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No Writer is an Island



I just read the weirdest thing…possibly the biggest piece of fiction ever set to paper. I did a double take and thought, “The $#@% you say!” It was a bold-faced lie…right there…in legalese.

Ready for it?

Here it is–just as I read it:

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names.

(Okay, so fine…I’ll go along with that. Maybe. I’d file it under covering our butts. I can see the reason why you wouldn’t want to admit that your villain is actually your neighbor poorly-veiled. *cough cough* It’s no one! Just someone I thought up! Yeah! That’s it! They share your name for…reasons! I mean, no reason!)

(Hang on, though, there’s more.)

They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.

*jaw drops*

Well, sure, if writers dropped from the sky–or sprung from someone’s head like a Greek myth.

(For the record, I may skim-read or skip this legal jargon in every other book. Crap, my own books might have something to this effect, but it’s not true–it can’t be true.)

And the OCD stickler in me questions the word “unknown.” If a person is unknown to the author…how can an author say with any surety that their book wasn’t inspired by a late night infomercial’s host selling vacuum sealers?

If you dare to say that your writing is not based on anyone or anything that ever occurred, I’m gonna go ahead and get a bucket of water ready for when your pants catch fire.  If you believe any writer is an island then you’ve fallen prey to the worst kept secret in our profession.

We’re all thieves. We steal ideas from all around us. We’re eavesdropping on your conversations. We’re joyfully rubbing our hands together when we read a strange news story. We’re asking you weird personal questions about your best friend’s former roommate’s dog’s ex-owner because, wow, that person had some delicious issues.

Your daddy problems…goldmine! Your sibling squabbles…dude, one of my character’s has a brother just like that. That time your heel caught in your skirt, and you were suddenly in your underwear in front of everyone…okay, so, we kept that to ourselves because we love you and, also, it’d be obvious. We are robbing you blind. Sorry, it’s the price you pay for associating with an author.

Frankly, I’m baffled this legalese even exists in light of all the author questionnaires I fill out every time I have a book come out. One of the questions is always: Where did you get the idea for this story? I’ve yet to have my agent or editor send me a frantic email saying, “If anyone asks, this idea popped into your head fully-formed while you were in a white, sound-proofed room with padded walls! Don’t divulge anything!!! Change the subject if they ask!”

Yeah, that’s not what happened, but okay… (wink, wink, nod, nod, know what I mean?)

And I know I’m not alone. Other authors mention where they get their inspiration too–and it isn’t out of thin air. One of my favorite romances: When Beauty Tamed the Beast–the author admits in the author info that she based the character on House from the TV show of the same name. (That’s sort of why I love this book–and it really is House–in Regency England.)

Okay…so I’m outing the story behind one of my books: The Teacher’s Vet.

The town–well, it bears some resemblance to where I live.

The characters from the school–I should have dedicated the book to the teachers at my kids’ school–I don’t know what I was thinking. While the negative characteristics and the nurse there are fictitious. The rest…well, let’s just say I haven’t volunteered that I’ve written the Teacher’s Vet at the school. I believe some of my “in real life” friends recognized two of the teachers in there.

The pets–In the acknowledgements, I own up to drilling a friend for all sorts of weird vet experiences, and her dog is a dachshund.

The relationships–many of my friends went through divorces and break-ups, and I can see the aftermath of distrust.

Molly–her physical description was soooo easy because I based her looks on one of the kids at my son’s preschool–who was, in a word, adorbs.

So, that’s that. The plot came from brainstorming about all the weird things that might bring a couple together, but I’m sure even those ideas came from somewhere.

In Frosted, Kate’s character is so obviously based on someone I know that I can’t believe she hasn’t called me on it. I’ve always wondered if she doesn’t recognize herself in it because I know she’s read it. You! Yes, you! Kate is you! There. I’ve said it. Glad we got this over with. (Not entirely of course, but there are…similarities.)

Beyond all this, though, each character is me too. It’s the only way I can step inside their heads. Some part of them, big or small, is me. It’s why I feel exposed when something new comes out. I feel like you’re all staring the characters down and trying to figure out if I’m really like that. I am. And I’m not.

So, if you know an author and think after reading their book that one of the characters is you…it might be…and it might not be, but, technically, I’m in a white room right now, completely unstimulated, and I’ve never interacted with a soul. Ever.

And I’m on an island.


4 Responses so far.

  1. I know what you mean. My kids all know that some of my teen-aged characters’ antics are based on things they’ve done or said, but what about the adults? Nope, never met, talked to or interacted with IN ANY WAY a single person who looks, sounds, or acts like anybody in my book. Never. NOT ONCE!

    Actually,the most sensible disclaimer I’ve read says something like, “Although some people or incidents in this novel may resemble real persons or incidents, they are products of the author’simagination and are used fictitiously.”

  2. The quote feels more like something a fanfiction writer for a particularly litigious series would have up top of their story.

    • It really does, doesn’t it? It feels very “cover our tail” but it was actually just in a regular trad publishing company’s contemporary romance. I’m not sure if there’s some history behind the extent of the disclaimer, but maybe it used to be shorter and there’s a sad, pathetic reason for it.

  3. An editor once said to me, “Did you realize you have three wicked step-mothers in this book?” and I went, “Wow! No!” Mommy issues much? We can’t help but work through our stuff, even subconsciously. I don’t specifically base characters on people I know, but I know they’re in there.

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