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Career assassination
November 8, 2011 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Q.R. Markham's just-published Assassin of Secrets, hailed as an "instant classic" by at least one blurber, has been withdrawn by its publisher. Why? Extensive plagiarism. The author who blurbed the book explains how he was duped.
posted by mothershock (87 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect a publisher to check through the thousands of thrillers out there to make sure a book on submission was not a collage of others’ work from start to finish.
posted by Revort at 5:37 PM on November 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Amazing that he thought he could get away with it. Even more amazing that he actually did get away with it as far into the process as he did. The level of technology today available to anyone makes catching plagiarism like this easy. College instructors do it all the time.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:40 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


*quietly retracts manuscript for The Agent Who Came In From The Rain*
posted by The Whelk at 5:41 PM on November 8, 2011 [23 favorites]


I really did enjoy the novel, which seemed to me to combine all the familar tropes I like about spy fiction into one book, but to use some wonderful imagery and language to do so.

It more than seemed to combine all the familiar tropes.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have an idea for a screenplay called Cretacious Resort. In it, a man named James Moog finds a cube at the bottom of the ocean, and clones it. Soon, working at a Japnese company, The Cube is wrongfully accused of sexual harassment by a woman named Hulen Hent. Basically a retelling of Beowulf.
posted by cmoj at 5:44 PM on November 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Warning: McSweeney's.
posted by alexoscar at 5:46 PM on November 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wouldn't patchworking a novel out of sentences, paragraphs, and apparently full pages of other books be infinitely more difficult than just writing a spy novel? In a way, the fact that this guy compiled a novel that reads like a novel and not like some mess created when a library exploded is kind of impressive.
posted by xingcat at 5:53 PM on November 8, 2011 [28 favorites]


I think if your author photo looks like this, it's incumbent upon you to prove that your novel isn't plagiarized.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:59 PM on November 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


Performance art.
posted by knapah at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2011


And he would've gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling kids!
posted by scalefree at 6:07 PM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Then I found a scene that was, word for word apart from the names, the same as one in Licence Renewed, for six pages straight."

Wow. No half-measures for this guy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:08 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Revort and Daddy-O, publishers these days tend to rely on agents to vet the authors as to seriousness of purpose. Most plagiarism does not literally take up the whole book and would be harder to hunt down (though I am unaware how sophisticated the current tools are). College instructors expect students to cheat. Publishers do not expect this of authors, because as Duns writes, it's so risky that it's bizarre the guy thought he could get away with it. Fact checking happens in magazines, but book publishers do not fact check, as a rule. They accept the word and point of view of the author. This is why we have the old saying, "Just because you read it in a book doesn't mean it's true."
posted by rikschell at 6:08 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is how publishing houses can respond to the threat of ebook self-publishers: Just launch imprints that admit the publisher has ransacked its genre catalog and remixed existing works into new stories, then sell the remixes on the premise that it's only remixing the good stuff.

Some publishers will go all edgy and call their imprints stuff like "Retread Press," but others will gussy it up, removing the author and naming the machine-assisted assemblers "curators."

I once spent a week bedridden, with nothing to read but a collection of crummy sci-fi a friend had stuffed into a grocery sack and dropped off. It all started blending together after the first three or four. I don't think "curated literary remixes" would be much worse.
posted by mph at 6:14 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The literary mash-up...takes awhile for all mediums to catch the craze. Maybe we need to start the literary Girl-Talk.
posted by Benway at 6:18 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


A wonderful quote from the comments on the burber's blog:

My only hope is that his [Q.R.Markham's] 15 minutes of fame ends here and he doesn't try and spin it as some type of statement on the state of publishing or some such nonsense.

And quite right too. How could indeed this sorry tale possibly be spun as some type of statement on the state of publishing (or some such nonsense). After all, it's not as if the book in question actually got published without being read at any point by anyone well versed enough in the genre to spot the blatant plagiarism, is it.

Er...
posted by motty at 6:18 PM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder what the editor was doing.
posted by stebulus at 6:20 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's pretty easy to find with Google or Google Books and a paranoid eye or a well-tuned ear. It's even easier to if you have access to Turnitin's tools (which they now peddle outside the academic world).

