Elements of Paul Tolmé's piece on black-footed ferrets end up as dialogue in a book by bestselling author Cassie Edwards, yielding new readers for him and charges of copying his prose for her.
photo illustration by scott wallace
Steamboat Springs, Colo.
It's late afternoon as Paul Tolmé strides purposefully through the western-motif lobby of the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, wearing a backpack and toting a reporter's notebook. An easy guess would be that he's an outdoor writer here on assignment for a ski magazine. That guess would be accurate.
As the sun descends on snow-laden Mt. Werner, he's wrapping up a day spent covering a national championship. You probably wouldn't peg the athletic and distinctly masculine Mr. Tolmé as, say, a writer of romantic fiction. That estimation would be correct, too, except for one small detail.
Flip to Chapter 22 in the 2007 novel "Shadow Bear," by bestselling romance author Cassie Edwards, and there you'll read some of Tolmé's prose, virtually word for word. Another small but significant detail is that the text – originally published in an environmental magazine – was replicated in the historical novel without attribution, compensation, or consent from Tolmé.
The result is an odd and unexpected tale of its own. Almost overnight, Tolmé has become a minor celebrity in journalism and literary circles, not for anything he has written, exactly, but for a few of his words that showed up in the romance novel – unknown to him.
Suddenly, he has been inundated with e-mails from admirers, garnered hundreds of new readers and followers, and regularly gets asked by women to pose for pictures, preferably bare-chested with black-footed ferrets (more about that in a minute). He has become, in other words, a sort of character in a real-life romance novel – with intrigue and plot turns and even a little pulchritude.
"I got more attention from this single incident of plagiarism than I've gotten from anything else I've written in my 16 years as a journalist," says a bemused Tolmé.
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