There was a great post on MMM discussing whether it's wise to base fictional characters on real people. I left a comment with my opinion, but decided to expound on it for my post today.
When the idea MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon was first born, the inspiration for the novel was a sincere desire to kill a woman we worked with -- ‘we’ being me and Maureen, my old writing partner and co-founder of our San Diego based theatrical troupe, Murder for Hire – on the entertainment for the first La Jolla Raymond Chandler Festival.
To quote MFH’s press release: Along with her best friend Maureen, Dana was co-producer/writer/director for a mystery-oriented theatrical troupe based in San Diego. While no actual murders occurred during their performances, there were times when the actors and clients made the idea very tempting.
Oh, so very tempting… I used to fantasize often about the demise of one of our clients, the woman who was in charge of the Gala Charity Dinner for the Chandler Festival. She was actually more of a client-in-law. We were hired by the head librarian for the newly opened Florence Riford La Jolla Library to do walking tours and a performance for the gala dinner. ‘Jane’ (not her real name) was hired by the Friends of the Library to put together the rest of the gala, hire the musicians, caterers, etc. She had a lot on her plate so one would have thought she’d be glad not to have to worry about the rest of the entertainment, right?
Jane didn’t hire us and was one of those people who, if something wasn’t her idea, it meant it was a BAD idea. An evil, bad, wrong idea that must be squashed like a nasty bug. Murder for Hire, our troupe, was the bug in question. Unfortunately for Jane, MFH was not an easily squashed bug. We were more of a mutant ‘we’re a featured movie on Sci-Fi Channel’ type bug. She tried her best to get rid of us, but we had the head of the festival and most of the Friends of the Library on our side so we stayed. But OH, did I want to kill this woman. I think most of the cast and crew of MFH felt the same way, but I was definitely the yang to their yin, the Jay to their Silent Bob as far as my inability to keep my mouth shut.
I had a confrontation with her at one of our rehearsals, a slice of life that was immortalized in MFH: The Peruvian Pigeon. Yes, a few things were added because as pissed as she was at me after the real life encounter, it wasn’t really dramatic enough to work in the book. But everything that DID happen in the real life confrontation made it into this particular chapter. And oh, it felt good.
Jane was not the only character based on real people. Of course, I didn’t want to kill most of them…at least not as often as I dreamed of offing her. I admit there were times when our actors drove me bonkers. Not all of them And I’m not gonna name any names here because even the ones who were the most annoying still did a good job and…well…most of my memories of our cast are very fond. And the memories that aren’t so fond will no doubt make it into the next book, MURDER FOR HIRE: The Big Snooze.
At any rate, murder is a great incentive for fiction if you don’t want to go to jail. Of course, you also have to take into consideration things like ‘libel’ and ‘lawsuits’, but changing the names and physical descriptions to protect the guilty should take care of that. And if someone in real life does recognize themselves in your work of fiction? Well, if they’re heinous enough, how many of them will actually want to bring attention to the fact they were the inspiration for the C-U-Next-Tuesday in your book?
As an interesting wrap-up, I set up three Google alerts to help track my exposure on the ‘net (we’re not talking about those ‘See Nude Pictures of Dana Fredsti here’ hits), one for my name, one for Murder for Hire and another for Peruvian Pigeon. 90 percent of the hits I’ve gotten for Murder for Hire are about actual murders or plots in which someone was hired to rub someone else out. If the government is monitoring my email and interests, I could be in trouble.