A while ago, I found a 100 year old case of literary plagiarism while doing unrelated study on a short story. The tools make it easier to find liftings from works that aren't in current readers' memory (in this case, I found borrowings from a sentimental magazine story and a boy's adventure novel that most moderns would never have read). You get used to hearing shifts in vocabulary, and now it's easy to follow up on them.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:35 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course, Dun could just be franticaly covering for having blurbed the thing without bothering to read it, a not uncommon practice.
posted by Artw at 6:36 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also: My god is that a hackneyed title.
posted by Artw at 6:37 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can entirely believe that well-read and well-informed agents and publishers and Kirkus reviewers managed to let this slip through. I can only imagine the sheer volumes of prose that an editor, or an agent, goes through in a year. And I can imagine that some of the time, while reading, they slip into that trance where you're not reading the words on the page, but seeing the flickery movie reel of the story, while the prose fades away.

I read quite a bit and I daresay that I'd let a book slip by me unnoticed that was cobbled together from books I'd read and books I haven't read -- and I've got a fairly good memory for prose, too.

And the editor only has one chance, really, to twig to something weird. The second and third times they read the book, if something seems oddly familiar, what of it? After all, they've already read the book once.

I will say I'm shocked at just how wrong this guy went in plagiarizing. A lot of what he plagiarizes feels overwritten to me, but then I don't read spy novels so I'll overlook that. But:
“His eyes were a cold blue. He had the kind of weather-beaten face that suggested years of outdoor activity, and the square jaw of a matinee idol." (original by Raymond Benson)
"His eyes were a warm blue and he had the kind of weather-beaten face that suggested years of outdoor activity. Chase almost had the look of an old-time matinee idol, but there was a certain quirkiness, a wistfulness, a rueful irony to his face that left a different kind of emotional trademark."
Both versions put together, a bit incongruously, matinee idol looks and a weather-beaten face. Benson makes it make sense; it's only his square jaw that belongs to a matinee idol. In Markham's version, why he has the "look" of a matinee idol is never explained, and just hangs there at odds with the weather-beaten face. The rhythms, too, are incomparably better in Benson's version, and the precision -- "almost had the look," "a certain quirkiness," far too vague.
posted by Jeanne at 6:38 PM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised that publishing houses don't use the software services like every university does to catch plagiarism, personally.
posted by Jairus at 6:38 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first thing that comes to mind is that the author, Quentin Rowan, was deliberately trolling the publishing world, much like the guy who posted a who slew of issues with MondoDB recently.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:54 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read quite a bit and I daresay that I'd let a book slip by me unnoticed that was cobbled together from books I'd read and books I haven't read -- and I've got a fairly good memory for prose, too.

I'm still a bit proud of this: when I was 13, I was part of the "board of directors" (we took ourselves totes seriously) in a shared universe writing club and I actually caught someone plagiarizing in exactly this way--she'd lifted passages about sword fighting from Jennifer Roberson's Sword-Dancer, changing mostly the names but also a few words here or there. She'd done it pretty seamlessly, too, but I'd read the book only a few weeks before. If I recall correctly, she also lifted a character description. That's what clued me in.

We meted out some sort of punishment--she wasn't allowed to submit stories for a month or something--as a "warning," but she told us all we were lamesauce because how the heck was she supposed to know how one sword fights?!

Between that, and the infamous Cassie Claire stuff, I wonder how common this kind of plagiarism is in online writing communities. There are enough dust-ups like this in publishing (that Opal Mehta girl, etc.), that I suspect it's actually very widespread.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:54 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite bit of this is easy to miss, so I am excerpting it (NOT PLAGIARIST) here:
I immediately emailed the publisher,... asking them to remove the Q&A I had done with him from their websites – he had of course also plagiarized many of his comments in it, from Dream Time by Geoffrey O’Brien, which was also the source for much of his book’s prologue – and to withdraw the book.
posted by muddgirl at 7:09 PM on November 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Amazing that he thought he could get away with it. Even more amazing that he actually did get away with it as far into the process as he did. The level of technology today available to anyone makes catching plagiarism like this easy. College instructors do it all the time.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:12 PM on November 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm surprised that publishing houses don't use the software services like every university does to catch plagiarism, personally.

Jairus, they do now.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:25 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that publishing houses don't use the software services like every university does to catch plagiarism, personally.

Amazing that he thought he could get away with it. Even more amazing that he actually did get away with it as far into the process as he did. The level of technology today available to anyone makes catching plagiarism like this easy. College instructors do it all the time.

Plagiarism has always been the future.
posted by Benway at 7:27 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: My god is that a hackneyed title.

