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October 15, 2015

Things I’ll Never Say - Author Roundup


Secrets, secrets are no fun…or are they? In the below blog post, author Ann Angel talks about the power of secrets, and how they can both help and hurt you, depending on the situation. Also, in the spirit of her anthology THINGS I’LL NEVER SAY: Stories About Our Secret Selves, she asked some of her author friends to share their own secrets from their teenage years. They will move you, make you laugh and make you think…make sure to read them below, and to check out the full anthology!

The idea to compile an anthology of stories about secrets came to me while I worked with survivors of violence. In these writing workshops, called Untold Stories, I saw that almost all of us keep secrets thinking we're protecting ourselves or the people we love, but it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes, our secrets give us power and we can hold them over friends --- and enemies. Our secrets can also hold us hostage to our insecurities. Survivors from the workshops demonstrated again and again that a single hurtful secret could lock them into the role of victims. Their locked up secrets kept them from learning to use their experiences to become true survivors.

I related to that. I grew up in a family of nine kids. A lot of alcohol flowed around my parents and their friends and sometimes things got loud, and sloppy, really ugly and scary at my house. Working with survivors, I learned I am a survivor of past secrets too. It was remembering one of those nights when I huddled with my sisters and listened to a drunken fight that I chose to let people know that my house was filled with a mess of people I loved, but it was a mess. Since then, I refuse to let my secrets hold me back. So I'm a terrible secret keeper. Still, I try to keep secrets entrusted to me until the secret keeper is ready to reveal it herself.

As you can see, our most silent stories really intrigue me, and I'm sure they intrigue you. They captivate the writers who agreed to complete short stories for THINGS I’LL NEVER SAY:Stories About Our Secret Selves.Their stories show the many ways we keep deep secrets that can also be a source of power. They demonstrate that secrets can also be funny, sad, damaging, deadly or, sometimes, simply sweet. The stories in this anthology illustrate how we all struggle to keep or reveal secrets. When our only choice is to reveal someone's secret to keep a friend frombeing victimized, or to protect a friend from his or her own a dangerous choice, we can lose a friend even if we save a friend. On the other hand, we often keep secrets to create a bond or simply to be a good friend.

In asking the YA authors included in THINGS I’LL NEVER SAY about their own secrets, it's evident that their short stories come from young adult worlds in which silence, secrets and revelation continue to shape their lives:

“Growing up, I lived in a home full of secrets and I hardened a shell around myself for protection. Even while I perfected this outward persona of not needing anyone, there was still a small part of me that wished people knew my life. When I enrolled in a creative writing course my sophomore year, I figured out how to tell my secrets without subjecting myself to the judgment or pity that I feared might come. In the classes, I started to write my own story, mixed in with the stories of characters I’d create. For fiction assignments, I’d write scenes from real life, changed just enough to not be recognizable. Then with non-fiction exercises, I’d completely invent situations, family members, memories. Through workshops, even though they were critical, I strangely got the support that I was looking for. People understood my characters; therefore, I reasoned, a part of them understood a part of me. It would have been helpful if I’d realized, like I know now, that I had people who were there for me, willing to listen. Instead, stories saved me. Writing became my safe place, how I learned to articulate my feelings, how I found closure by getting to exert control over the situations that, in real life, made me feel helpless.” – Erica L. Kaufman

“When I was 16 and a freshman in college, living in the university's dorms, I started having sex with my boyfriend, which turned out to be an emotional disaster for me. For months, I didn't tell anybody what was happening, even as I felt more and more slammed by the situation --- cornered and trapped by the social expectations from all sides. I didn't want to have sex but felt a lot of pressure from my boyfriend. I didn't know how to tell him no. On the other hand, most of my family and friends were religious and they would have been shocked to know that I was sexually active, which they considered a sin outside of marriage. I knew I couldn’t tell anybody from that contingent unless it was because I was “repenting.” I did ask for advice from one person, a woman in my history class, who encouraged me to have fun and even gave me sexual tips. While it might seem like encouragement was ‘more’ helpful than hearing condemnation, what I really needed was the message nobody was giving me: that it’s OK to wait. So I kept my sexual activity a secret, hid it away from the world until I broke up with my boyfriend. Then I spent the next year crying as I tried to recover from the emotional damage of becoming sexually active long before I was ready for it, of experiencing sex in an environment of manipulation and pressure rather than love and care. If I could go back in time and speak to the young woman that was me, I’d tell her, ‘Honey, sex is normal and wonderful between two people who love each other but at 16 years old, you may not be ready for it, even if you love your boyfriend. Saying ‘yes’ isn’t a sin --- but it’s OK to say no or to say ‘not yet’ and ‘back off.’’ And I wouldn’t keep it so secret, either.” – J. L. Powers

