This is a guest blog post, purely tongue-in-cheek, I did Monday for Darlene Fredette’s blog Finding the Write Words. It considers the ways people respond to being made characters in fiction. It was written for other writers, but I think you’ll enjoy it.
Am I In Your Book?
When was the last time someone asked you, “Am I in your book?” It’s a reasonable question. Writers often use real people as models for characters in a novel. It’s a pretty good way to get back at the ex. The person who asks you the question might be excited about the possibility of being in the book, or she might be a little scared about how you describe the character modeled on her. It’s scary to think that you might be recognizable as the bitchy neighbor or the gossip down the street.
For the setting of my mystery/thriller novel Sacrificial Lam [Available Here], I used the small college campus where I taught for many years. Word soon got out to my old colleagues—faculty and administration—and to the many alumni to whom I am connected on line. The question began to appear in my inbox—“Am I in your book?”
One morning I stopped by my favorite coffee shop, Pour Jon’s, and as I waited for my vanilla latte, inhaling the rich odor of dark beans being ground, I noticed the college chaplain sitting in a booth by the stairs. He waved and smiled. “I heard about your book,” he said. “Does it have an evil chaplain in it?” The book does not, in fact, have a chaplain in it at all, but I thought that’s an idea. So I said, “No, but he may show up in the next book in the series.” I couldn’t tell whether he was disappointed or gratified.
A couple of days later, the college choral director and chair of the Music Department responded to my Facebook promotion with, “Is there a creepy choral director in your book?” Again, the book does not, in fact, have a choral director at all, but again I thought not a bad idea. So I said, “No, but he may show up in the next book in the series.” I happen to know this choral director pretty well. We used to play golf together once a week. In his case I was pretty certain that he was both disappointed that he wasn’t in the novel and gratified that I would surely put him in the next one.
I did put a few of my old colleagues in the novel, not particularly well disguised, just for fun. One of them, a psychologist, read parts of an early draft to check its validity and give me ideas for types of disorders. But after talking to the chaplain and the choral director, I started imagining how I would respond to certain people when they popped the question.
What would I say if the college president saw me at the local Tai café and said, “Is there a diabolical college president in your novel?” Since I’m retired now and don’t have to worry about my job, I could say, “No, I was afraid you would sue the pants off me for defamation of character.” He was a lawyer in a previous life, Harvard Law School, in fact.
What if the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer, saw me at the bank, standing in line to make a deposit, and said, “Is there a conniving CFO in your novel?” I could say, “No, but for a price I can make you the hero of the next book in the series.” A ludicrous attempt to solicit a bribe, you might say, but worth a try.
I’m beginning to see the real value of the question, “Am I in your novel?” It could become the wellspring of concepts for future books. Or it could become a vehicle for revenge. And if I’m really lucky, it could be the goose that lays the golden egg. I can live with that.