Monday, October 09, 2006

Any Similarity to Actual Persons, Living Or Dead, etc.

As a lawyer who writes crime fiction, I'm fairly often asked if any of the people in my books are drawn from real cases. So this post from Sarah Weinman's Blog caught my eye:

In January, Joyce Dudley, a deputy district attorney in Santa Barbara, published a crime novel called “Intoxicating Agent.” Its heroine, Jordon Danner, has the same initials and the same job as Ms. Dudley, and the novel concerns a rape case with echoes of a real one. In both, the victim said she had been sexually assaulted after being given an intoxicating drug.

Acting on a motion from the real defendant in a real rape-by-intoxication case, an appeals court in Ventura, Calif., ruled on Thursday that Ms. Dudley’s novel had crossed an ethical line.

“She has a disabling conflict of interest,” Justice Kenneth R. Yegan of the California Court of Appeal wrote of Ms. Dudley for a unanimous three-judge panel. Ms. Dudley must be disqualified, Justice Yegan continued, because the defendant, Massey Haraguchi, “is being prosecuted for raping an intoxicated person while the prosecutor is promoting her novel involving the identical charge.”

The answer I always give to the above question, incidentally is "not directly." My personal rule of thumb is, if the same situation or the same type of character has come up more than twice, it can't be tied to a particular person or case. DeWayne Puryear, for example, the hapless would-be armed robber in The Devil's Right Hand, isn't drawn from any one person...he's practically an archetype in the criminal courts. So I'm not sure why "sexual assault with an intoxicating drug" isn't so common a crime that Dudley couldn't use it. Unless of course, she used something like "Missey Yamaguchi" for the name of the Defendant. Maybe the kicker was having the protagonist share not only the author's job, but her initials, which is a damn silly thing for an author to do anyway.


David Terrenoire said...

There is only one human being who I will stand in what I expect to be a very long line in order to piss on his grave.

Until then, I sneak him into books with his name slightly altered. The last time he was a neo-Nazi pedophile. I work on the assumption that he won't stand up in court and say, "That's me, your honor, I'm the neo-Nazi pedophile."

JD Rhoades said...

A writer friend of mine says she occasionally puts real people who've pissed her off into her books as either villains, victims, or comic relief. They never recognize themselves. One time a friend asked her, "can you kill off my ex in your next book?" She did, making the ex a sleazy jerk who deserved to be offed. He didn't figure it out; in fact, he said he loved the book.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I just use part names of people who've pissed me off in extreme or done something to hurt me. David, if I'd known you before I wrote one thing, I might have rethought using the name David. But every David I'd known up to then had been a jerk, and one of them had been particularly nasty to me.

So I called one of my rotten people David. An amalgamation of all the David's I didn't like, with absolutely nothing else drawn from any of them.

Dusty, I agree with your principles on it. Two cases means it can't be automatically drawn to one. That's sensible. Ms. Dudley's approach wasn't.

David Terrenoire said...


You were right about Davids, we are all vile and disgusting people. I've made my peace with that.

The very first story I ever sold, a comic bit to EQMM, featured a sleazy promiscuous, ball-buster wife named Mary.

Jesus, was my sister-in-law, Mary, steamed.

Stacey Cochran said...

I once put a character named "Stacey Cochran" in a short story. In fact, it was my first pro sale back in 2001. He was a minor character in the story, not the protagonist, but the context that he was in in the story was right out of real life.

Of course, that's a short story for which I was compensated with one contributor's copy. And the journal has a print run of between 5000-10,000 copies.

People only care about what you write, when you start actually having success. Usually.

I have never heard of anyone sueing a self-published author who sold 60 copies of his memoir. It's always the high-profile authors (or companies) that end up in litigation. People are only gonna sue you if you have something they can take.