For my brother Dan, for when he writes a character based on me in one of his books

I give my brother Dan Donatelli the gift of myself as a character in one of his novels


My brother Dan is a novelist, the author of the newly-released Music Made by Bears and Jibba and Jibba. I recently learned something that people who are related to novelists probably already know. Some of the details in your relative’s novels are taken from real life, from real places and real people.

The characters in the novel are not an exact replication of people you actually know, but a character might share a cousin’s name or a friend’s personality quirk. I don’t fault my brother or any novelist for doing this. Musicians, humor columnists and movie and TV writers all use real life to flesh out their work all the time.

I tend to read Dan’s books and stories on three levels. The first level is: Is this an enjoyable story? If so, I tell Dan why. If not, I tell Dan why not. The second level is: Has he massacred the English language? The answer is rarely yes, but I like catching his grammatical errors the way point guards like blocking LeBron James’ shots. The third level is: Is this character based on me or does he exhibit any of my quirks? I have not found a character based on me yet, but I suppose it’s inevitable that one day I will.

And when that inevitable day comes, I want Danny to get it right. I want him to do me justice. I want him to capture the essence of his older brother accurately, not only for the sake of posterity, but so as to limit or eliminate any social discomfort at family to-dos. Dan, let’s try to avoid the awkwardness of mom ever saying something like, “Why don’t you be nicer to your brothers in novel form?” That is why I have gone to the trouble of writing Dan this character based on me.

Marine Colonel Joe Donaletti knew he only had seconds to save the president’s life.

The blast from the terrorist’s rocket had ejected both men out of Marine One. Donaletti grasped the helicopter’s landing gear with his left hand. He and the president locked right forearms. They were flying at 120 mph more than 2,000 feet over downtown Washington.

“I’ve got you, Mr. President,” Donaletti said, his deep, masculine voice booming over the whir of the helicopter blades.

President Abraham Jefferson Washington (the first Native-American President) held on. He grasped Donaletti’s forearm, which was still thick from Donaletti’s Hall-of-Fame career as a catcher with the Cleveland Indians. At times like this Donaletti knew why had had walked away from the game and tons of ass in his prime to serve his country.

“I guess this would be a bad time to tell you I’m a Yankees fan,” the president yelled.

“If you were a White Sox fan I would have dropped you a minute ago,” Donaletti responded. 

Both men laughed and laughed until they stopped laughing when they saw smoke and flames billowing from the helicopter’s tail.

Inside Marine One First Lieutenant Ashley Hotchkiss unwrapped her arms from around the First Lady.

“Where’s the president?” the First Lady shouted.

“Joe’s got him,” Hotchkiss said.

Both women crawled to the edge of Marine One’s cabin.

Hotchkiss looked at Donaletti. They locked eyes. Two hours ago they shared a bed. Now they were possibly sharing their last moments together. Even as the electrical smoke filled the cabin, Hotchkiss could still smell Joe’s musk on her, and when she closed her eyes, all she could see was the tightness of Joe’s pants, back-lit by awesome lighting.

“Mr. President,” Donaletti said, his bald head exposed to the elements, but not a drop of sweat on it. “I dabble in physics, most of it theoretical, but enough to know that if I swing you up towards the landing gear you should be able to grasp and hold onto it.”

“What about you,” the president asked, noticing for the first time the special way a bald head can gleam in the sun.

“We need to get you to aboard the helicopter so you can repair it.”

“I hope I can still remember my training from helicopter repair school, from before I was a surprise nominee for vice president and then the president died.”

“I do, too.”

In one swift motion Donaletti launched the president towards Marine One’s landing gear. The president grabbed on as the First Lady and First Lieutenant Hotchkiss reached down and pulled the president aboard to safety.

The president reached his hand down to Donaletti.

Donaletti shook his head.

“Sorry, sir,” Donaletti said. “I have a bad guy to catch.”

With that Donaletti let go of the landing gear, falling backwards and saluting the president as he did so. Then he released his parachute and disappeared into the night, because all of the sudden it was night.

“Do you think he’ll be OK,” the First Lady asked.

“I’m not worried about what they’ll do to Joe,” the president said, opening a tool box. “I’m worried about what Joe will do to them.”

Hotchkiss stared out into the sunrise, because now it was sunrise, thinking of Joe, wondering if they would ever again share what remained of their bed after they had gone buck-wild and shattered it to pieces from all the sex.


This is where you should definitely end your whole book, Dan. You won’t be able to heighten the drama from here. No one can.

Photo via Wikipedia


The Poops


Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.

  • What a creative (and hilarious) post! If your brother decides not to use your material, you can always include it in a memoir. After all, just as much as novelists use real-life places and people in their fiction, most memoirists use a bit of inventive truth in their nonfiction. Just a thought. :)

    Favorite line: “…all she could see was the tightness of Joe’s pants, backlit by awesome lighting.”

  • I felt a few extra hairs sproiging out of my chest as I read that.

  • Joe, So funny, over the top! ROFLMAO!!! On a serious note I appreciated that you made the president a Native American who can fix helicopters. You have a good start on your own novel. Go with it.

  • “the novel my brother should write.” I love it! Tell Dan the hard part is already done, he just needs to fill in the backstory.

  • First I’d like to comment here on Joe’s comments prior to his hilarious columnistic marriage of Tom Clancy and Mike Royko, when he talked about artists using things from real life. I heard about a line stated by one of the writers of The Wire that reminds me of what Joe was talking about, and I think it bears mentioning here (I’m also using it in my next book). The Wire writer was asked why they (the writers of The Wire) would so often just use the stories they remember from their days working the beat/street, rather than making up something new, and he (Richard Price) said, “Because God is not a second-rate novelist.”

    Joe, with that in mind, regarding your description of yourself, I just have to say that I’ve LITERALLY never read anything so accurate in my entire life. The reason I never used you as a character is because I never thought it could be possible; I never thought the dynamic shades of your countenance and the emotional vicissitudes of your character could ever fully be captured by formal prose, and yet here I sit marveling that not only has it been done, but it has been done with such a brief and carefree thunderstorm on the keys, and a quick click, and a post that says to me, “Here standeth thy neglected standard, fool! You have your monolith now, monkey; evolve!”

    Great stuff, Joe.

  • Hey Joe,

    Are you free tomorrow night? Sigh.

    Awesome piece!

    Kee Kee

  • Ha ha, Dan. Exactly! And thanks, everyone. It was easy once I started using real me to inspire character me. All I had to do was put character me in a common situation that real me often finds myself in. The rest wrote itself.

  • Pingback: A gift to my brother | | Joe DonatelliJoe Donatelli()

  • You’re Harrison Ford, Richard Dean Anderson, and Jason statham all wrapped into one. Why, any President would be proud to be saved by you.

  • I like to think there is some Jack Ryan and Jack Bauer in there, too, Jane, but I accept your compliment!

  • Love this! I hear that when characters are based on real people, the people they are based on often have no idea. Maybe this is, in part, due to the discrepancy between how the author sees someone and how they see themselves. Good thing you gave your brother such a clear model, just to make sure there is no discrepancy. :)

  • True, Katherine. He probably already wrote me into one of his novels as Policeman #4 and I didn’t even know it.