Monday, December 21, 2009

P.C. and Kristin Cast Plagiarize in MARKED

To see only the plagiarism section of what I wrote below, click here

Back on November 13, 2009, I posted my first response to the House of Night vampire series by P. C. Cast and her daughter, Kristin. I'd found the first chapter online on the House of Night website. I'm copying here what I posted then, and I've put that entire post in italics to distinguish it from what I'm adding to that response today.

In studying Marked, specifically page 240 when Zoey smudes Damien, it looks to me like the Casts borrowed word-for-word from "The Smudging Ceremony" online at a New Age site!

[Formatting note: I apologize for the too-many line spaces in this post. Not sure how to fix that problem.]


For some time now, I've been aware of the HOUSE OF NIGHT series of vampire stories. I picked one up in a bookstore and skimmed it, but put it back down. I did not want to spend time on it. I am still not sure how much time I will give to it...

Here's the final words from the first chapter of the first book. Reading this online from the House of Night website:

I stared at the exotic looking tattoo. Mixed with my strong Cherokee features it seemed to brand me with a mark of wildness... as if I belonged to ancient times when the world was bigger... more barbaric.

From this day on my life would never be the same. And for a moment--just an instant--I forgot about the horror of not belonging and felt a shocking burst of pleasure, while deep inside of me the blood of my grandmother's people rejoiced.

Exotic. Cherokee. Wildness. Ancient. Barbaric. This "Cherokee" girl is now a Vampire, too!!! And her Cherokee grandmother's people rejoice. Why? Because this girl is now going to feel like she belongs? Is that why P.C. Cast says her character's ancestor's rejoice? Or is it something else?

I continue that initial response today (December 21, 2009):

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Urbana Free Library to pick up Marrin's Years of Dust. While there, I saw that the library had a copy of Marked on the shelf, so checked it out, too. (I subsequently wrote about Years of Dust here, which sparked a lively dialogue at School Library Journal.)

Once she's marked, Zoey must go to the House of Night. In the world the Casts imagine, vampires are a fact-of-life. Zoey doesn't get along with her mother and her mother's husband, and hopes that being marked will elicit a caring response from her mother. When it doesn't, Zoey heads for her grandmother.  Her grandmother, as we learned in chapter one, is Cherokee. In chapter five, we learn that Zoey calls her grandmother "Grandma Redbird" or "Grandma."  Having been marked, Zoey is experiencing physical changes. She's full of questions. As she climbs a bluff to find her grandmother, the text reads (p. 33-34):

I needed to find Grandma Redbird. If Grandma didn't have the answers, she'd figure them out. Grandma Redbird understood people. She said it was because she hadn't lost touch with her Cherokee heritage and the tribal knowledge of the ancestral Wise Women she carried in her blood. Even now it made me smile to think about the frown that came over Grandma's face whenever the subject of the step-loser came up (she's the only adult who knows I call him that). Grandma Redbird said that it was obvious that the Redbird Wise Woman blood had skipped over her daughter, but that was only because it had been saving up to give an extra dose of ancient Cherokee magic to me. [...]  In the meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers we'd lay out a brightly colored blanket and eat a picnic lunch while Grandma told me stories of the Cherokee people and taught me the mysterious-sounding words of their language.
"Mysterious-sounding words" is another signal, to me, that the Casts are running with romantic, stereotypical ideas of who American Indians--in this case Cherokees--are. Course, their point may be that their protagonist is romanticizing her Cherokee identity, but I don't think so. 

As I struggled up the winding path those ancient stories seemed to swirl around and around inside my head, like smoke from a ceremonial fire...
Smoke from a ceremonial fire! Just like we saw in Disney's Pocahontas! Another signal of romantic imagery.