Not just hackneyed but multivalently hackneyed: it would be equally plausible as the title for a terrible heroic fantasy. I suppose in that case, though, you would ideally want to pair it with an equally banal series name, something in the vein of Sword of the Arch-Warlock, Book VII: The Assassin of Secrets.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:29 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the assassin kills secrets? I don't get it.
posted by fuq at 7:36 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't anyone writing the about same old tropes related to spydom plagiarising at this point? What new stories or angles are left to tell? All spy tales are variations on this story:

"An amoral man with an inability to sustain relationships and gifted with a marvelous capacity for deceit thwarts the dastardly plans of some worse bastard in service to his country. While doing so, he has multiple opportunities for meaningless sexual intercourse."
posted by Renoroc at 7:37 PM on November 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


If he'd just been on the up-and-up about this, this free publicity might have been mostly positive, and 99.99% less likely to end with his book being pulled off the shelves. He would have been on the Today show talking about "remix culture" and gotten some ephemeral headline nickname like "DJ Fleming" or some such. It would have been tons of fun for everyone, including the authors who would be deservedly collecting a few cents per copy on his neat new piece of mosaic spy fiction.

Instead, he did this. Such a wasted opportunity.

Incidentally, I'm adding "create a genre novel using only recycled sentences from other novels in the same genre" to my bucket list.
posted by LiteOpera at 7:38 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't someone actually try and pull that after being called on this sort of thing?

Here we go.
posted by Artw at 7:41 PM on November 8, 2011


Thanks for the link. I've just discovered that he lifted from Graham Greene's The Man from Panama for a story that was published in The Paris Review. See Update 3.
posted by ed at 7:43 PM on November 8, 2011


Sorry. Our Man in Havana.
posted by ed at 7:43 PM on November 8, 2011


Coinicidentally Our Man in Panama is the name of my new novel from Mulholland Books!
posted by Artw at 7:46 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, The Paris Review thing was in 2002 -- so he's been at this a while.
posted by mothershock at 7:46 PM on November 8, 2011


otherwise entire sentences were identical: 'Then he saw her, behind the fountain, a small light, dim but growing to illuminate her as she stood naked but for a thin, translucent nightdress; her hair undone and falling to her waist – hair and the thin material moving and blowing as though caught in a silent zephyr.' The exact same sentence in both books.

I'm more offended by the prose than the plagiarism. If someone leaves a pile of shit in their yard and another party steals it, who's the victim? I vote "Anyone who traded money for shit."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:49 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, Little, Brown got hoodwinked by this guy? Wow wow w--- oh, wait, wasn't the first time.
posted by cog_nate at 8:04 PM on November 8, 2011


The Mullholland Books line up is better than I expected from this... Of the names I recognise some are from comics (some better at prose than others), some are solid genre authors, and J.J. Abrams ("creator" - presumably someone ghosts for him) - maybe not everyones idea of high faluting literature but not the near vanity level imprint I'd expected. I actually rather rate some of these people personally. Weird that a guy who rips off post Fleming Bond stories ends up in that company.
posted by Artw at 8:07 PM on November 8, 2011


(Not to insinuate that Kaavya Viswanathan and Quentin Rowan are the same person, but I've never seen them in the same place at the same time. L,B&C., I have a great idea for a book -- e-mail's in my profile.)
posted by cog_nate at 8:08 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Rockstar Games is one of their authors...
posted by Artw at 8:08 PM on November 8, 2011


Of course, Dun could just be franticaly covering for having blurbed the thing without bothering to read it, a not uncommon practice. posted by Artw

I agree. Many of the blurbs I see could be applied to any number of books, they are so generic and vacuous.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:26 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then he saw her, behind the fountain, a small light, dim but growing to illuminate her as she stood naked but for a thin, translucent nightdress; her hair undone and falling to her waist – hair and the thin material moving and blowing as though caught in a silent zephyr.

He plagerised that sentence? Wow, different strokes, it make me sick up.
posted by the noob at 8:35 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the assassin kills secrets? I don't get it.

Well, it's better than Spy Safari.
posted by the noob at 8:40 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Makes me kind of want to read the novel. An instant classic!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:42 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nevermind, that silent zephyr sentence is terrible.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:43 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, baring software solutions, I can see why he got away with it for so long - the prose might remind you of another book or author, but the book itself isn't going to feel like any other book.

