Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

I know that face from somewhere


Here’s an interesting conundrum. I’m putting the finishing touches on my new book, which, as I mentioned earlier, is a quasi-historical novel set in Northern California in the 1880s through 1900 or so. I’ve been using for inspiration a photograph I found of a man from that era who’s a dead ringer for my protagonist, Henry O’Farrell — so much so that when I look at the picture I see Henry O’Farrell and not some feller or other. His face has just the right gaze of a man going through what Henry’s going through, but more than that — since I found the picture early in my writing of the book — this is the face of the character in my head.

The problem is, he’s a semi-well-known historical figure, at least in his field, so it’s possible that if I were to use this image on the cover (which I’d love to do), some yahoo or other out there will screech, “That’s the famous Mr. X, not your ridiculous fictional character!” The man was apparently quite popular in the 19th century but his star faded into the 20th, so I doubt that many average readers will make the connection. I know I didn’t!

The question is, is it reasonable to take the chance and use the image (assuming it’s in the public domain) even though someone might recognize the man himself?

I’m inclined to do it, but I just wonder if there’s a sense that it’s not kosher somehow.

What’s the conventional wisdom out there?

(The pic above isn’t the one I’m talking about. That Edgar Allen Poe staring at a large talking crow.)


10 comments on “I know that face from somewhere

  1. islandeditions
    April 16, 2015

    Interesting problem. If it’s in the public domain, I say use it. If it causes any kind of a controversy, that can only help your book by drawing attention to it. Right? (I’d be willing to get the controversy going for you … for a small fee. 😉)

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 16, 2015

      Ha. I might have to start a whispering campaign of my own bringing the photo to readers’ attention. “Did you see that he used a picture of a real person on his cover?!”

      • islandeditions
        April 16, 2015

        Actually, this is the part of what you said above that had me all excited: I’m putting the finishing touches on my new book … 😊

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 16, 2015

        What a nice thing to say… 😘

  2. John W. Howell
    April 16, 2015

    I think you could use it and then say something nice about the person in acknowledgements

  3. Phillip McCollum
    April 16, 2015

    I like John’s idea. Go for it!

  4. kingmidget
    April 16, 2015

    I’m on the side of … if it’s in the public domain use it. Being a local, and hearing for the first time that you are writing a historical novel based in Northern California, I’m eager to read it. You have definitely piqued my interest.

  5. 1WriteWay
    April 17, 2015

    In agreement with people here: if it’s in the public domain, use it. To cover your butt, you could mention in your acknowledgements that the photo is of a real person, but there ends all resemblance to your fictional character.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 17, 2015

      Good idea. And the guy himself isn’t around to make trouble for me…

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2015 by in Writing and tagged .
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