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Writing Books/True, negative stories about dead people in my autobio


Dear Ms. Van Herrin,  I am writing my autobiography.  As a life-long pianist, also piano teacher, I have had a struggle.  The first nine years of piano instruction were very poor.  I would like to go into detail about some of my experiences when I was a child and teenager concerning the nature of my instruction, the impact of the required, formal "recitals" and how they gave me stage fright, and my analysis of the dysfunctionality of the type of teaching methods, now that I have expert training in both piano pedagogy and have my elementary teaching certification in 2 states, as well as Master's Degree in Education.  

The organization which sponsored the recitals, named after my teachers' teacher at the local university, still exists.  

All the teachers are dead, though.

They have adult children, who are probably prominent in the communities, as were their parents.

Can I use the names of the teachers who were, I feel, responsible for my losing my natural sense of rhything and timing; my ability to play by ear, compose and improvise; perform without strain; and who caused me to have pain in my shoulder so that I could not play for more than 20 minutes without it locking up?

(Later on, I did retrain myself to regain most of this, but not in classical music, alas.)

Would I have to just say, "My early piano instruction" or can I use names, since the people are dead -- if I verify for sure that they are dead?  

Dear Marian,

In this instance, I would either refer to the teachers as "my teachers," or "my early piano instructors," etc., not ever using their names; or simply give them all fictional names. I would also fictionalize the name of the organization that sponsored the recitals.

Because it is a bit of a negative memory, it could affect people still living, as you say, and be cause for hurt feelings or libel.

I hope that helps! Good luck with your autobiography!

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.

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