Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Year of Magical Plagiarism (or, I Was a Sixth Grade Cheater)

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A sketchy boy I had a crush on for three days at camp once told me, breathily, that once you were a cheater you were always a cheater.

It was after lights-out, around a campfire that marked our clothes for days, and, at the time, it felt extra-strength profound. Like most camp revelations do.

And while it was true for him - he confessed that he'd cheated on every girlfriend he'd ever had, and cheated on another one later that summer - I'm reasonably proud of the fact that cheating (along with crushing on sketchy boys) is something that I've grown out of.

And yes, of course I understand that adherence or non-adherence to monogamy is vastly different from the act of plagiarism, but come on, it was a cute introduction, wasn't it?

***

In grade six I was a cheater. A plagiarist. A falsifier. I greedily co-opted the work of others without ever feeling guilty or getting caught. I'm sorry, Mrs. Kapsa, but it's true.

I'm writing this post not to brag about it, or to blame myself for my young ego, only to lay bare the strange truth that for a whole year I turned in class assignments that were wholly unoriginal without giving it a second thought. It's creepy. If this were fiction, I'd definitely consider it a warning sign.

Nevertheless, when asked to write an adventure story in my grade six English class, I happily summarized the plot of an Enid Blyton book that my mom had read to my brother and me as kids, turning it in as an original story. The Valley of Adventure became The Valley of Treasure, and, as I recall, I got an A.

Months later, my class did a project on Treasure Island, and were asked to provide original illustrations for the story. Instead of drawing my own, which I didn't feel like, I used my family's late-90s era scanner and a copy of an illustrated young-readers adaptation of the novel to complete the assignment. B+.

By grade seven I had a more challenging teacher and eventually broke the pattern I'd worked myself into. Still, my writing through middle school, and even high school, was pretty uninspired. I was not the star student that my teachers were betting on.

It took a lot of work, and a lot of discarded writing, before I managed to write anything worth publishing. (Ask me about my short story collection sometime. No, really.)

And I think that's a good thing. It means I can speak honestly to kids and teens and tell them that it's okay if you haven't been writing since the womb. It's okay if you haven't dedicated every day of your life to finding your voice. It's okay to be bad. You should be bad! It's important to be bad. I am all about being bad.

If a dweeb like me can get published, why not you?

Why not you? (Imagine a dramatic pointing gesture here.)

Why not you? (And also here.)

It's not that I advocate cheating. I don't. I really, really don't.

But everybody's got to start somewhere.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.