I'm amazed it feels like a coherent story at all.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:51 PM on November 8, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi: "Between that, and the infamous Cassie Claire stuff, I wonder how common this kind of plagiarism is in online writing communities. There are enough dust-ups like this in publishing (that Opal Mehta girl, etc.), that I suspect it's actually very widespread."

You know, you can't just post stuff like that without realizing some dork like me is going to waste valuable sleep time researching such stuff.

RESPOND RESPONSIBLY!
posted by Samizdata at 9:07 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Silent Zephyr: The Smeller's The Feller
posted by Xoebe at 9:10 PM on November 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


What hurt me was reading the aside in Jeremy Duns blog post where he mentions the Johann Hari plagiarism scandal. Hari is responsible for one of my favorite investigative articles, Ship of Fools, in which he mingles with the nuttiest of the conservative nuts on a National Review cruise.
posted by The Confessor at 10:45 PM on November 8, 2011


Revort: "I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect a publisher to check through the thousands of thrillers out there to make sure a book on submission was not a collage of others’ work from start to finish."

I loled. I shouldn't have, but I did.
posted by moonbiter at 11:14 PM on November 8, 2011


fuq: "So the assassin kills secrets? I don't get it."

It makes a lot more sense when you consider the expanded title, The Chamber of Secrets: An Assassin's Creed
posted by vanar sena at 12:36 AM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


If he'd just been on the up-and-up about this, all of the free publicity could have been largely positive, and a whole lot less likely to end with his book being pulled off bookstore shelves. He would have been on daytime TV talking about "remix culture" and gotten some ephemeral headline nickname like "DJ Fleming" or some such. It would have been great fun for everyone, including the original writers who would be deservedly sharing the royalties on his neat new piece of "mosaic" spy fiction.

Instead, he did this - what a wasted opportunity.

Incidentally, I'm adding "create a genre novel using only recycled sentences from other novels in the same genre" to my list of projects to do before I die.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:34 AM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


If he'd just been on the up-and-up about this, all of the free publicity could have been largely positive, and a whole lot less likely to end with his book being pulled off bookstore shelves. He would have been on daytime TV talking about "remix culture" and gotten some ephemeral headline nickname like "DJ Fleming" or some such. It would have been great fun for everyone, including the original writers who would be deservedly sharing the royalties on his neat new piece of "mosaic" spy fiction.

Instead, he did this - what a wasted opportunity.

Incidentally, I'm adding "create a genre novel using only recycled sentences from other novels in the same genre" to my list of projects to do before I die.
posted by cerulgalactus at 2:17 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the assassin kills secrets? I don't get it.

If he explained it to you, he would have to kill you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 AM on November 9, 2011


@meatbomb

My agent will be calling you about getting a piece of those favorites.
posted by LiteOpera at 3:44 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, now this is confusing. He appears to be a fraud and a thief, but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry, so... what's the correct line to take here?
posted by From Bklyn at 4:02 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the assassin kills secrets? I don't get it.

I was picturing an agent of Wikileaks. He should have written that book.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. Such breathtakingly blatant stealing that couldn't possibly remain unnoticed just makes me so intensely curious about the underlying psychology of the offender. I'd love to read a really good book about literary plagiarism that discusses the pathology involved (if we can call it that).

I did find one book on the topic mentioned in an article in Editor & Publisher that addresses this aspect of plagiarism a bit (though overall it's written mostly from a journalistic viewpoint):
Thomas Mallon, best known these days for his historical novels, such as 'Henry and Clara'' and the recently published 'Two Moons,'' examined plagiarism in a 1989 nonfiction book, 'Stolen Words.'' He favors the notion, first advanced about 20 years ago in an American Scholar article by Peter Shaw, that plagiarism is a form of kleptomania.

'The most striking thing is there's this lack of need to do it,'' Mallon says. 'Just as kleptomania tends to be a crime of upscale people - the woman slipping a can of soup into her fur coat - frequently what you notice about plagiarists is that they are themselves talented people, and it's not a question of their being unable to produce.''
and later,
Novelist Mallon, again citing Peter Shaw's kleptomania theory, says he's convinced that plagiarism has its compulsive aspect, and that if a writer does it once, he'll do it again. 'What Shaw says is that, after a while, the thrill of getting away with it,'' Mallon says, 'can at some point be replaced with the thrill of getting caught.''
Here's an essay by Peter Shaw (though not the same one mentioned in the article, I think), called "The fatal pattern of plagiary."
posted by taz at 4:33 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"instant classic" - well, it may not have been instant, but it probably didn't take too long to patch together, and parts of a number of classics were probably in it, so all in all a relatively accurate blurb...?
posted by Segundus at 5:00 AM on November 9, 2011


Here's a Guardian piece on it from this morning.
posted by mothershock at 5:14 AM on November 9, 2011


Well, it's better than Spy Safari.

