, her embracing the scars he leaves behind - he totally devaluates that in the end.

Green’s male characters learn their lessons in the end – the grass is not always greener on the other side, and the beautiful, sparkly girl is, on closer look, just as troubled as any other. Their fundamental beliefs are shaken, but they finish the book with confidence in the future. Hazel has confidence in the end of TFIOS, but hers is a lot less convincing, simply because of how depressing her journey was.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll just leave on this note: I don’t think “The Fault in Our Stars” is a bad book. I do think it has some problems with its main message. I look forward to the discussion in comments, and next week, we’re having Meghan from Coffee and Wizards to talk about the aspects of the book she enjoyed.

Until then, ta!