I recently went through an ordeal that was very stressful and unpleasant -- I was wrongfully accused of something at work. I’ve been there for nearly 19 years, have a sterling track record, no discipline in my file and I consistently receive above-average performance evaluations. The accusation was false and I fought like hell to prove it.
This appears to have begun as the result of a book I released a few months ago, a contemporary erotic romance titled Snowflakes and Palm Trees. It’s a total work of fiction but one of my co-workers thought the female lead was based on her, even though it wasn’t. There may have been some vague physical similarities but not enough for someone to read the story then say, “Hey, that’s me!” I guess I should feel lucky that she didn’t demand a cut of my royalties.
I know what you’re thinking – there’s a disclaimer stating that it’s a work of fiction. That should have protected me, right? Not necessarily. In cases like this your civil rights go by the wayside and the mantra is “Guilty until proven innocent.” It fell on me to prove that the story was fictional and any resemblance was purely coincidental. The issue was eventually resolved in my favor.
Writers depend on that cover-all statement, thinking we’re protected by the First and Fourth Amendments. That might hold up in a civil trial, but in a trial by ambush where it’s more “he said/she said,” you can’t count on that. During this inquisition I found myself defending my right to free speech, touching on everything from censorship to book burning. I was literally on fire at the idea that someone could single out my work of fiction then question my right to publish it in the first place. I was grilled about petty details like how I chose the names for my characters, what kind of a relationship I had with this co-worker, and if the erotic parts were based on personal knowledge. When that last issue was brought up I invoked my right to remain silent.
Many of us who write contemporary fiction (especially mystery or crime thrillers) get our ideas from current events. If it’s in the public domain of news you’re pretty safe, as long as you don’t use actual names. When you get your inspiration from something that happened to you or someone else, it gets a little tricky. People have vivid imaginations and it’s often easy to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
This whole experience has taught me to be more cautious and obtuse when I’m crafting characters. It’s doubtful that I will ever use the name of a friend or acquaintance again, and my physical descriptions will also undergo tighter scrutiny. As for drawing on personal experiences, I’m joining a monastery and changing my name to Brother Orchid.
Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author whose books range from romantic mystery/thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. His website is www.timsmithauthor.com. The controversial book “Snowflakes and Palm Trees” is available through Extasy Books and Amazon Kindle.