Author Jackie Taylor Zortman

Author Jackie Taylor Zortman

As writers, we are told write what you know. That’s what most  would do anyway because what else are you going to write about?  However writing what you know appears to create  suspicions  you’ve actually written your secret autobiography and the protagonist is your husband.  I find this astounding because who in their right mind would do that without simply saying it was a biography?  My own experience is writing non-fiction is the easier of the two and I have both a non-fiction and a fiction book on the market.

The protagonist in my book “Footprints in the Frost” is a homicide detective, so some who know me are certain this book is definitely about my former homicide detective husband.  I used my mother’s surname for the middle name of my deuteragonist and my maternal grandmother’s maiden name for her last name, so there’s the proof – that character is me! Furthermore, I once owned a bookstore and so does she.  The fact that neither of these characters have given names anywhere close to anyone in our families isn’t going to throw them off  track. My husband is originally from Kansas, so one person said since two states are in my book, (but are they?) it’s further proof that this absolutely is our personal story.

To top such mounting evidence off, I based the setting of my book on the area where I live and made it similar. I know other authors who do this, as well, and we are quite open about it.  However, not a single building I write about in my book actually exists.  Nor do the people or even the events.  Just like we tell the world on our book covers and ads, it’s all fictitious. The very definition of that word is “having the nature of something imagined or invented.”  I actually received an award for my book in the Fiction Book category with the key word in that sentence being FICTION.  I occasionally do base some fictional things on situations that have actually happened in my life, but I always fictionalize it and intentionally do it sparingly.

I was recently told that someone bought my book and it’s a hoot because it’s so about my life.  Good grief, I hope not! I have a WIP right now (“Snow Angel”) and because of these comments,  it’s not going to have a single thing anyone I know will recognize, except for the fact it’s a sequel to “Footprints in the Frost”, so the two main characters and the settings remain intact.

Okay, all you fiction writers out there, share how you name your characters or come up with settings, etc.  I know several of you use family names and/or the place where you live. Does this happen to you when you write fiction?  How do you answer those who insist your books are autobiographies?  I’d love to hear any similar quandaries, too.

CF with PSWA - Footprints in the Frost

Cover 300x444

Both books are available as trade paperback  and Kindle  on and Nook and trade paperback at 

FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST  can also be purchased at All Romance eBooks at:  Also available on Apple’s iBooks at: and at Hummingbird as an ebook at:



About jtzortman

Author of "WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW" - A Grandparent's Journey Through Grief and first place award winning novel "FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST". Contributing author to anthologies "Felons, Flames & Ambulance Rides", "American Blue", "Recipes by the Book: Oak Tree Authors Cook" and "The Centennial Book of The National Society of Daughters of the Union 1861-1865". Numerous articles, poems and short stories published since 1990. Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Winner of ten writing awards. I live in a quaint Colorado mountain tourist town with my husband and Siamese cat. When deeps snows blanket the terrain and spectacular views from my windows, it becomes the perfect spot in which to write.
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  1. Oh yes I sure do get readers thinking the bunco friends in my story are my actual friends, or that the protagonist and her hubby are me and mine. Sure, characters have some traits I’ve seen in real people, but every character is a bit of myself and various other people and experiences, even from characters on tv and in movies. I guess we should pat ourselves on the back for successfully creating the illusion of “real” people, Jackie 🙂 I do have fun using names from actual places around Lake Norman, to amuse locals and keep people guessing.

    • jtzortman says:

      I absolutely love your comment, Nancy. It’s good to know that I’m not alone with all this craziness. I’m going to take your attitude and be amused that we can keep people guessing and curious. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Hopefully, curiosity about the ‘true’ identity of those characters will entice readers to keep buying the books. We all put a little of ourselves into our characters but that certainly doesn’t make them autobiographical. For names, I use a combination of the local phone book and those I heist from my genealogy studies (not all family since I do studies for other people, too).

