Responsibilities of, and Legal Issues for, Authors Writing Mystery Fiction

In late 2014 I went to hear a fabulous author present on all things Mystery writing. Betty Webb is a local author, winner of literary awards, and one heck of a story teller. Her mystery stories range from cozy to dark and disturbing, but all of them have one thing in common.

What’s that thing you ask?

None of her books are going to get her sued for libel anytime soon.

To explain why that is, let me share a story with you about how Betty helped stop me in my tracks. And why I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the information she shared that night because she singlehandedly saved me a LOT of potential future headaches.

Short answer, long story

Most of you know I took part in NaNo again during November of 2014. I failed miserably at achieving the 50,000 word goal. Between trying to write with a fractured wrist and getting my Dragon Software used to my vocal inflections, I simply ran out of pain-free time to get my novel finished.

Was I upset?

Well, I mean I wanted to “win” of course but in the end I wasn’t all that sad. Why? Because I’d written 38,000 some odd words and had the next two novellas in my Shaw McLeary Adventure Series essentially plotted out. In fact, one was completely plotted and even had a few chapters written.

For the second book in my series I planned to set the story in a day spa type of place. There will be a body found of course and Shaw will have to hunt down the killer. I’ve never been to one so anything I wrote for that book was being created from nothing more than my imagination.

But then there was the third book.

I had about 15,000 words down where a murder would take place at a well-known ice hockey arena. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an avid hockey fan. I couldn’t wait to get this one written!

Then, enter Betty and her presentation.

She explained that authors can’t use real people OR places when setting the scene for a murder. That authors cannot locate a dead body in a well-known place and name it in the narrative.

I saved my question to the end of the presentation then asked:

Why not?

Her response was simple:

Because businesses don’t like that stuff. It could be construed as bad press. And it could actually impact their bottom line in a negative way. You could be sued.

I’m paraphrasing here since I didn’t record what she’d said, but that was the gist. It felt like a punch in the gut, but almost in a good way.

Knowledge for how to be a smart writer, even if it disrupts my writing world in a huge way, is never a bad thing.

Time to make a new plan

I already explained that I love ice hockey so, to me, the setting was going to be a cool way to share my enjoyment of a particular arena. In my mind it would attract fans, not work the other way around.

Boy, was I ever wrong! Perhaps my mind works that way because I write murder & suspense? Not everyone has that same morbid curiosity of course, and that’s where the law comes into play.

Because I don’t want to be sued for libel, defamation, slander or anything else for that matter, I came home from that meeting a little crushed but ready to do my research** on this subject.

Libel, by definition, means: anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents. (

As I thought about my potential plot line I suddenly understood exactly why I can’t write this one the way I’d originally intended.

I wouldn’t have malicious intentions with my story, but pulling a dead body out from under the hood of a Zamboni in a named, major hockey arena*** could be construed as a misrepresentation of what a person might see or experience while in that building.

And the sense of that misrepresentation is all this place would need to bring a suit.


But thank you Betty! Because now I know exactly what I need to do.

What to scrap and what to keep?

This is where story writing inspired by real-life stuff becomes tricky business.

I can set a murder in an ice hockey arena but I must make everything about the place and the people unique.


Change the town/state where the story is set. I’d need to pick a setting without an arena in that same level of hockey in which I’d planned to set the story (ex. NHL, AHL, OHL, etc.).

Change all aspects of the team. Come up with some amazing team name that doesn’t already exist. Give them a unique logo, colors, and nickname. Build my own team from the ground up.

Change the look of the building inside and out. Though I can’t use exact descriptions of existing arenas, here’s where imagination meets inspiration and probably where the most care needs to be taken in fictionalizing life.

I’ve been to many ice hockey games and seen them in all types of venues from NHL level arenas to local league rinks and every level in between. I’ve also had the privilege of touring the “backstage” areas of multiple rinks over the years.

All of the arenas I’ve been to have certain things in common because they’re a vital part of the sport of hockey in a general sense in North American venues:

  • Ice with standard field markings within the standard rounded rectangle shape of 200 x 85 feet
  • Walls around the perimeter of the ice (boards)
  • Glass panels and stanchions above the boards
  • Player benches
  • Penalty boxes
  • Seats/benches for fans
  • Locker rooms
  • A Zamboni to clean the ice
  • Doors for the Zamboni to fit through getting onto the ice
  • Goalie nets (during game play/practice but sometimes removed when the ice is quiet)

Any or all of those areas could be used in a story as long as I make them my own.

