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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Careful, or You’ll End up in My Novel

That’s the message on a T-shirt I see at writers’ conferences a lot. Apparently it’s been a popular item in the Signals Catalogue for years. 

It’s interesting that most writers I’ve met who wear them say the shirt was a gift from a friend or family member. I can’t help wondering if those gift-givers weren’t expressing their own anxiety. A lot of people presume all novels are thinly disguised autobiography.

But the truth is, most fiction writers don’t like to write about real stuff. If we did, we’d be writing nonfiction, which pays better.

OK, I have to admit I’ve tried to skewer a few real people in my fiction, but it never works. The character always takes over and makes herself sympathetic, and/or entirely different from the person on whom I tried to perpetrate my literary revenge.  

That’s because novelists can’t help making things up. It’s what we do.

As John Steinbeck said— “I have tried to keep diaries, but they didn’t work out because of the necessity to be honest.”

But a lot of non-writers don’t seem to get this.

I discovered that with my very first published fiction piece—a story I wrote for the newspaper of a new high school. It was a silly story about how a football team lost when a school was divided by squabbles between the team and the pep squad. The satire was so ham-handed, I called the protagonists Joe Jock and Cherry Cheerleader.

I’d been at the school such a short time, I didn’t even know there was a cheerleader named Sherry dating/squabbling with a football player named Joe.

After my story came out, Sherry accosted me in homeroom and said—

“I hope you’re happy. Joey and me broke up.”

I sat in stunned silence. No cheerleader had ever even spoken to me—and I had no idea what she was talking about.

She went on to accuse me of listening in on her private conversations. Then, as she flounced away, she said—“Anyway, I'm nothing like the girl in that story. I am not blonde; I’d never hold a bake sale; and I don’t have freckles.”

She was accusing me of both writing about her and NOT writing about her.

Things like this have continued to happen throughout my writing career. Like the time I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. She asked me about my writing and I sent her my latest manuscript. When she finished it, she phoned me in tears.

“You’ve written my whole life here,” she said. “I work at a place just like this. My husband left me in the same horrible way. He said the exact same things. How did you know?”

I didn’t, of course. I’d made it all up—pure fiction.

It happened again in a critique meeting this week. I read a scene that revealed the antagonist’s abusive childhood. One member said, when he finished his critique:

“You pretty much described my own childhood there.”

He wasn’t angry. As a fellow fiction writer, he was praising me for tapping into an archetypal human experience and expressing it in a way that related to his own.

In fact, nobody except Sherry the Cheerleader has ever expressed anger after “recognizing” themselves in my fiction. (And you’ll be happy to know she and Joe got back together.) Most people understand the similarities are coincidental—and they come from the Collective Unconscious that all writers tap into when we create.

But what if it’s not coincidence? What if something a friend has told you about his past wanders into your fiction? Or a character resembles someone you know?

“That awful mother is supposed to be me, is it?” says your mom, looking teary.

“Of course not,” you say. “It’s fiction.”

Although maybe, now that you think of it, the bad mom is a little like your mother when she first started getting those hot flashes…but no, Bad Mom is more like your childhood friend’s mean Aunt Harriet. Yes, definitely there’s some Harriet in there. Funny, you never thought about her when you were writing the novel, but there she is, saying those mean Aunt Harriet things.

Do you owe Aunt Harriet an apology? Should you find out if she’s still alive and ask permission to put her nasty remarks in your novel?

I don’t think so. We can’t be expected to keep our memories out of our fiction. As Isabel Allende says, “writing is a journey into memory.” What does your imagination draw on but what’s in your memory banks? 

What a fiction or poetry writer does is take tiny fragments of memory and make an original mosaic that is “the lie that tells the truth.”

But not everybody understands this. The wonderful writer Catherine Ryan Hyde has recently been attacked for “stealing the life” of an estranged relative in her new YA novel, Jumpstart the World--as well as “getting it all wrong."  Just the way I did with Cherry Cheerleader.

And I’ve been cyberstalked recently after an offhand comment on an agent’s blog about an unfortunate man who thinks a line of poetry by a famous poet “proves” said poet has participated in animal cruelty.

This guy also “proves” on his website that I am an evil person because I advise writers to “activate your inner sadist. Never let your characters get what they need. Throw as many obstacles into their path as possible. Hurt them. Maim them. Give them cruel parents and girlfriends who are preparing to kill them for alien lizard food.”

