by Gar Anthony Haywood

Few things in life fascinate me more than plagiarism.  Or, as I like to call it, “writer-on-writer crime.”  The idea of one author consciously stealing material from another — sometimes in massive chunks — in the belief he’ll get away with it, even in this age of instant, multi-platform communication, just blows my mind.  Talk about sociopathic behavior!

Last month at the spectacular Murder and Mayhem festival in Muskegee, Wisconsin, Duane Swierczynski hipped me to the strange and fantastic case of first-time novelist Quentin Rowan, aka Q.R. Markham, who’d just recently been exposed as maybe the most prolific and self-destructive plagiarist of all time.  I won’t go into all the details here of the mess Rowan created — such details are all over the internet in places like this and this, if you’re interested — but in a nutshell, the would-be literary superstar humiliated his publisher, Mulholland Books, and the host of authors who enthusiastically blurbed him (including Duane), by selling them all an espionage novel — ASSASSIN OF SECRETS — that turned out to be little more than a mashup of the works of at least five other authors.   Detailed analysis of the manuscript has revealed, in fact, that lines, let alone paragraphs, of Rowan’s own invention are few and far between.

Yet nobody recognized Rowan’s book as a hodge-podge of disparate material stolen from multiple sources — not his editor, not reviewers (both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly gave ASSASSIN OF SECRETS a starred review), not the authors who blurbed him — until users of a James Bond message board began to comment on the similarities they were finding between Rowan’s work and that of Ian Fleming and several other name spy novelists.

At first, I found this last amazing.  How could no one have noticed earlier?  But then I read whole passages of Rowan’s “novel” and understood that serial plagiarism of this kind, when done well (if not brilliantly), may not be as easy to spot as one would think.  God bless Quentin Rowan’s black little heart, but hell if he didn’t stitch all that unrelated prose together in a way that actually made for a compelling and, more importantly, seamless read.

Which brings me to this, my first contribution to the fun and games of Wildcard Tuesdays here at Murderati.  Just for kicks, I thought I’d try my hand at playing Q.R. Markham for a day.  The following is a mashup of my own writing and that of five of my Murderati brethren.  Can you tell which is which?

I’ll give away a copy of my new thriller, ASSUME NOTHING, to whoever does the best job of separating plagiarism from original writing.  I’ve numbered every line, so all you have to do is tell me which ones are my work and which ones are not.  There’s no need to specify who I’ve borrowed from in each case.  I’ll give you that info at the end of the day.

Obviously, I’m counting on all of you to play fair — no Googling, Amazon surfing, or skimming through the pages of BOULEVARD, KISS OF DEATH, or FOURTH DAY allowed.

Good luck!

1.  Farrell never knew his mother or father.  2.  He’d grown up alone in the world, fending for himself as best he could against all the hardship life could throw at him.

3.  Which, as it turned out, was plenty. 4.  Monsters on the street saw a kid on his own, no adult around to watch his back, they were swimming in circles around him before he could blink.

5.  Still, Farrell sometimes wondered if being parentless wasn’t a blessing in disguise.  6.  It gave him a kind of freedom from the usual attachments that seemed to hold others back.

7.  Life would be more fluid for him because love and desire and ambition would be a question of choice, not obligation

8.  At least, he liked to think choice was how he ended up this way, teetering on the brink of thirty with his heart firmly tethered to a wife and two teenage daughters.  9.  This wasn’t just something that had happened to him, it was the product of design.

10.  “That’s your study partner?  You’re getting in a car with him?

11.  “Yes, Daddy.  His name is Steven.”  Cassie snatched her keys off the hallway table on her way out.  “Bye, gotta go.”

12.  Farrell took another look out the front window, not caring if “Steven” saw him or not.  13.  What he saw made him blanch.  14.  The young man was big and pink, with firm layers of fat billowing out from under a bright red polo shirt.  15.  He was shaped like one of those hard rubber Kongs, the type Doberman pinschers used to sharpen their teeth.

16.  And most terrifying of all, his car was a Volvo, bolted to steel wheels better suited to a trailer park Oldsmobile.

17.  “I don’t like it,” Farrell said.

18.  Cassie grinned and flipped a hand, dismissing the warning. 19.   Then she yanked open the screen door, breaking into a run as soon as she hit the porch.

20.  Such was his daily existence now, going from one blown-off note of worry to another.  21.  His wife Natalee didn’t need his protection but Cassie and May, Cassie’s younger sister, both courted death like a rich suitor.  22.  They took chances that would give a circus daredevil pause, leaving Farrell nothing to do but fear for their lives every waking moment.  23.  He could see their end in every accident or natural disaster.

24.  A fire, for instance.  25.  Standing on his bedroom balcony just after lunch, he smelled the smoke first, then sighted it spiraling upward, over the dingy rooftops to the east.  26.  Soon there were fire trucks in the distance, their Doppler-effect wails punctuated with staccato chatter-and-yelp as they barreled through each intersection.

