No, I Won’t Put You in My Book

My daughters gave me this t-shirt a few years ago. I don’t wear a lot of t-shirts–particularly t-shirts with slogans on them–but I keep it for exercising and for those times when a t-shirt is required. However, as regards my own work I fundamentally disagree with its message.

I have a lot of friends who tuckerize, or even kill off people who have hurt them in their fiction. Sometimes they auction off  naming for a character for charity. Sometimes a friend just works his/her way into a story. I found myself a member of the NYPD a few years ago, which was kind of interesting. I have nothing against having real-world names or real-world people showing up in fiction; I sometimes find it distracting, if it’s a real-world name or person I personally know, but that’s not enough reason to demand a practice be stopped. I don’t kill off my enemies (wait, I have enemies?) or exes in my work, but again–that’s me.

I’m particularly unsettled by the notion of using my own history as the basis for fiction. I was raised in a family where part of the dysfunction was “don’t talk about family outside of family.” In practice, this means that I’ve got a ton of colorful anecdotes about my upbringing and my family (many of them appearing here under the tag “Raised in a Barn”). But the stuff that was colorful but negative? That’s the stuff I cannot bring out. The people I’d throw under my fictional bus? Can’t do it.

History is personal. Even so mild an anecdote as A Christmas Tree, or Objects in the Mirror May be Larger than they Appear got some push-back from my brother, who remembers the incident differently. I’m really far happier making people and situations up. What I don’t always make up is little things–a response, a behavior. Not whole people. But basically, I don’t want to get into a wrangle with someone who comes back saying “That’s not how it was at all!.” The phrase “it’s fiction” doesn’t always help in such situations.

Of course, you can make up every single thing in your work, from plot to character to dialogue, and someone may still say “That’s based on me, right? I knew it!” And protest how you may, that person will not believe it.

Write the way you want to write; take inspiration where you find it. Me, I’ll be over here in the corner with my imaginary friends.

 

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About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books
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3 Responses to No, I Won’t Put You in My Book

  1. Sherwood Smith says:

    Yeah, I was given that same one only on a sweatshirt, and by family members who should have known better, too.

    First of all, the message is obnoxious rather than funny, and second, when is it ever cold enough to wear a sweatshirt? I kept it just long enough to be sure they’d forgotten about it, and off it went to Goodwill, still in its plastic.

    Re people who assume they are characters in your work, I noted with amusement when I first read Jane Austen’s letters that she had kept careful count of various reactions to her books among family and acquaintances as she heard them. Several times people she barely knew assumed they had been the model for this or that character! So, obviously not a new thing.

  2. Mary says:

    The sort of person who would take it seriously is not interesting enough to make a character.

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