Today Quentin Rowan, in an essay that we assume was thoroughly vetted for borrowed content, opens up to The Fix about the origins of his plagiarism. Mr. Rowan’s debut novel Assassin of Secrets, written under the pen name Q.R. Markham, was revealed to be heavily plagiarized a few weeks ago and recalled from bookstores by his publisher Little, Brown. Following the initial discovery, bloggers discovered that most of his published writing turned out to have at least some plagiarism, dating back to the 1990s.
Earlier, Mr. Rowan suggested that the plagiarism was due in part to the intense pressure he felt after being published in Best American Poetry 1996 at the age of 19. Today he cites an additional cause, one appropriate to The Fix—addiction.
I think the truth goes back to the late ’90s, when I was newly sober (counting days, actually) in a small, mid-western liberal arts college with an astonishing library. That’s where I became a word thief: skimming through collected issues of old magazines like The Transatlantic Review and New World Writing and Eugene Jolas’ Transition, bound in crimson hardcover. 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.
In the days since the plagiarism was revealed, life hasn’t been going so great for Mr. Rowan. His girlfriend left him, he lost his job at Williamsburg bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown, and “his future in the only field I know anything about, books, came to ignominious end.”