Yeah, if I was talking about doing those things to real people, I’d be pretty rotten. Especially about feeding them to alien lizards.

These two incidents have reminded me that some people really do assume every written word is intended to be a solid, concrete fact. Irony, fantasy, metaphor, hyperbole, whimsy, and humor are incomprehensible to them.

It’s not their fault, and I shouldn’t have scoffed at the unfortunate man.

Instead I should have directed him to the works of the brain-chemistry pioneer Dr. Temple Grandin, who explains to the rest of us how autistic minds work, and why they are essential to our survival as a species. People with this kind of brain can’t “read” people or understand non-literal communication. They need to stay far, far away from poetry and fiction. Not that they miss it. Dr. Grandin says anything about nuances of emotion bores her silly.

So, for the people who don’t understand the nature of fiction, I’m wondering if maybe writers shouldn’t Mirandize everybody we meet. Shake hands and say—"I’m a novelist. Anything you say can be taken down and used against you in a work of fiction.”

And we should probably all stock up on those T-shirts.

What about you? Have any of you had an experience where the product of your imagination seemed to mimic real life? Did people get miffed?

Labels: , , ,

43 Comments:

Blogger Jenna said...

I have one of those shirts, but I don't wear it very often. I'm more likely to stick somebody in a story if I *like* them. And even that's rare--the last time I deliberately plopped somebody's traits in a novel was in 2008, because he asked if I could and I was already kind of doing it anyway.

It's rarely a deliberate thing. It's just that fiction so often pulls from real life, because we as writers use our experiences to craft stories. The few times people have found parts of themselves in my writing, they either don't care or think it's really cool that I "wrote about them" (even though I didn't really).

As for the Mirandizing--heck, I've done that more than once! I took my anatomy class last semester just to stock up on information to use in my writing, and I told the teacher straight-up that the entire class was novel research. He thought it was great.

Awesome post. :D

(PS--I freaking love Temple Grandin.)

January 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

I've had a few funny incidences where friends and family have thought I was writing about them (which I wrote about in blog posts). A childhood friend thinks that my twin protagonists in my novels - one is her and the other is me and my character is picking on her character! I now work under the assumption that everyone thinks I'm writing about them all the time.

January 23, 2011 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

Don't have the shirt, lol, but I think this fear comes from books, and movies, like "Book of Joe" by Tropper where the entire story is about him fictionalizing and then crucifying everyone he ever knew. I know for me, I never intentionally use a person in my life as a template for a character but sometimes in retrospect I see aspects of people I know in my characters.

January 23, 2011 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

Oh Man! THANK YOU for none of that "captcha" type code to enter in order to leave a comment. Your blog is the first one (besides my own) where I have left a comment without having to sit there yelling at the weird word arrangements I must enter in order to do so.

January 23, 2011 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hi Anne,

What an interesting post!

In the one book which I based on a real-life situation, NOT ONE of the characters recognized him/herself. I was so nervous about this pre-pub, was prepared for furious attacks and, post-pub, was stunned at the level of obliviousness. Was it denial? Did they all possess autistic-type brains? Was each one ego-less? Am I such a skillful writer that my efforts to hide identifying details fooled even them?

I eventually reached a much different conclusion: that many people have absolutely no idea of what they're like or what their effect is on others. And so they go merrily along, doing the same things over and over -- (and expecting different results)? As in the well-known definition of neurosis.

January 23, 2011 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jenna--I do admit to putting real people in cameo appearances in my novels on occasion like that. Sometimes I want to plug their businesses in a fun way, or just do something fun--but I tell them beforehand and it's always in a positive way.

Jan--I think you're very wise on this: "I now work under the assumption that everyone thinks I'm writing about them all the time."

Aisha--I wasn't aware of the Book of Joe. I'll have to check it out.

And about those word verification things--most people don't know it, but you can turn them off in most blog programs in your privacy settings menu. They're annoying and keep people from commenting. If you monitor your blog regularly, you don't have to worry about spambots. It's more important to be comment-friendly.

January 23, 2011 at 2:20 PM  
Anonymous Levi Montgomery said...

