Every writer struggles with jealousy at the (professional) success of other writers. It’s genetically pre-coded due to the requisite combination of self-doubt and rampant ego which compels one to a life of private commune with blank page or empty screen.
But it’s not jealousy that I feel toward a James Frey or the young novelist Kaavya Viswanathan, who has now confessed to plagiarizing passages from a few of her favorite author’s books in her own first novel, published when she was 17.
I actually feel more pity than jealousy.
Many, many mediocre books and screenplays have been written by seventeen year olds. Very, very few of them deserve to be published. This includes some of the ones that have actually been published. And now on top of that, her own mediocre first novel, which is only interesting because it was written by a seventeen year-old, is tainted by being stolen from someone else’s mediocre book. (Note that I haven’t actually read any of these works, hence the use of the word mediocre is proof of the jealousy-gene I mentioned at the top.) She will never get to live this down. Better for her that her first book had never seen the light of day, like most of our first books.
It was probably bad enough that her fellow students and teachers at Harvard, many of whom have written or are writing mediocre books of their own, knew that she had a two book deal with a major house worth something like $600K–they were already going to be gunning for her. But now they have license to look down on her as well.
Kaavya was my student last spring (in a section where I was a TA). I was surprised to learn she had written a book, as her writing was awful