Plagiarized Author Rejects 'Unconscious' Excuse

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 25 -- Apology not accepted.

That was the response Tuesday from author Megan McCafferty and her publishers to a Harvard student-turned-novelist who said she was sorry for her "unconscious" copying of passages from two of McCafferty's books.

Instead, McCafferty's camp released statements saying it had found at least 40 apparently borrowed sections -- more than twice the number previously reported -- in Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life."

All these sections, they said, contained language, scenes or dialogue similar to passages in McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts," published in 2001, or "Second Helpings," from 2003.

The list of parallels released Tuesday by McCafferty's publishers include some small elements repeated verbatim. Viswanathan's use of "dregs" to describe drug users, her description of a boy as smelling "sweet and woodsy," and her tale of a visit to the mall that concludes "170 specialty shops later . . ." are all contained in one of McCafferty's books, according to the list.

"This extensive taking from Ms. McCafferty's books is nothing less than an act of literary identity theft," said Steve Ross, publisher at Crown Publishers and Three Rivers Press, in a statement. "Based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act."

Viswanathan's book, which tells the story of an Indian American teenager who must learn to have fun so she can get into Harvard, had climbed to No. 32 on the New York Times's hardcover fiction bestseller list.

But on Sunday, the student-run Harvard Crimson newspaper revealed the novel's similarities to McCafferty's books, which also feature a teenage heroine. Viswanathan responded on Monday that she had read the books a few years ago and had internalized them to such a degree that McCafferty's words turned up in her own writing.

In a statement last night, Viswanathan's publishers at Little, Brown and Co., said they believe her account. It's not clear what happens next: McCafferty and her publishers haven't said specifically what kind of restitution they want.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company