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Journalist gains readers when his copy turns up, unexpectedly, in a romance novel

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.

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"I discovered they are related to minks and otters," pioneer woman Shiona Bramlett tells Shadow Bear. "It is said their closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population."

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The two lovers continue with dialogue that parallels the ferret article for several paragraphs. The exchange seemed such a non sequitur that one reader got suspicious, and searched the sentences on Google. There she found a match to Tolmé's article. Then in early January, Candy Tan, cofounder of a romance fan blog, made the discovery public. "We're not accusing [Edwards] of anything," she says. "We basically just wanted the information out there for people to see."

A flurry of media attention followed. "It's odd and bizarre," reflects Tolmé. "At first, I was miffed. But the absurdity of this story about endangered ferrets appearing in a romance novel – it was beyond absurd."

Tolmé emphasizes that he doesn't harbor a grudge toward Edwards. "I'm not angry with her. It seems like she committed a sin out of ignorance," he says.

Edwards, for her part, says she never believed she was doing anything wrong or unethical. The author, who previously has declined comment to the media, agreed to a telephone interview from her Mattoon, Ill., home. Still distraught by allegations in published reports, Edwards wanted to tell her side. "When I write these Indian novels, I research to try to get everything authentic for the reader, every detail," she says. "I would never purposely lie or cheat. That's not the way I was raised. I want it all to be true. What I take from books are merely descriptions. The research is research. I don't want to put in things that are just made up."

Edwards, who has 10 million copies of 100 books in print, has been a romance novelist for 25 years. She has always relied on other sources to make her historical novels accurate, she says, and was never asked by any editor or publisher to cite them. "No one ever told me I should be doing it differently." Still, she adds, "from now on, I will let my editors know where I got the research," submitting a list of her sources with every manuscript. Edwards is under contract for two new books.

When the controversy first erupted, her publisher, Signet Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, said the accusations against Edwards were without merit, and that under the fair-use doctrine, an exception to copyright law, "anyone may use facts, ideas and theories developed by another author, as well as any material in the public domain." The statement also said that the practice of meticulously footnoting and citing every source was "virtually unheard of for a popular novel aimed at the consumer market."