Writing That Protects the Innocent… and the Guilty By Alina Adams

“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.

announcersHere’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.

fsmysteryomnibuscoverThen, 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.

alinadickBecause 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.

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6 thoughts on “Writing That Protects the Innocent… and the Guilty By Alina Adams

  1. Hi Alina, thank you for visiting us. Professional skating is a personal favorite sport of mine (watching, not doing). so I am really thrilled with the photos.

    What a great topic. It is a fine line. I use a pen name because my day job is in the legal profession, and my first book exposed the seamier side of law firms but had nothing to do with any firm I ever worked for. At the end of the day, writers do bring a lot of themselves to the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Skating is such a beautiful sport and lovely to watch. It reminds me of ballet and I am wild about ballet. What a great post Alina. I think it is inevitable that writers will write about people they have known – sometimes in snippets of character and sometimes more. The characters we create come from somewhere and where better than from direct experience. It becomes more complicated when a writer pens a memoir with the nasty habits of persons still living included. Unless you are taking legal action against someone I think it is best to make a memoir “hide” characters that are “real” in one way or another. It does allow some scoundrels to slink off undetected and scott free after a life of iniquity, however it also prevents a writer from being sued. As Kait said, we do bring a lot of ourselves to stories. I am also interested in the book Kait wrote about the legal profession. What is the name of it?

    Alina, being an insider gives you and your books an added spice as there will always be
    mystery about who is in your characters. That’s a pretty good angle and you didn’t try to get it, it fell into your lap. Best of luck in your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve loved the idea of enhanced e-books since before there were e-readers (back when innovative writers were writing in html and posting directly online, including embedded links to images of settings and characters, background documents, etc.) — how cool the new e-readers make this even easier for everyone!

    I drafted a novel set in an automotive factory using that common mix of imagination and real-life experience you mention. An editor at a major university press was interested in publishing it — but he wanted “the real deal” — the nonfiction version. I didn’t do it. Not because I didn’t have anything to say or because I didn’t think anyone would read it, but because my hubby’s pension is all tied up in that industry. Why bite the hand that feeds us?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m telling, I’m telling, nya-nya-nya-nya-nya—-nya! Okay, juvenile flash over. Seriously, very good post, Alina. My belief is that most fiction writers base characters on people–or composites of people–they’ve known in life. I had a little different reason for changing names in my first book, a memoir of my tour of duty with the Marines in Vietnam. I wanted to be as realistic as possible, but when you’re writing about death and killing, what do you do? So, I gave everybody in the book a false name except for yours truly. And still, years & years later, I had a few people contact me who recognized either themselves or others from “being there” and sharing the same experiences. My main reason was to protect the families of those who were killed, or on rare occasion, performed some terrible act.
    I’ve never seen an “enhanced book.” Do they require a special reader, and if so, why haven’t I noticed advertising for them? Am I THAT far out of the loop? Probably so, being largely electronically challenged.
    Thanks for visiting MMO, and for a most informative post. The welcome mat is always out here! 🙂
    –Michael

    Like

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