Conversational Theology


Posted on: January 9, 2008

In the last couple of days, a story has emerged concerning a series of books published by Penguin, authored by Cassie Edwards. Ms. Edwards is a successful romance novelist with sales of over 10,000,000 books featuring Native American romance.It has come to light that many passages in Ms. Edwards’ books have been copied verbatim from a number of old reference books. The evidence is overwhelming and can be found here:

Cassie Edwards Extravaganza
Cassie Edwards Extravaganza 2
We Report, You Decide
Another report
But wait, there’s more

The evidence so far gathered suggests that Ms. Edwards has restricted herself to plagiarising books that are in the public domain and so it seems unlikely that any legal action can be taken.

Nonetheless there are some serious ethical and literary concerns regarding her actions, and the negligence on the part of her editors. You will see from the examples above that the prose quality of the quoted sections is easily distinguished from Ms. Edwards’ own style, yet apparently no editor ever questioned this, nor thought to run the simple Google check that uncovered the plagiarism. Nor should the publishers be content to defraud the public in this manner, passing off books as the work of one author, when in fact large sections of text were written by someone else. This is a serious matter, and that it concerns one of the most well-known and well-regarded publishing houses in the industry makes it even more alarming. How widespread is this practice, and how much are editors expected to condone this intellectual theft?

I have never read one of Ms. Edwards’ books, nor do the cited extracts give me any wish to do so. But this story makes me cross for a number of reasons:

  1. Because there is no likelihood of legal action, it seems the ethical issues have been ignored. Just because there is no copyright theft does not mean there has been no plagiarism.
  2. Because Ms. Edwards is writing in a particular genre, it seems that rights of her readers to expect original (and good quality) prose are ignored.
  3. Even if Ms. Edwards had been unaware that her plagiarism is a problem, her editors should not have been. A 5 minute Google was all it took to uncover the problem. They are without excuse.

Here‘s the letter I’ve sent to the CEO and President of Penguin Putnam.

Here’s the most recent response from Signet (the imprint of Penguin which publishes Ms. Edwards’ books), in which they seem to have recognised that the problem at least demands some investigation.

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Native American romance?

Well, Ros, your post inspired me to write the following Eskimo romance that features, like the works of Cassie Edwards, plagiarized passages lifted from references sources (in this case, Wikipedia).


Wooniwoowoo sighed and leaned forward. “Oh, Oomlulu,” she said, “which, being translated, means he-who-is-sturdily-built…how handsome you are in your fur coat! How your visage beams with patience and intelligence as you translate several works into the Inuit languages, which comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalakleet and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east all the way to Greenland.”

Oomlulu’s gaze swept over her, lingering on her lips which moved slowly as she gnawed on a strip of caribou jerky. He set down his pen (which was just as well, since his ink had long since frozen), and whispered gruffly, “Lay aside that walrus skin you are sewing, Wooniwoowoo, and come closer. I want to give you an Eskimo kiss.”

“Oh, yes, Oomlulu,” she breathed, “even though the Eskimo kiss is a non-erotic form of greeting that serves the same role as shaking hands for a people who, when they meet, often have little except their nose and eyes exposed. But let me finish chewing this jerky first.”


Angie, I think you’ve found your way to making millions!!! This is hilarious. I keep wanting to quote my favourite bits, but they’re all favourite bits.

“Because Ms. Edwards is writing in a particular genre, it seems that rights of her readers to expect original (and good quality) prose are ignored.”


We are talking the romance genre here, right?


Exactly my point, Mark. I’d read romance novels if they weren’t so badly written most of the time. But apparently the mere fact that I like stories with ridiculous plots and guaranteed happy endings must mean that I am incapable of noticing poor grammar or plagiarised text. Huh.

I have read one of Ms. Edwards books. Bought because I THOUGHT it might at least read a little like historical fiction, but noooo—–more like absolute trash — I wouldn’t even call it worth the label of “romance genre”. I read very little of those type ;but like some escapism on plane flights (easy to put down to nap or when interuppted). since she didn’t seem to know how to write very well at all – I don’t doubt the plagiarism report at all.

I am an avid reader of the romance genre, as well as sci-fi and fantasy adventure. There are many fantastic romance novelists in the world who’s stories are engaging, evocative, and absolutely fascinating. Please don’t tar all romance novelists with the Cassie Edwards brush.

I can’t say that this revelation surprises me all that much. No legal recourse to get sued for, no living author to make a lot of fuss and relatively little-known books plagiarized from.

There isn’t much here that can really hurt their bottom line so, from a pure dollar perspective, there isn’t a reason not to move forward. Ethics are well and good, that is until they cost something.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by this at all. I wish I could, but I can’t…

Thanks for the clarification, Shawna. That’s good to hear. Perhaps my cynicism comes from the fact that the only romance novels I’ve ever actually looked at were “Christian”

Since I’m in the publishing business it worries me to see an author raked over the coals based on some very ignorant comments about copyright law. I don’t know Cassie Edwards and don’t read her books; however, the quoting of reference materials in novels is commonplace and is NOT illegal or even considered unethical. “Facts” can’t be copyrighted. If you read an encyclopedia entry about, say, worms, and it says ‘worms slither in a bi-lateral way,” and you put that fact in your novel, you are NOT stealing from the worm writer, LOL. Whether Ms. Edwards did anything that goes beyond the accepted “fair use” of research sources, I don’t know — no one knows, at this point, and that’s why it’s so disturbing to watch her work and her career being trashed. Everyone’s assuming that she “stole” research material and did it in a knowing, malicious and greedy way. I highly doubt that. there are so many gray areas in copyright law and so many questionable ways to handle the issue. Even most editors can’t navigate the minefields of the law and the ethics. I’m giving Cassie Edwards the benefit of the doubt. My guess is that she sincerely DID NOT REALIZE she was getting close to the line in terms of quoting source material — just like a college student writing a term paper based on published material. Please, please, hold off on the “guilty first, proven innocent later” mentality. For one thing, the bloggers who launched this attack on her are known for gleefully malicious attacks on authors in general, and they had already made it clear that they dislike Ms. Edward’s books. It’s one thing to dislike what an author writes; quite another thing to attack her or him publicly without all the facts.

Deb, thank you for your comments. However, I think you’ll notice that in my post, and in the letter I sent to Penguin, that my concern is much less with Ms. Edwards herself than it is with her editors and publishers. Their negligence and their cavalier attitude to plagiarism is the issue.

I’m pleased that in their most recent response, Signet appear to be taking the matter more seriously.

Aphrodites Apples Press, where I work, is having a field day with this. Some of our authors have been victims of plagiarism and take it extremely seriously.

And some of us hate to see ferrets dragged through the muckraking; the darlings don’t deserve it.

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Conversational theology:

the art of learning deep truths about God and man in the company of friends, whilst drinking tea and eating cake.

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