Secrets and Hidden Depths
I listened to an episode of the podcast Dear Hank & John recently where they answered s girl's question about the best way to reveal to her family that she had secretly learned to play the fiddle. They seemed almost as fascinated by secret fiddle learning as I was and talked about the logistical difficulties of keeping a secret like that if you're still living at home.
Inspired by the episode, I've begun to learn to do something in secret. I know you're dying to know what it is, but I'm not going to tell you, ESPECIALLY if we're related. Just anticipate a dramatic reveal a few years down the road.
Secrets, whether they're good or bad, whether there's a skeleton or a fiddle in the closet, can add a lot of excitement and interest to a story. I began to appreciate secrets in fiction around middle school. I think it's because that's when the secrets started to be really juicy. In books and shows meant for younger kids, the secrets always turned out to be something lame, like a surprise party.
One of my favorite books in my preteen and early teen years was Caravan by Dorothy Gilman. She was one of my favorite authors, which is possibly a little odd given that she is best known for a series of adventure novels about a senior citizen named Mrs. Polifax. I loved that series, mostly because Mrs. Polifax was not just an old lady; she was also a spy, and it was her outlandish hidden life which so appealed to me. In Caravan, [SPOILER ALERT] which is not part of the Mrs. Polifax series, a woman is writing the story of her life to be given to her daughter after her death. In it, she reveals that the person the daughter thought was her father was not. I remember saying to my dad, "Wouldn't it be great to find out that your father isn't really your father?" (I was not the most tactful of children.)
"I think it'd be really upsetting," he said.
"Oh yeah, I guess, but it'd be so interesting!"
Also around that time I remember seeing commercials for an episode of Home Improvement called "What a Drag," which I couldn't wait to see. In it, Tim finds a baggie of pot hidden in the backyard, and he and Jill basically do a stake out to find out which of their kids is secretly a dope-fiend. Oooo, so exciting! When I actually saw the episode, I found it to be a bit of a let down, though, because the big reveal and the aftermath were not nearly as dramatic or scandalous as I had expected. I was hoping for the follow up episode to be called "Randy Goes to Rehab" or something.
I fantasized frequently about having my own secrets. I dreamed of revealing my hidden dance moves, karate moves, or, cringe, stripper moves. I wrote a story at that time about a girl of my same age and physical description who had a secret life as a stripper. Everybody thought she was eighteen. Yikes. I found the idea exciting rather than gross and sad. Let me just take a moment here to pause and be grateful that that story no longer exists anywhere but in my memory and no one will ever, ever read it...
The reason I'm thinking about secrets right now is that in the, as-yet untitled, novel I'm writing I'm about 14,000 words in and I already have three characters hiding major secrets from each other. At this point in the book the audience would ideally not know the secrets either, but would be starting to suspect. I'm finding the writing a bit tricky. It's a difficult balance between revealing things and holding them back. It's exciting to write and I hope that sometime in the not too distant future, you'll find it exciting to read. In the meantime, you may want to take a look at Goblin Fruit, the first book in my "Gobbled" series. It contains some big secrets, too.