December 7, 2011
Poll: Should plagiarist Quentin Rowan write a book about his crimes?
by Melville House
Last week, Quentin Rowan, the disgraced serial plagiarist whose spy novel Assassin of Secrets proved to be massively plagiarized from dozens of other sources, wrote an essay at The Fix comparing his plagiarism to alcohol addiction. He claimed that his plagiarizing tendencies started after AA helped him get in control of being a “violent, fall down drunk” and described his first act of literary theft like this:
I was 20 years old, and trying to write a short story for the first or second time when I came upon a paragraph I liked from a short story by B.S. Johnson called What did you say the Name of the Place was? It was so easy to do, as easy as picking up a drink, if you think about it. The lifted paragraph perfectly fit my narrative. And it temporarily assuaged the awful feeling I had in my head that I was no good as a writer. In retrospect, maybe that’s when I transferred my obsession from drinking and drugs to plagiarism. My addiction didn’t disappear; it simply morphed into something else.
His confession caused an uproar of reaction, such as this Salon article by Mary Elizabeth Williams which expressed deep skepticism about Rowan’s decision “to launch his ‘Confession’ in the relatively safe, AA-oriented waters of The Fix.” Williams pointed out that “Everyone loves a choir to preach to, and the 12-step world is one of the few venues you can get praised for listing the ways in which you’ve behaved like a total jackass.”
The novelist Rex Pickett also jumped into the fray to express his disgust with Rowan’s equating plagiarism with addiction. He called Roawn a “scumbag plagiarist” who “unwittingly trivializes all addiction.”
“I mean, where does it end?” asked Pickett. “Can a serial murderer now claim he was addicted to torturing and raping and dismembering young prostitutes and hope to find redemption in a 12-step program?”
Many commentators seemingly more appalled at Rowan’s “addiction” claim than at the original plagiarism (e.g. “What a self pitying whining cretin you are. Plagiarism is not an addiction.”). Others, such as the crime novelist Larry Constantine, one of Rowan’s “early attackers,” showed greater compassion:
As a successful writer, I despise the deceptive shortcuts Rowan took to try to get what others work a lifetime to achieve honestly. As a human being, I am shocked by the insensitivity and hostility expressed in some comments. Surely, one would expect that in this approaching season of Re-dedication and Renewal, we could be more generous and more willing to listen.
The question remains… what will become of Rowan? Has he suffered enough or not enough? Has he faced his demons or has his “sickness” merely morphed into another twisted form of egomaniacal self-gratification? And was The Fix essay the end of Rowan’s brief, ignominious moment in the literary limelight, or was it just the beginning?
Writer Michelle Witt chimed in:
I’m just waiting for the inevitable jog round the talk show circuit, and—horror of horrors—book deal on the whole escapade.
But others, like commentator TJ, seemed to crave yet more from Rowan:
This article you’ve written is so well done, clearly you are a writer. A damned good one. Perhaps what’s next is a book about this journey.
Which brings us to the question: Is it a good idea for Quentin Rowan to write a book about his peculiar literary crimes?