Recently I caught up with author friend, and award-winner extraordinaire, Ann Hite at the place where authors hang out…the McDonald’s. We chatted about her beautiful book, Ghost on Black Mountain and her upcoming novel, Barren Soul. We chatted about my work in process, In the Kitchen with Billy. We chatted about books we love and the importance of marketing. If you are a writer you realize marketing is a “must-do” prior to the release of your manuscript. Hopefully, this blog entry will also provide a teaching moment.
Connected by words, we communed like long-time best girlfriends. Before Ann corrected my mistake, I was certain she had grown up near the western North Carolina mountains. She probably believed I had grown up in North Georgia. Gardening, farming, and family members with calloused hands tied us together.
An hour into our conversation we were interrupted by a man sitting in the next booth who asked the question, “are you familiar with Casey Anthony?”
Since my back was to him, Ann responded in the affirmative. He had obviously overheard a majority of our conversation and in a blink of an eye asked the question, “can I have your opinion on something?”
Mistakenly, I opened the floodgate by saying, “sure.”
“I’d like you to have a look at something,” he said while passing his laptop over my shoulder and into my hands.
Note to authors everywhere: please do not do this. Ann and I had been cooped up in the house for who knows how long; writing, sweating, praying. We needed a little girl time. Authors don’t get out much.
As proper southern manners dictate, I opened the Google search window as he instructed and begin typing the title of his work in progress, “Catch Her in the Rye.” He was making a point, that his work is ranked high on the web. Admittedly, I held my breath when the ever-helpful Google search window completed the words “catch herpes” instead of “catch her.”
I didn’t look at Ann. I just kept typing (really fast) the words, “her in the rye.”
Side note: Please, do not give your title a quirky little name.
“Casey Anthony is innocent,” the man professed.
He did not give us his name. We both knew better than to ask. “The court found her innocent. She’s a free woman,” he continued.
His obsession was clear…. crystal clear. Then he said, “I’ve written a play on words account using sentences from Catcher in the Rye. You’re familiar with Salinger?”
We nod, smile, and notice that his thumb and forefinger display permanent nicotine stains. At least we hope it is nicotine.
Coming around to the edge of our table, he leans over our drinks and locates his work in progress on the screen. His work isn’t displayed on a word processing program. Instead, it is posted on one of the billions of “free” author sites available to those who don’t realize the risk of posting your words online. Were his work-in-progress phenomenally fantastic, it would already be “published,” which most publishers consider a significant no-no. While he pointed out the number of “hits” his work had received, I notice a sentence from Catcher. I am certain Ann noticed it too.
Crossing thin arms across his chest he said, “I’d really like to know your thoughts.”
I hear this sentence often. People who utter this phrase rarely want feedback. They want affirmation, which we (eventually) politely provided.
“You don’t have quotation marks around this sentence,” I say pointing to the Salinger quote. Ann moved our drinks away from the laptop.
“Don’t need ‘em,” he replies. “I’m just using a sentence from Catcher here and there. That’s not copyright infringement.”
As he broadcast Casey Anthony’s innocence and name-dropped reputable attorneys from his home state of Florida, his words sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. The positive energy Ann and I had shared earlier rapidly evaporated.
“I’m moving a word around here and there,” he defended. “I’m not quoting Salinger directly, but people will know who I’m quoting.”
He wanted to talk. He did not want to know “our thoughts.” He did not listen. Eventually we said what he wanted to hear and then it was time to go.
“I’m sorry,” I said pointing to the time on his computer screen. “I have to teach a class in a few minutes.”
Standing, Ann and I wished him the best.
What are your thoughts about this man’s actions? Please feel free to share your comments.