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Help me welcome NYT Bestselling Author, HAYWOOD SMITH !!

GETTING SUED OVER A CHARACTER

by Haywood Smith

I find it amusing, the number of people who think that making the New York Times Best Seller list means I must be a millionaire.  After I made the list, my son said, “Mama, you’re famous.”  I laughed and replied, “I’d rather be rich.”

Back in 1994, my then-husband convinced me to put the house into trust for our son, ostensibly for inheritance tax purposes, but in fact, to avoid tax liens (that’s another story).   The trust turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. The good news is, my ex couldn’t hock the roof over my head when he went middle-aged crazy; and when someone sued me over a character in my books, the house wasn’t an attachable asset.

Yes, I was sued over a character, by a friend of my sister’s who thought my sister had betrayed her confidences. In fact, the stories I used either came from the plaintiff, herself, or other sources. My so-called “friend” had once said she wanted to write a book, and I encouraged her, but many years later, there was no book. So I called her and asked if I could use some of her clever true divorce stories for one of my characters. She thought for a second, said okay, then went back to her other call.

Word of caution: If a “friend” says you can use some of her true-life stories, GET IT IN WRITING.   My so-called friend conveniently “forgot” giving me permission, and sued, turning down a $150,000 settlement from our liability insurer, and asking for $1,300,000 from me and my publisher over my favorite character (ironically, named SuSu) in The Red Hat Club. And another suit for The Red Hat Club Rides Again.

Because of the litigation, my publishers asked me to “erase” that character from Wedding Belles, the third book of the series.  I hated to do that to my readers, but if I so much as mentioned that character’s name, the plaintiff would have sued us for that book, too.  What a mess.   I write my books to bring humor, hope, and healing to my readers.  I have never written a word to harm or injure anyone.  But in Georgia, malice is not a requirement in the defamation

Three years after I was served, I ended up sitting with my editor in court for ten days (most murder trials only take four!), hearing her lawyers paint me every shade of black. News flash: the papers only publish the accusations, never the rebuttals.

As it turned out, more than 2/3 of the “similarities” her lawyers pointed out would have applied to anyone who grew up in our neighborhood and went to my high school.  Were there real similarities?  Of course.  She’d told me I could use her stories. Did she have a financial motive to “forget”?  Of course.  It’s always about the money.  The truth is, I gave my character all the annoying habits and rule-breaking behaviors I could think of, because she was the archetypal Goody Two-shoes gone bad who challenged the
ensemble’s friendship, faith, and morality, making them prove their love for her, over and over.

Who knew, the plaintiff had all those annoying characteristics?  And, hand to my heart, I had no idea the plaintiff had had a facelift when I wrote that my character had. It just fit for a character who was trying so hard to be younger as she aged.

During the trial, the plaintiff revealed herself to be a very sad, troubled, litigious person whose many problems originated long before I even thought of writing.  When the defense rested, the judge charged the jury that if anyone could recognize the character as the plaintiff, if there were any “sexually objectionable” behaviors (by whose
standards?) by the character, and if the plaintiff’s “feelings were hurt,” they must find for the plaintiff.  I asked my editor why we’d even bothered to come.

Two hours later, the jury came back and awarded her $100,000 and no legal fees, well within our coverage. Then the jury asked if they could keep their books! I laughed and said yes, but I wouldn’t autograph them.

As for the plaintiff’s award, her lawyers had run up huge fees, taping depositions, having forensic audits of my computer, so I doubt they’d let her keep much. I hope she did get something so she can get the help she needs.  In the end, everybody lost.  I can’t imagine what life would be like seeing the world through her eyes, and I’m deeply grateful that I don’t.

So take care, Georgia writers who are writing romance:  When you draw from life, as we all do, make sure the physical description, life particulars, and history of your sexy characters are different from reality.

Now, when people tell me they have a great true story for me to write, I make the sign of the cross and back away. (Well, mentally, anyway.) Actually, I tell them that they need to write their own stories, for their families, if nothing else.  And when I create a character, I have to search my brain to try to remember of anything I’m using originated from someone real. But I don’t want to harm anyone. I never did.  I put this experience in my folder with getting bitten by a rabid raccoon, finding out my
husband of thirty years was engaged to a stripper and had run up $100,000 in debt for strip club bills that I was liable for, and discovering that I’m a host organism. No matter what, God takes care of me.

But others can learn from my difficulties, as I have, so be careful with those romances.  Especially erotica.