I've never really based an entire character on "real" life, although I have (and I'm pretty sure we all have) based one facet of a particular character's makeup on one facet of someone we didn't make up. But I did have a funny thing happen along the same lines...

In one of my novels (Stubbs and Bernadette), a character has some kind of mental/emotional issue, not otherwise specified. In fact, I went out of my way to never name it, to not name the medication she takes, and even to not name the type of doctor she sees. In spite of all of this, I was emailed by someone who said that my "portrayal of bipolar disorder" was so far off the mark as to be offensive. My reply was that the sender found herself in a very unusual position, as she was telling me that a) my portrayal was so on-the-mark that she could diagnose the disorder in spite of my never naming it, and b) that it was so far off that it offended her.

To which she never replied. Pretty much the same thing as Cherry Cheerleader: "How dare you write about me? And how dare you get it so wrong?"

January 23, 2011 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Eric Satchwill said...

I've yet to have anyone claim I wrote them into my book, but that might be because outside of some particularly surreal shorts, my fiction has yet to see the light of day. Still, I can look at my characters and sometimes just *know* who I took what character trait from. (My main antagonist is heavily influenced by my best friend, but it's the kind of thing he'll appreciate.)

Actually, it kind of takes me by surprise sometimes... Kind of like "aw, shit... is *that* how I feel about this person?"

January 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth, I think that may happen because in good writing, we leave a lot of details up to the reader to imagine. So many times I've had readers tell me things like, "I love your hero. I can see George Clooney playing him in the movie" --when I've been picturing him as Owen Wilson!

Levi--that's a perfect example of a Cherry Cheerleader moment. Some people think everything is about them.

Eric--yeah, we do learn a lot about people if we try to write them into our fiction. I usually find I can be more tolerant of people with annoying traits once I've written about them. I start understanding motivations.

January 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Florence said...

Anne, thanks for my Sunday "fix." There is a thought in my head. If I write about my "real" life, and those who know and love/hate me ... there is one story to tell.

I think of myself as a professional liar. If I lie, use my family and friends in dozens of settings, disguise their identity by melding them into amalgums that are fun to screw with ... I have an endless supply of fodder.

If I get sued by any of my loving relatives and friends, I can exact revenge by rewriting a chapter and have a people eating demon swallow whichever character they thought they were whole.
This was fun :)

January 23, 2011 at 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Susan Tuttle said...

Anne, great posting. This is a subject we've been discussing lately in my Wednesday What If? Writing Group, the fact that anyone can read him/herself into anything at any time. We never see ourselves the way others do (just listen to your friends talk about you when you're 'not there' and you'll see what I mean!), and rarely see ourselves the way we really are. We see ourselves the way we want to see ourselves (and sometimes the way we are afraid we might be), and that's why we're so vulnerable to seeing ourselves in all the places we are not - like in fiction stories.

My ex-husband once read the beginning of Matter of Identity (a period suspense novel that takes place in 1860s and 1870s England and is going through my critique groups now). I just wanted feedback on how the writing was progressing. His comment when he got to where the heroine met the man she marries: That's what you wish our relationship was like. My response: What part of made-up fiction don't you get? He of course didn't believe it was fiction and never read anything else I've written since, he was so upset I'd be so open about our marital shortcomings - one of the reasons he's now an "ex."

Your cyber stalker would have a problem with me, too. I love giving my nasty" side free reign. My best (writing) days are those when I'm jamming up my characters and thinking up dastardly deeds to do unto them. I "kill off" a lot of the people who irk me in my stories, and have delicious interactions with my villains. Sometimes they're even more "real" to me than the good characters! I can steal, maim and murder with total immunity from prosecution, and maybe even get paid, too. Is that heaven or what?

Because I set most of my stories in local areas, I often will ask business owners and/or neighbors if they mind if their business, product, home, yard, etc is in the book. My only promise is it won't be detrimental to them in any way. Never had anyone say no yet. They're all so thrilled just to be in the story.

I fell in love with one young businessman's first name and asked if I could use it - he was ecstatic, and actually asked to be a bad guy on the book! (Couldn't do it to him 'cause my baddies are really bad, so he's one of the good ones, but a really rough character on the outside and so causes a lot of commotion.)

