Got secrets? Of course you do! Like it or not, our lives are rich with personal, professional, and family tales that could keep readers awake deep into the night. But do we dare risk the telling? If there is a story that needs to be told, then perhaps the time has come to listen and give it voice.
In writing my novel Wait Until I’m Dead!, I placed my main character in the center of this dilemma. A successful romance writer, Donna Jean Brava, has written an autobiography which provides the backstory of how she dealt with her own childhood abuse by her father and uncles while suffering the cold indifference of her mother. Her recovery shows how love and friendship bring about her healing even though evil acts still lurk behind the door. As her family reads the manuscript and begins to unravel buried family secrets, the title of the novel becomes painfully appropriate. Hate and love vie for the upper hand as victims and perpetrators fear the same fate: What if people find out?
The book is also filled with humor—which works as comic relief in the classically tragic sense—mystery, unexpected plot twists, revealed secrets and intrigue. Presented as a memoir within a novel, readers move through the main character’s history. But it is her actions in the present that propel the story through a series of compelling revelations affecting numerous characters in unforeseen ways.
Secrets often beget more secrets. So, why go there at all, one might ask? Well, like everyone else, I’ve had secrets, told secrets, kept secrets, and even spilled a few. But nothing on this earth prepared me for the damage and long term suffering visited upon children when secrets about abuse prevail.
I am, by profession, a clinical social worker who has been working with children and their families affected by childhood trauma. When I retired—or, semi-retired as it turned out—I felt compelled to do something to honor the courage of the youngsters I had worked with who had faced overwhelming situations and yet had prevailed. And so grew the concept of a novel that could both educate as well as entertain. I wanted a book that professionals would value, but that the average reader could respond to as a page-turner full of compassion and hope.
I have finally come to understand what people meant when they said, “Write what you know.” What I know—from years of working with children in trauma—is hard stuff. Getting it onto paper took time (almost six years), and it also took a good deal of emotional energy. I once had a Creative Writing professor in college who told me I had to choose between social work and writing because social work would take over my life and render me unable to commit the time and focus needed to become a “real” writer. Social work did, in fact, consume me for decades, but eventually it also gave me this story of secrets from all the children whose voices I am trying to honor. And another gift as well: the much deeper understanding that secrets revealed can also heal.
Elda lives in Rhode Island, surrounded by an amazingly loving and diverse family, covets a good mystery, gardens in milk crates on her back deck, loves to travel, still trains her fellow social service professionals, and – truthfully – hates secrets that keep children unsafe. Her novel Wait Until I’m Dead! recently won the Independent Publishers of New England 2015 award for literary fiction. She is currently hard at work on the sequel. Find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and here.