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Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230

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I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

Plagiarism, Addiction, and “Assassin of Secrets”

I write with a constant worry that I’m stealing.

Unconsciously, semiconsciously, subconsciously, stealing the lines and words and phrases of other writers. To a certain extent, of course, I am. There are a finite number of words in English, and therefore a finite number of phrases. Someone, sometime, somewhere, has already written “There are a finite number of words in English.” To a deeper, truer, more meaningful extent, of course, every single thing that is ever written that is not a deliberate plagiarism is whole and fresh and unique, and that’s what keeps us all going.

But when I read a line like this, I really, really wish I had thought of it first:

Laurel had cried all her bones out and was too floppy to worry that she was red-nosed and puffy-eyed in front of a boy.

–Joshilyn Jackson, the girl who stopped swimming, 2008

Seriously? She had cried all her bones out, and was too floppy to care? There’s so much packed into that line that I just want to write a scene where I can steal that line and pretend it was mine. But it wasn’t. And that’s the important part, right there. The moral, ethical, philosophical issue that separates the writer from the plagiarist. I want to pretend it was mine, but it wasn’t is a far cry from I want to pretend it was mine, and no one will notice.

Yes, this is about Quentin Rowan.

The same Quentin Rowan, who, under the pen name of “Q. R. Markham,” wrote “wrote” a spy novel that was published by Mulholland. (You can search and find a billion references, but that link is to what I think is the best place to start, at the blog of spy-novelist Jeremy Duns, who is standing rather honorably through the whole thing, and whose efforts need to be read.) When the book was pulled from shelves by its publisher because of the revelation of plagiarism (and that should be Plagiarism With a Capital P), I watched rather angrily as too many people in the press tried to put it off as some sort of post-post-modernist comment on the state of publishing in general, or of spy-fiction in particular, or on the very concept of intellectual property. Not because I thought that any of these arguments would actually change anybody’s mind on any of these issues, but because I felt that Mr Rowan would surely seize on them in an attempt to explain himself, and that his effort would largely succeed. We, as a society, love a bad boy best when he is unashamedly bad, after all.

But there’s another post, also from Mr Duns, that should also be read.

In the comments section on Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets, Mr Duns details a fairly extensive email Q and A between himself and Mr Rowan that reads like the confession of an addict. In fact, Mr Rowan himself uses the comparison of plagiary to addiction:

“I can only compare it to other kinds of obsession or addictive behavior like gambling or smoking: in that there was no need to do it initially, but once I’d started I couldn’t stop and my mind kept finding ways to rationalize the behavior. Even though, somewhere deep in the chasms of my thick brain, I knew it would destroy me: it did something for me in the moment.”

Quentin Rowan, as quoted by Jeremy Duns

I should be clear that I would find the wholesale plagiarism from which this book apparently is stitched together to be immoral and unethical, even if it were done to make some obscure “comment.” I should be clear that I find it immoral and unethical, even if it stems from some subconscious compulsion.

But I have to admit, this is a frightening glimpse into the depths of the human mind.

4 comments to Plagiarism, Addiction, and “Assassin of Secrets”

  • I think, if he KNEW he was plagerizing and knew it was wrong, he shouldn’t have sought to get the book published and just chalked it down to fanfiction and moved on to something else.

    But that’s just me… and considering he almost got away with it, if it weren’t for those damn kids…
    Aloria´s last blog post: Symbol of Hope AVAILABLE!

  • What he did was absolutely wrong, and there is no excuse. I am glad, however, that he did admit it, and that he didn’t attempt to use any of the ridiculous commentaries from the press to explain himself or to justify what he did in any way. If people want to discuss the state of publishing or the genre or whether readers notice repetition – fine, but they shouldn’t muddy that up with stealing someone’s work. So as wrong as Q.R. was, I have to respect that he’s come clean without excuses. I suspect a part of him is glad to have been caught.
    Sarah´s last blog post: Foray into Fandom

    • I agree with the “glad to be caught” assessment. I think you read it in the comments he has made after the discovery.

      I think the other end of this spectrum is represented by a young woman I know, a fantastic writer with a powerful voice, who has steadfastly refused to read any fiction since she decided to become an author. She is plugging away at her MFA, secure in the knowledge that when she writes her novel, it will be hers and hers alone.

      Somewhere in the middle, we all muddle along, reading and writing and hoping we can stay on top of how the two mix. If I ever got caught copying something that had soaked into my brain by sheer osmosis, I’d be as mortified as Rowan was, and he was doing it deliberately. :)