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….
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!