Stephenie Meyer recently demonstrated that taking one of your old novels and “rewriting” it as a gender-bent retelling can be a lucrative way to appeal to one’s fans. But what if the story that you’re writing up isn’t yours to begin with? A romance novelist specializing in gay fiction has just been uncovered as a plagiarist due to her interesting practice of taking others’ work, switching the gender of one main character and calling it her own. Her response? She “made a mistake.”
It’s unclear exactly how taking someone’s work of self-published heterosexual fiction and turning it into a gay romance (while leaving everything else, right down to the story description, almost intact) could be considered a mistake of the traditional variety. But Laura Harner, who’s published 75 books, is just saying she may have crossed the line when she stole the work of popular romance novelist Becky McGraw. According to the Washington Post, Harner also said she “violated her own code of ethics,” although that seems much less important than the fact that she took a book someone else wrote and just went “Fuck it! Mine now!”
Harner’s deception was uncovered last week, shortly after the author published her M/M romance Coming Home Texas, a gripping tale of lost love that looked a lot like McGraw’s 2012 book, My Kind of Trouble. A reader, who spotted similarities between the two books recognized that she’d read the story before and notified McGraw, who rightfully freaked out when she noticed that the two books were nearly identical. They were so closely related, in fact, that you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart just by looking at their descriptions.
Check out this comparison The Post published:
“My Kind of Trouble“: “The only regret she had at the moment was driving her old pickup back to town instead of her BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision. Bessie had taken her out of town ten years ago, and Cassie thought it fitting that she should bring her back. Since she’d gotten the call from Imelda, the closest thing to a mother that Cassie had known since her own mother died when she was ten, Cassie had been in that mode. Once she decided she needed to come back, the memories she thought she buried ten years ago would not leave her alone. Thoughts of Luke Matthews would not leave her alone.”
“Coming Home Texas“: “His other regret at the moment was driving his old pickup back to town instead of his BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision – Old Blue had taken his sorry ass out of town nearly a dozen years ago, and Brandon though it fitting that she should bring him back. … Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella – the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine – Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone. Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.”
Author Jenny Trout, who first brought the internet’s attention to the debacle after hearing from McGraw, linked to some screenshots of both books and found that, while they weren’t completely identical, it was pretty clear that Harner wasn’t getting the ideas from nowhere.
From Jenny Trout’s post on the matter:
Harner’s clever trick here was to pick a book that was not M/M, but M/F contemporary romance. As far as readers go, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two genres; M/M readers will in general read M/M voraciously, while M/F readers won’t stray to M/M often, either. What were the chances of a reader from both genres just happening upon both the plagiarized book and the book it was plagiarized from? With seventy-five books to her credit, she’s certainly skated by for a while without getting caught.
What’s even stranger is that Harner couldn’t have chosen a worse person to plagiarize. It would make sense if McGraw was some unknown just trying to make it in romance, but she’s a bestselling author with a following. Now, she’s threatening legal action for the theft of her work.
This may not have been Harner’s first crack at plagiarism. Trout reports that another author’s work has been recognized in one of Harner’s past books. In addition, Harner has pulled approximately 10 works from her library of offerings, suggesting that she’s trying to hide more deception.
Harner hasn’t updated her Twitter or her website with an explanation, and a Facebook page dedicated to her work is dead, according to the Post. In a statement to The Guardian, however, Harner promised to make what happened clear by the end of this week and asked others not to “judge her too harshly” until she’d had her say.
Responding to the Guardian in a statement, Harner said she realised she had “made mistakes”. “I own them, and I will deal with the consequences. In transforming two M/F romance stories into an M/M genre, it appears that I may have crossed the line and violated my own code of ethics,” she wrote.
“For those who know me best, you know that responsibility for my actions begins and ends with me. I will also add there are some personal and professional issues I’ve had to deal with in the last year that have stretched me in ways that haven’t always been good for me. I write about certain concerns related to military service for a reason; however, I am not offering that as an excuse. I just think whenever someone acts so out of character, it’s helpful to ask why.”
Readers, however, are taking Harner to task. In reply to an October 19th tweet in which the author spoke about how tiring writing made her, a user made note of how ironic it is for Harner to use the #amwriting hashtag while another linked her to a Guardian piece on the plagiarism.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.