OHMYGOODNESS . . . It’s a real person!

I’m reading a delightful mystery novel right now (NO BELLS, by Marilyn Meredith) and, because of rather unique circumstances, am experiencing a “hiccup” every time one character’s name is mentioned–which comes up frequently.

First, let me explain that it is the practice of many authors to honor people by giving book characters a real person’s name.  This can be an individual decision by the author (with permission from the “namee,” ) or, frequently, the right to have a book character named after yourself or someone you want to honor is auctioned at writers’ conferences to raise money for a cause related to writing and reading.

So, finding real names in books is not uncommon, even when the book is not a historical novel or a biography of some “worthy” person, past or present.

So, why the hiccups?  Because I KNOW the real, living,  (delightful) person so honored in this book.  It’s never happened before in any work of fiction I’ve read, but, every time the name comes up, I see and hear the person I know, not the book character. It is a unique, and somewhat bizarre reaction on my part, and, to some degree, it interrupts my involvement in the story .

Odd, because one thing I love most about this on-going series set within the lives of various members of a police department is my belief, while reading, that these are all very real people, living real lives, and I am privileged to be hiding (a fly on the wall) to know their thoughts and actions.  In other words, this is one of my favorite novel series, ever.

That said, have I ever used real people in my own books?  Yup, I sure have.  Twice I’ve used people who actually played the parts in novels that they play in real life.  One was a ranger who was very much involved in helping me develop the setting and plot of A RIVER TO DIE FOR, a story that takes place mostly in the caves and abandoned mines at Buffalo National River in Arkansas.  It turned out to be challenging to write him into the story.  Though he was eager to be part of this work of fiction,  I didn’t want to “make” him do anything he might not do in real life.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to upset either this man or his bosses.  Everything came out okay, but it was a challenge I wouldn’t repeat.

In JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, I used Chuck Dovish, host of a popular PBS program called “Exploring Arkansas” as part of the story, filming a ride on a restored 1920’s passenger train as Chuck has actually done more than once for his program.  In this case I had no problem because Chuck simply did in the novel exactly what he does for AETN.  And, when Carrie McCrite, Henry King, and their friends view the resulting program in the story, they discover a valuable clue to a murder that occurs following their ride on this (real) train.  It was great fun all around.

99% of the people reading either of these novels wouldn’t know the real people taking part, so I assume no problem. If they do know them, since both are really doing what they would do or actually do in real life, I suppose it isn’t distracting.  (But I don’t know this for certain.)

In my latest novel (A FAIR TO DIE FOR, to be released by Oak Tree Press later this spring), I again use the names of two real people as a big part of the story.  One, Carrie’s mysterious cousin, Edith Embler (“Edie”) is named in honor of the real person by the same name who was a reviewer for “I Love A Mystery” review site, and became a real-life friend of mine when she and her husband came to Arkansas to visit the locations where my novels are set.  I enjoyed my time with this delightful couple. Edie passed on shortly after their visit, and I, along with other writers who knew her, promised to honor her by naming a book character after her.  I have done that in this story.  The second real person, who has been a frequent poster to the mystery fan site, DorothyL, is John Bohnert, who, among other things, often told DorothyL members what delicious-sounding meals he was cooking.  I don’t know John face-to-face  as I came to know Edie, but he is definitely a real person, and appears in A FAIR TO DIE FOR as famous Chef John Bohnert from Grass Valley, California.

In spite of what I’ve just written, I don’t often have any problem with confronting real names in fiction, mostly–as I have discovered–because I don’t really know them and can’t picture a real person owning the name.  In the case of the character in NO BELLS, I’ll gladly put up with it because I know the name honors a friend of the author’s, and of mine!

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8 Responses to “OHMYGOODNESS . . . It’s a real person!”

  1. marilynm Says:

    Sara, Benay’s daughter won a contest I had on a blog tour and she chose for her mother’s name to be used. I love the name and though I know Benay, I pictured the character when I was writing–certainly nothing like the real Benay.

    • radine Says:

      Oh gosh, now you’ve gone and given away the name of the “real” person! 🙂 I would like to know the origin of Benay’s very unique and beautiful name. I have never asked her.

  2. Sally Carpenter Says:

    Sometime after I finished writing my novel, possibly after it was picked up for publication, I discovered a real person with my character’s name who had a Facebook page. But I didn’t change the character’s name because I had a specific reason for using the name and would be too much trouble to think up a new moniker and revise it throughout the book. But I don’t set out to name characters after people I know. BTW, a number of real “Harry Potters” exist.
    Sally Carpenter

    • radine Says:

      Except for the most unique names, I suppose duplicates exist for most of us. I was surprised to discover at least two other “Radines” who had web sites using the name when I applied for my URL, yesrs ago. One of the other Radines and I corresponded briefly. (My parents thought they had had invented the name. I was the first born, my father was Paul Rayburn, and they didn’t want to use Pauline . . . . )

    • marilynm Says:

      I’m sure we’ve all used real names in our stories without knowing it, but I’ve had three contests where people won to have their names in my books. One was a game warden in Bears With Us, and in my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, one of the women I have blog toured with several times is a fairly major character. Hi, Sally, It was great meeting you at LCC>

  3. Marilyn Meredith Says:

    Yep, she has the book now and I’m anxious to hear what she thinks.

  4. radine Says:

    Ahh, and I’ve been a character in novels, too. The first time I appeared as a, um, well, as we said when the girls were little, a “Warehouse” Madam in a friend’s novel. And I didn’t read the novel for some time after I had purchased it, so, (blush) didn’t discover my name and thank my friend until many weeks later. The second time (in another friend’s novellas) I was a strong-willed teen who grew up (in a second novella) and eventually found love and marriage. Loved being both people.

  5. horowitzv Says:

    Did you have to get permission to use Chuck Dovish’s name and persona as a charactert? In my culinary cozy, I changed the name of a living cookbook author to a fictional one after readers warned me to do so. I liked the idea of having an actual living person in the book, and, once I get a publisher, was planning on writing to the cookbook author for permission to use her as a charactert. If I were her, I’d be thrilled. The book promotes her and her cookbook (I also changed the name of the cookbook and the recipes).

    In addition, I gave almost all of the characters in my book either the first or last name of beloved friends and family, mixing up the first and last names. I name my protagonist after my childhood friend who re-introduced me to the man who later turned out to be my husband, someone I had once dated in HS.

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