Friday, April 12, 2013

Killing with Responsibility

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

My first two Odelia Grey novels were written and self-published a few years before they were picked up by a traditional publisher and reissued. In the 2nd book, The Curse of the Holy Pail, one of the bad guys dies by Odelia's own hand, something that haunts her in subsequent books.  Before those two books were re-released, I had an opportunity to edit and polish them again, and I was very glad I did for many reasons. One of which fits the topic of this week's question.

Between the time I first wrote Curse and it's re-release, I'd had a serious and ongoing confrontation with a woman who had the same first name as the person Odelia kills in the original edition. And a lot of people knew about this conflict. While editing Curse, I got to thinking about it. A lot of folks identify me with Odelia Grey.  After all, she's a short, fat, middle-aged paralegal with an often snarky mouth.  The more I thought about it, the more concerned I was that people would think I was using the book to live out a fantasy of killing off the person with whom I was having difficulties. Most people who knew us both would not remember that Curse was actually written a few years before the problem occurred.

What to do?

Although I honestly wanted to slap this person at the time, and several times, I didn't wish her dead. I wished her well. I wished her success. I wished her a new brain and a heart. Just far away from me.  But death - never!  So I did the one thing in my power as an author to do. With a simple replace all I changed the name of the character before it went to print and into wider release.

Readers like to inject a lot of stuff into the books they read. Some of it is the author's intention, some of it not. I wasn't about to take the chance that people might think that I wanted this woman six feet under. I'm really not that petty, no matter what ill-feelings I bear towards someone.

On the flip side, I give away a lot of character names in my books as raffle prizes for charities. And a lot of the people who purchase these names I do know personally, and a lot of them want to be a murder victim or the bad guy who is served justice in the end. So when you're reading one of my books, don't think the dead guy or bad guy annoyed me, rather think of them as someone I've probably shared quality time with over a meal or a cup of coffee. Because that's closer to the truth.


Kris said...

I love this post. I just saw a button on another website that read, "I write mysteries. Anything you say or do can and will end up in a book." Sometimes there is certainly a fine line between painting a real "character" into a fictional one, but for the example you use, I would have kept the original name knowing it was well established that you wrote the character before meeting the offensive woman. If it were the other way around, I would seriously consider the possibility that hey: if this woman actually *does* turn up with a toe tag, I'm a suspect and have simultaneously created my own alibi! (Cue Basic Instinct).

But consider this angle: perhaps this woman read your book (which we have established, was around long before you met her) and perhaps the murder of someone with her first name influenced her ability to like you (through no fault of yours), thus causing the entire conflict. Something to ponder.

Thanks for sharing a great post. I'd like to mention it in my weekly newsletter as something for my readers to check out. Please let me know if you would like a copy. Cheers,


Catriona McPherson said...

This isn't related to lovely Sue Ann but just sort of triggered by what Kris said.

I got a fb friend request from someone who'd found me when googling my name after he decided his current victin would share it. He said (roughly) I'm gonna kill you in my book, ha-ha!. I thought 'kay. Then a long silence and then another fb message "And Catriona dies! LOL." I have to admit, I found myself thinking - you are not adept at online communication, my fb friend, and we parted company.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks for the comments! Kris, the woman in question is overly sensitive and would have bitched about it to everyone she/we knew. I took the path of least resistance and explanation. And I liked the new name better. :)

Catriona, that's just creepy. Glad you unfriended him.