1. Yesterday, writer Quentin Rowan spoke at a Words & Ideas talk titled Remix, Theft or Plagiarism? Kirby Ferguson, who made the wonderful web series Everything Is a Remix, was supposed to talk too, but he wasn't there. One in five people made a painfully noisy exit from the theater when this news was announced.
2. There are two schools of thought around "remix culture" nowadays—pro-remix and anti-remix. Pro-remix folks want artists to draw from everything and everywhere, and not apologize. Anti-remix thinks pro-remix is full of shit.
3. In 2011, Quentin Rowan wrote a spy novel called Assassin of Secrets. Within months of its release, internet sleuths discovered that it had been composed almost entirely from quotations of passages from other spy novels. People freaked out, the publisher recalled the book, and Rowan's world was temporarily fucked.
4. Before its publication, Assassin of Secrets was widely praised by a number of critics and authors. Spy novelist Jeremy Duns called it an "instant classic."
4. Quentin Rowan feels very, very bad that he deceived a lot of people with his novel. He believes what he did was wrong. He did it because the pressure he put on himself to be a "great writer" became too much to bear. He didn't think he could "do it on his own."
6. There's not much difference, formally, between Assassin of Secrets and, say, any Girl Talk album. The reason Girl Talk was praised and Rowan pilloried is that Girl Talk was unabashedly remixing, while Rowan was hopeful that no one would find him out.
7. People today seem to be fine with musicians sampling, and making remixes, and making mash-ups. Writers? Not so much.
8. Quentin Rowan is very lovable. He seems shy, and smart, and SO NERDY. He made that grating I-need-to-clear-my-throat sound as he breathed in and out, characteristic of every nerd portrayed in a film ever. He made me feel really bad for him. He seems like a sweet and genuine person. He's working on a screenplay for a espionage-esque film, for a production company in New York that approached him after the scandal. They told him that pulling details from previous works and rearranging them is basically "what most screenwriters do anyway."
9. Quentin Rowan's next book, which is plagiarism-free, is coming out next week. It's a confessional memoir called Never Say Goodbye, which chronicles his ascent to literary micro-stardom, and his subsequent fall.
10. I wish Quentin Rowan would own Assassin of Secrets for what it was—a brilliant satire of the spy genre, a work of pastiche, a comment on the structures of genre itself. But he doesn't see it this way—he sees it as a personal failure. And I wish that that little detail didn't make all the difference in the world.