When I was 19 a poem I wrote in high school was chosen for The Best American Poetry 1996. Up until that time I was an indifferent writer, a dabbler really, at the best of times. I was in college and like everyone trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. (Mostly I just wanted to play Rock music.) I took this anthology business as a sign that I was meant to be a famous writer. However, unlike any normal person who works at something a long time and eventually gets good, I decided I had to be good then and there. Because I was already supposed to be the Best. I didn’t really plagiarize poetry, it was when I switched to fiction (God knows why) at the age of twenty that I began to distrust my own voice and began swiping other people’s words or phrases because I thought they sounded better or more clever than my own. Perhaps if there had been no pressure to keep publishing it might have been different, but in my mind my course was set.You can read the entirety of Rowan/Markham’s explanation here, as well as his responses to some of Duns’ excellent follow-up questions about the plagiarized novel.
Many times through my twenties I stopped trying to write altogether, because once I got started on something that felt good enough for publication, I would inevitably start wanting to make it “better” and start stealing things. Therefore, some things I did in the past ten years are perfectly clean and others, obviously, aren’t. There was a need to conceal my own voice with the armor of someone else's words.
This is what happened with Assassin of Secrets, or Spy Safari. It started out as something fun and just for me. A much sillier, more parodic kind of thing. ( I should state that it was initially inspired by my long-time love and study of the genre, not any kind of contempt for it.) Then I decided maybe I could do something with it. But 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.
(Hat tip to GalleyCat.)