by Deborah Elliott-Upton
Recently at a writers meeting, I was asked by another writer about copyrights and in particular if she could include in her book a story about an angelic encounter she’d heard from another woman. My intern Summer and her friend Madison sat on the other side of me. I thought this might be a good lesson for these two young writers, so I spoke a bit louder than usual.
“Perhaps,” I said. “Do you have a copy of a release form she could sign for you using her story?”
“Yes,” she said and nodded.
“Just ask her permission to use it.”
“I was thinking of changing the names and a few of the details.”
“You could try that, but it’d still be her story,” I said.
“I was going to fictionalize it,” she said.
“Fiction gets tricky when you start using someone’s true story as your base. It’s still her story.” I decided to repeat the obvious. “Why don’t you just her ask her permission?”
“This was fifteen years ago. She was quite elderly. She could be dead,” she said.
“What about relatives? Do you know any of her relatives to ask?”
“Yes, and I did send a letter and a release form and asked for permission once, but that was a long time ago and I never heard back.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” I said. “They may not have received it. The mail isn’t infallible. Maybe they were considering the idea and lost your address.”
She nodded. “Think I should send another one?”
“Definitely.” I glanced at my intern and her friend, who were listening intently. “But, why don’t you just try to find her?” I asked. “She could still be alive.” When the lady didn’t say anything, I added, “How old was she?”
“Seventy-five,” she said.
Personally, I know many people who are still alive in their late eighties and nineties. “You should try to find her,” I said. “She could be alive. You could reconnect?”
“How?” she asked. “It’s been so long.”
“How do I do that?”
“Easy. Put her name in quotes in any search engine – it doesn’t have to be Google, that’s just what everybody says when they use a search engine,” I answered.
She looked puzzled,but wrote “Google” on her notepad.
“It’s like saying you need a Kleenex when you could use any tissue. You do know that if you use Kleenex in your writing, you’re supposed to add the trademark sign, right?”
She smiled. “I usually just write the word tissue,” she said.
I smiled. “Me, too. But back to your problem. Google her and see if you can find her. If that doesn’t work, try her town newspaper and look for obituaries if you can’t find her anywhere else.”
“Doesn’t it cost to find people on the Internet?” she asked.
“Not this way, but some sites do charge. You’re safe as long as no one asks you for a credit card upfront,” I said. “No one who charges will give you information first. Google is your best bet for initial search for a person.”
My intern raised her eyebrows. “You should be a detective.”
I narrowed my eyes and tried to look mysterious. “I am in my secret life,” I said, then laughed. “Okay, maybe just in my writing life and imagination.” I turned back to the older woman. “Actually, this is extremely basic detecting. Everyone should know how to use a search engine to find information. It saves you tremendous time.” I watched a she jotted notes on what I’d said.
“Do you know the name of the town and newspaper where she lived?” I asked. “They’re probably online, too if they’re still up and running. So many are closing down.
She nodded agreement.
“That’s great. What was the town?”
“Oh,” I said trying to hide my surprise. I’d thought I be looking terrific to my intern by using my methods of detection and now this. I sighed. “Look her up in the phone book. She could be still listed there.” While she was making more notes, I thought how most people that age keep their landlines even if they have a cell phone. Of course, she could have moved away, gone into a nursing facility or passed away, or she might be just right where she was fifteen years ago. Sometimes it just seems too easy to begin at the beginning. Just call her or go to her house and see who answers.”
She seemed satisfied. Summer and Madison seemed satisfied, although I am sure they knew much more than me concerning the art of Googling. As high school seniors, they’ve grown up with technology erupting daily throughout their lives. The rest of us have been doing on-the-job training and some are right behind us taking baby steps, and that’s okay. That’s how we learn.
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” – from Rodgers and Hammertsein’s “The Sound of Music” (1959): “Do-Re-Mi”