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Writing Books/letters in literary works


Hi Cathy,

I'm working on a fiction novel and I'm using pieces of letters my late friend sent to me when he was in the hospital dying of cancer.

Do I need to obtain permission from anyone to use his letters? They were sent to me and others. I am using some word-for-word and some I'm editing to fit the story line of the book.

Any info you can provide would help out.


Hi, Andrea!

Technically speaking, a writing is the property of the writer. If that person dies, then it becomes part of his Estate. But a lot depends on the rules in the state/country where you live, so it's pretty much impossible for me to tell you for certain. What I'd suggest is that you contact a literary/copyright attorney where you are to ask. Or, if you want to make it simpler, just change the letters so they aren't similar. What constitutes copyrightable material varies, so it's better if they just aren't the same letters.

However, if it's important for you to have your friend's words memorialized, then it's worth talking with an attorney so you do it right. :) If you can afford an attorney, you can visit the Martindale Hubbell site to find an attorney who practices Intellectual Property or Entertainment law at

Or, there's a site that has a list of volunteer lawyers who help out artists and authors with questions like this for little or no money. You can find the list at:

Hope that helps a little and good luck with your novel!


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Cathy Clamp


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.


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.

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

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

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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