Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UPDATE: Smith v. Stweart--No Wonder She Was Su(Su)ed

So, it seems I was missing some crucial information in my December 20th post about the Haywood Smith libel lawsuit: Haywood Smith was asking for it.

An anonymous source informed me that Smith is a frequent public speaker at writers conferences and chapter meetings and on more than one occassion she openly admitted that The Red Hat Club was semi-autobiographical and that her characters--the adulterous husband and the heroine's friends in particular--were based on real people. Despite warnings that such an admission in a public forum could lead to a lawsuit, Smith didn't keep mum on the subject. Instead, she even began joking about it, "saying her ex would have to admit to some very unflattering facts if he ever sued her -- like how he cashed out their savings and retirement so he could pursue a 20-something stripper who left him once the money ran out." One of Smith's admissions was even recorded on tape.

Now I understand Stewart's anger--I would have sued Smith too! According to The Legal Satyricon:

Stewart filed her own motion for partial summary judgment and showed that Smith knew about the key events in Stewart’s life, told Stewart that her life story was interesting, and that she had used information about Stewart’s life to create the SuSu character. Smith admitted that she used details of Stewart’s life for the character, but that she fabricated other events and details, and based some other parts of SuSu on other people.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Law.com and The Georgia Court of Appeals lists a series of similarities between SuSu and Stweart including:
...their propensity for being chronically late, their hair color (red/auburn), their chain-smoking and smoker’s cough, and the descriptions of their parents’ occupations and their childhood homes, as well as other facts about Stewart that were not matters of public knowledge until the publication of the book. In fact, the court trial found at least twenty-six specific examples of similarities between the two. As noted above, these similarities led many readers to immediately conclude that SuSu was based on Stewart.
Not to mention the even more obvious resemblences:

...both graduated from the same high school, and they both lost their first husbands to car accidents and they both had a hard time collecting the insurance settlements due to the interference of a subsequent lover. Both became flight attendants later in life and SuSu’s friends in the book call her the “world’s oldest stewardess.” (The Legal Satyricon)
It's interesting to me that much of this new information wasn't included in the articles I read summing up the case. These gems are kind of significant. My entire view of the case has shifted. Smith took recognizable pieces of an actual person's life and personality and weaved them into a a cheating, alcoholic atheist in so blatant a way that a friend commented on the record that "one friend said that SuSu was 'Vickie to a T' and 'couldn't have been anybody else'" (Law.com).

While I know that all fiction is based in part on real life, Smith took it too far, and flaunting her awareness of her actions was either extremely careless or very naive. It's hard to know which.

Only one thing is for sure: this case is going to make authors--and publishers--much more cautious. But it's nearly impossible for publishers to do legal reads for this kind of information on every single title they print. There are too many variables and too many possibilities. So, really, it's all in the hands of the authors themselves.

And quite frankly, as my source put it so perfectly, "it's a disservice to authors everywhere, but Haywood set herself up for that lawsuit. She placed herself on a platter with an apple in her mouth. What lawyer is going to walk away from that?"

1 comment:

  1. Thank you--you "nailed it."


    Vickie Stewart