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CHANGING ALASKA – WOULD I DARE?

CHANGING ALASKA – WOULD I DARE?

Consider this… You are casually reading a book, engrossed in the content. It’s one that was recommended to you because of your background. It’s a true story and about something you or a loved one may have experienced.  Suddenly you see your name or the name of a close relative in print. Yes! It’s right there in that book you are reading and the setting is something you know or have been told of.  Wow!

How would you feel? I guess it would depend on how you or that said relative or friend was depicted. If the subject is highly spoken of or praised in passing, that would be a great service to you. If not, your emotions may overflow to the negative side.

As my journey continues with the Alaska book, (I must decide on a name for this book soon or The Alaska Book will stick and I know I can do better than that!) proper names come to mind.  Should I or shouldn’t I?

My mother was usually very blunt when it came to her letter writing from Alaska. In other words, she wasn’t always nice. She was honest though and she named names. After all, these were letters she wrote to people back home who worried about our family homesteading in the wilderness, our family of six and then suddenly seven. She never dreamed they would be published one day.

Now believe me, there were no murders or bank robberies or child neglect that she talked about. Nothing to put anyone behind bars. It was more often human nature, bad attitudes, and politics of the day.

The names of these friends and neighbors have been embedded in my mind and to have to change the names to protect the innocent would also mean changing the tone of the letters somewhat. I don’t think I could come up with names better fitting to the characters than the ones they had been given at birth or through marriage.

Take Clarence Finch for example. He was a bachelor friend of my Dad’s. They played numerous games of chess together before the fire on cold winter nights.  His name itself leads you to a picture in your mind – a tough grisly looking bearded mountain man. I really can’t remember what he looked like and bachelor to me says ‘old’. In reality, the bachelors she spoke of were probably in their late 20’s and 30’s. From what I’ve read while researching this book, the Alaska wilderness was sparse with eligible young womankind at that time.

Then there was Junior Alexander, the airplane pilot who would fly over to check on us when Daddy was off working for weeks. What do you think when you hear the name Junior?

There were Mary and George Cartright, Floyd Hatsfield, Mrs. DuFour, Dr. Fenger, Chuck and Sylvia Van Keuren and Chuck’s brother Chet. Another bachelor, Swede Carlson, and the Voss’s, and Ben Greer were also close neighbors – as in miles-away because it was homesteading after all.

The majority of these people are probably long gone or in their late 80’s and 90’s at the youngest. Mother and Daddy aren’t with us anymore, so suing either of them for slander or just because won’t happen, I don’t believe. But what about me? Is that an option?

I love these names from my childhood. They have stuck with me like glue. Replacing them would be hard and time-consuming. I couldn’t replace Junior with Ralph. It just doesn’t fit. And Mrs. DuFour doesn’t seem like a Mrs. Smith to me. Dr.Fenger is well…What name would fit the bill any better? What would you do in this position and what is politically correct?

The names she quoted as family members and close friends from Louisiana, I have no problem with. I just hope they are all spelled correctly!

~Elle

 

 

 

 

 

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About Elle Knowles

Elle Knowles lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband and off-at-college-most-of-the-time son. She has four daughters, one son, and eleven beautiful grandchildren. 'Crossing the Line' is her first novel. The sequel 'What Line' is a work in progress. Recently published is Coffee-Drunk Or Blind - a nonfiction story of homesteading in the Alaska wilderness with her parents and four siblings, told through letters by her mother and remembered accounts from the family.

19 responses »

  1. Can’t say on behalf of others, but I sure want my name on it 🙂

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  2. I would keep the names as you like! It’s fantastic and authentic.

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  3. I didn’t realize you’d grown up in Alaska. You must have such an interesting family background! When it comes to the names, even though it’s non-fiction, I think you have to tread carefully. Many of those people may be older or gone, but they would have children and heirs who could take exception. If you do go with actual names, I wonder if you need to disclose that or anything of that nature?

    Another thought I had is that you probably can’t conceive of those people having any other name because they’re ingrained in your memory that way. Your readers, however, will have no preconception so the names won’t matter. Real name or not, they may view that person entirely different than you do.

    Whatever you decide, the book sounds very interesting!

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    • We homesteaded for five years. I was 4 when we went and 9 when we returned. Such a big impression on the lives of four children under the age of 6 and one more sibling born there.
      I’ve had a thought today and was thinking about changing the names of only the characters she mentioned in a negative fashion. There were only a few and that would be easier for me. You are right though. I can’t link these people to any other name but what I remember! ~Elle

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  4. Elle, having never written a book before I would proceed with caution. However, I like foguth and her suggestions.

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  5. This is exciting. You have such a unique story to tell, and it’s wonderful that “The Alaska Book” is moving forward. I’ve known several Junior’s in my life They inevitably were middle aged, slightly balding, and a little overweight.

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  6. First of all, let me say, what a brave undertaking this is. It can’t be easy being the voice for one’s mother. Secondly, candor is courageous and I think, it’s perfectly normal to step lightly. I love the names, and by using them as is, you honor their memory. Your mother’s bluntness will be like fresh air to all your (and hers) readers.

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  7. Um, a question: Could you please remind me if this will be published as fiction or non-fiction? I ask this because if it will be non-fiction, then you certainly use the real names, but if you’re basing an epistolary novel on your mother’s letters, it might be a good idea to change the names – ie: Junior Alexander could be J.R. Alexander and/or Mrs. DuFour could become Mrs. D’Fort … I’m sure you can easily figure out an appropriate tweek, if needed.

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    • It’s non-fiction. I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Mother sometimes wrote exactly what she was thinking! I seriously doubt any of these people will read this though. Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll keep this in mind. Good play on the names!

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