27.  May, he thought irrationally.  May’s caught in the fire.

28.  He dialed her cell phone before common sense could get the better of him and she picked up on only the fourth ring.  29.  He was offering her one of his standard apologies when the line went suddenly silent, as if the phone had been abruptly snatched from the girl’s hand.  30.  Then there was just noise, the ragged sounds of what a paranoid fool like Farrell could only assume was a struggle:

31.  Deep, fight-for-air panting.  32.  Heavy thuds of elbows or boots against a car’s solid metal door.  33.  A long exhaled breath.  34.  Then more silence, before a kicked pebble ricocheted off a beer can as someone moved away.

35.  Farrell couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt the need to scream.  36.  Maybe eight years ago, when Natalee had punctuated one of their more violent arguments by closing a taxi door on his left hand?  37.  But he needed to scream now.

No Questions for the Class today, but I would love to hear any great stories of plagiarism you might have to tell.  I just can’t get enough of ’em.

24 thoughts on “WRITER-ON-WRITER CRIME

  1. Teribelle

    I have had some instances of plaigiarism that I had done. One was from an author that I had read and I loved the book so much that I had quoted large portions of it and explained it. AT the time I hadn't considered it plaigirism bc I figured I might be able to use it as the educational clause which protects certain instances of copying large portions or portions of information. However, after getting an email from another author who considerd three or four lines up to a paragraph plaigiarism I had to rethink that. So I had gotten rid of some of it. But it was large portion of my blog. I stil go back and look bc i think some of it might still be on there. So I understand what you are saying about that author. It makes it difficult. Who will take the chance that you are a writer who is ethical and who will present original work? Not a lot I think. My problem is though I have heard other people having used what I wrote or saying I wrote what they have. I have looked at the internet and have yet to see any of what they ahve said. And I do regularly surf the internet to check because I am that paranoid.

  2. Teribelle

    But what I am learning is that the more I am reading other authors and taking the available resources at my fingertips free and paid, that it is a matter of being who you are becoming in your voice. And if we all regualarly (for us) take a look at what others do we will find something. A lot of titles for novels are reused. A lot of authors names real and psuedonuyms are reused. But I think we should watch what it is for actually publishing a novel that we had written. Also if you are going to be a writer then ask for help. I have had some good people to talk too. And I am hoping that I can continue to write and people will like what I have written. It is a career that I think we can all do if we try and work at it.

  3. David Corbett


    This is the most jaw-droppingly brilliant post. Eerie. Mesmerizing as a car wreck and twice as funny. I can only imagine the Luciferian glee with which you patch-worked together those "borrowings," and they make a fascinating little tale. I won't cheat to compete, and sadly I'm on deadline or I'd roll up my sleeves and play. But this is fookin' brilliant.

    I intend to go out and alert my Facebook friends, who now have a suicide hotline–have you heard? Just in time for the holidays. What says "merry" more merrily than the words, "Hi! You've reached the Facebook staring-into-the-abyss hotline. We can't take your call right now, but at the sound of the beep, please leave your …"


  4. Larry Gasper

    Gar, this is an interesting exercise. I'd be amazed if I get one right, but I'll take a shot.
    1)Gar 2) Plagerized(PL) 3)Gar 4)PL 5)PL 6)PL 7)PL 8)Gar 9)PL 10)Gar 11)Gar 12)PL
    13)PL 14)Gar 15)PL 16)PL 17)Gar 18)Gar 19)PL 20)PL 21)Gar 22)PL 23)Gar 24)Gar
    25)PL 26)PL 27)Gas 28)PL 29)PL 30)PL 31)Gar 32)Gar 33)Gar 34)PL 35)PL 36)Gar
    Well, I hope I get better than what random chance would give me.

  5. Reine

    Gar, I am so bad at word puzzles I can’t even play more than one “Words With Friends” game, with more than one friend at a time.

    I am fascinated by your blog though. The guy has guts, but how is it he thought he’d get away with it?

    Someone plagiarized me in grad school once. We were in class one day, and the professor was so impressed by another student’s commentary that she read it aloud to the rest of us. It was word for word straight from a paper Id written the previous term for a different class.

    It was very distressing, because I’d been encouraged by the other professor to rewrite the paper and submit it to the school’s theological review. She had offered to help, and I was planning on doing the rewrite over the spring reading period. I hadn’t thought it was very good, actually, so what was a fantastic thing for me yet was stolen in a way that made it very difficult to address without ruining the blind submission process for the journal.

  6. Judy Wirzberger

    I would say it's all plagerized and joke that you couldn't write a decent sentence, but you don't know me and might think me serious. Actually, I'm amazed that you went to all the trouble to put this together so brilliantly. Kudos.

  7. Gar Haywood

    David: Glad you liked the post. It was fun to put together, but as Judy points out, it was a lot of work, too.