...including the sad story of how the stars were formed when a dog was discovered stealing cornmeal and the tribe whipped him. As the dog ran howling to his home in the north, the meal scattered across the sky and the magic in it made the Milky Way. Or how the Great Buzzard made the mountains and valleys with his wings. And my favorite, the story about young woman sun who lived in the east, and her brother, the moon, who lived in the west, and the Redbird who was the daughter of the sun.
Through her veil of turning-into-a-vampire, Zoey starts thinking about drums and powwows her grandma took her to when she was a little girl. She starts to hear drumming, and then voices, and then wind...
Wind? No, wait! There hadn't been any wind just a second ago, but now I had to hold my hat down with one hand and brush away the hair that was whipping wildly across my face with the other. Then in the wind I heard them--the sounds of many Cherokee voices chanting in time with the beating of the ceremonial drums. Through a veil of hair and tears I saw smoke. The nutty sweet scent of pinon wood filled my open mouth and I tasted the campfires of my ancestors. I gasped, fighting to catch my breath.

That's when I felt them. They were all around me, almost visible shapes shimmering like heat waves lifting from a blacktop road in summer. I could feel them press against me as they twirled and moved with graceful, intricate steps around and around the shadowy image of a Cherokee campfire.

Join us, u-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa... Join us, daughter...

Zoey runs, and then falls and is in some sort of dreamlike state where the High Priestess speaks her her (p. 39):
Your grandmother has taught you well, u-s-ti Do-tsu-wa...little Redbird. You are a unique mixture of the Old Ways and the New World--of ancient tribal blood and the heartbeat of outsiders. [...] I am known by many names... Changing Woman, Gaea, A'akuluujjusi, Kuan Yin, Grandmother Spider, and even Dawn..."
A unique mix! Ancient tribal blood. Heartbeat of outsiders. Sounds a bit like..... Jake Sully in Avatar!

Looks like the Casts are grabbing at all manner of spiritualities...  Navajo, Cherokee, Buddhism...  But where is Mary in this lineup? Why did they avoid drawing on Christianity?!

When Zoey comes to, she's in the House of Night, her grandma is with her, and Zoey tells her that she can't believe that she got Marked. Her grandmother replies (p. 45)
"I'm not surprised you were Tracked and Marked. The Redbird blood has always held strong magic; it was only a matter of time before one of us was Chosen. What I mean is that it makes no sense that you were just Marked. The crescent isn't an outline. It's completely filled in."
Of course! Indians are special! The ones the Casts dreamed up are, apparently, extra special. They've got strong magic, but what else???  The High Priestess is with Zoey, too, and that High Priestess tells Zoey that she can start over, choose her true name. Zoey discards "Montgomery" and chooses Redbird.

And then, the Casts plagiarize!

Much later in the book (page 240), the Casts have Zoey doing ceremony:

"Smudging is a ritual way to cleanse a person, place, or an object of negative energies, spirits, or influences. The smudging ceremony involves the burning of special, sacred plants and herbal resins, then, either passing an object through the smoke, or fanning the smoke around a person or place. The spirit of the plant purifies whatever is being smudged."

That sounds like something you'd find in a New Age store! Or on the internet! And that is exactly what I found. That passage above, comes word-for-word from "The Smudging Ceremony" at a New Age store that sells "smudge bundles."


[Update, Dec 22, 6:38 AM.  In the comment below submitted by Lou Gagliardi, Lou says that my examples are not word-for-word. The ones below this update are not quite word-for-word, but the passage above is exactly word-for-word. I did not include the passage from the website because it seemed redundant. I'm adding it now:

The Smudging Ceremony

Smudging is a ritual way to cleanse a person , place or an object of negative energies, spirits or influences. The smudging ceremony involves the burning of special, sacred plants and herbal resins, then, either passing an object through the resulting smoke, or fanning the smoke around a person or place. 

And Kat W., a librarian in Benton Harbor wrote to say "if you can find at least 5 sources that do not reference a specific piece of information then it is considered general knowledge and does not need to be sited in your work."  Of course, novels don't cite materials in the same way that nonfiction does, but Kat raises an interesting point. She suggests it is ok for the Casts to copy and paste from the internet. I did note, below, that the passage in question appears on over a hundred websites. Does that make it ok? Perhaps, but what does that say about the author(s) and their writing?

But there's more of that sort of borrowing...

Zoey says (p. 241):

"It's really important to remember that we're asking the spirits of the sacred plants we're using to help us, and we should show them proper respect by acknowledging their powers."

