Should we write fiction about real people?

I’m excited to have Cindy Fazzi here today while she’s on her WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour. She discusses her new book My MacArthur and how to write fiction about a famous person. I love this subject matter so much that she’s inspired me to find a famous person to write about too. Perhaps a dead famous person like she did. Here’s Cindy!

Three Tips on Writing Fiction about a Famous Person

By Cindy Fazzi

Writing a novel about a real person is difficult—the more famous the person, the greater the challenge. Writing about Douglas MacArthur, an iconic World War II general, was certainly not easy, especially because I focused on a little-known love affair he had with Isabel Rosario Cooper, a Filipino actress. Here are a few things I learned from my experience writing my historical novel, My MacArthur.

Douglas MacArthur’s photo courtesy of the National Archives.

1. Choose your subject well; remember that you can’t defame the dead. Under American law, the party who claims that he or she was defamed may file a lawsuit. Obviously, a dead person can’t sue. Relatives and other people may not file a suit on behalf of another person. In 1934, MacArthur actually filed a libel suit against two journalists who wrote negative stories about him, a detail that I included in my novel.

The passage of more than 50 years since MacArthur’s death in 1964 made him a viable subject for my novel. Writing fiction about a famous person who’s alive is another matter entirely. Curtis Sittenfeld did it with her novel, The American Wife, based loosely on First Lady Laura Bush’s life. Many Republicans lambasted the novel, but Mrs. Bush herself seemed unaffected, or at least, she didn’t sue Sittenfeld.

If you’re debating whether to write about a living or dead famous person, I would suggest choosing the latter.

2. Do your best research. Even though you’re writing fiction, you must do a thorough research about your famous protagonist (or antagonist) because most of your readers are likely to be familiar with the character.

MacArthur is one of the most popular military leaders of all time. Seven new nonfiction books were published about him in the past four years alone, even though he died five decades ago. For me, it meant an overabundance of information about his career, at least. The part of his life I chose to write about, however, is largely unexplored. There’s a dearth of facts about Cooper, MacArthur’s romantic interest in my novel. That posed a different kind of challenge, but it also provided a golden opportunity for fiction writing. I was able to build a richer story for Cooper.

3. Strike a balance between fact and fiction. While research is great, you must remember that you’re a novelist, not a historian. Fiction readers want a satisfying storytelling experience, not a history book. Writing a novel about a famous person requires striking a balance between fact and fiction.

I rewrote my novel a few times and I had to stop myself from dumping historical facts in my story. I’m indebted to the people (fellow writers, my publisher and editor) whose critiques helped me weed out “info dumps” in my manuscript.

Even though this article focuses on the challenges of writing fiction about famous people, I must clarify that writing about MacArthur, a military “rock star,” and Cooper, an audacious young actress, was a very rewarding experience. It took me 10 years to research, write, and rewrite My MacArthur, but I hope readers would agree that the book is well worth the time and effort.

Book summary

The year is 1930. The place: Manila. Douglas MacArthur is the most powerful man in the Philippines, a United States colony. He’s fifty years old, divorced, and he falls in love at first sight with a ravishing young Filipino woman. He writes her a love note on the spot. Her name is Isabel Rosario Cooper, an aspiring movie actress. One glance at his note and she thinks of him as my MacArthur.

MacArthur pursues his romantic obsession even though he’s breaking numerous taboos. She reciprocates his affection because he could open doors for her financially struggling family. That MacArthur happens to be handsome compensates for the fact that he’s as old as her father.

When MacArthur is appointed the U.S. Army chief of staff, he becomes the youngest four-star general and one of America’s most powerful men. Out of hubris, he takes Isabel with him to America without marrying her.

Amid the backdrop of the Great Depression, MacArthur and Isabel’s relationship persists like “a perilous voyage on turbulent waters,” as she describes it. In 1934, after four years of relationship, MacArthur leaves Isabel for fear of a political scandal.

The general goes on to become the iconic hero of World War II, liberating the Philippines and rebuilding Japan. Isabel drifts in Los Angeles unable to muster the courage to return to Manila.

Print Length: 285 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, biographical fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press
ISBN: 9781937818968

Get a copy of My MacArthur at:

Amazon.com (digital format)
Amazon.com (print format)
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

About the Author

Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino-American writer and former Associated Press reporter. My MacArthur, published by Sand Hill Review Press, is her literary debut. She writes romance novels under the pen name Vina Arno. Her first romance book, In His Corner, was published by Lyrical Press, while her second romance novel, Finder Keeper of My Heart, was published by Painted Hearts Publishing. Her short stories have been published in Snake Nation Review, Copperfield Review, and SN Review.

Connect with Cindy Fazzi

Author’s Website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+

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Thank you so much for being here, Cindy, and for your very wise words. Click here to Read an excerpt of My MacArthur and let Cindy know what you think.

Comments

  1. Hi Madeline,
    Thanks so much for inviting me to write an article. I’m learning a lot from your blog. Let me know when you write about a famous person; would love to read it!
    Cheers,
    Cindy Fazzi

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Hi, Cindy, You’re very welcome. I hope your My MacArthur is a huge success. And I’ll be sure to let you know.
      Best, Madeline

  2. I’ve been seeing this one – it is getting good buzz

  3. Lovely sounding book. Great review.

  4. I think there are some great points made here. Great article

  5. Great post!

  6. wonderful writing and post!

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