I'm trying to understand the verdict in Red Hat Club case. Vicki Stewart sued author Haywood Smith, claiming that a character in Smith's books was defamatory - that the character was clearly based on Stewart, and portrayed as a sexually promiscuous alcoholic.
The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, on the grounds that the supposedly fictitious character, SuSu, was too much like "the real thing." Did the writer lose the "Red Hat Club" suit because her character was not "random" enough?
Now I'm not above casting a "generic" rural poor Southern white female character modeled after a real person. I might have my character attend barbecues and eat pulled pork, just like her real life counterpart. On a slightly derogatory note, I might even have such a character carry a shotgun in the back of a pickup truck (if that's what such people do).
But it seems to me that Smith went far beyond casting a generic character as her protagonist. Instead, the "back stories" of Stewart and SuSu are eerily similar. That is both Stewart and SuSu were widows of men who died in car crashes and left her the insurance, both women remarried men who had other love interests and commitments, identical business interests, and ran off with the heroine's money. Stewart had a daughter named Mindum, and "Susu, a daughter named "Mignon." Heck, even Stewart and "SuSu" sound somewhat alike.
While it's probably true that there are many poor southern white females that attend barbecues and drive pickup trucks (in my characterization above), is it fair to say that Stewart was "unique" (or nearly so) in having the other kinds of experiences discussed in the previous paragraph? And could it be this uniqueness (or specificity) that made her "too easy" to identify, and therefore likely to prevail in a lawsuit?
Where's the line here, of what's considered OK (or at least, defensible) and what isn't?