Recently, I discovered that the man who plagiarized me has died. My fiction has been plagiarized a couple of times, but this was The Big One, the one where a character and storyline I had worked hard to develop over several years ended up as a subplot in a bestselling trilogy. Enough minor details were changed to make even me think that it was an odd coincidence at first… until a scene in the trilogy’s final book that was copied nearly word-for-word from one of the short stories I had posted online.
I was only 14, young enough to feel powerless despite the evidence I could have brought against this author. My father was also battling cancer at the time, and I didn’t want to add to the stress on our family. So I said nothing, did nothing, even after this author claimed that the character he had plagiarized from me was one of his supreme creations. But the pain and anger stayed with me–and worse, it changed me. I grew cynical and suspicious of others, unwilling to share what I created for fear that it would be stolen again.
When I needed feedback on my current manuscript, I started with a tiny circle of readers that consisted only of family members and a few of my most trusted friends–and even then, I all but required non-disclosure agreements before handing over the book. Over time my circle of readers expanded, and with each new reader I allowed in, the scars on my heart faded a little more. For the first time since I opened that book and discovered my words under someone else’s name, I began to heal, and I owe a huge debt to the friends who have been so patient with me as I have slowly learned to move past this. Not only do I trust more people these days, but trust comes easier as well, and there is so much freedom in letting others in. I’m sure I will always be cautious about plagiarism, but I think there will be a time when this comes from simply acknowledging the wisdom of protecting my work, rather than a place of fear and pain.
To be honest, I kind of thought I’d reached that point already. Then I found out that the plagiarist had died, and all the old scars flared up. Not enough to make me retreat into my shell, thankfully, but enough to show me that I’m not done healing yet. I don’t even know how to react to his death–everything inside me is a red-hot tangle of conflicting emotions. I’ve cried, I’ve ranted, I’ve freaked out… and now I just want to be free of this man and what he did to me. Letting go is never easy, but publicly speaking up for myself for the first time in 18 years seems like a good start. And maybe this weekend, I will drive out to one of the beautiful, serene places I love best in the Pacific Northwest with my copy of the plagiarized book and burn the words that were stolen from me so long ago. Not as revenge, not to destroy or erase what was done to me, but simply to watch the past dissolve into ashes and smoke, to let the wind carry it all away.