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Haywood’s latest release (January 2013)  OUT OF WARRANTY (St.  Martins Press)  is available now on Amazon.  

More About the Author:   http://www.haywoodsmith.net/

To view all her books:    http://www.haywoodsmith.net/books

 

Pam Asberry - February 13, 2013 - 12:41 am

I am so sorry for your troubles, Haywood. But know that you inspire others with your work and your generous spirit–especially me! It is an honor to have you blogging with us today. Thank you for all that you do!

Mary Preston - February 13, 2013 - 3:21 am

That’s sad & mean spirited. I do wonder at people sometimes.

I must say your sparkle & humour just shone though for me here though.

Tracy Brogan - February 13, 2013 - 7:47 am

Dear Haywood,
That is an incredible story. May I use it for a book? 8-) Of course, I’m kidding!!! I’m sorry you went through all that! But it is excellent advice for all of us to remember. And for others reading this post, may I say Ms. Haywood was the first author I ever sent an email to, and when she responded, I was overjoyed! You are a class act and I’m forever a fan.

Marilyn Baron - February 13, 2013 - 8:28 am

Haywood,

Thanks for sharing your story. It really is an eye-opener and something all writers can learn from.

Sandra Elzie - February 13, 2013 - 9:13 am

Haywood,
Thank you for being with us today. I can’t wait to read your new book. I’m sure it’ll be as entertaining as the others.

BTW, just to let everyone know, Haywood will be unavailable for comment this morning (prior commitment) but she’ll be commenting this afternoon, so be sure to leave comments! :-)

Tamara leBlanc - February 13, 2013 - 10:34 am

Haywood, you’ve been on a hell of a ride. I hope your troubles are at an end and you can sit back and enjoy the rewards you’re do. Your newest book sounds great!! I read the blurb on Amazon and look forward to reading it. I LOVE the cover, gorgeous.
Best wishes to you and a long and uber successful career!!
:)
Have a happy week,
Tamara

Maxine - February 13, 2013 - 3:14 pm

Haywood, I’m so sorry, but You came out on top! You are a class act. When I asked you to autograph a book, you took time to talk to me. Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and thanks for blogging.

Linsey Lanier - February 13, 2013 - 6:16 pm

Haywood, I’ve always wanted to know the details of that horrible episode. Thanks for so generously sharing it. I’m sooo sorry you had to go through all that. Someone like that can never stop a writer of your enormous talent. Besides, you are much, much richer than your “friend” in love and respect and admiration from your many fans of which I am one. ;)

Susan Carlisle - February 13, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Haywood,
Thanks for joining us today. I hate all that happen to you. Sometimes the white coats get run over by the black ones. You have more than taken the high road. Thanks for the reminder to be careful who we write about.
Come back to see us soon.

Connie Gillam - February 13, 2013 - 7:52 pm

Haywood-

You never fail to inspire. I admire your courage and your dedication to writing and your willingness to help other writers.

God Bless you.

Carol Burnside - February 13, 2013 - 10:06 pm

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Still it’s nice to hear the caution so we’re aware and won’t get caught up in the same legal battles.

Thanks! I admire your ability to keep going with humor in the face of adversity, Haywood.

Anna Doll - February 13, 2013 - 10:40 pm

Oh, my goodness, Haywood! You are too kind to feel sorry for someone who put you through the wringer! I have been very careful about my own characters. I’ll try to base them on one of my personalities I have hiding deep inside. That way they can only sue each other!

Hope to see you Saturday at GRE!

Sia Huff - February 13, 2013 - 10:44 pm

Haywood,
You are one of the finest people I know. I love how you always make lemonade from the lemons that are thrown your way. And add humor to a sad situation. You’re an inspiration.
Wishing you many sales! :)

Haywood Smith - February 14, 2013 - 11:15 am

Thank you all for your comments.

I learned long ago that if a person accomplishes anything, he or she will make enemies along the way without meaning to. That’s human nature. It has never been my intent to harm anyone with my writing, but some people feel they have been harmed.

My Granny Bess always told me that suffering is mandatory in this life, but misery is optional, and being bitter is like drinking rat poison and expecting it to kill the other person..

So I choose to forgive, because it’s a lot better for my own mental and spiritual health. Not to mention the fact that the Lord’s prayer makes our own forgiveness the yardstick by which we are forgiven.

So it’s not nobility to forgive. It’s common sense.

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