11.16.2005

Membership has its plotlines

A Snarkling is a card carrying member of the St Johns Worrywort Society

Is there a rule of thumb about including a significant mention of a real organization in a work of fiction? Such as having a murder mystery series having a recurring set of characters who are all members of a nationally known civic or charity group, and having the local chapter's meetings and activities be a background setting where some of the players interact during various parts of each novel's plot? As an agent, would this give you heartburn?


Like The DaVinci Code mentioning the Catholic Church?
Like Jennifer Weiner mentioning Princeton?
Like PD James mentioning Scotland Yard?
Robert Crais staging a shootout at Disneyland?

On the other hand April Henry's publisher Harper Collins had her invent an auction house rather than use Sothebys in her first mystery.

And those mean assed librarians at the ALA might get miffed if the president of the organization turned out to be the killer in your next mystery, Dewey Decimates Dallas.

You can use "public figures" in fiction. That includes public institutions and companies. Sometimes publishers get nervous not because it's illegal or actionable but because fending off a suit is expensive and time consuming.

It's certainly not a deal breaker at the query to the agent stage, at least not with me.

4 comments:

Anatidaeling said...

Mean-assed librarian here. We court danger. We live on the edge. When we're not fighting censorship or doing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" with a roomful of two-year-olds, we routinely solve crimes and become imersed in international intrigue. And while many of us have hair-trigger tempers, the average librarian generally has well-developed sense of humor, too. So let your librarian character get in trouble. Let her hang out with gangsters. Show her gambling and swilling buckets of gin. But you should probably make sure she's fashionably dressed. We control the book budgets for library systems around the country. You don't want to piss us off.

Ellen said...

Miss Snark is dead on (as usual) when she says you can use public figures in your fiction. Watch out, though, for using them in your title. Apparently, this can be considered an implied endorsement, so it's a big no-no. In other words, it's not okay to call your book GEORGE CLOONEY IS COMING TO APPLEWOOD. However, if you want to call your book RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG, FAT IDIOT, you will not only be correct, but will have no trouble getting approval from your publisher's legal dept.

And no, I never considered calling my book GEORGE CLOONEY IS A BIG, FAT IDIOT. Perish the thought. Like Miss Snark, I still swoon at the mention of his name.

Darby said...

Perhaps if RUSH LIMBAUGH CAME TO APPLEWOOD? (could be a sequel)

DubbleJay said...

Aren't real companies (with lawyers ready to defend their corporate image) a little more dicey though? What if the novel dealt with a secret neo-nazi leader fronting from a VW fan club? Yes, I wrote that (you can stop laughing at me now). This goes beyond just "mentioning" a company or organization, right?