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How Much of Emily is really Jennifer?

Me, learning how to dust for fingerprints at the Forensic Science Academy.

Me, learning how to dust for fingerprints at the Forensic Science Academy.

In my debut mystery novel, The Coroner, the heroine, Dr. Emily Hartford is the daughter of a medical examiner who returns to her small town to solve a murder. People often ask, ‘How much of Emily is YOU?’

Of course, I drew a lot from my own experiences being around my family’s death investigation business for two decades, but exactly how much of Emily is fact and how much is fiction? Let’s take a look….  
 
                    Emily                                                      Jennifer

Grew up in a small town –Freeport!                Grew up in a small town – Fremont!

Studied medicine in Chicago                           Studied Rhetoric in Chicago

Has long blonde hair                                        Has blonde hair with the help of chemicals

Is a head above the crowd                               Height 5’10” or 11” — who’s counting?

Is a millennial                                                    Is a GenXer

Strong headed & independent                          Would never knowingly confront a killer

Not afraid of blood & guts                                 High sensitivity to the gore factor

Lost mother at age 15                                       Just called my Mom, she’s great!

Is estranged from her father                              I have a strange, but supportive father

Knows how to repair a knee                              Knows how to make a quiche
 
My general rule of thumb for basing characters on real people is: Leave the family skeletons in the closet.  
 
As a side note… we literally had a family skeleton. His name was Sam and he was a made of real human bones. He spent a good deal of time in my father’s medical practice, but in his later years ended up living in a box in our barn. Sam died of lung cancer. Or so we surmised by evidence of a cigarette dangling from his yellowed teeth bones. Sam has since gone on to enjoy the rest of his boney life in a high school biology lab.
 
I suspect I’ll get disagreement here, but I’m not a big fan of using fiction to launch a passive aggressive attack on family, air dirty laundry, or take revenge on a family member by making them an unsavory antagonist. Show some human decency and respect the privacy of yourself and your real life family. There’s enough other drama and dysfunction out there to go around.  

So, just to be clear, none of the things that happened to the Hartford family in The Coroner ever happened to my own family. Their circumstances, backstories, and demises are purely, 100 percent fictional! 
 
The truth about our family’s M.E. business is definitely stranger than fiction. Perhaps one day I’ll write a memoir of all that. Until then, enjoy the FICTIONAL Emily Hartford’s adventure in The Coroner! On the shelves in 30 days!  Pre-order your copy for a great summer read! 

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