At the New Age store/website, you'll find this:

"Remember that when you smudge, you are asking the spirit of sacred plants for assistance and you must pay proper respect to their healing power."

And here's some more... 

Zoey prefers white sage to desert sage. She tells Damien (p. 241) that

"White sage is used a lot in traditional ceremonies. It drives out negative energies, spirits, and influences. Actually desert sage does the same thing, but I like white sage better because it smells sweeter."

On the New Age store/website:

Desert Sage (Artemesia tridentata). This plant will drive out negative energies, spirits and influences. Use this as a smudge to purify people and places before any sacred ceremony.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) This sage is used just like desert sage, but many people prefer White Sage because of the sweeter aroma it gives off.

Maybe the Casts didn't take it from that site. Doing that internet search using "Smuding is a ritual way to cleanse a person" I got 273 hits (date of search, December 21).

Cassie Edwards plagiarized several people in her Savage Indian series, including N. Scott Momaday's book The Way to Rainy Mountain.

Edwards seemed to think it was ok to do that. Do you? Do you think its ok for the Casts to do it? In my view, they've not only erred in their presentation of the Native content but they're also plagiarizing. Neither one is ok.



Lou Gagliardi said...

Are the Casts really plagiarizing?

Or are they merely researching?

Plagiarizing is taking word for word what someone says in a book, or website and using it.

The dialogue and examples you showed, to me, didn't show what you are trying to show. What they showed to me was two women are doing research to sound legit, which is perfectly legal.

If I find a website on vampires and how to kill them, and then use it in my book, and have a character say word for word the explanation that the site gave, then yes, it's plagiarism.

But that's not what I see here. So I have to say that the Casts have not plagiarized. But that's just my opinion.

sarah said...

I think this is a very interesting question. My way of thinking is, if the idea isn't your own, be on the safe side and cite it. You don't have to use a quote all the time; you can paraphrase the work of another and then cite where you learned that fact or heard that idea. But if it didn't come out of your own head, it shouldn't have your name on it.

Something to consider is that, since all this research was done on the internet, it doesn't necessarily mean that all the websites with similar material all arrived at their ideas independently. It could very well be that those 100 or more references all originated from plagiarizing/paraphrasing one website.

Please keep us posted on this plagiarism question. I haven't read this series, but it's a big circ'er at my library.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Gagliardi. The dialog you presented did not seem to be word for word. I would prefer the Casts made an effort to research than make things up.

Delux said...

Sorry, a day later and I'm still still recovering from the Cherokees bearing pinons.

Laura said...

Kind of OT from the main discussion, but in reference to "Looks like the Casts are grabbing at all manner of spiritualities... Navajo, Cherokee, Buddhism... But where is Mary in this lineup? Why did they avoid drawing on Christianity?!" the later books do draw on Christianity and present Mary as another representation of the High Priestess.

jpm said...

Oh! those Cherokee pinons got me, too.

Interesting questions, and a couple of interesting defenses of a practice that would likely cost a grad student his or her degree. Granted that the Casts are not engaged in scholarly writing, but they are writing, they are doing research of sorts, and they are giving the impression that their words are original. As Sarah says, "if it didn't come out of your own head, it shouldn't have your name on it."

The academic's take on what Debbie has found and shared:
When doing research, lifting text verbatim without citing it -- even if it is somehow in the public domain -- is unethical practice for a scholar. Borrowing/paraphrasing so heavily from text that the sense and perhaps even the rhythm of the words are nearly identical -- that, too, would require citation in order to be ethical. A practice can be "legal" and still be something an ethical person avoids. Or a person who wants to pass his/her thesis or dissertation defense.

So -- the Casts want to find words that a person with mystical "Cherokee magic" would say, and they go to a New Age web site and take words from there, verbatim. Not really a logical approach to research, going to a New Age site to find out about Cherokee beliefs or practices.

The idea that "if you can find at least 5 sources that do not reference a specific piece of information then it is considered general knowledge and does not need to be sited [cited] in your work" -- how does that work in reality? What if the sources are actually misinformed or untruthful? Then the "general knowledge" is actually "general ignorance." Shouldn't there be a better standard than that for what constitutes general knowledge?

