“The characters depicted in this book bear no relation to anyone living or dead.”
Yup, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Except, OK…. maybe not exactly.
Here’s the deal: From 1995 to 2000, I worked as a writer/researcher/producer for a variety of televised figure skating events, from professional shows to National, European and World Championships to the 1998 Nagano Olympics. I got to know a lot of people. Skaters, parents, coaches and TV personalities. We worked together, we had meals together, I visited people at their homes, met their families, and stood next to them during some of the most stressful moments in their lives.
Then, from 2003 to 2007, I wrote a series of Figure Skating Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, including “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop” and “Skate Crime.”
Naturally, I used what I’d learned about the competitive figure skating world as fodder.
Naturally, I based some characters on people I knew.
Naturally, I hid that fact.
I stopped working in televised figure skating after a two week business trip to film four different shows in four different cities resulted in my then-18 month old acting like he didn’t know who I was when I came back (said then-18 month old is now applying to college, and he certainly remembers who I am every time he needs someone to write a check…. But I digress).
The point is, I gave up travel for a job I could do from home. But I brought my job along in spirit. Of course, I based characters on people I’d met. Of course, I dramatized events I’d witnessed – and some I’d only heard about. It didn’t matter if they were true or not. This was fiction!
But then it got even more confusing. In 2014, all five Figure Skating Mysteries were released as enhanced ebooks. What are enhanced ebooks? Enhanced ebooks are books where videos are included alongside with the text as part of the story.
I formed a partnership with The Ice Theatre of NY, and they gave me access to their entire video library. Why merely read about figure-skating, when you can actually watch it!
So now, I had real people, acting the roles of fictional people, who were, in turn, based on real people. Got that? (See an example here to make it a little clearer.)
Many of my readers are figure skating fans. And they’re not idiots.
“Is So-and-So based on So-and-So?” They want to know.
I smile demurely.
Because I might want to return to figure-skating one day. (In fact, in 2014, I produced 2-time Men’s Champion Dick Button’s Olympic Twitter commentary, and used it to promote my books. Find out how, here.)
And because I might want to return to figure-skating one day, I’m not about to spill long-held secrets about some of the biggest names in the sport. By using their real names.
I suspect this is an issue that comes up whenever anyone writes about a field in which they’re an insider. They say you should write what you know. But how much knowledge is too much? When is it just fun, and when is it hurtful – to both the people you’re writing about, and to your own career?
Where should writers draw the line?
What do you think?
Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, figure-skating mysteries and romance novels for Pocket, Dell, Avon and Berkley. Visit her website at http://www.AlinaAdams.com.