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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Monitor Survived,

OK. I’ve calmed down a bit, now.

Last week I was anything but calm. There were a few moments there when I was tempted to punch my monitor. A friend sent me another columnist's Thanksgiving column, and asked if it contained my material.

It did.

Part of the reason for my anger is that this material is something I was particularly proud of, because it always got a great reaction form my readers and audiences. I had used it in three separate newspaper columns, a magazine article and a stand-up comedy routine. I even used it as an example of how to use exaggeration for comedic effect in a writers’ workshop that this person attended.

A writer spends a lot of time and effort on their words. They are our products, and we strive to give our very best to our readers. When someone else takes them as their own, it leaves you feeling violated, as though someone came into your home and stole a prized possession.

I suppose I could be somewhat forgiving if this was someone who was just starting out in the business and didn’t know any better. The person in question is anything but. She is even on the board of a National writers’ organization, albeit, one that several of us left a number of years ago because of some ethics problems with a couple of the board members who were there back then. I think I will keep ignoring their membership drive emails, and recommend to others that they do the same.

When I told the person that I was disappointed by her use of my material without credit, she sent a message that basically said, she hadn’t done it intentionally. Sorry, but that is just unadulterated bull byproduct. She did, in fact, intentionally use my material as her own. She said, "I thought it was so funny, that I worked it into this story." 

She clearly just doen't get it. I'm not sure on what planet it's OK to "work" another writer's material into your story. It doesn't take work to steal from another.

Intentional or not, she cannot say that she didn’t know that it was mine. She sent me a note a few weeks before mentioning this specific example of my material. That sounds to me like she intentionally used the material because she "thought it was so funny."

I’ve chosen not to identify the person publicly. I have received eighteen emails from people who were quite able to identify her themselves, all expressing surprise that she would lift my material for her personal gain. It would also seem that she has more than just me angry about it. A lawyer suggested that I sue her. Another writer suggested that I should send the evidence to every outlet that has published her to let them know what kind of person they are dealing with.

A dear friend, who is a Christian minister and a counselor, said, “What would you do if she broke into your house and took your computer? Call the cops, or write her a nice email? As a "woman of the cloth" I can tell you that to "love your neighbour" is never to shield them from the natural consequences of their behaviour.”  

My friend Raul Ramos-Sanchez, a fantastic writer said it best, “I'm astonished that some "writers" are so enamored of the limelight they are willing to bask in it even when the material that puts them there is not their own.”

I must say that, if anything good has come from this, is it the gratifying feeling I have gotten from all of the messages of support.

A mutual friend says she feels badly about this and thinks I hate her now. Hate is a pretty strong word. I have certainly lost respect for her and my inbox tells me that I am not alone in that. I am also sorry that I agreed to write a foreword for her book. I even feel a bit of pity for her, because she felt the need to take something of mine rather than go to the trouble of coming up with something of her own.

I’m not going to write to every outlet that has carried her article. I think that if she has any integrity left, she should do that herself. By a couple of the emails I got, they are bound to find out anyway. I’m not going to sue her. I think the court of public opinion among other writers is passing a much stronger sentence.

So, my monitor is still in one piece. That's a good thing. I think I need it to see how to remove any reference to this person from my computer.

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Gordon Kirkland At Large

Writings and Wramblings from the Wandering and Wondering Mind of Gordon Kirkland