Fine words! I wonder where I stole them?

I called my agent the other day to give her some good news. Thus:

Me: I’ve had a great idea! I’m going to paste together bits of famous novels, song lyrics, etc., and call it a book. I’ll send it to you tomorrow.

Agent: Blah blah plagiarize blah blah something.

(I was on Twitter on my laptop and not paying much attention to her side of the convo.)

Me: Plagiarize! Let no one else’s work evade your eyes. Remember why the good Lord made your eyes, so don’t shade your eyes, but plagiarize!

Agent: That’s very clever, but the point is –

Me:  Ha! I was quoting Tom Lehrer, which made you think I’m clever. This will totally work.

Agent: But it’s wrong. And you’ll never get away with it.

Me: Not so, my dear old literary representative. Haven’t you heard of Helene Hegemann? Just 17 and already a best-seller, though, okay, in German. She got accused of stealing stuff online and from someone else’s novel, but apparently, that’s what her generation of writers does. According to Helene, “there’s no such thing as originality anyway. There is just authenticity.”

Agent: Blah blah not in her generation are you? Blah-di-blah copyright etc.

To be honest? I don’t have an agent, I just like pretending I do.

Anyway, here’s chapter one.  See how much you recognize! It’ll be fun!

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins,” I said, “I am a sick man  . . . I am an unattractive man. I am an invisible man.”

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” said Lolita, addressing my left shoulder, due to the invisibility thing. (I call her Lolita, though in fact she’s a 32-year-old named Edwina. Just a personal preference.)

Hi. I brought flowers.
"Hi. I brought flowers."

Suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. The door opened and an old man with an invasive beard entered, bearing flowers.

“Call me Ishmael,” he commanded.

“Okay.” Lolita was down with that. But then, Lolita was down with just about anything.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Ishmael said to Lolita – ignoring me, again because of the invisibility thing – “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. And you’re the one that I want – oo oo oo.”

Lolita looked puzzled.

“Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody,” he amplified.

Lolita shook her pretty head. “If I needed someone to love, you’re the one that I’d be thinking of. But although my heart is ever at your service, my body belongs to me.”

“And sometimes to me,” I contributed.

It was Ishmael’s turn to look puzzled. “I’m looking through you,” he remarked, “but you’re nowhere.”

“He’s invisible,” explained Lolita, obliging as always. “Also sick and unattractive. And there may be something wrong with his liver.”

“These are grave misfortunes indeed,” said Ishmael. “But Lola – may I call you Lola? L-O-L-A Lola? Okay, you won’t marry me. Don’t think twice, it’s all right. But is there anybody going to listen to my story?”

“We don’t really have time for it — ” I started.

“Time is an illusion,” pronounced Ishmael. “Lunchtime, doubly so.”

He held us with his glittering eye

So saying, he pulled out a book, bade us be seated (obviously he couldn’t tell that I already was), and began to read.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

“Hang on!” I said. “These are but wild and whirling words, and what’s more, they’re not yours! They’re by Charles Dickens.”

He held me with his glittering eye. Or tried to; he was actually looking at my crotch. “You are old, Father William,” he said. “Or whatever your name is. Whereas I am Modern Guy. I am Mr. Why Write It If You Can Find It on Google Guy. There is no such thing as originality anyway. There is just authenticity.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

As I spoke those words, he disappeared.

“Huh,” said Lolita. “When shall we three meet again?”

“Never,” I said. “Never, never, never, never. Pray you, undo this button.”

“Okay,” said the obliging Lolita. “’Course I can’t see you, so I’ll have to grope around a bit.”

Time passed, during which we did things that weren’t original. But they were sure as hell authentic.

Great expectations?

Well, what do you think? Are you eagerly awaiting the next chapter?

Oh really? Well, okay. You know, I’m actually relieved. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

“Next o’er his books his eyes began to roll, in pleasing memory of all he stole; how here he sipp’d, how there he plunder’d snug, and suck’d all o’er like an industrious bug.” — Alexander Pope

(Image in the public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.)

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6 thoughts on “Fine words! I wonder where I stole them?

  1. This is hilarious! I actually came over and read it right away when you tweeted last night but I was on the iPhone app and it doesn’t make for commenting. There’s a whole series (subgenre?) now of “remixes”: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies appears to have been the first and it set off a storm of people downloading public domain works and adding mythological characters.

  2. Thanks, Deana! When I first wrote it (getting most of the quotations off Google), I read it to a very literary friend, who identified at least 15 of the 20-plus sources without blinking an eye. I was so impressed! I’m fine with the zombie etc. remixes, but took exception to Ms. Hegemann’s claim that it’s okay to copy text verbatim without attribution. Acceptable in a tweet or even a blog, maybe, but not in a work from which you’re hoping to profit. I gather that she & her publisher have since acknowledged this, and meanwhile, I had fun with Lolita & crew.

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