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Writing Books/using actual WW11 love letters in a book


I want to write a memoir, or compile and publish a collection of letters  or an Anthology (?)from a
WWII soldier who was stationed in Europe for three years. This man sent letters
to loved ones back home in the states, but most are love letters to his fiance
who eventually became his wife.I also have many other historical documents,
publications related to him personally, as well as old "Stars and Stripes"
magazines, Prisoner of War, newsletters, official war documents, postcards and
V-mail. My idea is to share the personal  letters of the life of a soldier
during the war as a love story.(as an example of how the war affected families
and lovers.(using this particular man as an example, without it being all about
him specifically,therefore not as a biography..)My questions are primarily about
rights and permission to use these letters, and privacy issues once a person had

I found these letters when doing an job with my Dad,who was hired to clean out
a house(estate) of the people in the letters who had died. As far as I know,
there were never any offspring by this couple.  There  may have been a niece but
these were found more than 10 years ago, and I would have no way to track some
random relative down without a name. So How can I find out if I can legally
publish "found" old letters with a "real" person(s) identity and name shown?  Do
I have any obligation to try to get permission from some distantly related
ancestors?  I would like to show the actual hand written images of the letters,
and also type them out in the story.

 I think there is not only a love story here, but also some very important
historical data, documents etc.

2. In the overall idea for the book, Who would my reader be? If I focus on the
letters as a love story, would that only interest women? ( not to be sexist).
And are most WWII readers mostly men? If so, would I eliminate a lot of
potential male readers if it was themed as a collection of WW2  love letters? Or
should I consider just including a sampling of the letters among all the other
items that I have related to the life of a soldier in WWII of which I have
gleaned from the letters?   What categories or genres of non-fiction  should I
consider using? I do not want to write a lot of my own comments or opinions. I
simply want to , somehow-organize the letters and documents that I have in
chronological order with the addition of some interesting historical documents,
publications and memorabilia that would portray a snapshot of how the war
affected the personal life of a soldier and his loved ones during 1943-1946 in

  Lastly, Would you have any idea of where I might find someone, or someplace
to possibly donate, (or sell?) these letters,documents etc. to, after I use them
for the book?  Or should I keep the originals  since I put the copies of them in
the book?

 I know these are not simple questions and I appreciate any and all help you
can give me regarding my idea for this book. And if you know of any books,
publications or  articles that may help me organize my material to write this
kind of book, please refer me.

Thank You for your time and interest."
Sincerely, Linda P. east Longmeadow, MA.  

Dear Linda,

You have quite an interesting project there, and I believe it would appeal to both sexes alike, and in nearly all age groups (21-on). As far as how to put it together, I'd really have to see or learn much more about the materials you have at hand -- i.e., when deciding whether to write this as a love story or a more general type of WWII book, including the love letters along with other time-sensitive, pertinent events, etc. I just don't have enough knowledge of what you're working with to give you a proper answer to this.

Once you publish the book (whether with,, or any other reputable online publisher, or through an agent who can move it on to a brick-and-mortar publishing "house," which can take up to three years, in some cases) you should certainly keep all originals, as you have no other resources with which to find relatives, etc.

But before all that, you might want to discuss this matter with an intellectual property attorney -- you can likely find one here on who will be happy to steer you in the right direction, as this is not a very "black and white" sort of situation. For example, though you would be piecing together the past, and you're relatively sure (no pun intended)! that there are no surviving relatives, it's still a matter of personal property -- but only to some extent -- and just exactly what that is, neither of us know, because we don't know for certain that there are no survivors of these letters.  

For example, you may need to disguise names, dates, places, even street names and things like the makes and models of certain cars, etc., to protect the interests of any living relatives of whom you are not aware. They may well come forward with proof as to their kinship with these people and the letters, etc., later, when the book is published, and that would also require an attorney's assistance, but again, it could be a very happy occasion or a very difficult one -- hence, get an attorney who specializes in media law and intellectual property on your side!
Even if you use pseudonyms for these people and this situation, again, depending on how you want to publish this, you're still going to have to be extremely careful in not making it blatantly obvious to whom you're referencing -- this can be cause for a lawsuit, if, again, you make everyone and everything otherwise perfectly identifiable.

You are wise to ask about this, however, because there are several issues regarding this kind of authorship that do require a great deal of journalistic and legal attention. I hope this helps and that you can find an outlet for your expression. It definitely piques my interest as a "potential reader," and I'd be interested in learning how you work this out --

Thank you very much for your letter, and I certainly wish you the best of luck!

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin

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Catherine Van Herrin


I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

For further work or assistance with larger projects, see my profile here, with 190 excellent reviews: WordChannel Professional Reviews, Ratings

I can use British-English or American-English, and I am very familiar with Chicago and AP style.


More than 26 years' U.S. publishing industry experience, editorial (print). I provide crystal-clear, clean grammar; strict attention to style, consistency, flow, logic, accuracy, and spelling, and I work quickly and efficiently.

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AA, Liberal Arts, Anderson College, Anderson, South Carolina. BA, English, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Post-graduate concentration: Post-war Irish poetry and early 18th century English fiction, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

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