I paid a visit to the Sloatsburg Public Library this past Wednesday to meet with a few of its patrons and read a selection from All Things Murder. I must thank the library’s Sue Melnyk and Sandy Welsh for arranging the event and the readers who attended. Among them were my former neighbor Jackie and her sister-in-law Alicia. Jackie, who babysat my siblings and me back in the 1970’s, took delight in mentioning that she was the only person, other than my mother, to change my diapers. Talk about a flash from the past. I’m not sure if it is true, but I wasn’t going to debate it in the library.
For the reading, I selected the passage from All Things Murder in which Veronica discovers her neighbor’s dead body. I thought that would hook those who had not read the book. I think I accomplished that goal; a few books were purchased and one of the library’s copies was checked out as soon as I had signed it.
I answered a few questions after the reading. One related to using the names of real places and people in fictional stories. A great question and one Five Star Publishing addresses before writers submit their work. The publisher sends, along with a document outlining the proper format of the manuscript, a file detailing when permission is needed to use an actual business, place, or person in a story. I used the library as an example in my answer.
If I mention the library in passing (e.g. a character returns a borrowed book), I do not need permission from the library to use its name. If the library plays a role in the story—a character works there, or a major event takes place there—I would need the library’s permission.
Another example. I can write that a character ate a meal in a famous restaurant without getting permission from that restaurant to use its name. But if I write something negative, say the food was terrible and the character suffered a bad case of heartburn afterwards, I would need to obtain permission from the establishment. Permission I probably would not get.
In All Things Murder, a number of characters are worried about a deal that would bring a shopping center to Barton. These fictional shopkeepers fear the chain stores that would fill the mall will put them out of business. In early drafts of the book, I used the names of well-known coffee, book, and greeting card stores as potential businesses at the shopping center. As I prepared the manuscript for submission to Five Star, I decided to change all the names to fictional shops (and no, the phony names cannot be only one or two letters different from the real business name). Though I did not write a bad word about the real life businesses, I felt the characters’ attitudes toward their competitors might be taken as negative. I did not want to disparage businesses that employ thousands and do good work in not only their communities, but also on a national and international level.
The same goes for using real people in the story. It is all right to mention a famous person; in Murder, by George I mention Sally Field and Meryl Streep. But Sally and Meryl cannot be characters in my book unless I obtain permission from the actresses. Which would probably be a difficult task to complete. So they will never visit Barton. Neither will real life soap opera queen Susan Lucci, as fun as that would be, nor a fictional actress named Susan Lucky, Suzanne Lacci, or Sue DiLucy. That disguise would be a bit thin, don’t you think?
Another reading attendee asked me about the research I did for the book. I used internet and library material while writing All Things Murder, as well as Murder, by George and the third book I am currently writing. I often consult Mapquest.com to find out how long it will take Veronica to drive to a real town from the fictional Barton, which I have located to the north and west of Lake George. I also used the internet to check that the business names I created for All Things Murder were indeed fictional. I went through several names before landing on titles that weren’t trademarked or in use by business owners.
The plot of Murder, by George revolves around a valuable painting discovered at a flea market. As several characters claim ownership of the canvas, I researched what their legal standing would be if this were a real case.
I also pose questions to family and friends. I recently asked my cousin Terry, who attended college in Lake Placid, a question about another town in the Adirondacks. Last summer I had a conversation with my brother Bob about will bequests and I’ve asked my sister-in-law Marilyn about her floral business.
Finally, a woman at the reading wondered about the choices I made in creating the characters. I replied that readers would expect soap actress Veronica to be a diva, but I wanted her to be a likeable, down-to-earth character. The attendee laughed and mentioned, to my delight, that I had made murder victim Anna the diva. A series with an actress needs a prima donna. Murder, by George also has several divas on its pages. It was a great compliment when early reader Laura said she hated one character so much she hoped she was the murderer.
That’s my news for the week. It’s much happier than what I’m watching on the television now. Please keep the people of Nepal in your thoughts and prayers as they deal with the terrible loss and destruction wreaked by the earthquake and its aftershocks.