Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, July 27, 2007


When I taught freshman grammar & comp, I learned from my colleagues how to Google-sleuth to catch instances of plagiarism. It’s easy: go to and search for a suspicious line or phrase, one that a particular student normally wouldn’t use.

For instance, let’s say that a student writes, “Twas brillig in the ghoul haunted woodland of Weir when my buddies and me got wasted last weekend.”

Put twas brillig in quotation marks and Google: you get 103,000 hits, most referring to the opening line in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, but some referring to blogs that have used the term. Do the same for “ghoul haunted woodland of Weir,” and you get Poe’s "Ulalume.” Only 1,390 hits.

During my college-teaching stint, my most spectacular Google-sleuthing turned up an essay that a student of mine had copied word for word from a professor's website, where he'd posted examples of good essays.

Google-sleuthing is not only helpful for academics; it's helpful for writers, too. On Allie’s Musings, blogger Allie Boniface gives some good tips on “How to Make the Most of A Writing Conference.” She writes, “Research the agents or editors who will be attending, if you're looking to pitch a story or learn more about a certain publishing house.” Good advice! Google can help your research.

Because I’m going to the James River Writers Conference in September, I’ve used Google to learn more about some of the big names there. One JRWC presenter is Michael Stearns, an editor currently with HarperCollins. I heard him speak at Hollins not long ago and know a few things about him. But what has he edited? I Googled “edited by Michael Stearns” and got 424 hits. He’s edited A Wizard’s Dozen, A Starfarer’s Dozen, A Nightmare’s Dozen, The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, and more. Plus I learned what authors he’s edited. Googling “Michael Stearns, editor” yielded 53 hits.

One author at the JRWC is Sharyn McCrumb. I’m heard her speak several times (already twice this year—I’m becoming a McCrumb groupie) and am currently working on an article about her for a local magazine. From info on her website, I know she’s won some awards:

In addition to being honored for Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature by the Appalachian Writer's Association in 1997, Sharyn McCrumb's many awards include these: the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Award; Appalachian Writer of the Year Award in 1999 from Shepherd College; the Flora McDonald Award; Morehead State University's Chaffin Award; and the Plattner Award from Berea College. Her work has twice received the AWA's Best Appalachian Novel Award.

But are there more? I can Google “Sharyn McCrumb” & “Award.” Yep, there’s the Edgar, the Chaffin, the Nero, the MacCavity (twice), etc. An impressive list!

One of the reasons I’m going to the JRWC is to network with agents. The JRWC site lists bios for the agents, but I want to know more. Who, for instance, do they represent?

Jenny Rappaport is the agent with whom I hope to have an interview because she represents middle grade and children’s markets. Googling "represented by Jenny Rappaport" yielded a few hits, and her clients seem happy that she represents them. “Jenny Rappaport, agent” yielded more hits, including a blog that mentioned her in a most positive way and her own blog, Lit Soup. She sounds like the kind of agent I’d love to have represent my work. And she has a black cat. (I have black cats!)

Besides providing info about people you want to know better, Googling can help you avoid people you don’t want to know—scammers. The literary world is infested with them, and many have left electronic trails on the Internet. If you’re not sure of an agent or publisher, Google the person’s name (in quotation marks, so the whole name is searched) and the word scam. Googling infamous scammer-agent “Martha Ivery” & “scam,” for instance, yields 362 hits. Googling "International Library of Poetry" & “scam” yields 1,010 hits. “PublishAmerica” & “scam” yields 29,400 hits.

Wonder why academics and others in the know don’t take Wikipedia as a credible source? Googling a particular Wikipedia editor’s name yields this info about the drop-out who pretended to have a PhD.

Google-sleuthing is a valuable tool for both academics and writers. If you’re not already doing so, periodically Google your own name. You’d be surprised what might turn up.



Blogger Allie Boniface said...

Great post...and thanks for the mention! Nice to find another freshman comp teacher in the world out there...and yes, Google can be very helpful in catching students who want to use the Internet for "help" in writing a paper :)

7:07 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

So THAT'S the trick--Google the name in quotation marks? Because I've Googled myself and things I published didn't come up. I stopped looking after a half dozen pages.

8:22 AM  

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