In my opinion, it's a brave act to be a writer in an age when programs like Myth Busters have to tell people not to do dangerous life-threatening stunts at home, and TV programs have to use 555 as a phone exchange so people can't call the numbers. So few people know how to think anymore. So, along with the T-shirt (actually, mine is a sweatshirt my cousins gave me) we all deserve a medal of valor! Kudos to writers. Who else is trying this hard to keep the imagination well-oiled and in working order?

January 23, 2011 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Erik Martin said...

I was just talking about Vonnegut's eight rules of writing, one of which is to 'be a sadist.' By that he meant exactly what you stated above. By the logic of your cyberstalker, most of us then are evil sadists...

January 23, 2011 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Sierra Gardner said...

I think you should be making your own t-shirts. I would buy one with the novelist's version of miranda rights =)

January 23, 2011 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger Rachael Harrie said...

Oh dear, I guess I hadn't thought properly through what people might think of the characters in my book. Considering I write YA Horror, and many of them die...

Perhaps I should start mirandizing as well ;)

Rach

January 24, 2011 at 1:17 AM  
Blogger Mobile Phone Radiations said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 24, 2011 at 2:43 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Great post!!

January 24, 2011 at 3:35 AM  
Blogger Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Wonderful post. And so far I've stayed away from using the people in my life as fictional persons. So far. But they better watch out. Just in case.

January 24, 2011 at 5:15 AM  
OpenID authorguy said...

I often use real life experiences in my stories. There's no better way to make someone sound like a real person than to have him talk and act like one. My story 'Off the Map' was written about and for a real person, who'd won a contest where the prize was to be written into a story. I may have gone overboard, as I turned her into the main character and wrote the whole story about her.

January 24, 2011 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

Sometimes when people think you've written about them, they don't tackle you head on, but come sideways with questions like, 'so how did you come up with the idea for this novel?'

Right now I have a situation where a relative's life is mimicking a family drama story I've written. It's behind schedule for publication, so I'm cringing when I think about her reaction to the story, which so closely resembles what's going on in her life.

Keeping my fingers crossed here.

January 24, 2011 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Great Great post! As to your last question, I won't know what people think until the book gets published**. It's set in my home state RI where everyone knows everyone else. Truthfully I can't wait to do the book tour. We'll see who pops out of the woodwork.

(**of course, I would actually have to get the book in front of an agent first.)

January 24, 2011 at 7:11 AM  
Blogger Misha said...

Lol, no, I'm pretty much a genious at disguising who's who.

But once, I created a character as a tribute to a friend. This character's love interest ended up to be the namesake and descripted double of her cousin. Oooh cringe.

Never did that again.

Now I've taken to saying that all of my characters are built out of aspects of myself. Which, once I let people I know read my book, might just start freaking them out soon.

Maybe I should stick to the truth and say that they walked into my head and told me what to write.

:-)

January 24, 2011 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--I think feeding them to demons is an excellent plan.

Susan--thanks for sharing your personal story. It can get intense when people want to make everything about them, can't it?

Erik--I probably had that in my head from reading Vonnegut. He's one of my writing gods. Without him, I'm not sure I would have made it through my twenties.

Sierra--You know, you may have something there. I've had some ideas for other writerly T-shirts. Hmmm...

Rach--Yup. I think we all need those Mirandizing T-shirts.

J. L.--that can be icky. Would it help for you to tell them beforehand that you wrote it way before the events happened to them?

Anne--I KNOW you wrote that Notes from the Underground story about me. You even spell your name exactly like me! I'm going to sue...

Michelle, Ink, Authorguy et al. Misha has said it best: "...stick to the truth and say that they walked into my head and told me what to write."

January 24, 2011 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Ann Best said...

An excellent post, Anne. Your comment that you just posted on my blog, wishing me a good debut, got me immediately over here. (And thank you!)

I have to say that even a memoir isn't totally true. You have to rearrange a bit. You can't possibly remember dialogue verbatim. Even the "I" isn't totally you. The way "I" come out in my memoir surprises me. Is this really me, the way I was? Very interesting situation. But I know what you're saying. In fiction, the characters DO take over. If they don't, you probably won't have a very good story!!
Ann Best, Author

January 24, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great post, Anne. I would assume that every character I have written is based on someone I have met, heard about, overheard talking to a friend in a drug store check out line, or...and that was then fleshed out or mingled with someone else I met or heard about or overheard talking...