In the case of a smudging ceremony, even if I found a few dozen very different sources with similar information, the information could probably not be considered general knowledge, since relatively few people in the general population have actually ever heard of smudging. Which makes it specialized knowledge. And it's always safer to cite a source of specialized knowledge. Especially if you lift verbatim quotes from that source.

neoletti said...

Plagiarism is not just using something word-for-word as some people think - it is using someone else's ideas as well without giving credit. You can't just paraphrase or change 1 or 2 words in a passage and call it your own.

Any high school or college student would be kicked out of a class for passages such as the ones marked if a teacher used software to check the Internet. If a student wouldn't be able to do it, why should someone who is getting paid to create stories be able to do it?

Mary said...

It sounds like plagarism to me. It is obvious that the intellectual content is extremely similar as is the language. They should have stated somewhere in the book that they used this site.

Is anyone else out there a librarian? We don't censor, but do we respond to this? The poor language/content regarding the Cherokee culture is also troublesome. Teens are very impressionable. How can we educate them that this is not a good portrayal?

wombat1138 said...

The word-for-word "smudging" passage appears to be all over the web, though it's not clear to me where it originated. The most official-looking context is an official policy document by the state of Montana about providing smudging rooms in health-care facilities-- it's indexed on this page as "Provider Smudging". The document itself is undated, but the site's search page has the date tag 2008-11-07 attached to it.

...which is even more interesting, in that Marked seems to've been published in May 2007. There must be a widely-known print source that everyone is leeching off of, but which isn't indexed in Google Books yet (which only picks up Marked).

Anonymous said...

As I understand it the Casts are from Oklahoma, a place steeped in Native American history. I believe that the use of the "romantic" imagery involving Native Americans only shows esteem and a sense of value for the culture. To state your views on their approach at intertwining the spiritual realms of vampyres and Native Americans is one thing, but to attack the integrity of their writing without substantial evidence is irresponsible at best.

The information given for a smudging ceremony, no matter the source, will be very similar in nature. Smudging has been a practice within various religions, and, to my knowledge, has held the same meaning throughout history. The fact that P.C. and Kristen Cast actually took the time to find the original purpose of smudging only shows dedication to their craft and their desire for verisimilitude within the fictional setting.

In their books, I notice a common theme of love for nature and people of all cultures, races, creeds and colors. If only we had more of that in the real world.

jpm said...

Some thoughts: It's possible to imagine oneself respecting a culture or group of people and still put forward mistaken ideas about that culture/group. Ignorance of one's mistake is a temporary excuse.

The true test of my "respect" comes when someone from the group tells me, "You've got it wrong in a pretty obnoxious way." If I say, "No matter, I mean well, so what I said will stand" -- that's not respect.

If someone is dedicated to providing verisimilitude in their fiction, wouldn't it show more dedication if they went beyond internet sources that are not directly connected with the group about which they are writing?

Maybe someone out there can fill us in: are smudging ceremonies pretty much the same across Native communities? For that matter, are smudging ceremonies traditional across Native communities?

Miss Meg said...


You sound like you're either one of the Casts or their agent. *eyeroll*.

These people are MAKING MONEY off of someone else's unattributed words. Never mind making money off of someone else's culture by painting a completely inaccurate picture of it for their own benefit and reinforcing stereotypes.

Woohoo, they bothered to read some websites and a couple of books. That doesn't constitute good writing, research, or fair use.

Portraying Cherokee ceremonies as exotic (and using language and vocabulary to that effect) merely enforces that white culture/religion = normal = right. That's not respect, that's the propping up of white privilege. And I say this as a white person.

In their books, I notice a common theme of love for nature and people of all cultures, races, creeds and colors. If only we had more of that in the real world.

Oh, please. Bite me. This sounds like the kind of crap I hear my fellow white people giving out when they don't want to admit that their "love" of other people's cultures is really just appropriation for their own benefit.