The Great Off-Road Spykini Adventure.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:21 AM on November 9, 2011


I'm not a writer, but it has always seem to me insanely unlikely when people find these similarities...how do they do it? I mean does someone happen to have both books at the same time and remember the text exactly, or is it the author of the plagiarized text who usually notices the similarity?

And on the same token, isn't it a lot harder to go around picking sentences from other works to make a coherent collage than to actually write your own stuff?
posted by Tarumba at 5:31 AM on November 9, 2011


For Your Spies Only: The Assassining: A Jerry Fleming Adventure
posted by fetamelter at 5:34 AM on November 9, 2011


Hm. apparently it was discovered in this James Bond forum.
Thanks for that link, mothershock!
posted by Tarumba at 5:44 AM on November 9, 2011


but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic

Copyright consists of two parts: exclusive rights to copy, distribute, etc.; and the so-called "moral rights", e.g., the right to attribution. Only the latter has anything to do with plagiarism, and only the former (to my knowledge) is argued to be a silly relic.
posted by stebulus at 5:50 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


So odd. I guess, being a bookseller, he wanted to commune with the author experience or somesuch. See "his" book on shelves. Feel "proud". Of what, exactly? Expertise in copy/paste? (AFAIK, authors generally don't feel simple pride. It's usually coupled with relief that that's done, at least, and an amount of embarrassment, disappointment or even shame that the work falls so short of the vision. And it's the work that makes the author. Grinding work. Joyous work. Grinding work. The rest is business.)

His nom de plume is telling. Mark the ham, indeed.
posted by likeso at 5:51 AM on November 9, 2011


Re: his nom de plume -- Even the author's name, Q.R. Markham, appears to be lifted from a Bond novel. "Robert Markham" was the pseudonym used by Kingsley Amis for his continuation Bond novel, Colonel Sun.
posted by mothershock at 5:56 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


they slip into that trance where you're not reading the words on the page, but seeing the flickery movie reel of the story, while the prose fades away.

I can see readers doing this, but editors? The prose is their job.

Anyway, whether or not the editor notices the plagiarism, it's curious that they didn't notice the incoherence. Or did they notice but not care? (I'm assuming the work is as incoherent as you'd expect; if it isn't, then that's a remarkable achievement in itself, as others have noted.)
posted by stebulus at 5:56 AM on November 9, 2011


But see, stebulus, My opinion on this matter depends on if she "copy" and "pasted" the text or did she retype it herself. Because that would count for something, right?
posted by From Bklyn at 5:59 AM on November 9, 2011


Wait, now this is confusing. He appears to be a fraud and a thief, but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry, so... what's the correct line to take here?

It might be confusing because the US hasn't always protected the moral rights of authors as clearly as other countries. In UK editions of books you will often see a line on the publication page saying that "the moral right of the author has been asserted", which is his or her right to be identified as the author of the work and to have its integrity respected. This is different from copyright; an author can assign a copyright to a publisher or some other person, but still maintains moral rights in the work.

Plagiarism is an infringement of moral rights first and foremost, although infringement of copyright may also be involved.
posted by rory at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2011


and both empath asks, But is it a good book?...

...This isn't quite the thrill I thought it wold be...
posted by From Bklyn at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2011


mothershock, wow. Steal from the best, I guess. Erudite little motherfucker.

Wonder how long he could have kept this up if he'd stolen from authors in a genre with less rabid fans?
posted by likeso at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2011


I blame Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, a literary remix that rocketed to the top of the best selling list and garnered praise, multiple sequel deals, and a movie deal.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:24 AM on November 9, 2011


This is how publishing houses can respond to the threat of ebook self-publishers: Just launch imprints that admit the publisher has ransacked its genre catalog and remixed existing works into new stories, then sell the remixes on the premise that it's only remixing the good stuff.

Some publishers will go all edgy and call their imprints stuff like "Retread Press," but others will gussy it up, removing the author and naming the machine-assisted assemblers "curators."


