The disclaimer in the book, Aggravated, explains how and why I changed the names of almost everyone involved in the story. That passage can also let you know what to expect on this blog and website, since I will be doing the same thing here. Here’s the passage.
“This is a true story, filled with lies. The lies are real, but I have changed the names of nearly all of the people, towns, counties, and businesses in and near the area where a 2006 trial took place, as well as the names of a couple of states. For example, Deep Springs, Texas, doesn’t exist, and neither does Ashwell County, but those names do represent a real Texas city and county where certain incidents allegedly took place.
The only names which have not been changed, aside from my family’s names, are the name of a private investigator and a few other people who don’t live in Ashwell County and don’t have any connection to the case. All of the pseudonyms in the book were chosen at random by opening several phone books and pointing to a last name on one page and a first name on another page. A few of those names were later modified slightly in order to adapt to misspellings on official documents. All of the pseudonyms were then cross-checked against everyone’s real names to ensure there would be no duplication.
If any of the substitute names used in this book happen to match the names of any real individuals or entities, living or dead, it is by sheer coincidence, and you should assume by default that people and towns and businesses which happen to have those names have no connection to any of the events in this book. I did, however, continue to use the real names of some cities and towns (like Austin, Arlington, and Beaumont) which aren’t near the area of the alleged incidents. I have also, for the sake of clarity, kept the real names of some other entities (like CPS, NOAA, and CASA), which are statewide and/or national in scope. ”
When I first decided to write a book about this (around 2011), I had been reading the trial transcripts, and was astounded that the jury couldn’t see through the lies that were being told in the courtroom. Of course, I had other sources to draw from. At first, it was just Steve and his son and daughter, but I found others as I began to investigate. The background they gave me provided me with details that the jurors never heard; and I already had the advantage (by late-2006) of knowing that the jury had made a deal to trade votes in order to convict Steve. That act alone made me suspicious of much of the testimony.
Also, when I started working with Steve on his appeals, I started finding new lies (or at least suspicious comments). At that point I was thinking of writing a fictional version of the trial so I could point out how ridiculous it had been. It didn’t take too long, though, for me to realize that a novel would be easier for a court to dismiss by assuming that (because it was fiction), the details were invented. I decided to write a hybrid, a factual retelling of the case, but with everyone’s real identities hidden. I’m not going to give you a full list of characters now, but here are the main players.
The main protagonists are my brother, Steve Sirois, and his family (his wife, Robin: his son, Beau; and his daughter, Marri). Their names have not been changed.
One other character whose name will be mentioned frequently by his real name, as he was in the passage above, is Tom Swearingen. He is a former law enforcement officer, and a private investigator. He lives in Central Texas.
The primary antagonists are Steve’s accuser, Hanna Penderfield, and her family (her mother, Darla Belisle, and her brother, Aaron Penderfield). Darla was divorced from Nate Penderfield before any of the alleged incidents began. The two kids kept their father’s last name. None of those names are their real ones.
You’ll be introduced (a few at a time, during the course of the book) to the pseudonyms of the attorneys involved in the trials, members of law enforcement and judges, along with friends and witnesses. There are just too many to cover in this post, but the next one will cover quite a few of the main characters.
Coming up with names for characters in a novel is often challenging enough. Deciding on that many duplicate names for this book, while making sure none of the names matched any of the original ones or any of the duplicates was a pain. Some of those names might only be mentioned once or twice, but they all had to be accounted for because I knew that duplicate names would cause me a lot of headaches when I did a Search and Replace on everyone in the final draft.
If any of you reading this are writers, have you had any interesting things happen while deciding on names for characters? Feel free to comment about it. If anyone is intent on revealing the names of individuals in the story, though, please don’t try to do it here. See the disclaimer below. Comments are moderated, and attempts to unmask individuals in the story will be prevented from posting. Thanks.
Standard Disclaimer: Please post a comment below if you would like to. All comments are personally moderated by a grouchy old guy, though, so posts by self-promotional schemers, spammers, and lunatic ranters won’t make it through. Everyone else, whether your thoughts about this story are positive or negative, please feel free to speak your mind, but don’t ask me to reveal the identities of any of these individuals. Thanks.