If they loved Cherokee culture so much they would have a) gotten it right b) acknowledged their sources and c) not reinforced stereotypes and prejudices.

hschinske said...

"Kat W., a librarian in Benton Harbor wrote to say "if you can find at least 5 sources that do not reference a specific piece of information then it is considered general knowledge and does not need to be sited in your work." "

I had to read the above about four times to figure out what Kat meant (it sounded at first as though there were an extra "not" in there). I take it she means five sources that give a piece of information without citing any reference (as might easily happen with something that really is common knowledge, like George Washington's birthdate). But that's a piece of information -- not an easily identifiable hunk of words repeated verbatim, or nearly so, over and over. In any case, it's definitely not okay to plagiarize just because five or more other people did so first.

I am, by the way, a librarian and an editor. One of the editorial tasks I frequently perform is fact-checking, and you'd better believe a passage like this would be one of the ones that I would highlight for plagiarism and not check further.

Helen Schinske

Delux said...

@Anonymous 12/25, I was under the impression that the whole US is "steeped in native american history"? Seeing as how it was all Indian land first.

@JPM, well said.

Kat Werner said...

First of all, basic respect would call for someone to directly contact the person they are discussing, not to take direct quotes from a mailing list and post them on a forum. An interesting point in a thread about plagiarism, wouldn't you think? I mean at least you "cited" me correctly. But, my post stands as it is. If a piece of information is not citied 5 times on its own, then it is not usually considered plagiarism to include it in one's own work without citing it. Now this is based on classes I've taken within the past 6 months, so if you've heard something new since then I'd be happy to know.

That said, my initial question (that you decided not to quote) still stands. Is Debbie's problem with her perceived "plagiarism" or with her complete lack of respect for "New Age" religions? Since she said that those religions just " make stuff up as they go along after stealing from other traditions?" (quoting from myself)

Since she didn't answer the question on the YALSA list, I assume it is more the fact that she is insulted that someone else shares her "religious" background. That said, since the author of this blog discredits anyone who is not recognized by a specific Indian Band (something instituted by white governments) I would assume it is another instance of her racism and not really a problem with plagiarism as she makes it out to be.

But what do I know, I am just a "new age" pagan married to an Ojibway Indian who is a generation away from the chief of his band?

hschinske said...

Kat Werner wrote:

"First of all, basic respect would call for someone to directly contact the person they are discussing, not to take direct quotes from a mailing list and post them on a forum."

Debbie posted the quotation from the list. I was simply responding to the point as I had seen it here, in this context. I had not seen your original post, as I don't subscribe to the list on which it appeared.

The closest match to your "five sources" rule of thumb I've found was on, which gave that suggestion not on its own, but in the context of other tests:

"Material is probably [note PROBABLY] common knowledge if . . .
• You find the same information undocumented in at least five other
• You think it is information that your readers will already know.
• You think a person could easily find the information with general
reference sources."

The same source also makes it quite clear that the use of someone else's exact words without a citation is always plagiarism. (The only exception I can think of myself is when the words are a very direct statement of fact that is likely to have been duplicated word-for-word by various authors, such as "[Historical event] happened in [year]." I don't think anyone would ding you for that kind of thing.)

For my part, I think students would be safer following the advice given at "The basic rule of thumb is that any information that can be found in five or more credible, general reference sources is general knowledge." The "credible, general reference" part seems to me to be key.

Incidentally, the "five sources" advice (though without the "undocumented" part) appears in writing guides (such as Winkler & McCuen's _Writing the Research Paper_, 1979) that predate students' use of the Internet. Presumably (though I've only seen a snippet on Google Books, so maybe there was more context) it wasn't as important to specify the exact type of source when everyone was assumed to be using print encyclopedias and such.

I see a pretty wide variety of thoughts and practices categorized as "New Age" out there. *Some* "New Agers" quite certainly do exploit Native American traditions in a disrespectful way, and I think Debbie is right to call those people out on it.

Helen Schinske

Debbie Reese said...

