Ralph McInerny uses real names in his fictional mysteries. How?
September 28, 2009 8:11 PM   Subscribe

How is mystery writer Ralph McInerny able to use real people's names and make reference to real events in his novels?

In his latest books in the Notre Dame series, for example, he uses "Charlie Weis" and writes about real games and real scores. McInerny is a professor of philosophy at ND (now retired, I think) so has he obtained consent? The references to Weis, and others, are not flattering. They are in the content of long narrations of the author's view of college football; they are also scattered throughout the books.
posted by ragtimepiano to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
You can't copyright a name or events that are public knowledge.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:14 PM on September 28, 2009

What do you mean "able?" He can write whatever he wants.

As long as the material is verifiable factual ("he lost X game on Y date") or statements of opinion ("he is a crappy coach"), there's no chance of a slander claim.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:17 PM on September 28, 2009

In support of the above consider, for example, Al Franken's book, "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot." The good Senator did not, in fact, obtain consent from Mr. Limbaugh.
posted by GPF at 8:23 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

(libel, not slander)
posted by Rhomboid at 8:57 PM on September 28, 2009

When he mentions Charlie Weis and the real scores of real games, he's using historical facts, in the same way he might write a novel that includes a scene with Rush Limbaugh being caught at customs with a jar full of Viagra and OxyContin.

Real person, embarrassing result, but protected since it's recorded history.
posted by rokusan at 9:08 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some authors just like to make up their own plot for their own reasons - it tends to use more of the creative part of your gray matter.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:28 PM on September 28, 2009

as the anecdote goes ...

A journalist refers to a certain politician as a "curly-haired son of a bitch." The politician successfully sues him by proving in court that he does not have curly hair.
posted by philip-random at 9:32 PM on September 28, 2009

I've seen historical novels use a variation of the All Persons Fictitious disclaimer that addresses historical characters. For example, from "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson.

"This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author' imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."

I once wrote a short story that included Joyce Carol Oates as a character (portrayed as accurately as I could manage). The editor of the journal that published the story asked me to change the character's name and any identifying details. Their rationale was "Better safe than sorry" and they felt the character was still recognizable as JCO to those who knew her. So I suppose whether you use real historical characters also depends on the courage and clout of your publisher.
posted by alicat at 11:27 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the 9/28 issue of the New Yorker there's a blurb about Noam Chomsky's forthcoming novel where he uses tons of real names in fictional contexts. Turns out he called all the famous people and asked their permission! (sorry can't find a link online but it's in the Talk of the Town section).
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:22 AM on September 29, 2009

« Older Installing geo thermal in an old house with boiler...   |   There MUST be some way for me to do student... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.