Thursday, August 18, 2011

If You Can't Write from Life, What Can you Write from?

I read recently about a nanny named Ablene Cooper who works for Kathryn Stockett's brother is suing the author or was trying to sue her. Kathryn Stockett, of course, wrote The Help. Cooper alleged that the book's main character, Abilene, was based off of her. Here are the likenesses she claims:
  • Both have a gold tooth
  • One is Aibilene and the other is Ablene
  • Both lost a child shortly before nannying in their current position
Look, the book is okay. I wasn't a lover or a hater, but enjoyed the audio version. Have yet to see the movie. But there are two things here that kind of bug me:

1) Cooper was given the book when it was published in 2009 but didn't decide to sue until the book was a hit (and the movie deal was signed). The case was thrown out this week because the statute of limitations had run out. Why? Because Cooper didn't read the book until at least a year after it was given to her. Makes me think it was more about the money than about being pissed that a character was like you in a book. (She was suing for $75,000).

2) As a writer, I have to wonder how much different do I have to make characters in things I write to not be sued. The first thing they teach you about writing is "write what you know." Clearly, one easy answer is CHANGE THE DAMN NAME A LOT. A few letters isn't enough. Just go ahead and change the whole name. But what else do you have to do to avoid getting sued?

Either way, it might be a long time (or never) before I find out. But I'm always optimistic and looking towards the future.

What do you think?

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