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Peter Mehlman

Peter Mehlman

Posted: May 1, 2006 02:05 PM

Just To Clarify


I wish to take this opportunity to respond to recent allegations of plagiarism regarding my recent novel Zhivago, MD. I'm sorry. How this happened is beyond me, except to say that I have a sub-conscious like a steel trap.

Yes, years ago, I did read Dr. Zhivago but honestly, all I can recall is that it was set in a snowy climate and sold exceptionally well. The two titles are oddly similar but, in my defense, I thought Boris Pasternak's title character was merely a Ph.D. and not an actual doctor. Still, causing Mr. Pasternak any distress was not my intention and I have made numerous, albeit unsuccessful, attempts to text-message him my sincerest regrets along with my assurances that any suspiciously similar passages will be changed in the upcoming screenplay.

Perhaps more disconcerting are allegations of sporadic passages in my book that resemble the writings of other authors. For instance, readers have brought to my attention the opening sentence of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which reads, "Howard Roark stood naked at the edge of a cliff, laughing." Upon re-reading the opening sentence of my book, "Amy Buxbaum stood topless at the edge of a cliff, cracking up," I can see where this might, in the mind of a picayune reader, raise some red flags. However, I have no recollection of ever having read the work of Ayn Rand, though I have noted that her stuff does seem to fly off the shelves.

So how to explain the parallels between the two opening sentences? The fact is, one can barely ride three stops on any American subway without sitting next to some young person reading The Fountainhead. In lieu of staring at the back of another passenger's head in an effort to make him turn around, it's possible my eyes drifted toward a passenger's book and I osmosed a line or two. But I'm not making any excuses. My deepest apologies go out to Ms. Rand who is, according to my very comforting publisher, dead.

I suppose the most hurtful off-shoot of this whole scandal has been the knee-jerk re-examination of my first novel, To Beat The Crap Out of a Mockingbird. In an effort to nip future carping in the bud, let me explain that I played the Books on Tape version of To Kill A Mockingbird in my sleep all throughout high school. Evidently, the writing of Harper Lee etched in my mind in much the same way repeated listening allowed me to memorize the lyrics of the disco classic Do The Hustle. Hence, naming one of my main characters Sciaticus Finch, is no more than an inadvertent homage.

While that is clearly a logical explanation, I don't want to duck any potential criticism. I hear Harper Lee was in a movie recently and I'm trying to track him/her down through IMDB.com and offer my most heartfelt, pre-emptive apologies.

In re-reading this mea sort of culpa, it strikes me that the writers from whom I am suspected of filching, are of another generation. An older one. Not to be dismissive but perhaps this partly explains all this confusion. For instance, there is a possibility that, say, Sylvia Plath was not a fan of hip-hop music - where "sampling" the melodies of previously recording artists goes on all the time. Therefore, that bit from The Bell Jar: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs..." could lead some to suspect thievery after reading my line in Chapter Twelve of Zhivago MD: "It was a cruel, cruel summer, the summer they fried Ted Bundy..."

Frankly, when compared to the sampling of Rick James' work (Superfreak) done by MC Hammer (Can't Touch This), my alleged transgressions seem rather tame. But a transgression is a transgression is a transgression and, in deference to Ms. Plath, I send along my most heartfelt blah, blah, blah.

In closing, let me say I've learned from this experience. As a working author, I can only hope to improve on my previous work. Whether that entails better sentence structure, deeper descriptiveness or more efficient disguising of my "influences," growth is the goal. This has been a difficult time in my career. I can only hope it won't detract from the readership of my next novel, tentatively entitled, Twenty Minutes of Solitude.

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