Elaine Jarvik and Brooke Adams are two of the city's finer writers, so a couple of years ago when they sat down to collaborate on a creative project, there was reason to suspect it would be good writing.

But no one knew just how good.

The journalists — Elaine is a reporter for the Deseret Morning News, Brooke for the Salt Lake Tribune — selected bits of writing from many of the best books ever written, tied them together and produced a 2,000-word story that made sense.

From the likes of Faulkner, Steinbeck, Norman Mailer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack London — and dozens more of the most acclaimed English writers who ever lived — they lifted, borrowed, transitioned and pasted.

The result was something beautifully written and completely original — and without a word of their own.


By the strictest definition, Elaine and Brooke realized they could be called plagiarists. They took someone else's words and made them theirs. But plagiarism and its elusive boundaries was one of the compelling reasons that got them to take off on such a wild literary journey in the first place.

At the time they started, a number of highly publicized plagiarism cases were in the news, "and we were intrigued by the whole idea of what belongs to the author and what belongs to the public," said Elaine. Added Brooke: "We thought, wouldn't it be funny to write something and footnote every single thing."

Which is exactly what they did. In their short story, titled "The Rearrangement," every lifted quote is duly footnoted.

In a way, the writers all-star game they organized was merely an extension of what they do daily as newspaper reporters.

"It's what a journalist does, gets a bunch of quotes and puts them all together," said Elaine. "As a reporter, you're taking other people's beautiful sentences, tying them together and hopefully making them make sense. You're not supposed to have your own thoughts."


Only in this case, unlike your basic newspaper story, they went backward by starting with quotes and then worrying about the story.

On the one hand, they had a reporter's fondest fantasy — quotes to die for; words that should be sung from a mountaintop.

But they had no plot.

"It was fun, like a treasure hunt, but it was hard," Elaine said.

When the writers were finished purloining, the Iowa Review published "The Rearrangement" online (you can access it in its entirety at www.desnews.com) and now, the Salt Lake Public Library has teamed with the Community Writing Center, KUER, Random House and the King's English bookstore to organize a local writing contest replicating Elaine and Brooke's idea.

Yes, the plagiarists have been plagiarized.

Anyone can enter and contest rules stipulate that the story must be between 1,000 and 3,000 words and must contain quotes from at least 50 books on the Random House list of the 100 best novels ("The Rearrangement" contains 67). Also, it must not contain any original words — if they're not somebody else's, they don't qualify. The deadline is March. There will be modest prizes and immortal acclaim.

"I would love to see this become Salt Lake's own little quirky literary contest," Brooke said.

Elaine seconded that sentiment and advised, "Start soon, because it's hard."

And from Faulkner, Kipling, Woolf and the rest, so far, not a word.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.