Whenever you enter into a professional field, you discover aspects of the craft that you never anticipated.

In my 35 years of writing I have had some strange Japanese fellow claim to be me on line (he may still be doing so, for all I know), a priest in New England literally lift passages from Letters to My Son and use them as his own in published sermons (I let it pass, much to the dismay of my more litigious and anti-Catholic friends), and seen a professor in the Philippines build a public following and develop his professional reputation around his thievery of my chapter on Marriage in Simple Truths.

But nothing has compared to the recent discovery that a highly popular French film, Driving Madeleine, currently showing around America as well, was a direct lifting of my story from Make Me an Instrument of your Peace about the time I picked up an elderly woman in my cab and drove her through her old neighborhood before dropping her off at a hospice.

To be fair, this story got cut loose from its point of origin in my book and set free on the internet, where it was often attributed to “anonymous” or claimed by various wannabe writers or inspirational bloggers. But, by and large, it was appropriately credited and became the one thing I’ve ever written that has “gone viral”, to use the parlance of a generation to which I do not belong.

“Aha,” I thought, when I first found out about the film.  ‘That’s my story.”  For once in my life I had dollar signs in my eyes and I was prepared to move to some South Sea island and spend my life smoking cigars and drinking Margaritas (“I said, ‘no salt, no salt'” for those of you in the know).

Alas, the legal Big Dogs said there is no case there. I would be squashed like a bug and drained of every penny I had. “You can’t copyright an idea,” they said. “You will be legal road kill.”

Now, there are many things I don’t want to be, and legal road kill is high on the list. So I have taken my dashed hopes and trudged back to my writing desk where I hunker down listening to the echo of my father and every other working stiff I have ever known who said, “Better the slow nickel than the quick dollar.” But it was a good fantasy while it lasted.

Now you can see for yourself what that fantasy was all about. Here’s the cab driving story: https://kentnerburn.com/the-cab-ride-ill-never-forget/.  And here’s the IMDB listing for Driving Madeleine:https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14586118/.  The trailer doesn’t show the ending at the nursing home, but, trust me, it’s there.

Oh well, life goes on.

Hunker, hunker.  Write, write.  Where’s that nickel?


  1. Bummer… that was (is) a brilliant, touching, beautifully written story, and your should receive great gobs of money for a film adaptation.

  2. Carol Ann Briske

    I am so sorry. I am constantly amazed and ashamed at the ignorance and in this case audacity of people.
    I will be 90 in May. It breaks my heart that humankind has not improved. Is still cruel and unkind. Had hoped, in my lifetime to see an end to it instead an acceleration seems to be occurring.

  3. The movie business is unfortunately full of a lot of rip-off artists with no integrity and a lot of greed. If they had any integrity, they would credit you prominently in the film — “Based on the short story, ”Driving Madeleine’ by Kent Nerburn in his book, ‘Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace’ — and they would send you a big fat check.

  4. This is upsetting Kent, all the same. I’m having to pray to calm down.

    Thievery of an idea is still thievery.
    We can only hate the sin, not the sinner.

    It’s no consolation, but:
    God sees everything. Nothing is without consequence, or karma, or what goes around.
    Even if we pray for them as the Lord prayed for those who crucified Him.
    He would have us remember His suffering to help us with ours.

    More importantly, you have enriched our lives considerably, opening our eyes and hearts.
    It may be good that others are using your work to do this, but not if they take credit.

    I’m sure your legal eagles said that if they profit in a provable way, you got a case.
    Any publication without credit to you is plagiarism. Same as thievery.
    Please look into this further.

    I am glad you’ve taken the slow nickel, Kent. God Bless your dad.
    The riches of Heaven await, far greater than south sea margaritas.
    Salted or not.

  5. Mr. Nerburn,
    You have quite a few of MY hard earned, slow coming nickles. I’m reading “the Artists Journey” now; its been inspiring to me.

    In a few years I’ll be retired and I’m looking forward to becoming a full-time artist – its where my passion lies (music, photography, watercolors, charcoal, calligraphy, etc.). Thank you for stoking that fire!


  6. Some people are liars, some are thieves, some are liars AND thieves.
    Write, write, write; here a nickel, there a nickel. The first bit of advice Brian Doyle gave to me: “You’re not expecting to make any money at this, are you?”

  7. Dear Kent, I’m sorry this happened to you. Corporate America is very cruel. And, there are others too, certain individuals, or religious groups who are also cruel. One of my best and most popular Spanish language songs, Dulce Milagro, which was released on my Latin Grammy nominated album, Amar a alquien Como yo, was lifted from the Internet and recorded by a “Christian” hispanic church group for their album. They never asked permission…just recorded it and called it theirs. It’s been years now. I’ve never been able to offer my song, to my public via the digital domain because the digital gatekeepers say, “Oh, this song has already been recorded by someone else–this isn’t your song.” Go figure? And, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. There is also a song called, “Familia,” that was taken…by another, very well known Latin artist…but, that is another story, for another time. It’s all very disappointing, to say the least. Thankfully, my parents taught me to never make a decision during the day that will keep me up at night. Peace is priceless. And your books have contributed to my peace–at times when I needed it most. You are a blessing to millions of people. Your reach will never be known…an infinite ripple of goodness through the universe. That’s the beauty of art. That’s the beauty of integrity. That’s the beauty of you. Be at peace.