So, not only do I need to build a team from the ground up, but their arena (AKA: scene of the crime) as well.

The moral of this story

I plan to go back and revise a LOT of that third book in order to remain smart about legal issues in my writing, but I’ll likely still write some version of that story.

But that’s a job for April. For now I’ll be reviewing the content in book two; making sure I protect myself and my work.

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• • • • • • • • • • •

**I’m not a lawyer. Nothing in this post should be taken as even a hint of legal advice from me or anyone else. I always suggest contacting your own attorney with questions or concerns related to your own writing. This post is meant to be informative relaying my personal experience but in no way should be taken as actual legal advice. Once again, I am not a lawyer and can’t advise anyone in matters of the law.

***This was not the actual story line I was going to write, it’s an example of something that could bring cause for a libel suit.


If you want a good place to start, read through this expert opinion from Rights for Writers and then contact your attorney or the attorney of your publishing house for more info.

Local to Arizona, Maria Crimi-Speth, lawyer and author, has written a really comprehensive book: Protect Your Writings: A Legal Guide for Authors. I’ve read it and have found lots of the information vital in releasing my books – highly recommended!

The Two Words Any Home Based Business Owner Needs to Embrace

The black hole of time suckage.

It’s what I’ve been affectionately calling that well known social media site (you know the one) for a few years now. And you all know why.

Open the app or page, check out everyone’s everything, and next thing you know you’ve easily lost 30, 60, maybe even 120 minutes of your life. (More?)

But is it really lost if you’re connecting to your friends, family, business relations, etc.?

It depends on how you make a living

The majority of the world doesn’t have to worry about this loss of time.

Many of my friends have full-time jobs where they get paid regardless of the work flow during the day. Some days are so busy there’s no time to check the online scene, while other days are super slow and my friends post copious numbers of quiz results.

As a self-employed person, a business owner, I have to have willpower to overcome the rampant temptation that can draw me into that site.


The answer has to do with those two words I mentioned in the title.

But before I get to that, check out this shiny thing!

Because the internet is overloaded with more to see, read, do, learn, laugh at...

Articles about our favorite reality television “stars”. The hundreds of emails you’ve let build up for weeks. Streaming anything. All of these things are meant to inform and/or entertain.

And they’re fun!

And they’re so easy to access!

And they’re going to kill our business if we spend too much time enjoying them.

All play and no work makes for a pretty small bank account

By now you’ve likely gleaned the two words I’m referring to right?

Time management.

Business courses can teach us how to do our marketing. They can train us how to more effectively close a deal. They can even set us up with a full content strategy.

But they can’t come to your house and smack you when you want to procrastinate on actually doing all that work. They can’t force you to do your job before you play.

From all I’ve seen, heard, read, the only person who can help a self-employed business owner to manage their time is themselves.

Wait, where did all this crap come from?

This morning I opened up a couple things that required my attention – my blog comment moderation and my email.

For the past few weeks I’ve really thrown myself into work. Call it a resolution or whatever you like but there’s so much I need to do to take my business to the next level. So I started working on all of it right after the holidays.

Since then I’ve managed to rack up 228 emails in my inbox and 27 comments requiring moderation.

This might seem like it requires immediate attention and in former years when I was flailing around I probably would have spent my morning reading all of that stuff, responding or otherwise convincing myself that these items were the highest priority.

But they’re not.

Because, think about this for a second (or at least humor me while I think it out loud). If I spent the entire day reading newsletters, getting on social media or moderating comments, when would I get the writing done?

I’m a writer, an author, and in order to sell my work I have to have that work to sell!

Every day I spend doing other things means I’m one day further from ‘The End’ in any of my books.

That’s one day further from royalty checks. One day further from a real live career as a writer.

So what’s a gal to do?

The simple solution is to just ignore all that stuff of course. Take my career back into my hands! Slay the time suckage dragon on the mountainside!

But what happens after a week? A month? Will I still have the same unwavering resolve to avoid all those places that I abandoned at the beginning of the year?

The answer is yes. And here’s why:

My desire to make a living as a writer outweighs my desire to see a dog riding a skateboard.

