Tag Archives: Why

Word theft

So, I’ve just read about an astonishing tale of plagiarism, by Q. R. Markham (the poet Quentin Rowan), in Assassin of Secrets. This is ostensibly from someone who should know better. But it appears that not only is Assassin riddled with lifted passages, but other things he’s written for a variety of reputable publications include significant portions of other people’s work.

For the most complete rundown, head to Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits blog. Seriously, just go read it. I’ll wait.

Okay.

All hyperbole and sanctimonious posturing aside — why do people do this? In high school, I rewrote the Monty Python argument sketch as my own and instantly got caught out. And I paid for it. The stakes were small, though the embarrassment was huge, and I got caught in a time where you couldn’t just go Google stuff on your phone. It happened back when you had to go to the library and photocopy pages to get your research papers done.

These days you can copy-paste a phrase into a search engine and come up with its source in seconds. The risk is too high, as are the stakes. Aside from my own personal feelings of guilt and now greatly improved work ethic, I’ll never plagiarize again because I’m dead certain I will be caught out.

So what I can’t get my head around is just what brought Rowan to do this? Was it a slow, slippery slope? Homages that snowballed into outright duplications? We all rationalize things, make excuses for ourselves, until reality and our perception of it are quite removed from one another. Did that process go haywire here?

Or does he feel like he’s pulled one over on all of us? Maybe there’s a sense of delight or satisfaction in fooling so many people, in knowing you’ve made a good bit of money and fame with less than your fair share of work.

Maybe he wanted to be admired as a spy thriller novelist, and was too afraid to rely on his own talent and skill to pull it off. That was more or less why I ripped Monty Python off as a sophomore in high school. I wanted to be popular, I wanted to be praised for good work. And that desire overrode what I knew was wrong about what I was doing. “No one will notice,” I thought, “and if they do, I’ll just pass it off as coincidence.”

There is no coincidence here, I’m afraid, and I’m pretty sure the list of lifted passages — which extends to Assassin‘s page 35 in Champion’s blog post — will keep on growing. Champion’s promised to record as many transgressions as he can (from the book and from other things Rowan’s written) so be sure to visit that post as the week continues to see what else falls out of Rowan’s shaken tree.

I’m curious to see how Rowan will respond.

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Just why am I doing this?

Blogs are a scary thing. They involve telling people what you think, and they require you to get over the fear that no one wants to hear from you, that people will think you’re an idiot, and that your ideas aren’t worth the phosphor they’ll occupy if anyone should actually call up your blog in the first place.

So this blog will be a manifesto of sorts. I’ve told stories since as far back as I can remember. Don’t know if my dad does, but I remember when I wrote a story in the first grade that I asked him to look over, and he gave it the full treatment–went over it like a proper editor and had me respond like a proper writer. I was shocked at first, unable to understand why I’d get treated like an adult, but what he did for me then has stuck with me till today.

I can give a litany of platitudes: stories are in my DNA, in my blood; I’m as much a storyteller as I am a woman, as I’m five and half feet tall. I spend an enormous amount of my time thinking about characters, situations, toying with what-ifs. It’s a wonder I get anything done in real life. Clearly this is something close and important to me, so it’s not a stretch to say that there are a lot of things I want to talk about when it comes to stories. Lots of things are stories. Movies, novels, short stories, stand-up routines, photographs, classified ads, songs, they’re all conveying something. Sometimes they do it inadvertently, and that’s where a lot of magic happens. Sometimes they do it on purpose, and when they’re done well, they can change lives.

I want to talk and think about what it means to relate an emotional truth, or a series of events, or a morsel of wisdom, or punchline, or a hooky chorus. I want to talk about what it is to respect an audience, about what happens when an audience is disregarded or abused. I want to call attention to the travesties of disrespecting media, suborning them to empty messages and manipulative trickery. And I want to talk about the most basic components of storytelling: language, image, and sound.

It’s high time I made a real effort when it comes to this thing that ostensibly is so close to my heart. If all goes well, I’ll be accepted into a doctoral program in 2011, and I’ll really need to have my act together. So maybe this is a dry run for that kind of critical thought. Maybe this is an early commitment to the work I will need to do to earn the degree. Regardless of the particulars, I hope the results of this blog will blow my expectations away, and I’ll come away with a deeper understanding and respect for the thing I once said I wanted to make a living by doing.


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