Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Dummies Indeed

Just a quick note to help clear something up publicly for a writer who emailed me earlier today, anxious about an accusation of plagiarism. As you'll see on the LiveJournal post linked, Alley Maxwell is a poet with a collection recently self-published via Lulu, THE FAULT OF NARCISSUS. One poem in this collection, "Auditory Hallucinations," contains the lines "where angels shatter angels / down like rain," which some automated doohickey, by the looks of it, matched to a line in something posted online back in 2008. Cue the linked LiveJournal post crying plagiarism on the basis of this match.

Cue the anxious email from Alley, worried that while she hadn't read any of my poetry, there might be some remote chance that she'd inadvertently appropriated a line of mine; if so, she'd very much like to know so she could address this, apologize and remove said material. The post doesn't specifically mention me, but at a quick glance the first screenshot is sourcing the matched line to a work called "Vellum," so I guessed Alley was familiar with my novel and worried that some exact phrasing had stuck in her mind, snuck into the poem.

So, kudos to Alley in the first instance for being a mensch about it, contacting me to check, and very clear in her desire to make amends if she was at fault in any way. But most importantly:

That line is definitely 100% NOT mine.

I didn't recognise it as a line in anything I've ever written, and while I do actually have an image of an angel shattering in ERRATA, I was pretty sure I wouldn't have ever had occasion to phrase something exactly that way. Still, my memory being shite, I double-checked with a Spotlight search on my MacBook, just to make sure. Nada. That exact phrasing does not occur anywhere in my writings, published or unpublished.

Curious about it then, I took a closer look at the LiveJournal post, realised the first screenshot had another line, "and thieves and hunting south and gravings," and that the "Vellum" the software was sourcing it to was actually a "vellumpoem." Given the use of "gravings" as keyword for a core conceit in the novel, that made for an obvious hypothesis: the software was actually picking up on a poem by a reader inspired by the novel, riffing on it in a wholly legitimate way. Given Alley's titling "Of Blood and Ink," the way these two substances are also key images in VELLUM, I wondered if perhaps the software was simply picking up on an earlier draft of her own work, published somewhere online.

Which is indeed the case, it seems. Alley has indeed read VELLUM, and she did indeed post work online way back when, and it's that which the plagiarism software picked up on. Alley is entirely innocent of plagiarising me, and far from being a victim of some shameless rip off on her part, I'm rather flattered to see the hints of influence in her imagery. Actually, I had a quick gander at the ToC of her collection and it looks rather intriguing. Seeing as I'm a huge fan of Guy Davenport and all, anyone who titles a work in Greek is alright by me.

So yeah, case closed as far as I'm concerned. The title of that LiveJournal post is apt, as the plagiarism software... that's the dummy in question. It clearly wasn't smart enough to know that the previously published work Alley was not infringing was in fact her own. And the moral of the story is: it would be smart to keep that in mind before throwing accusations about, if the person doing so doesn't want to look a bit foolish themself.

I'll also quietly point out that what likely is a copyright infringement is the presumably unauthorised publication of Alley's poem in that LiveJournal post. Just saying.

As you were.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Author Alley Maxwell (Alley M) actually eventually acknowledged the plagiarism and removed it from her novel, "The Fault of Narcissus" on

5:18 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

I find it supremely unlikely that she acknowledged plagiarising me in a line that does not occur in any of my work.

Also, it's a poetry collection, not a novel.

3:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't your work she plagiarized. The poem she took just happened to have the word "vellum" in it which somehow led people to assume that you were the one she stole from. She posted acknowledging the theft and that she was removing it from the book.

9:11 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...


9:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the statement she posted in May formally apologizing to the author for her plagiarism in Dante Revisited (her previous ebook), The Fault of Narcissus, and other places.

1:10 am  

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