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Sometimes Love Means You DO Have to Say You’re Sorry

THE WASHINGTON POST

Heaving bosoms and throbbing loins are all very well, but if you really want to make a romance writer breathe heavily, try pinching her prose.

Janet Dailey, who has sold more books than any other woman in the United States, begged forgiveness last week for plagiarizing from a younger rival, Nora Roberts.

At least for the moment, Roberts isn’t accepting it. “I am continuing to evaluate my options,” she said, including a lawsuit. “I would sympathize with any problems she may have, but plagiarism under any circumstances is a line that cannot be crossed.”

By Dailey’s own admission, she has big problems. In a statement, she said her “essentially random and non-pervasive acts of copying are attributable to a psychological problem that I never even suspected I had. I have already begun treatment for the disorder and have been assured that, with treatment, this behavior can be prevented in the future.”

Roberts, who learned about the plagiarism from an online discussion of the books’ similarities, certainly intends to do just that. From Florida, where she was to attend the Romance Writers of America convention, she wondered about Dailey’s use of the word “non-pervasive.”

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“I don’t know what that means in this case,” said Roberts, who lives in Maryland. “It seems pervasive to me.”

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Dailey, 53, who lives in Branson, Mo., acknowledged that two of her 90-plus books, “Aspen Gold” and “Notorious,” contained passages and ideas copied from Roberts’ work. Her statement said the plagiarism occurred in the early ‘90s when she was under great professional and personal stress, including her husband’s lung cancer and the loss of two brothers to cancer.

Sanford Brokaw, a Los Angeles publicist for Dailey, said there were other factors too. “They had a dog that was 13 years old that died,” he said.

Brokaw said a settlement had been reached involving a contribution by Dailey to the Literacy Volunteers of America.

“It’s not settled,” countered Roberts. “And this wasn’t just a matter of the early ‘90s, since an upcoming manuscript was also copied, and it’s now the late ‘90s.”

Brokaw confirmed that “there was a third book, but we’re stopping that.” He didn’t know the title.

“Notorious,” published by HarperCollins last year, stars Eden Rossiter, who beats a murder charge and then must save the family ranch--with the help of an ex-rodeo star whose sleepy look almost conceals his cold, hard blue-eyed gaze. Roberts said HarperCollins has agreed not to accept further orders for the book. No one at the publisher could be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Roberts was planning to look through all of Dailey’s recent books before she accepted any apology. “There’s a pattern here,” she said.

In her statement, Dailey said, “I can only apologize to Nora, whom I’ve considered a friend.”

Responded Roberts: “I considered her a friend. I do not consider her a friend at this time.”

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Dailey’s first novel appeared in 1976 from Harlequin; she eventually wrote more than 50 novels for that firm alone. Her total sales, according to one of her more recent publishers, are about 300 million worldwide.

She once identified her audience as “like me. They are work-oriented women who are under a great deal of stress. They are very involved . . . and they need an escape.”

Roberts, 46, has been writing for less time--18 years--but has published more than 100 books. All told, they’ve sold more than 30 million copies. Her recent novels have been on the bestseller lists, which is no longer automatically true of Dailey.

In the small Maryland town of Boonsboro, Dailey’s books soon won’t be sold at all. The bookstore, Turn the Page, is run by Roberts’ husband, Bruce Wilder.

“What do you think?” asked Roberts. “He has to sleep with me, right? He has to. So, no, Ms. Dailey’s books will not be sold in the store.”


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