    Reine: Sorry to hear you were once on the receiving end of the plagiarism bug. It can't be any fun. On the one hand, I suppose it's a little flattering to have someone think so highly of your work that they'd steal it for their own. But on the other hand, THEY STOLE IT FOR THEIR OWN!

  8. Reine

    Thanks, Gar. It is strange how these things sometimes go. I have to admit I had a bit of uncomfortable pleasure in watching her squirm as I turned and stared at her during the professor's reading of my work. It actually bothered me that I liked that she was sweating. But I got over it and enjoyed watching her avoid me, knowing she was wondering what I would do.

  9. Reine

    Hi Teribelle,

    "AT the time I hadn't considered it plaigirism bc I figured I might be able to use it as the educational clause which protects certain instances of copying large portions or portions of information."

    As I understand it — and I know I might be wrong, so check this out — but . . . the education clause refers to your ability to use the material in the course of submitting a piece of your own schoolwork and nowhere else. Mmmm how to say this . . . okay — like nowhere else. Or you might be able to use a photo, say, in your term paper (fully referenced, of course), but without explicit permission you may not: use it; or post it; or blog it; or publish it in your school paper; or anything else it, for any other purpose. Amen.

  10. Renee Bernard

    Fantastic post! Me, I have a firm rule that probably has a few disadvantages, but I NEVER read the same genre I'm writing while I'm hip-deep. Off-shoots, different flavors, anything but what I'm working in because the thought of even inadvertently channeling someone else is too horrifying to contemplate. I'm sure I'm missing some great stuff as a reader, but I want that paragraph at the front of the book about "Any resemblance between these characters, etc…is coincidental…" to be Absolutely True. 😉

  11. KDJames

    I could tell there were at least two different "voices" — but if you hadn't told us they were from different writers, I would have assumed they were simply different character POVs.

    And I'd heard about the QRM thing, but didn't realize that very few lines were his at all. Mind boggling.

    In sort of twist on the subject: Twice in my life it has happened that someone read something I wrote and told me (angrily) there is no way I had written it. Because it was too good. This was when I was much younger and (apparently) too "attractive" to have a brain in my head that could produce anything even approaching semi-articulate writing. I think that angered me more than just about anything else ever has. Can't imagine how it would feel to have someone claim your work as theirs.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Friggin' cool, Gar. I dig it. Compelling stuff. It all works, and beautifully. You're a natural plagiarist!

  13. Gar Haywood

    Larry, since you're the only one who saw fit to play, you win the book. Send me a mailing address for you via my website email (talktogar@garanthonyhaywood.com) and I'll send a copy out to you right away.


    I wrote everything but the following lines:

    5 thru 7 – David Corbett, from DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING
    14 thru 15 – Stephen Jay Schwartz, from BEAT
    18 thru 19 – Alexandra Sokoloff, from THE SHIFTERS
    26 – Cornelia Read, from A FIELD OF DARKNESS
    31 thru 34 – Louise Ure, LIARS ANONYMOUS

  14. Reine

    Gar, that is so incredible how you fit those together. I recocognise Cornelia in there but not to the point where I ever could have picked her out.

    It is odd that a person would want to do that for real. You'd thInk if the plagiarist could do what he did so well as to fool all those people, as thoroughly as he did, you'd think he could write his own book?

    Thanks for the provocative post!

  15. Gar Haywood

    Alex: You're about half right. Here's how those lines actually appear in THE SHIFTERS:

    "Caitlin grinned and flipped a hand, dismissing the warning. Then she yanked open the gate, breaking into a run as soon as she shut and locked the iron door."

    We plagiarists play all kinds of games with addition and subtraction. Perhaps I should have mentioned that.

  16. PD Martin

    Late to the party…I've missed the fun and games but enjoyed the post and the comments!

    It does make me think – wouldn't plagiarising in this way be MORE work than just writing it yourself??!!!!


  17. Linda Adams

    I think it's likely no one noticed because the books the author plagiarized have been out of print for a long time. I had to do a review for a book that was compared with Ian Fleming's James Bond and the John Le Clare books. I tried to get a couple of the referenced books to help me with my review. Despite the fact there are still James Bond films coming out, the library had not one book. If the books are no longer available, how can anyone be expected to even recognize that the material was stolen in the first place from a book they read decades ago? At least one of the James Bond books is more than 45 years old!

    I did catch one case of plagiarism myself — the case of an extremely lazy writer. It was in a creative writing class, and we had to read and comment on the stories our fellow students had written. I get this one story, which is pretty long, but it's also quite well written. Then, as I continue to read further, I knew I'd seen it before. Then as I read further, I identified where I'd read it, and what the student had changed (the gender of the main character and the name). It had come out of the Reader's Digest about a year before. Apparently, she grabbed a back issue and figured no one would notice. The problem was that she picked a pretty memorable story. Needless to say, I wrote on my comments — which were seen by the teacher first — that she'd plagiarized it. I'm sure she thought it would be an easy grade without a lot of work!

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