    At age of 75, I will happily take the south sea margaritas, also without salt! God is everywhere, including there. 🙂

  9. I saw this story on the internet several times over the last few years, but I didn’t know that it had been appropriated from your writing. I remember the essence of the story because it reveals the assumptions we sometimes make and how misleading these can be, and how these assumptions can block empathy and compassion, which are endangered qualities.

  10. If it’s any consolation, Neither Wolf Nor Dog is very high on my list of favorite books. I also have the other 2 in the trilogy plus 3 or 4 others. They have meant a lot to me and I sing your praises every chance I get. Love assuredly beats the mighty dollar, no? Sorry you lost out on some deserved compensation but very happy it doesn’t stop you. Thank you for your work!

  11. you have inspired many to a better way of living life, you are making this world so much better by having shared your insights, and we are looking forward to more of your sharing, thanks Kent!

  12. I like your story much better.
    I’m very sorry it was not credited to you.
    For me, it makes me think of “why”. I see so much of this, across the spectrum of human behavior. Sometimes I wonder if the “slow nickel” is for the weak or gullible, but I’m not comfortable living the life of the quick dollar” nor do I believe it is right.
    I suspect this must gall you, it would me for sure. But, it’s meaningless compared the beauty and wonder of what you have created over the years.

  13. Pat Dunn Wagner

    Ha. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and taken to heart ‘the Madeleine story’ posted on a plethora of social media sites. I’ve even shared the story, I’m sure. I will now shout it from the mountain tops that the compassionate cab driver who brought “Madeleine” a moment of joy is, indeed, a well known though humble man who has changed lives through his exceptional story telling.

  14. A film from France, the same nation that has shown a great love for Neither Wolf Nor Dog. That’s a double-edged sword. They love your work!

  15. https://www.frkelly.com/library/imitation-not-always-flattering
    Oscar Wilde: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”.

    The nearest I’ve ever come to making much of anything on my writing of several decades was an In Memoriam I published in our local newspaper about my elderly neighbor from our rural township in NW Minnesota, who, while out driving the country roads with his friend about the same age, one April evening in 1992, posed for a photograph on a large diameter field-crossing culvert over a flooded ditch, where immediately upstream was a huge whirlpool. His friend snapped the photo and turned away to put the camera into the truck, and when he looked back the neighbor was gone, after possibly suffering a seizure. The neighbor’s family were so touched by my piece they honored me by offering me the first opportunity to buy their departed family member’s farm, or any part thereof, whose land adjoined mine. Tragedy followed tragedy, when in 1999, the old friend who took the photograph committed suicide.

    I’ve long been conscious of copyright. I self-published what started out as a zine then evolved to become a full-color art, history & humor magazine, for 24 years. I wrote several Permission to Reprint slips and always received permission just because, I think, I went to the trouble of asking; likewise, I met individuals I’d never have the occasion to meet. It’s too bad the people who stole your work didn’t treat you with the same simple consideration, Kent.

  16. I am a bit delayed at reading your email/post. I feel outraged and disgusted. I’m so sorry this has happened to you, such a talented writer. I read your book many years ago. In fact, I think I’ve reread it at least three times. I reach for your books when I need a dose of the “real” in this superficial world we are living in.
    I won’t watch the movie. I won’t support something that is not genuine. Trust that we (your slow nickel) recognize you for the brilliance that you are. Your story is forever YOURS. Thank you for your truths. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.
    This is truly a shame.

  17. You’re very kind, Diane. But I wouldn’t hold it against the movie. I think it was an honest oversight and not an act of thievery, because the story floats around unattributed o the internet. Still, they should have done due diligence. The issue now is if there is legal recourse. That’s where the rub comes. Had the director and screenwriter been aware of the authorship, they surely would have sought permission and some kind of arrangement could have been made. But now the horse is out of the barn and the film rights holders of the story here in the states have chosen to do nothing. They are between me and any solution. Thanks for caring. It’s great to know that there are folks out there like you.

  18. Debbie Sandersfeld

    I have a hard copy of your book The Wisdom of the Native Americans that I was looking for a audio copy so I can do my art while I listen to the book. Instead I asked Google a question is Kent Nerburn still alive? Here I am still waiting to know if I can USPS you the book I have so I can have you sign it. My copy is dated First Printing March 1999. Just asking on the World Wide Web, peace be with you and know what comes around goes around always.

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