January 24, 2011 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

I've definitely had people tell me they recognize OTHER people--family members and exes--in my stories, but I definitely hadn't intended to put them in. So I can easily see what the reaction would be if more people read my stuff (i.e. publishing it).

Don't forget too the lawsuit in which the lady WON the suit against author Sue Ellen Cooper for being portrayed in her novel:
http://overlawyered.com/2009/11/red-hat-club-author-loses-suit-over-portrayal/

And finally, I stand next to you as someone who thinks we should feed characters to alien lizards. Because the crowd of people who believe this is quite large. People are welcome to take that "proof" and shove it down their alien lizard gullets.

January 24, 2011 at 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from RRRANDY WURST, (potential 2012 presidential candidate for the YouAintSeenNothinYet Party:

Anne,
That was ME you blogged about (the guy in your critique group), and I am seriously pissed off!!!!! Just kidding.

Anyway, to your question: In my "practice novel" (the one under 15 years of dust in my closet) my protagonist's father is a harshly Calvinist minister in South Dakota who plays "chicken" with his son by having the kid hold ever smaller bits of kindling for the father to split with an ax. My own father was a more-or-less Jewish corporate executive who got severe stomach pains whenever he had to travel beyond Manhattan. I don't think he even knew that South Dakota existed or which end of an ax to hold. What they had in common was a twisted lower-jaw incisor. After he died I made the absolutely horrible mistake---I was young and foolish, barely into my 50s---of sending the ms. to his wife because she wanted to read some of my writing. (His 3rd wife, not my mother, but that's another story). I received a letter written in red ink telling me what an ungrateful bastard I was for being so disrespectful to the man who gave me life.

Oh, well.

January 24, 2011 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

Yes, I think it would serve me well if I said something.

January 24, 2011 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Carol Riggs said...

Great post. As you mentioned, my characters are bits and pieces of people I've known. Or made up. But the emotions are all ones I've felt. :)

January 24, 2011 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ann B--interesting about the "I" of your (ABOUT TO DEBUT!) memoir having a different voice from your usual. I think my blog voice is a bit different from who I seem to be in person.

Christine--You're so right. It has to come from somewhere--and preferably not last night's episode of Law and Order.

Sierra--thanks for including the link. I'd forgotten about that case. The thing is the "winner" didn't win court costs, so she ended up losing money anyway.

Future President Wurst--That's some story. I hope you don't mind that I included that critique group incident, but it really got me thinking. I think narcissists are just problematic for writers. They think everything is about them, but they have no self-knowledge, so they're just as likely to see themselves in the swashbuckling hero as the nebbishy creep they might have inspired.

J.L. I hope that won't be too hard.

Carol--You're so right. It's the emotions that matter. And we can only write what we ourselves have experienced in some form.

January 24, 2011 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Well, since I'm writing a memoir, I risk having a lot of people angry at me for putting them in my book. It's funny, though, how people assume novels are based on truth. In my writers' group, people always refer to one woman's protagonist as "you" even though she's writing a novel. I love the idea of Mirandizing everyone we meet. Ha!

January 25, 2011 at 8:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Meghan, you hit on something that drives me NUTS! I was in a critique group where everybody did that "you" thing. They seemed to think anything written in first person was a memoir. I ended up re-writing a whole book in third person so they'd stop talking to me as if I were my dingbat heroine.

January 26, 2011 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I told someone the other day, take what you know and make it fiction. I think we have to draw on at least a little bit of truth in order to create a character or story, but they should be bits of many truths put together.

January 27, 2011 at 5:37 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

New T-shirt idea: Write WHAT you know, not Who you know....

January 27, 2011 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Carson Lee said...

9 guys sitting out on break at work: one commented about my writing, teasing me, & asked eagerly, "Can we be IN your book?"
His supervisor immediately growled, "You put me in it, I'll SUE ya..."
LOL
different attitudes

January 27, 2011 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Andrea and Richard, that what/who line is very thin, and I suppose some writers cross it--but those writers are probably journalists at heart. Fiction writers can't copy precisely from life. Our imaginations won't let that happen.

Carson--that's a great story. I guess people who assume you'll make them look good want to be immortalized in your prose, but ones who know they'll look like asshats probably don't.

