Friday, July 24, 2009

Barbara Quick Guest Post: How Exciting—I’ve Been Internationally Plagiarized!

I’d been planning on writing something completely different for my last post as guest-blogger for Kepler’s. And then this came into my inbox, squired by those trusty Google Alerts cued to my name or the title of my novels:

For those of you who don’t read Italian, the gist of it is that an Italian novelist named Tiziano Scarpa just won a really important literary prize, the Premio Strega 2009, for his novel Stabat Mater.

The cultural editor for, Alessandro Gnocchi, writes in this article about the embarrassing similarities—nearly the same plot and identical narrative structure—between Stabat Mater and Vivaldi’s Virgins (which was published two years prior to Scarpa’s novel).

Gnocchi stops short of crying plagiarism—even though he brings the word up more than once in his essay. But he taxes Scarpa with a lack of imagination, as well as with self-consciously trying to write the sort of novel most likely to win a big literary prize.

(Hmmm—I always thought the thing to do was just to write the very best book one is capable of writing at a given time in one’s literary life—a book that sweeps one away in the writing. A book that practically writes itself, for all the urgency that its characters have to make themselves known.)

Apparently, Signore Scarpa even acknowledges me and my book in the Afterword to Stabat Mater—although he claims never to have opened Vivaldi’s Virgins or to have read a single word of it before he wrote his novel.

Rather nice of him, I’d say. You’ve probably heard the quip, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

Alessandro Gnocchi (to whom I am indebted) writes in his column that while I am an unknown writer in Italy, publishing houses all over the world (13 of them, so far) have taken advantage of the opportunity to publish translations of Vivaldi’s Virgins.

I took it as somewhat of a personal affront, given my passionate love of and attachment to Italy, that no casa editrice italiana had yet chosen to publish my novel in an Italian edition. Does this explain why? Did someone decide that this particular story really should be told by an Italian rather than—gasp!—an American novelist?

There’s more thickening to this plot, if I allow myself to amble even the tiniest way down the byroads of paranoia. Luisa Cox, an Italian emigree and professional translator who met me at a reading I did in Arizona, fell in love with Vivaldi’s Virgins. On her own time, consulting with me during the process, she translated the entire novel, and then she circulated it to various publishing houses in her native Italy.

Coincidence? It will be interesting to see where this goes, if anywhere. I’ve already alerted my publisher. And I’m going to make sure—even though I am not a litigious person—that this blog post makes its way to the legal department of the Authors Guild, just for drill.

To Tiziano Scarpa, I say, You owe me and my fiancé a nice dinner in a great Italian restaurant. We’ll be in Italy next year, when he’ll be touring with the San Francisco Symphony.

To the casa editrice that published Stabat Mater, please note, cari signori, that my new novel, A Golden Web—also set in Italy—is being published by HarpeTeen in April 2010. I blush to say that two different (adult) bloggers have already called it the best book they have ever read. Your step-child—this scritrice americana with her heart in Italy—is waiting for you to recognize her.

—Barbara Quick

1 comment:

  1. Dear Barbara Quick,
    I hope you will read my novel soon, so you'll see that the plot and the narrative structure are totally different from yours.

    The organization of the Ospedale della Pietà was so peculiar that any story set in that place necessarily has some similar details: but note that they are details belonging to the historical reality of the Pietà, not to the imagination of authors.

    I wish that your very good novel will be soon translated into Italian, so that Italian readers can appreciate it, too.

    About Mr Gnocchi's article, you know, Strega literary prize is very important in Italy, it always gives rise to a lot of envious and polemic reactions.

    I will be very happy to meet you in Venice, maybe at the Pietà, where I was given birth to.

    Yours sincerely,

    Tiziano Scarpa