Laura Harner’s “Coming Home Texas,” above, a male-male romance, is allegedly a rewrite of a straight romance.
Any writer knows that finishing any book isn’t easy. It takes craft. It takes persistence. It takes guts.
But a romance novel isn’t exactly “Infinite Jest.” Though some bodice-rippers are dirtier than others, there is a formula — at some point, the wealthy heiress or the lady-in-waiting hooks up with the horse wrangler or the errant knight, and jeans come off or, well, bodices get ripped.
But the fill-in-the-blanks quality of some romance novels seems to have been quite the hurdle for Laura Harner. The self-published author of romances featuring gay people has been accused of plagiarizing the work of a best-selling author of romances featuring straight people — and, in a statement, Harner has all but admitted it.
The very un-romantic spat began on Oct. 19 when Becky McGraw, no stranger to the New York Times bestsellers list, noted a rumor that an “M/M” author (that’s male/male) had cribbed from her F/M work.
“HOLY CRAP — do people have no morals about STEALING these days?” McGraw wrote on Facebook. “I was just notified by a reader that she started reading M/M romance recently and read a book by another author that is almost VERBATIM my book My Kind of Trouble with the exception it’s a m/m book!! I need a recommendation for a good literary attorney fast!!”
“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.”
Of course, many people have BMW convertibles, make “stupid, sentimental” decisions, have mother figures whose names begin with “I,” and harbor thoughts that won’t leave them alone. But the mounting similarities left Harner open to criticism. She hadn’t just plagiarized, some said. She had tried to take advantage of an audience divided by sexuality.
“Harner’s clever trick here was to pick a book that was not M/M, but M/F contemporary romance,” author Jenny Trout, who did a detailed comparison of the manuscripts, wrote. “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?”
Trout also zeroed in on Harner’s impressive literary output. On her Amazon page — where “Coming Home Texas” is no longer available — the author said she’s written more than 50 novels. Trout counted even more.
“With seventy-five books to her credit, she’s certainly skated by for a while without getting caught,” she wrote, alleging, in a post written the next day, that Harner had plagiarized another author as well.
In a remarkable statement to the Guardian, Harner said she had “made mistakes.”
“I own them, and I will deal with the consequences,” she wrote. “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 added: “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.”
The allegedly plagiarized McGraw, meanwhile, threatened legal action and said that other authors should be watching their backs — and checking Harner’s oeuvre.
“Considering that Laura Harner, AKA LE Harner, has ‘written’ in seven or eight genres in five years, started series in those genres, and published 75 books so far in that span of time, I’d say everyone in every genre needs to be concerned, both indie and traditionally published authors,” she told the Guardian.
Harner, who was not immediately available for comment to The Washington Post, told the Guardian a more complete statement was forthcoming. “Until then, please do not judge me too harshly,” she said.
It should be noted: Harner’s strategy, if it was one, may be fatally flawed because straight readers are not always strangers to M/M romance.
“While the m/m readership is wide-ranging, a majority of its audience is straight women,” author and director Kergan Edwards-Stout wrote in 2012.
“I give you fair warning that I write erotic romances about love outside the lines,” she wrote. “You will find worlds rich in characters who find their way to love, even when the path isn’t always easy — or even expected. There’s something here for nearly every type of reader, and the pairings may be male/female, male/male, or menages (mmm/mmf).”
She added: “Heck, sometimes even the vampires and werewolves find a path to true love in my worlds.”