Inside the Mind of a Literary Thief

Everybody knows by now that the spy thriller Assassin of Secrets was stitched together by "author" Quentin Rowan from passages stolen, word for word, from other espionage novels. But he went even further than that… he also stole from other authors for the essays, blog posts, and the Q&A interviews that he did to promote his book.

Novelist Jeremy Duns, who blurbed the original novel, has been extraordinarily aggressive now in exposing the ruse and, in the comments section of his excellent blog post dissecting the Assassin of Secrets, Rowan shows up to explain himself, leading to a revealing, back-and-forth interview. It's fascinating stuff. Here's an excerpt of Rowan's mea culpa…

"[…] the minute I got an agent and started showing it to people who suggested changes, I began to distrust the quality of whatever real work I'd done on it. So I started ripping off passages from spy novels in my collection that fit. Somehow public scrutiny has always been the pressure point for me. Once I feel I'm doing the work for someone else's eyes, I begin stealing, because I want to impress.

Once the book was bought, I had to make major changes in quite a hurry, basically re-write the whole thing from scratch, and that's when things really got out of hand for me. I just didn't feel capable of writing the kinds of scenes and situations that were asked of me in the time allotted and rather than saying I couldn't do it, or wasn't capable, I started stealing again. I didn't want to be seen as anything other than a writing machine, I guess. Some call it "people pleasing." Anyway, the more I did it, the deeper into denial I went, until it felt as if I had two brains at war with each other. Half of my time this past year was spent in a strange internal argument: Yes I can, no I can't. They'll figure it out! No they won't! It became like a strange schizophrenic form of gambling, and for some reason – viewing myself as a failed 'literary' writer – I saw this book as my "last shot." So even though what was left of my rational mind understood I would probably be found out, I still thought I had to bet it all on this one horse."

12 thoughts on “Inside the Mind of a Literary Thief”

  1. I guess he HAS now sealed his fate as a ‘failed’ literary writer!
    If the book was that bad would anyone have been interested in it in the first place? I doubt it.
    Self-doubt…the destroyer of the talented!!

  2. I can understand his rationalization. There is so much pressure on people to be successful in all endeavours, that failure is not an option any more. This is especially true if you are an individual who has been in situations where bosses ask you to quit your job because they feel threatened. They never tell you they want you to leave because they suck as individuals. No. They tell you that you suck as an individual. After enough of that, you look for any way to shine. Sadly, theft of great lines starts to look good after a while. This is not a justification. I’m just saying that I can understand why this could have happened.
    Another thought: Quentin Rowan got caught. How many other authors have done the same thing and haven’t been caught.

  3. Patricia: I don’t understand how you can NOT get caught. Somewhere, someone’s bound to go “wait, this seems awfully familiar…”

  4. I read the “interview” and I call horse manure. He’s doing a “poor me” riff taken from the excuses of this generation of slackers (he can’t even make his own excuses!) and he thinks he’ll fool people again and they’ll give him another chance after he goes through “rehab”. I’m not buying it. He may have felt pressured after the publication of his first piece of work, but nobody stuck a gun to his head and told him to hurry up and write a novel. That was his choice. He was too lazy to learn how to write properly so he stole from others to further his own agenda. End of story.

  5. Substitute “once the paper was assigned” at the beginning of his second paragraph, and it’s the same excuse I’ve heard from hundreds of middle school and high school students justifying why they plagiarized. Puh-lease.

  6. I am amazed, and I just don’t know how he didn’t get caught. Especially by his own publisher/editor.
    Ditto Heathers comment…

  7. Writing is work, but writing an entire book which is cut’n’pasted from other books is damned difficult. I know because I tried writing a simple 750 word story for the “Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta” Contest where you, as “writer,” plagiarize as much as you want, for a sort-of original story.
    It’s not as easy as it sounds. Aside from the fact that Quentin Rowan is a thieving bastard who should be prosecuted to the fullest, he obviously has a certain talent for cobbling various book passages together to form “a coherent novel.” That, to me, that is amazing.

  8. Many thanks, Lee, for this post. It is a remarkably clear example, a real text-book case, of what happens to any of us, inwardly, when we do not follow the rules contained within the moral order.
    This example shows that nobody really gets away with anything, that although the crime is abhorrent, the criminal is to be pitied and, if possible, helped in his or her struggle to get back to the straight and narrow path unto life, the path that leads to greater growth, greater love, and wholeness of character. Whatever path does this for us, is our true path, that’s how we know. And whatever path(s) lead to the division within of our parts, is the wrong path(s) for us.
    But, going down a wrong path, how do we change? As in the example, he has some wrong beliefs. To take just one, he sees himself as “a failed literary writer.” If he changes this view of himself to something like, “my first success is just ahead of me,” his outlook, feelings and behaviour will change. And he will again find himself, perhaps, and reintegrate inwardly, and become a person who is contributing to life, and finding it growing again within him.
    Nobody really gets away with anything, which is why persons should be treated with mercy and compassion, and why we should treat our selves this way. Personal redemption is always possible, especially with the help of a Higher Power.

  9. You know, I’m finding myself agreeing with Kitty and Gerard. It DOES take a certain high-quality talent to cobble scenes from various spy books together so that they make a really popular story. He would have been okay if he had rewritten the story in his own words. The mistake was to keep the various scenes as the other writers had written them.
    It happens all the time that writers RETELL a basic story plot. This is the essence of genre. And they take the best scenes ever written in the genre and rewrite them with various twists and additions. That’s fair, if the retelling is in their own words.
    I recall that one music producer took the best cuts from many Beatles’ songs, put them together, and got a hit record. The record, as I remember, was really catchy. So what Mr. Duns needs to do is to be honest about WHAT he is doing, and to write the scenes in his own words. He just might write the best spy novel ever written.


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