Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Bermuda Triangle Syndrome

This year, 2015, is the 40th anniversary of the publishing of my first book (with Jerome Clark). The Unidentified appeared in 1975, from Warner Books. It was republished in combination with its 1978 sister book, Creatures of the Outer Edge, in 2006; see here.

Down through the years, there are over a 100 books that I have contributed to (through introductions, prefaces, forewords), authored, coauthored, and/or edited. That's a good number of books to have seen published, released, reprinted, and revised in old and new editions with your name attached to them.

Seeing that sentence, you probably don't believe it when I say that authors never really ever get rich. Oh, okay, maybe one percent do, if they write 50 Shades of whatever, but most of us are poor and using free sites like blogger to keep writing, waiting to pull things together for our next book. But there is a truth to the fact that the more books you have out there, the less "original" your next publisher thinks you are. That is especially if you specialize in the nonfiction field of unexplained natural and human mysteries, it seems.

Let's look at one truth of what happens to an established writer like myself.

So much has been recycled on the web by others from my books, articles and blogs, today publishers think I'm "borrowing" from others' work when a search of the contents of a new manuscript shows up seemingly similar sections via an online search. This is a troubling trend for authors, of course.

The reality is you can find anything and everything on the net, and everyone seems to use your stuff, as they please, without original attributions.

But it is nothing new. It use to be done by the hard work of collecting all the works on one topic, and extracting what worked for your next "masterpiece." What's new, of course, is that "Google," "Yahoo," and other forms of online searching are available Internet wide of a vast body of written material. There is even a term for this acquiring of material from others and its use by Forteans in books about "Fortean phenomena" or "Forteana."

It's called the "Bermuda Triangle Syndrome."

Photo credit: Fortean Picture Library.

Author Dave Goudsward, in an article he wrote in 1978, coined this practice the "Bermuda Triangle Syndrome," after Berlitz's reuse of the same stories in his various books. This was because intermediate authors had "borrowed" and modified Berlitz's own material to the point where Berlitz himself didn't recognize it when he went looking to "borrow" material. 

In academia, such borrowing occurs all the time, as in scholarly citing of others' work and the revision and inclusion of the material in new writings. In the world of popular literature, it is often done, but more casually and with an understanding it happens often between colleagues in, for example, the Fortean field.

Basically, what Goudsward did in his examination was to put all the "Bermuda Triangle" books in publication order and then he traced the evolution of various snippets and stories about various ships and aircraft used, from title to title. He ended up with one of Berlitz's later books with a story unrecognizable from the original. As Goudsward pointed out in his analysis, Richard Winer was probably the most successful of the revisionists, but, of course, Berlitz was too, even of his own work.

While Charles Berlitz would become the most famous, and by extension, make the most money from his books on the topic, the actual coining of the term "Bermuda Triangle" seems to point to Vincent Gaddis, a Fortean friend of Ivan T. Sanderson. In the February 1964 issue of Argosy, Vincent Gaddis' article "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle" used the phrase widely for the first time.

Most of us try to be very careful about the incorrect of use of our old material, especially as seen through the eyes of ours. But then, sometimes it has evolved so far from your own writings, if you try to quote or paraphrase your own investigated case to give it new clothing, via another source, you probably will be accused of inappropriately using a turn of a phase from someone else, when ultimately, it might have been yours in the first place.

What a world.


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