January 28, 2011 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

Whenever I start to tell my family about where I get my inspiration, my ten-year-old sister makes awful but unspecific threats about what she'll do if I ever put her in a story. I just tell myself I'll do it so skilfully that she'll never recognize herself. :)

I really enjoyed this post. I think you did a great job of portraying the complicated and almost unconscious system by which bits of real life get into our writing. Like Aisha said, I've never deliberately based a character on someone I know, but have looked back and seen similarities in retrospect. That includes similarites to myself. But it's not autobiographical; I noticed traits or opinions of my own in four characters in one story - four completely different characters.

By the way, I followed your advice in an earlier post and removed the spam filter from my blog, but within a couple weeks I started getting spam and had to put it back. Was I just one of the unlucky ones?

January 31, 2011 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Elisabeth, that's so funny because my sister is named Elisabeth and when I first saw your name, I thought--oh no, she's reading my blog! She used to refuse to read my stuff because she was afraid she'd recognize herself.

You're the first person I know who's got spam after removing the word verification thing. I'll have to do a poll sometime and find out how common it is. Thanks for the update!

January 31, 2011 at 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this interesting because I was always taught to "write what you know" and for me, I find my best writing comes when I am inspired by a real person. Typically, it's people I am in relationships with. I guess I need a muse.

September 6, 2011 at 8:54 PM  
Anonymous Nichole L. Reber said...

Joe Jock and Cherry Cheerleader...cracking me up over here!
I'm also loving the detail that the actual cheerleader accused you of writing about her and NOT writing about her.
Personally I've never thought a fiction book was telling my life, though more than occasionally I can relate to a sentence or two. Perhaps that why I write nonfiction. Speaking of which...
I wrote a blog post about a conversation that turned nasty on a date with a journalist. Then I wrote a blog post about it. Weeks later the person who introduced us verbally accosted me in public, practically claiming that I had somehow libeled her. The post never once mentioned her. The post was about a writerly debate about genres. How does that happen?
http://www.architecturetravelwriter.com/2011/11/how-to-perturb-a-journalist-talk-about-literary-writing/
It's a relief to read other writers' experiences with this phenomenon. Phew!

December 17, 2011 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Teri Heyer said...

I loved your post. Yes, I have one of those t-shirts which my husband gave me last Christmas. I get funny looks whenever I wear it.

My mom questions me about every mother character in my stories. I always have to reassure her, "No, Mom, that's not you."

Years back I was writing a romantic suspense novel with a stalker character. Then one day that very same stalker showed up at my work and then started following me around. It really creeped me out. I boxed up the manuscript and put it in the closet. Then my stalker went away.

I recently started rewriting that novel, but I keep looking over my shoulder, just in case. I often wonder if I had seen the guy lurking around somewhere before I started writing that book. Or did my character conjure him up?

I've had friends and family members ask when I'm going to put them in one of my stories. Ah, the joys of writing fiction.

May 19, 2012 at 3:59 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nicole--Just saw your comment--6 months later. :-( I'll go check out your post. I've had stuff like that happen to me, too.

Teri--I TOTALLY relate to the mom thing. Mine is the same way.

And I've had the same experience of writing about something and then having it seem to come true. It can be a pretty creepy feeling. I think your analysis may be right: you've subconsciously picked up on something and it seeps into your writing before it makes it to your conscious mind.

May 20, 2012 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Maddy said...

I heard a novelist interviewed on Woman's Hour the other day and the issue of plagiarism -- she wasn't phased at all, so neither should we.

September 21, 2014 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maddy--This post is almost four years old, and when I wrote it, plagiarism wasn't a big problem. And piracy could actually help raise your profile and sell more books

I agreed with Neil Young, who said "piracy is the way art gets around these days". And it's still silly to worry about people stealing your plot.

But there is a new phenomenon which is downright nasty. People are taking novels off Amazon, changing the character names and a few details and putting the books out as their own. An awful example happened with this last month. Reviewers recognized the book and notified the original author. When she tried to get it taken down, the plagiarist retaliated with a vicious attack on the original author, including death threats. Evil stuff.

I'll be writing more about this next month. Don't be paranoid, but be aware that there is no limit to the nasty ways people will try to exploit authors.

September 21, 2014 at 8:49 PM  

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