Kat and I are both on the YALSA-BK listserv. It is an ALA list for discussion of young adult literature. When I posted "P.C. and Kristin Cast Plagiarize in MARKED" to my blog, I also posted this email to YALSA-BK:

"Recently I read PC and Kristin Cast's MARKED. This morning I was studying parts of it and realized that there's some word-for-word copy/paste in the part of the book about smudging. It's meant to be "Native ceremony" but the material is lifted from a New Age site... New Age practitioners misappropriate a lot of Native practice, more or less making it up as they go."


I received a reply directly from Kat. It did not go to YALSA-BK. In addition to the information she shared about five sources, she said:

"I wonder though, is your contempt for the New Age practice including Native American traditions, or for what you feel to be plagiarism in these books? Because you do realize that you are being rather insulting to New Agers with your post claiming that they make stuff up as they go along after stealing from other traditions."

I did not respond to the latter part of her email but will do so now.

Kat: Contempt is a strong word. I'm not sure I would use it.

I do, however, strongly object to appropriation of Native spirituality. And, I strongly object to the ways that P.C. and Kirsten Cast use Native content and spirituality in MARKED. And I strongly object to the plagiarism, too! So, I object to all three. I'm not using one as a mask of sorts when another is my primary concern. Each one is a serious problem.

Kat said my remarks (that New Agers make stuff up and steal from other traditions) is insulting to New Agers. In other comments, Kat says that she is "just a "new age" pagan married to an Ojibway Indian who is a generation away from the chief of his band."

I don't know what to say, Kat. I don't know if you are serious about being a pagan who is married to an Ojibway man, or if you're joking.

Kat said:

"Since she [Debbie] did not answer the question on the YALSA list, I assume it is more the fact that she is insulted that someone else shares her "religious" background."

What do you think my "religious" background is? Do you think that you share my religious background?

Kat said:

"[S]ince the author of this blog [Debbie] discredits anyone who is not recognized by a specific Indian Band (something instituted by white governments) I would assume it is another instance of her racism and not really a problem with plagiarism as she makes it out to be."

That's quite a lot, Kat. I assume you view me as racist for writing about John Smelcer's claims to Indian identity, and, for writing about Jamake Highwater and "Forrest" Carter and their claims to Native identity. I stand by what I've written about Native identity and any Native Nation's sovereign right to determine who is a member of its tribe, nation, band, pueblo, or whatever term a Nation uses to define itself.

Anonymous said...

Ideas are not copyrightable. It appears to me that research was done and while the content is very close it has either been reworded from other text or just happens to be similar.

Delux said...

*catches up on thread*

I've got some popcorn.
Pinon flavored....

hschinske said...

Anonymous, the content HAS NOT EVEN BEEN REWORDED. Really, how would you define plagiarism, if the smudging example *isn't*?

See or

Helen Schinske

Aine said...

Not saying that they did or did not plagarize, because I don't know. But I feel the need to say that this book was written several years ago. Perhaps the store took what they said and re-wrote it almost the exact same way. Maybe they were plagarized.

All of the Cast's books are based in mythology and goddess worship. They say in the FAQ part of their website that they will not say their religion. I, personally, am pagan, and that means I worship god and goddess. The invocations they write are beautiful and their knowledge on casting a circle and holding ritual is spot on. We sometimes use smudging in our rituals, and we do it the way they do in the books... because that's the way to do it. So either they’re of a goddess worship or they are very good at researching.

I'm Cherokee. Not 100%... but my Grandma was. It does not offend me in the way they portray them. You say they are romanticizing them. Well, they are also romanticizing vampyres. They write primarily romance with myth blended in. So it's no real surprise the level of romanticism in this series.

As far as stereotypes go, they’re in all books. The reason for that? Stereotypes are usually based in truth.

Truth Unleashed said...

The difference between romanticizing the Cherokee and romanticizing vampires is that the Cherokee are human beings. They have an established culture, in which individuals seek to find their place as they do in any other culture. They have individual personalities, quiet joys and mundane frustrations. Their lives encompass comedy and tragedy, spirituality and barbarity, loftiness and dullness, in pretty much the same combination as yours or mine or any other human life. Vampires, on the other hand, DON'T EXIST, so they can be whatever the heck you want them to be.