Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rewarding Bad Behavior

By Steve Weddle

When I got to DSD HQ this morning, I was greeted with a stack of emails about a New Yorker profile of Quentin Rowan, who had put out a book under the name QR Markham.

From what I could gather in an admitted cursory reading of emails, Twitter, and Facebook people on the internet had become upset that the New Yorker had chosen to write about Rowan.

Presumably, these are the same people who do not understand why the Kardashians are on their television sets, assuming they own television sets. The presumption seems to be that an article in a magazine is some sort of reward for Rowan's supposed plagiarism. The article in the magazine is called "The Plagiarist's Tale," so I can only assume they mention his "evil deed." I must admit to having not read the article. My local independent shop does not stock the New Yorker. They have ordered it for me, though.

The argument against having the New Yorker profile seems fairly odd. A number of people -- readers and writers -- have complained that there were other more worthy candidates for a profile.

Rowan had taken the work of other people and passed it off as his own. This is shameful.

Rowan has exposed publishing, embarrassed its champions.

Rowan is a fake and a phony and should not be rewarded with a profile in a magazine.

Some people suggested other, more suitable writers for a profile.

A few writers suggested themselves.

I can't recall a similar uprising when 60 Minutes has profiled murderous dictators. Are the citadels stormed when a Billy The Kid biopic appears? Why the outcry when a story is written about a plagiarist?

I suspect the problem lies in the presumption, as I mentioned earlier, that a New Yorker profile provides publicity to Rowan.

People misunderstand their own relationship to the world -- nobody owes you shit.

A magazine doesn't benefit from profiling you unless you're an interesting story. My neighbor two fields across from me is a nice guy. Keeps his yard green. Works hard during the day and invites us over for beers and bbq in the evenings. None of that makes him an interesting profile subject.

What makes a story interesting, and you'd think writers would know this, is conflict. Rowan, from what I can tell, seems a complex character. And what he has done to the industry seems similar -- in limited ways -- to what James Frey accomplished a few years ago. Sure, there's the trust. But there's also the matter of pulling back the curtain on the publishing world.

You ever read that book COD? I haven't, but it sounds interesting. Because it's not about cod. It's about everything around that fish -- the people, the history, the industry.

Rowan's past couple of years have been interesting, certainly. A story about this isn't a reward.

Take the Kardashians. Everyone hates that show. Everyone jokes about it. Everyone mocks it so much, it's got its own spinoffs. Klaire and Kory Order Lunch. People watch that show. And the television network is able to sell advertising around that show.

People look at Kim Kardashian and complain at how she's been rewarded for being on camera while she and a young gentleman engaged in sexual relations. If her life weren't interesting, she wouldn't have a show. She's rewarded for being interesting, I suppose. But essentially she is being monetarily rewarded because she can generate revenue for the television network that airs her show.

A profile of Quentin Rowan is not a reward for a plagiarist. It's a story in a Conde Nast publication around which the publisher can sell J Peterman advertising. It is a story that will get the magazine talked about.

And perhaps that's the lesson. Maybe Mr. Rowan hasn't proven to be the best writer in thriller fiction. Maybe you are a better writer. Maybe your book covers look better. Maybe you're a better actor than Ms. Kardashian. Maybe you're better at sexual intercourse on camera, at failed marriages, at staged fights. But have you really had a more interesting year than either of these two?

Would a profile of you in the New Yorker sell more copies?

I'd suggest that you writers keep focusing on your writing. That's the reward. The writing.

If your goal is to get into the New Yorker, then stop waiting for a profile piece -- write an amazing short story. After all, they're still one of the top publishers of fiction, whether it be Quentin Rowan's apologies or Michael Chabon's "Citizen Conn."


Dana King said...

Writers find imagined slights as often as conservatives find terrorist plots: all the time.

Anonymous said...

COD was really good.

Shory said...

These things you say, they are all true.

Anonymous said...

Like anyone wants to read about you either

Stringer Belle said...

I applaud your shamelessly posting about the Kardashians for hits. It worked for me when I started writing about Lana Del Rey.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

A post of me would definitely sell more copies.

Not necessarily of the New Yorker, however.

Ben said...

What's bugging me in that is that Rowan never really liked the writing in itself. He wanted the status, the authority more than hit the keyboard. Now he has it for disrespecting every writer, his own favorites more than the others. I just wish him the biggest case of blank page syndrome in history.