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My novel is based on a true story.  Like many authors, I have extreme concerns with libel issues.  I know for a fact, that this particular situation has never presented itself in print.  If the facts were known, It would have been the ruin of the hospital in which I worked. The facts were hushed.
The novel starts out with some suspense in which the main character is faced with a dilemma of knowing how to handle some extremely disturbing information that could potentially affect the health and well-being of a number of people’s lives. The information is so damaging that, if revealed, many people closest to the main character will potentially lose their jobs, their medical careers, and be legally prosecuted for medical confidentiality issues.
The protagonist has been plagued for several months with ruminating thoughts, not cognizant how to handle the situation. These secrets involve the unethical and illegal practices of her colleague. Morally and ethically, she knows she needs to inform someone about this information that is known only to her. If revealed, she will lose the friendship of her best friend, and her best friend’s husband would lose his medical license.  The information would be headline news across the nation if ever revealed to the press.
The story starts out in the present time, then goes back in time about twenty years revealing the beginning of the friendship of the two main characters and their families.  As the personalities of the main characters are exposed, the reader begins to understand how the psychology within their family backgrounds has complicated their lives.
It is a story about how a sequence of personal crisis changed her life.  Instead of allowing these hardships to defeat her, she learned to grow from the experience, taking a journey to a new path in life.
I originally wrote in a narrative nonfiction style. However, after several years of contemplation, I knew I had to change all the characters’ names, the settings etc., in order to protect everyone.  The information concerns medical confidentiality and the unethical practices of this physician that led to the eventual loss of his medical license and to his demise.
Two questions: 1) since I had to change the names etc., does this now have to be considered “fiction” rather than a “narrative nonfiction” or a “memoir?”  2) Even if I had to change the names, settings etc., given all facts are true, what about all the legal issues?  I am far removed from this hospital setting, live in another state, but this would be nationwide news if the reality were discovered.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter of concern.


Answer
Hi, Sara!

You're right to be concerned about this. It's very easy to get into trouble when you're drawing from real life. Merely changing the names might not be enough to create 'fiction' for the purpose of not getting sued by someone who recognizes him/herself in the text. The more sensational the story, the more news agencies would dig until they discovered your relationship to the details. I think it would be a good idea for you to find an attorney skilled in the area of law called "intellectual property" or "entertainment" to answer this question. Not only is it an issue of libel, but potential defamation of character, which could be a real problem.

I don't want to sour you on writing it, of course. Some of the best books have been about controversial subjects. But before you decide to PUBLISH it, talk to someone who can advise you. I'd suggest you look at the Martindale Hubbell site to find an attorney in your area who practices in this specialty. Their website is at: http://www.martindale.com

If you can't afford an attorney, there are a number of law firms that offer volunteer or low-cost services to artists and authors to answer questions just like this.  You can find a list at:

http://www.starvingartistslaw.com/help/volunteer%20lawyers.htm

Hope that helps a little. Good luck with it! I hope to see it on the bestseller lists some day. :)

Cathy

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Cathy Clamp

Expertise

I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.

Experience

I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Organizations
Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Publications
Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

Education/Credentials
My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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