Nov 25 2013 2:00pm

Careful, or You’ll End Up in My Novel

Forget Me Not by Heather AshbyJust in time for the holiday that celebrates family, author Heather Ashby is here to talk about family members—and other folks—who have been the basis for fictional characters in novels. Heather's Forget Me Not is a contemporary romance featuring a Navy pilot and a war widow, some of the details of which are drawn from Heather's own life. Thanks for joining us, Heather!

If you've attended any kind of author event, chances are good you've seen the sweatshirt that says “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.” In many cases, it’s true. For example, I write Navy romance novels and my work in progress features a six-foot-four hot Naval officer based on the dean of students at my son’s former Middle School. Every time I see this man I picture him in a dress white uniform with Lieutenant shoulder boards, medals, and ribbons. I smile at him—but I don’t salute.

Many writers develop characters based on the physical appearance, personality, mannerisms, or life stories of people they know. Let’s see what several best-selling authors have to say about some of their characters’ real back stories.

Darynda Jones, author of Fifth Grade Past the Light, shared this story:

When I first came up with the idea for the Charley Davidson series, I was interpreting at a local high school. The principal there was this huge guy who looked like an ex-pro football player. Unfortunately, he didn't like me in the least. In fact, if the glares he cast my way every chance he got were any indication, I'd say he abhorred me. Not sure what I did to garner his animosity, but I wasn't about to let his malevolent (and possibly homicidal) disposition keep me from achieving my dreams. I needed a detective, dang it! And he had such personality, such charisma, I felt compelled to give him a badge and set him loose in my imaginary world.

So, Charley's Uncle Bob, a detective for the Albuquerque Police Department, was born. But the more I wrote him, the more Uncle Bob reminded me of my oldest brother (Who doesn't hate me! Woot!). As I continued to write this series (I'm on book 6 now), Uncle Bob evolved into this mishmash of the principal whose glares could melt the chrome off a '57 Chevy and my oldest brother who could also melt the chrome off a '57 Chevy, but he'd have to do it the old-fashioned way. Like with a chemical of some kind or a blowtorch.

Valerie Bowman, author of Secrets of a Runaway Bride, had this to say:

Years ago, I worked with a woman who was a bit of a scatter brain. She was always doing zany things. Once, I helped her carry some things out to her car and noticed that she had a post-it note on the dashboard that said, “Turn on the radio.” She also brought a puppy to work with her one day and kept it in one of the drawers of her desk all day. Luckily it slept mostly! This woman eventually went on to become a nanny (a job I never would have hired her for!) and I have to admit I very loosely based my character of Aunt Clarissa on her. I added the drinking bit and all the hiccupping, but I loved the idea of a person who really shouldn't be a chaperone being one. It cracks me up.

Terri Osburn, author of Montlake’s “Anchor Island” series, shared the following poignant tale of one of her favorite characters:

There is one character in my debut novel, Meant to Be, who is portrayed exactly as he was in real life. Same name. Same description. Same personality. He was the love of my life more than ten years ago, and I still miss him every day. One might even say since the heroine meets him first, he should be considered the hero of the book. A rust-colored chow mix with a bark like a bear and a heart of gold, Dozer was a special creature who will always have a place in my heart. I am ecstatic that he's winning the hearts of readers, and will live on in the Anchor Island series. As you might expect, being the facetious four-legged fur ball that he was, Dozer wasn't always perfect. He was one year old when my daughter was born, and I'm pretty sure until she was three she thought his name was “Damn-it-Dozer.” Though to be fair, Dozer alone was her first word.

Kieran Kramer has a very special story about one of her characters:

The Marquess of Brady, who first appeared in Loving Lady Marcia and is the patriarch of the Sherwood family, is a carbon copy of the late Jerry Brennan, the father of my dear sister-in-law, Sharon. He was a larger-than-life Irishman with a fierce love of family. Jerry made me feel like a member of his family when he was alive, and I always knew that someday, I would model a character after him. In Loving Lady Marcia, when Lord Brady is in his garden pruning roses, that's Jerry, who loved to garden. When Marcia's father gives her stern but loving lectures while somehow managing to remain a twinkly Irishman, that's also Jerry. Throughout the series, in every book, Lord Brady is called upon to go to bat for his children, and he rises to the occasion with all the drama and love an Irishman can give. And every time I write one of those scenes, it's Jerry Brennan in those lines of dialogue I give Lord Brady, Jerry Brennan who winds up doing the right thing by the Sherwood family, and Jerry Brennan who looks upon his brood with tears of pride and joy in his eyes.

As for me, I also compile appearances, traits, and people’s interesting stories into many of my characters. Forget Me Not is the second of four books in my “Love in the Fleet” series. I used dear friends’ names for my Navy ships (and old Navy boyfriends’ names for my peripheral characters.) The hero and sidekick in the book are both based on old crushes from the fleet, as well. But once I started writing them, they took on a life of their own, as characters often do. Does any of this bother my husband, who naturally was my favorite Navy boyfriend? No. He says, “Honey, It’s okay that you dated the Atlantic Fleet when you were in the Navy, because you chose me to be your First Mate.”

As to the hot Naval officer in my next book? Feel free to drop by our son’s Middle School and check him out.

To your knowledge, have you ever “ended up in someone’s novel” or do you know someone who has?

Learn more or order a copy of Forget Me Not by Heather Ashby, out now:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound



Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran, whose mother was one of the original Navy WAVES in World War II. After leaving the service, Heather taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for her son's safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to benefit wounded warriors and their families. She lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida with her retired Naval Engineer husband.

