Caught red handed or off scot-free?

I tried really hard to make my characters different from the people on which they were based,  because I really didn’t want to get sued for slander or libel, but apparently I didn’t do a very good job, because numerous people have recognized them.

This was most true of my first book, Murder under the Microscope, which was based on an incident that happened over 30 years ago, when I was the solo pathologist at the Twin Falls Clinic & Hospital. One of the surgeons who had been there at the time recognized who Sally Shore was based on, who Tyler Cabot was based on, and thought it was so cool that I had killed both of them off.

One of the doctors asked me which surgeon had had a coronary bypass, allowing Sally Shore to be his temporary replacement, and was quite disappointed to learn that I just made him up.

A physician on the staff of the hospital in another town recognized George Marshall, the curmudgeonly gastroenterologist of Gnarly Finger fame.

Most of my techs that worked for me back then recognized who Lucille was based on.

My second book, Too Much Blood, was based on a sleazy lawyer that got all the Clinic doctors (except me) and many others involved in a scheme to avoid paying taxes. It worked quite well for five years until Black Monday happened and it all came crashing down. Everybody involved found themselves liable for hundreds of thousands in back taxes, interest, and penalties. This adversely affected the bottom line of the Clinic, which was doctor-owned, for many years thereafter and I really believe it contributed to our necessity to sell out to the county hospital in 2001. Everybody around here knows who that was.

I spoke at Kiwanis last year about my books, and I had a few there to sell if anybody wanted to buy one. One of the members requested the one about Jay Braithwaite Burke using the name of the person on whom he was based.

My third book, Grievous Bodily Harm, was about an administrator whose ambition was to become CEO of a behemoth hospital system and didn’t care whom he had to step on to get there. He was not above blackmail and sexual harassment to get what he wanted. The administrator on whom Marcus Manning was based was a pathological liar and treated employees like s**t. He’s long gone. And strangely enough, nobody has mentioned that they recognized him. I find that hard to believe, but there it is, don’t you know.

My friends and I go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings, and one of the waitresses told me once that I needed to write a book about sexual harassment, and I said, “You haven’t read Grievous Bodily Harm, have you?”

She hadn’t, but I bet she did right after that.

As I’ve said before, my first three books were my way of killing off three of the most threatening people in my life. They were a catharsis. The characters in the other books are totally made up, with the exception of three physicians. No, four. Oh yes, and Rollie Perkins, the coroner, is based on a local mortician who was one of my favorite people. Sadly, he has passed on. The Commander is based on a retired cop who was also one of my favorite people.

I’m always willing to use real names in my books upon request. My ophthalmologist, Robert Welch, MD, asked me to use his name in The Body on the Lido Deck. He was the ship’s doctor, and quite disappointed that I’d made him look like Richie Cunningham instead of George Clooney.

Everybody laughs when they think they recognize somebody. So far, to my knowledge, nobody has been offended.

Nobody, so far, has told me that they recognized themselves.

My muse for “Murder Under the Microscope”

The basis for my first book, Murder Under the Microscope, was a female locum tenens who was hired, back in the eighties, to help with weekend call. Everyone on the medical staff thought she was wonderful. My techs couldn’t stand her, and I heard about it on a daily basis. Her method of drawing blood consisted of starting an IV and letting the blood drip into the tube. Her method of collecting a culture for gonorrhea was to smash the tip of the penis into the chocolate agar plate. When my techs tried to explain why she shouldn’t do it that way, she would tell them when they had gone to medical school, then they could tell her what to do and not before.

Eventually she started working during the week too, and that’s when I tried to talk to her about these things, but she attacked me. She gave me an earful about how incompetent she thought the lab was, and why. Nothing I said made any difference. Then she wrote a letter to Administration and the medical staff, all about how bad our lab was compared to labs at all the other hospitals she’d worked in, and how incompetent the pathologist was. When I found my copy on my desk in the morning, I went straight to the administrator, only to find that several of the doctors had beaten me to it. They assured me that the lab was okay, and so was I, but they were unsympathetic when I complained about how she was affecting the morale in my lab.

Nobody killed her. She was let go after three weeks, because that was when the patients she’d seen came back for their follow-up appointments and the other doctors found out about all the mistakes she had made, and what their patients thought of her. I also found out that she’d been as nasty to Radiology as she had to the lab, and that one of the surgeons had received a letter from her too.

When Murder Under the Microscope was published in 2011, that surgeon came charging into Histology where I was grossing surgicals, waving my book and laughing his head off, and said, “I remember that lady!”