Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Careful, or You'll End Up in My Novel

by Felicia Donovan
careful The other day I had a rather bizarre run-in with a complete stranger in the middle of a store parking lot. The episode all began as I tried to allow a car that was turning from a side aisle, to go ahead of me. I waited and waited for the car to go, but when it was clear (at least to me) that they weren't going, I moved forward. I parked. They parked two spaces away.
As I exited my car, the driver, a woman around my age, approached me quickly and proceeded to launch a tirade of nasties that were so foul, even I was left speechless. Trust me, after years of working at a police department I'm not easily shocked, but she was launching everything she had. She stormed off into the store. I turned back, wrote down her license plate and proceeded into the store where the litany of swears continued every time I crossed her path in an aisle. She would turn her tall, thin body away from me and quietly launch yet another attack. At one point I tried to engage her in dialogue, but clearly she too caught up in her own misery and anger to listen. "A wretched soul..." Shakespeare would say.  I finally left the store ahead of her fearful that my car would be keyed.
The episode has been on my mind ever since. I honestly do feel sorry for her and her anger, but after several days of reflection I decided the whole incident would work well in my current project.
"Careful, or you'll end up in my next novel."
That's what is printed on a sweatshirt my good friend gave me for Christmas one year.
This woman was a total stranger from out-of-state whom I'm likely never to cross paths with ever again. I don't feel particularly emotional about describing her in as much detail as I can (of what I recall amidst the verbal colonoscopy ), but it brings to mind that as writers, we are a unique lot because we have the capability and opportunity to share stories with the rest of the world based on our own experiences. That's pretty powerful. Hopefully we protect the innocent, but what about the guilty? Have you ever felt compelled to use your writing talents to seek revenge? Serve justice for an injustice? My Black Widows certainly know all about that and would be the first to not only admit it, but to do so with pride. What about you?  'Fess up now, Everyone! 


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

"A wretched soul," indeed. Something tells me she had something ugly going on in her life and you were just a convenient outlet.

Over the years, I've put a few people/incidents in my novels that have helped me cleanse some bottled-up feelings. I have one idea waiting in the wings, something and someone that happened at a job YEARS ago. Problem is, I worry that someone from my current job will think it's about them, so I've shelved it for now.

Beth Groundwater said...

I have that same sweatshirt, Felicia! It's a no-brainer gift for a novelist, and in my case, my parents gave it to me a few years ago.

I never copy a whole real-life character into my fiction, but I use incidents or characteristics, in combination with each other and/or those I make up, to create interesting characters. And yes, that woman's excessive anger was all about her and not about you. Unfortunately, she chose you as a target.

Felicia Donovan said...

Beth, do we all have that sweatshirt? Ha!

SueAnn: Yes, I understand about not wanting current co-workers to think it's about them. I once wanted to describe a character with a very distinct hair feature, but figured everyone would point to a co-worker and say I had written about them, so I didn't. Now I might be a bit braver.

I should have asked: Have readers you know personally insisted they knew the identity of the "real" person your fictional characters are based on? But that's a subject for another blog...

G.M. Malliet said...

Felicia, the joke is that even if you put that woman in a book and described her down to the last hair follicle, she wouldn't recognize herself. Plus, I'd be willing to bet she's not a reader.

I don't have the sweatshirt but I have the tote given me by a friend: Be nice to the mystery writer or she might put you in a book and kill you.

Darrell James said...

Felicia- I usually try to avoid putting "whole" people into a story. But, rather, as Beth said, do use real-life incidents in combination to form new characters. I have to confess however that I did put a former (long-time-ago) girlfriend into a short story and killed her off at the end. (Was that bad?)

Felicia Donovan said...

Darrell, as long as you changed her name...

I know folks who are in Dan Brown's books because of the local connection and they never seem to mind. :) In fact, I do recall attending a function in which the author made a substantial donation on her behalf to a charitable cause, so maybe you can do the same when you sell $80+ million worth?