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sandra owens
1. sandra owens
Fun post, Heather, and loved hearing the stories from you and the others on who some of your characters are based on. Also, your First Mate sounds pretty cool. :-)
Heather Ashby
2. HeatherAshby
Thanks, Sandra. I think we all have some characters and places from our lives in our stories. As writers, it's kind of fun to lurk and people watch, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by.
sandra owens
3. kathleen Bittner Roth
Fun post. I love reading all your tidbits about how your stories come to be. I also enjoyed reading all the other authors stories...dammit Dozer. :-)
Heather Ashby
4. HeatherAshby
I know! Wasn't "Dammit, Dozer!" special!!!! We've all read MEANT TO BE and now we KNOW that the dog was based on Terri's very special pet. Thanks for coming by, Kathleen.
sandra owens
5. Kay Hudson
Hi, Heather! I don't put friends (or even enemies) in my stories very often, but I've been polishing a manuscript I started about 15 years ago, when I was taking evening writing classes. Lo and behold, there's my writing mentor (with a different name) running a hotel in 1872.
Heather Ashby
6. HeatherAshby
LOL, Kay! LOVE the idea of your writing mentor morphing back in time and running a hotel in 1872! And how fun to revisit a manuscrip from 15 years ago. They ARE like friends, aren't they?
sandra owens
7. Terri Osburn
It's funny that this post ran today. I just got word that a coworker's wife read my books and is certain there are characters based on people in our office. Ironically, there isn't a single character based on someone I work with, but now I'm so curious who she thinks it is!

Kathleen, you laugh, but he answered to that!
Darynda Jones
8. DaryndaJones
Love this post!!! Thanks for including me. What fantastic company. XOX!
Heather Ashby
9. HeatherAshby
Aw, Terri and Darynda, thanks SO MUCH for sharing your special stories! And how fun that someone thinks they're in your book AND THEY'RE NOT!
sandra owens
10. Kieran Kramer
Heather, this was a fabulous post! I loved what your husband said, LOL! And thanks for including my story about Jerry Brennan.

I loved FORGET ME NOT and can't wait for your next book!!

Heather Ashby
11. HeatherAshby
Oh, Kieran, You are SOOO SWEET. Thanks so much for reading and offering a quote for FORGET ME NOT! Yup, my husband is a keeper. And I loved what you said about Jerry Brennan. (Surely it's one of the reasons Sharon is so awesome!) Hugs to you. Happy Thanksgiving!
sandra owens
12. pjpuppymom
What a great post, Heather. I enjoyed reading about all the authors' characters. I knew about Dozer but not the others. I may just have to stop by your son's school the next time I'm in town visiting friends. ;-)

I don't know any real-life people who have been put in a book but if I were writing one, I'd be sure to include a character based on my former gynecologist. The man was 6'5" of dark, Russian gorgeousness with a tender bedside manner and wicked sense of humor. He was also the busiest doctor in town. No surprise there. lol
Heather Ashby
13. HeatherAshby
This is absolutely HYSTERICAL: "character based on my former gynecologist. The man was 6'5" of dark, Russian gorgeousness with a tender bedside manner and wicked sense of humor. He was also the busiest doctor in town. No surprise there. lol"

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!! Thanks for stopping by, PJ!
sandra owens
14. ValerieBowman
Such a fun post! Thanks for including me, Heather!
Heather Ashby
15. HeatherAshby
Aw, thanks for sharing your story, Valerie! I think they all came together well. A little bit of everything! Write ON!
sandra owens
16. Catherine Rull
Aww, what an awesome quote from your husband, Heather! And that's so interesting to read about the real people your characters are based on! I can't wait to get my copy of "Forget Me Not" on 3 December! :-)
sandra owens
17. Prisakiss
Hmm, I doubt I've ever ended up in anyone else's novel. As for my own, it's funny how sometimes I realize a character I've created has shades of someone I know.

In one of my Golden Heart manuscripts, the hero was a single father of an adolescent daughter with a major attitude. Now, my neighbor's daughter was a good kid, a little quiet. Basically, their personalities were really different-- at first. But I knew what my hero's daughter was like inside, and that sweetness along with a vague similarity in looks had me picturing a version of my neighbor's daughter whenever I thought of my character's child.

That was okay.

What wasn't is that as I worked on the novel, I found myself referring to my neighbor's kid by my character's name. It confused my kids at first. But after a while, they just started correcting me, just like they'd correct me when I'd confuse their names. Of course, then I had to explain to my neighbors why I occassionally called their daughter Sam, instead of her actual name. :-)

It was a little cool, feeling like my character had come to life. Cool, but also maybe a little crazy. :-) Oh, the writer's life we live.
Heather Ashby
18. HeatherAshby
Thanks, Catherine! You had a lot to do with that book's final product, since you're such a good editor. I'm glad you're looking forward to FMN

Pris, this is so sweet, but only what I'd expect from you! "But I knew what my hero's daughter was like inside, and that sweetness along with a vague similarity in looks had me picturing a version of my neighbor's daughter whenever I thought of my character's child."

I, too, have a character who reminds me so much of a friend, that I want to call her "Daisy." I have to re-load my brain before speaking to her :-) Thanks for stopping by, ladies.
sandra owens
19. Sharon Wray
What a lovely blog, Heather, and such a wonderful tribute to my father!
My dad always adored Kieran and I know he'd be so proud of all of her success.
I don't know anyone else who has ever ended up in a novel, but I keep a list of my own in case I need a throw-away villain who deserves a violent end. (but no one in my family is on this list :))
Heather Ashby
22. HeatherAshby
SOOO glad Kieran and I could finally share this blog post with you Sharon! What a lovely tribute to you and your dad. I cried when I first read Kieran's comments. I love the idea of a "throw-away villain who deserves a violent end!" I'll be on the lookout from now on!
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