It's wonderful for me to see how much more open teens are today about being members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even writing that phrase "community" is something I didn't have as a teen. I didn't know anyone who was out, and those who were suspected of being gay or lesbian were the subjects of ridicule. I didn't even hear the word ‘bisexual’ until college. Of course, you need to be honest with yourself. But when to come out to your friends or family is a very personal decision.  And I worry that sometimes teens feel pressured to come out publicly before they are ready.  If you are ready to come out, wonderful!  But if you are not ready to be public, if you want more time to yourself or if coming out would put you in danger, you are not obligated to do so. I am a firm believer in the power of coming out and living your true, authentic life.  But I also believe that you have the right to do so at your own pace. You have the right to be safe and comfortable. We tend to think of secrets as bad things, shameful or wrong or cowardly. But sometimes having a secret is okay, or even necessary for survival.” – E. M. Kokie

At 13 I had an enormous crush on the boy who lived across the street, but it felt hugely embarrassing to admit it to anyone, especially him. Our parents were friends and we sometimes spent evenings talking or watching TV together while they were in another room. One night we were sitting on the couch side-by-side and he put his arm around me. Even though I'd been daydreaming about this happening, when it actually did, I jumped away from him, mortified. I thought he'd found out my secret --- that I liked him. It didn't occur to me until much later that he was admitting he liked me --- and I'd totally blown it.” – Ellen Wittlinger

“When I was a teen I would have died before admitting to anyone --- family or friends --- that I wasn't attracted to boys. I wasn't attracted to girls either. I wasn't attracted to anyone. Although I'd had my share of crushes on people, wanting to be close to them, make them laugh and figure out what made them tick, I'd never felt any kind of sexual pull to anyone. I might be able to appreciate physical beauty aesthetically, but kissing and touching others (or being kissed and touched in turn) left me completely cold. I'd never heard of anyone else who felt this way, and I thought there was something wrong, something broken inside me. Years went by, during which I forced myself to imitate the 'normal' relationships I saw around me in an effort to keep my secret. In my mid-20s I finally accepted that romance and sex weren't ever going to work for me, but I still didn't tell anyone why I was determined to remain happily single. It wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I found a term for people like me --- asexuals --- and a supportive community that enabled me to embrace who I really am, without secrecy and without shame.” – Zoe Marriott

To My Teenage Self: Remember when you thought that almost all adults were boring windbags with no real sense of what’s important?   Well, you were right.  Keep your wits about you:  don’t grow up and become one of them.” – Ron Koertge

“I already revealed one of my darkest secrets in this introduction so I think I'll tell you one that I can laugh at now. During my freshman year in high school, I wore braces and tried to hide the fact that I wore rubber bands. But my mother insisted I wear them to school, threatening that I'd spend the rest of my life with braces if I didn't. That was a threat I couldn't live with. So I started to wear rubber bands on all that metal to school. At the time I was a good student and getting A's in all of my classes. I sat in front of a guy in my Spanish class who I crushed on and, although he was pretty smart, I was a better student in Spanish than he. One day, during a test, he asked me for an answer. I didn't really think about the consequences of cheating. After all, he might like me better if I helped him. But when I turned to give the answer to him, one of the rubber bands on my teeth broke and flew out of my mouth. It snapped him on the cheek and then landed on his test paper. I don't think I ever really talked to him again because I was so mortified. In fact, I never opened my mouth again in Spanish class and only passed with a D. If I could talk to that mortified girl, I'd tell her to own her intelligence and not worry about embarrassing herself. After all, it was just a rubber band. And I suppose I should also warn her that cheating often has its own unique consequences.” – Ann Angel

Ann Angel is the author of many biographies, including JANIS JOPLIN: Rise Up Singing, which won a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Previously, she served as contributing editor for the anthology SUCH A PRETTY FACE Short Stories About Beauty. A graduate of Vermont College’s MFA program in writing for children and young adults, Ann Angel directs the English graduate program at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, where she lives with her family.