    • jtzortman says:

      John – I have to say I’ve never thought of using the phone book for names or genealogy either. I, too, have done genealogy for 20+ years, so what a great source there is right at my fingertips. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  3. sharonervin says:

    Jackie, the first homicide I covered as a rookie newspaper reporter is detailed in THE RIBBON MURDERS, the first romantic suspense I sold. At a book signing in Oklahoma City (several years ago), three different people came in saying they knew Sheriff Bill Porter and recognized him immediately in the book, despite the alias. By the time I wrote the book and it was published, this once-dynamic guy was in a nursing home, but the mutual acquaintances reported that both he and his wife were tickled he was in the book at the height of his career. Most of my books are populated with variations of real people. Also, the heroes always bear a resemblance to my husband, particularly in their dialogue.

    • jtzortman says:

      That’s an interesting story, Sharon, about Sheriff Bill Porter. It’s good to know that I am not alone with the particular quandary. I just wish people would choose those who actually are real people and not my fictional characters to decide they are real. On the other hand, another author suggested we should be glad that we are keeping people wondering. Another said that curiosity may keep them buying our books. Great points!

  4. says:

    Perhaps this occurs because people who are NOT writers cannot imagine how much interweaving of reality and creativity goes into crafting our fictional pastiches–characters, settings, and situations. Of course there will be traces of reality, but only those carefully selected attributes that serve the story! A few real-life place names ground the reader, too. When you chose family names for your characters, you were choosing names you were comfortable with. Have you ever read a book where the character’s name just isn’t right? Just too “made up”? That doesn’t work.
    My writing coach says that on the rare occasions she’s modeled a fictional character on a real person, that person doesn’t “see” it, whereas when she’s made characters up (almost) totally, everyone thinks that it’s them.

  5. jtzortman says:

    Good points made in your comment. When I have modeled characters on real people, I usually ask that person if they mind and they’re usually thrilled to be included. However, I never use their actual names. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know you were here.

  6. I have had several novels published and never used a real person as the model for one of my characters. Nevertheless more than one friend insists that they always appear in one of my books, albeit often in disguise. I have been told for more than one book that I was clearly the model for the protagonist or an important supporting player — which was not exactly flattering as these characters were either weirdos or losers! Hopefully the were looking at more flattering traits!

    • jtzortman says:

      Isn’t it funny (peculiar) how that happens when you didn’t fashion any characters after those who are suspected of being one. Sounds like we have the same problems and, as the cliche says, misery loves company. I feel so much better after hearing that others have the same troubles. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  7. radine says:

    Though the major settings in all my novels are real, down to (I say) the last wildflower and doorknob, the characters are fictitious. Though they may be a mixture of many people observed over a long life, they are never consciously copies of family, friends, or anyone else. An exception is the person who helped me with research at one book location and became a major character in that novel. I complied with his request to appear, but haven’t done it since because I felt I had to be very careful to not cause problems for him in life or career. On the other hand, just last night a reader (who knows me well) said he can’t read my books without seeing me as Carrie McCrite, the female protagonist. He’s the first to say that since the first series novel came out in 2002, but maybe it’s because not many readers know me at all, let alone know me as well as he does. Still, it has given me something interesting to ponder. As a former radio news reporter I also know , there is no such thing as pure non-fiction. If nothing else, just our decisions about whether or not to include a particular story proves a semblance of fiction exists.

    • jtzortman says:

      It’s good to hear so many of us experience the fact that people who know us sometimes see us in our books. As John Lindermuth said, we all put a little bit of ourselves into certain characters, so perhaps that’s what makes us recognizable. Amd like you say, Radine, it’s the ones who know us best that tend to do that. The blog answers have been absolutely enlightening and I’m so enjoying learning how other authors name characters, describe settings, etc. and if people think they are one of the main characters. Thanks for sharing, Radine.

  8. marilynm says:

    I based a main character on a real person, description was him to a T–different name. He called me, loved the book, had no idea the character’s looks were based on him–he probably didn’t see himself as I saw him. The read person has grown old and isn’t quite as good looking anymore, my character still looks the same.

    • jtzortman says:

      That’s the nice thing about characters, Marilyn, they don’t age. The man you based your character on must have felt super good to see himself looking good when he wasn’t aware of his looks. I assume you told him. Very interesting.

  9. lynnhesse says:

    I think my life is boring. I would never write a book about it. Thank goodness for imagination.

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