Or whatever other time suckage distraction that draws my attention on any given day.

So what have I let go of recently in order to keep my career on track?
  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Social media
  • Laundry, dusting, housework in general (if you know me you know this is a big deal)
  • Sometimes lunch (but never dinner!)
  • Reading entertaining blogs and newsletters (they’re sitting in my inbox)
  • Half-finished home improvement projects
  • Shipping stuff to people that I’ve had for half a year
  • Grocery shopping (my favorite thing in the world is home delivery!)
  • Lunches with friends
  • Making my own beauty and cleaning products

It’s time to set priorities and take back my career

It’s safe to say that every single thing on that list is something important to me. But it became clear that if I do all that stuff during the week then it leaves me little if any time to work on work.

Would any employer allow an employee to slack off on working in order to do all that stuff?

Hell no!

I can’t be any different.

Because I run a company.

Because I want that company to have another profitable year.

Because I want this year’s profits to far exceed last year’s and there’s only one way to do that – work.

Writesy Press is my micro-press. A publishing house that hasn’t had a book released in close to three years.


So as I wrap up the first draft of the second book in my series today I’ll be grateful I let all that extraneous stuff fall to the side in order to push my business to the next level.

After all, I work from home. Who needs clean laundry anyway?

Image courtesy Stuart Miles on

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It All Starts Here…

For Christmas this year, a dear friend sent me a calendar for 2015. The subject of the calendar is movie stills from the greatest flick of all time – The Goonies! This friend knows I’m a sucker for that movie; he saw the item and thought of me.

Boy, am I glad he sent that thing!

I’ve been thinking about where in the house to put it since I opened it on Christmas morning. We’ve got a movie/television show theme in our living room so it could work out there. But I like having a calendar in my office as well.

This morning, as I was once again debating the placement of my own little treasure, I started thinking about the movie.

The movie is about a group of kids who call themselves The Goonies and they end up on an adventure, along with a couple other friends, to try to find treasure at the end of a map they discover in the lead character’s attic. They know that treasure will save their homes from going into foreclosure and they can all live happily ever after.

I know the movie by heart. Actually, I know stuff about the movie to the level of obsession.

Seriously. I could sit here and quote the thing word-for-word, point out all the editing mistakes, interject where certain scenes were cut or which lines were improvised, plus tell you who of the original cast is no longer with us. Among other little pearls of trivia.

So this morning I began thinking about the script, plot and structure of the story.

Act I starts ideas flowing

There’s a lot of debate and discovery in the first 40 or so minutes of the movie but things don’t really get going until one very important line is uttered by the leading male character in the movie.

The line that Sean Astin’s “Mikey” blurts out when they’re about to get caught by the Fratellis and need to dive under the fireplace to hide, suddenly hit me like I’d never heard it before.

“It all starts here.”

In the movie, Mikey is talking about the trail leading to One Eyed Willie and his buried treasure.

I interpreted it a little differently today.

You know all those random internet quotes talking about the first step of a journey? Well, this morning as I sat down to work on my next book, I kept repeating the mantra of those four words:

“It all starts here.”

Because it doesn’t matter what I wrote back in November during NaNo. That was just Act I. A catalyst to get me moving on the story, characters and structure of the plot.

Just like Mikey and the gang in the scenes leading up to those four infamous words.

Act I – check! Now for II and III

I won’t spoil the movie if you’ve never seen it but stuff happens, they’re all tested over and over again and in the end there’s a very touching happily ever after.

(That shouldn’t be a spoiler considering it’s a kid’s movie from the 1980s. HEA was all but decided before the opening credits rolled!)

So I’m using the story in the movie to help keep me on track as I pull together all this gobeldy-gook from November.

I will find some things are really easy to plot out. Other elements of the story or process will present their challenges – testing me, just like the Goonies were tested and challenged – and I’m going to have to do my best to overcome them.

Because I refuse to be captured by the bad guys (AKA: procrastination and lack of determination) and that pirate gold (AKA: my finished novella) is waiting for me just around the corner!

Today, as I sit down in my office (after taking almost the entire month of December off to enjoy the holidays), I’m reminded that my journey to complete the Shaw McLeary Series might be a long one but I owe it to myself to see the adventure through to the end.

Because, like Mikey said...

“It all starts here.”

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