Yesterday, I heard the news about a novel being pulled by its publisher for plagiarism. This morning, I read Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg's article in the Wall Street Journal about the novel in question, a spy novel by Q.R. Markham (a pseudonym of poet Quentin Rowan):
The book is a thriller about an elite CIA agent chasing a shadowy international group of assassins. But Tuesday, publisher Little, Brown & Co. recalled all 6,500 copies of the novel on the grounds that passages were "lifted" from other books. One sharp-eyed observer says he had identified at least 13 novels with similar material.
On the first page of chapter one of "Assassin" is this paragraph: "The boxy, sprawling Munitions Building which sat near the Washington Monument and quietly served as I-Division's base of operations was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular work space."
In the book "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" by James Bamford is this: "In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular workspace."
Thirteen passages (at least) of that kind of straight theft is most definitely plagiarism.* I don't see how it could possibly happen unconsciously. There again, until last year, I didn't believe any plagiarism could happen unconsciously. But then I realised I'd done it. This kind of utterly unconscious borrowing is apparently known as cryptomnesia. (Thanks to @BuffySquirrel for the word.)
My borrowing was tiny in comparison--a matter of two images from the same poem--and I caught it long before publication. But it scared me rigid: I imagined just this kind of public crucifixion. I fretted for quite a while.
I relaxed gradually, and thought I'd put the matter to rest. But this case has put me on alert again. I don't much fancy the notion of obsessively plugging successive 10,000 word chunks of Hild into a Google search box, just so I can relax. Does anyone know a more efficient way to check a manuscript?
ETA: I checked out iThenticate, the version of Turnitin for individual authors. It costs $50 per submission. A submission is 25k words. That would end up costing me around $400 for Hild, which I think is ridiculous. I'll keep looking. Sigh.
* It turns out to be way, way more than that. Over at Reluctant Habits, Edward Champion turns up literally dozens of serious steals by Markham/Rowan in the first 35 pages of the book. It's truly mind-boggling.