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book_maven
04-02-2005, 06:18 AM
I have begun a thriller based on an international incident that took place in the 20th century. A couple of the people involved are still alive. These were politicians, advisors and high-level military people for the most part in both America and the other country.

The idea is that my story is the "real" story, that the actual incident was a cover-up. I intend to have these people act as I believe they would have acted were this real. Does anyone think there might be potential problems using the real people and their names?

I realize, of course, that should this book interest a publisher, they will run it by their legal department. I also know that opinions on here are just that. Nevertheless, I am interested in others' views on this question.

Natalia
04-02-2005, 09:23 PM
Maven-

I am not a lawyer and cannot advise you on these issues and I woul actually suggest that before you make such decisions you consult someone on the legalities of libel and so on.

That said. There is something to be said for people's stature. Public figures, as opposed to private citizens, and especially politicians have their likelihood portrayed and their lives and actions examined constantly. It would seem that if yours is a thriller, a work of fiction, you could indeed use them without much of an issue. You could, however, choose to create a whole different group of politicians with hints of who it is you are indeed referring to.

One of my short stories was based on something that happened to me. I kept the situations pretty much intact but I did not include the person's name. This makes it hard for them to claim that what I said about them could harm them in any way.

I hope this starts to shed some light. It is really only my opinion. But I would consult a lawyer.

-N

Maryn
04-03-2005, 10:18 PM
I have begun a thriller based on an international incident that took place in the 20th century. A couple of the people involved are still alive. These were politicians, advisors and high-level military people for the most part in both America and the other country.

The idea is that my story is the "real" story, that the actual incident was a cover-up. I intend to have these people act as I believe they would have acted were this real. Does anyone think there might be potential problems using the real people and their names?I suspect you may be stepping in Shinola, so to speak, if the real people are the ones doing the cover-up in your work of fiction and if the cover-up seems, in the present political landscape, dishonorable or corrupt.

Covering up something truly ugly is going to produce a negative weight far greater than, say, the individuals' loyalty to a leader or administration, while covering up an unfortunate accident which had a tragic outcome but whose circumstances can't possibly be repeated (meaning no future risk exists for the same accident) seems less awful.

As you say, though, do it well and let the publisher's legal advisors give the final go-ahead or order to disguise identities. Sounds intriguing!

Maryn, major fan of the truth

Kiva Wolfe
04-14-2005, 03:31 PM
Since you're writing fact-based fiction, you have the option of either changing the names or keeping them as is for historical relevancy. If the incident was widely reported and these people were the focus of the stories, they're already in the public eye, but they may not fall into the definition of being a public figure. When it comes to libel, my take is that it boils down to the intent of the writer, whether there is proof of malice aforethought. Also, the greatest defense against libel is the written evidence, such as the historical record. Personally, I would go ahead and write the book and worry about it later when that big publisher snaps up your work. Don't let it spoil your creativity, or zeal to write it.

Author Joseph Wambaugh wrote a great article a year ago for The 3rd Degree, put out by Mystery Writers of America. In it, he detailed the number of times he had been sued by people in his books. The only one he hadn't experienced legal difficulty with was the one that took place in England, because of their Tort laws. Of course, his advise for writers was to stick to fiction.

I occasionally use the names of real people to give my stories a sense of realism, but always in passing, never as major players. Yours sounds like the kind of thriller I'd like to read. Best of luck with it.

Good Word
04-15-2005, 02:53 PM
A lot of good comments here, but I just want to reiterate one--don't let the details deter you from writing the book. Write it, get an agent. Get a publisher. You have very valid concerns, but the details can be worked out.

Lisa

book_maven
04-15-2005, 07:46 PM
Thank you for your good advice and your encouragement. I have the prologue and first chapter written, and have begun the extensive research needed. It's rather exciting.