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November 16, 2011



I hadn't heard about this one at all, but even before I got to your thoughts, I was with you.

But it goes back to schools, where parents and students don't see anything wrong with plagarising papers. And I've got the friends who are teachers to prove it.

It's sad that people don't consider stealing of art to be stealing any more.

Now go outline that next novel. I want to be able to read the words from all that blood, sweat, and tears.

Amy Dobek

Bravo, my dear. Your essays always rock. I'm in agreement with you completely. My own best friend argued with me just last Christmas that she should have the right to download anything out there that she wants to. She went all self-righteous and nutty about the Metallica/Napster lawsuit because she felt that if she wanted their songs, she should have them. I was FLABBERGASTED (such an underused word, IMHO). I simply could not make her see reason. Could. Not. and that shocked me as much as anything.

Mark is right in that it's a parent problem (though I don't blame schools). I am in a master's program and worked on a paper recently with a fellow student did not know how to properly cite her work. She put quotes around a paraphrase, did not put them around a direct quote and basically butchered the English language (but that's another lengthy issue). She was absolutely ignorant and worse, apathetic about her ignorance. Stunning.


I hear you, guys. It does seem like we've done some backsliding on plagiarism as a culture. And maybe it is tied in with those mp3s your friend likes to download, Amy. It's so easy to steal these days it doesn't even feel like stealing. (The audio versions of my novels are available at illegal torrent sites all over the Web. Who knows how much money that's cost me? Me with the two kids and the dog who needs surgery! For shame!) But there's a bright side. As we saw here, technology has made it easier to *catch* thieves, too. So take heed, would be plagiarizers -- Google's got your number. Do yourselves a favor and put in the effort to WRITE, dammit.

Jeff Q.

Having actually read Rowan's "book" before it was shown to be a fraud, the revelation was not terribly surprising.
I read a ton of books and his just lacked a soul. The main character had no personality and was just a straw man to go through the motions. It felt off the whole way through and was a struggle to finish. That the book was a Frankenstein's monster was a definite "a-ha" moment.
I get that the people who blurbed and reviewed the book liked it, but I have to think it was more for what it was suppose to be, some type of 60's era throwback, than for being a novel that hung together in any great way.
The whole thing is such a mind blowingly stupid thing to do, it's still hard to believe.

Steven T.

Frankly, I'm always shocked that some one would think this type of cut and paste job is easier than writing an actual novel. I could have written something like Markham's book in a couple of months. Cutting and pasting would easily have taken me a couple of years.

Brian Thornton

Great essay, Steve. Absolutely agree with you on this. Gotta ask though, if it's possible for me as a teacher to do a two minute Google search to root out the otherwise casual and rampant plagiarism of my students (likely far more tech-savvy than Q.R., given that he's more a member of our generation than of theirs), wouldn't you think that an editor at Little, Brown might bother to do the same thing?

I'm pretty sure McCarry's "Tears of Autumn" is available for searches through Google Books, for example, and I'm positive Ludlum's works are. Who in this day and age, doesn't get something this retro vetted?


I'm going to take it one further, and say that I don't think what he did was even that impressive, or that unique to spy thrillers. I'd bet money that if I had the time and the ego, I could take a couple dozen literary novels from twenty years ago, outline them thoroughly and then assemble a reasonably cohesive new novel from the parts and pass it off as my original work.

And agree that the disturbing part is less that he did it-- arrogant, greedy assholes are hardly a newly-discovered species-- than that so many people want to celebrate or apologize for him. I don't care how little respect you have for a genre, you should at least respect the authors enough as creative people to not treat their work as some sort of interchangeable factory product.

Jonathan Turner

The blogerati notwithstanding, this is not a hoax. This is a fraud.

A hoax is done with the expectation that it will be found out, and with the intention of making a point. The "Social Text" hoax of some years back is a relevant example; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair .

A fraud is perpetrated to benefit the fraudster, at the expense of others. That was evidently Rowan's intention. To argue that there's something laudable in this is equivalent to saying that the man who steals your life's savings has done you a favor by pointing out your vulnerabilities.


Interesting insight, Jeff -- and it totally makes sense that Rowan's protagonist would lack soul. If he had any personality at all, the Cuisinart approach couldn't have worked.

I agree that this must've been a *lot* of hard work, Steven. Which makes it all the more crazy.

I hear you on the Googling, Brian, but I still think we should cut the editors some slack. If it happens *again*, however, the publishing company will only have itself to blame.

I'm with you on the disrespect to genre writers, Daisy. As you point out, this could've just as easily been done with a bunch of decades-old "literary" novels. Hmmm...but I wonder. Would we then be gloating that the literary emperor was wearing no clothes?

I hadn't heard of the "Social Text" hoax, Jonathan. Interesting stuff. I suppose I should stay consistent and condemn any attempt to abuse an editor's good faith. But still...that's pretty funny.

Obscure Perfessor

I teach history at Obscurity State University of the Midwest. And I really believe I get almost no plagiarism from my students.

We have an institutional subscription to something called turnitin.com. It checks papers not only on the google, but against journal articles, classmates, and anyone who has ever turned in a paper to the database. And I tell them if there's plagiarism, I drop the F on them and file a formal report with the provost recommending suspension.

The good news is that I haven't had a plagiarism case since using turnitin. They get it. Problem: access to the service costs us about $1O,000 a year, which is ok for a university but not for a publisher.

Patrick Sandberg

To those that would defend Rowan, please send me your paychecks. I am now taking credit for your work, be it garbage hauling, novel writing, or brain surgeoning. See what I did there? Isn't that clever of me? Bet you wish you'd thought of it first! Perhaps in order to cover his legal expenses, Quentin Rowan and Jayson Blair can co-author the next J.K. Rowling book together.

Richard Prosch

Good post, Steve. As you (and folks above) have alluded to, the amoral stance of the culture is perhaps even more disturbing than this slimeball's antics. Was a time in my salad days when such ambivalence toward wrong-doin' would've made me shrug, maybe sigh, maybe throw up my hands. Now it just makes me want to throw up.


Given that several more cases of plagiarism have been uncovered recently, Obscure Professor, I'm guessing publishers are going to start ponying up for turnitin (or something like it).


Plagiarism detection services might be expensive, but recalling and pulping books is going to cost more in the long run.

I think both Rowan and Blair should go to work for James Frey, Pat. He's in the market for schmuck writers eager for an easy sellout:


And believe me, Rich -- I'm trying my best not to barf, too. In fact, just typing the words "James Frey" makes me feel a little...a little...oh, no!


Eoin Riedy

Reminds me of a book on kitsch I read a long time ago (no, not the one with the naked woman on the cover that is always turning up in used bookstores). Referring to pornographic writing, as opposed to genuine erotic literature, it noted that pornography has only a perfunctory beginning, the bulk of the work being the middle, and little or no real ending. Moreover, the middle is generally a pastiche of other pieces; much less material is actually written than is published. It really doesn't matter to the readers, of course. Perhaps Mr. Rowan missed his true calling.

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