Your plagiarism press idea is plagiarized from JG Ballard. (/jk)
posted by FatherDagon at 7:59 AM on November 9, 2011


I was plagiarized once. I wrote a kind of travel article for a the newsletter of the caving club I belong to, describing visits to some show caves in Beijing. It was picked up by the NSS (the national caving society), and included in their annual Speleo Digest, a collection of articles from local newsletters. That was cool. Later, I was looking at a website about show caves, and found my article, attributed to someone else - a well-known caving writer from the UK. That was not cool. There was no question about it; he'd removed the names of the people in my group and my jokes, and left the rest as I wrote it.

I contacted the website guy, and included a link to my original article in the newsletter. He contacted the thief, who claimed he'd inadvertently used the Speleo Digest version. Terribly sorry, all a big mistake, you see. My ass.

The website took his article out and put mine in, attributed to me, which is all I could reasonably ask for. Trashed that small-pond-famous writer's stature to me, though, and it still pisses me off. In that case, he could not have just as easily written the thing himself, because he hadn't been in those Beijing caves. Rather than pointing the website guy to the source (either the Speleo Digest or directly to me), he edited it slightly and claimed credit for it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:07 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Then I found a scene that was, word for word apart from the names, the same as one in Licence Renewed, for six pages straight."

And it still fit properly within the narrative? Interesting. I kind of wonder how difficult it would be to write a book that was only plagiarized from other author's work, every page and paragraph, yet still told its own story with unique characters.

It'd be an interesting exercise that I am never even going to consider undertaking, but it would stretch one's ability to be creative in a wholly unusual way.

Even better, if the story itself was about someone who was a copy-cat of more successful thieves, assassins, etc. It could be called The Derivation Principle or something equally cheesy.
posted by quin at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2011


The scary thing about this is that skilled plagiarism of this type is common in academia; he probably learned to do this in his undergrad English courses. Most people assume that the only plagiarism is the clumsy stuff, but when I was teaching at U of T I found far more of the elegant stuff, cobbled together from 5-7 sources, all very cleverly smoothed over and integrated.

One dead giveaway was that it had a very clever elegance, but no discernible core: there was no thesis, and although it sounded very nice it never made any sense.
posted by jrochest at 9:02 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm adding "create a genre novel using only recycled sentences from other novels in the same genre" to my list of projects to do before I die.

This is almost one of the things Sterling and Gibson were up to in The Difference Engine. They said everything in it was sampled from Victorian literature -- characters, scenes, settings. (But they didn't say any actual sentences were.)
posted by Zed at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


With Amazon and self publishing, especially ebooks, taking off in some circles, I can see how this is going to be out of control. Some people’s standards are pretty low on genre books. I can see programs that copy and paste fiction, submit a book, sell a few and move on. Fans will say "who cares, I liked it". At what point will it not make financial sense to write and publish real books?
posted by bongo_x at 11:15 AM on November 9, 2011


At what point will it not make financial sense to write and publish real books?

Word I get is that it hasn't made sense for years.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Why, oh why did I put in that stupid Quiddich chapter?!"
posted by Trochanter at 12:36 PM on November 9, 2011


just had a copy mailed to me. with all the tropes of the genre, it better be good.
posted by camdan at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2011


Zed, I wasn't aware of that - The Difference Engine was always a quirky favourite of mine, and there was something sort of fishy about it - bits that seemed tacked in without any particular purpose aside from "hey, check out this funky setting we're in!"... that explanation helps things make more sense.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:01 PM on November 9, 2011


Update: Jeremy Duns, an author who had blurbed the book, writes an excellent blog post about the Markham affair -- and gets an apology of sorts from Quentin Rowan (aka Markham) himself.
posted by mothershock at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Update: Jeremy Duns, an author who had blurbed the book, writes an excellent blog post about the Markham affair -- and gets an apology of sorts from Quentin Rowan (aka Markham) himself.

And now a further email where Rowan / Markham offers some sort of explanation (continues in following comments)

It was wasn't just cutting and pasting the odd passage, sounds like he stole the whole plot from elsewhere. Plus he's a serial offender and doesn't get a great deal of sympathy from me no matter how he tried to bullshit it up as an addiction or something
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2011


Duns has uncovered another plagiarist, Lenore Hart "author" of Raven's Bride. (Jesus, is that really the cover?)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:56 AM on November 21, 2011


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