What are your theories on using real place names in your writing? I know the use of real products, stores, etc. became know as KMart realism back in the seventies and was eventually a joke, but doesn't a judicious use of real placenames give authenticity to the work. Probably anything with a negative spin should be ficticiously named but what about restuaurants, stores, theaters which make the story a Detroit story. And what about now-dead public officials? Can I critique them without inviting a law suit? What do you think?

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I don't mind the use of real stuff at all, and I agree that it does lend authenticity. For example, saying your character drives a Ford LTD or a Lexus is going to tell a lot about your character. And either one would be better than saying "he drives a car".

And in real life we think in terms of brand names frequently. You don't reach into your medicine cabinet for acetaminophen--you reach for Tylenol. And saying that someone is holding a Coke is better than cola (or "pop". I can personally can't stand that one). A specific name can be a nice little detail, and not every detail has to move the plot forward.

Kmart and Macy's say two different things. You can make up your own name, but then you would have to describe what kind of store it is. If you say Kmart, the reader automatically knows what kind of store it is (unless this person is not familiar with the store, which will happen with any reference).

Like you said about a "Detroit story", real details do lend to authenticity and they also give the reader a better visual image, especially if that person has been to wherever you are describing.

As far as public officials go, you have more leeway than with a private figure. Now, if in your story you have Bill Clinton represented as gay (just an example) then you might get some grief, but then again, I don't know, because you're writing fiction so it would just be a fictional representation. Saturday Night Live gets away with a lot, but that's because everyone knows it's jokes and is not meant to be taken as a statement of fact.

I'm no expert on media law, though, so I may be wrong. But I think a critique of a public official is not something you need to worry about too much. And I don't think something with a negative spin has to be fictitiously named either. It's okay to not like something and say it.
I used Rutgers in my novel and called them to ask if I could. They asserted that it was a free speech issue and they couldn't stop me from using it. In fact, it seemed like they wanted me to.
I tend to put in place names if I'm writing about a real town, to add verisimilitude, but usually the places where the action happens are made-up places inside the real town.

Joan Hess's Farberville in her Claire Malloy novels is based on the town where I grew up. It's fun trying to figure out about where she set the action in her stories based on the landmarks she uses.
I think it's especially fun when you know the place. But I remember hearing Ruth Rendell speak once and Wexford's fictional KIngsmarkam was more real to that audience than most places in the world, perhaps due to the length of the series. They actually dispute its location, size and makeup with her.
Sue Grafton has an author's note in her books that says that she made up her protagonist's town and rearranged roads to suit her needs, and for people to stop writing to tell her she got it wrong. So, yeah, sometimes even a fictional place can get you in trouble, lol!
George Bush you can call anything. But if you call the mayor of Detroit a child molester, and he isn't, he will sue you, even if you fictionalize his name. As explained by two lawyers this weekend at Deadly Ink, the rule is: "Would a reasonable person assume you were writing about the real man."

Me, I'd rather change anything that might be controversial and skip the legal stuff. I've got enough to worry about (Although maybe a good lawsuit would get me new readers). What do you think?
Now that's a rule to remember--thanks
. In the case of Detroit and its mayors, someone's "got a lot of 'splaining to do." But maybe I better stick to defaming the dead ones.
Dan Brown certainly didn't suffer from being sued but since nobody reads newspapers, I don;t know.
Seems like there's something in the news lately about someone trying to pass legislation to stop people using images, etc. of dead celebrities without permission, which has got a lot of historians in an uproar. So even with the dead ones, you have to exercise caution. They've still got friends and family to ride to their rescue.
Place names is something that's really interesting - and I can't decide. Take Garry Disher's novels for example - set on the Mornington Peninsula outside Melbourne, it's an area I know well because my mother-in-law's family have lived down there for generations.

I love Disher's books - but the way he uses the setting nearly drives me sparse. He's using a combination of real places (the Peninsula for example) but he's playing with the locations within it. Anybody who knows the area knows the Police station he has Disher working in is the Rosebud Station, yet Disher has invented a town called Waterloo. Leaves me wondering did he think Rosebud was too "woosy" a name :) But it gets worse - there are descriptions and names of roads that intersect, that you know in real life run parallel and on it goes.

Before these books I'd always maintained I wasn't fussed about inaccurate geography. Shane Maloney's Melbourne is vague enough that you sort of know the general area he's in, you can pick up landmarks and so on, but you're not obsessed with whether or not he can see what he says you can see from the South Eastern Carpark, sorry Freeway.

But Disher - for some reason the combination of the real and the made up drives me completely nuts.

But back to Maloney for a sec - he tends to set his books about 10 years ago - because he writes about the political world that's probably the safest way to go - he can intimate people and events without causing too many ructions because - well 10 years in politics is a lifetime! :)

As for brand names - if you're looking for an audience outside your own country - excessive use of brands will bite as half the time we have no idea what you're talking about, or you can come to really resent the idea that we have to homogonise our language / understanding to that level (or at least that's how it affects this little black duck.... who drives a 4WD (not an SVU) and reads an enormous amount of European, Scandinavian, Asian and Australasian fiction [VBEG])
This is really helpful (in the unlikely event I get this thing published anywhere at all). I can cope with English brand names because we've spent some time there. A far as other countries. II think the publishers either exicse them for the US versions or the writers are careful not to put too many in. But you're right, what may seem cozy to those familiar with a location, may make others feel excluded. Something to think about.
I try to use as much real geography as possible to capture the flavor of the city. I may make mistakes, but to the best of my ability I'm going to get streets and locations right, and I'm going to name names. I may create a non-existent coffee shop or hair salon wedged into a sliver of spacetime between real place for the convenience of plot, but those real places help establish context and communicate something about the larger setting. They're important.

I hate reading about real places where everything has been mixed up. I'd rather an author create an entire locale like Julia Spencer-Fleming or Scott Turow than muck up the real world. If you're set in Detroit, show us Detroit in all its nits and glory.

As for the real life folks, well, I stay away from that. I'll take my chances with a city park or an office tower. But people are dangerous.
I agree-make it all fictitious or all real. Anything else leads to fruitless mapquest searches. The only fictitious names are when I can't remember the name of a place that's gone.


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