My last book launch party was with the esteemed Mr. Sakey at Landmark, a swank, fabulous bar/restaurant on Halsted, in which I'd set a scene in my novel. Marcus couldn't get his ass in gear and get a book out at the same time as me this year so I had to do a book launch on my own last night.
A book party is, in some ways, like a wedding. People from all walks of your life show up - a partner from my first law firm, Clausen Miller, a friend from college, someone I met at a fashion show a week ago. And like a wedding, you don't get to talk to anyone for very long, leaving you to say goodbyes with fierce hugs and promises to get together soon. I had the book signing at Lizzie McNeills, Chicago pub right on the Chicago River. It was just as fabulous, although different than the splashier and glitzier affair at Landmark. But Landmark had fit my previous book, The Good Liar, which was a splashier, glitzier international thriller. And my new book, Red Hot Lies, the start of my Chicago mystery trilogy is a little different.
For one thing the main character's named is Izzy McNeil. I had been working for years on a character named Izzy, long before Grey's Anatomy came out. After the show was released and a well known character was named Izzy, some people urged me to change my character's name, but it was HER name by that point. It couldn't be changed. When I sat down to figure out her last name, I knew she was part Irish and Italian on her dad's side. The last name of McNeil popped in my head and again I was struck by a feeling that that was HER name - Izzy McNeil. When my dad pointed out that it was sort of like the name of a bar owned by some family friends, we knew we would have to have the book signing at Lizzie McNeill's.
But more than just the name similarity, I wanted the book launch party that Izzy McNeil, herself, would go to. Izzy loves dive bars, especially ones with popcorn machines. While Lizzy McNeill's is more than just a dive bar, it is, quite simply, a good old Irish pub. With a popcorn machine. It was perfect. And so was the book launch party.
We quickly sold out of a hundred copies of Red Hot Lies, and as people flipped through the pages, I kept getting questions about whether Izzy was me. As most of my friends know I, too, love a good dive bar with a popcorn machine in the corner. Like Izzy, I'm a red head, I'm a lawyer, and it's been pointed out that I have a bit of a mouth on me. Izzy is different than me, though. I don't have her tragic family background. My fiance didn't take off 3 weeks before my wedding. My client/father-figure wasn't killed. I have never mooonlighted as a private detective. Izzy is younger, cooler, hotter and taller than me. But the answer was yes, she is a character more like me than any I have written.
Technically, this is a no-no in a literary world. Your fiction is not supposed to be loosely disguised, autobiographical material. And maybe I shouldn't have made her so much like me. Maybe I will be giving too much of myself away. But after 7 books, working very very hard to make none of the characters like me or anyone I knew, I was ready to go home, so to speak. So when a friend last year asked why I wasn't writing about a sassy red-head from Chicago who was a lawyer, I could only pause and say, "I dunno. But I think it's time." So, is it wrong? Should I have avoided writing about anyone even remotely like me? I know writing teachers who would take me to task for it. I'd like to know what you think.