A MYSTERY THAT STARTS WITH A SECRET
by Emily Bleeker
Five months ago I stood in a courtroom filled with people. I handed the bailiff a piece of blue paper. She gave it to the judge. He looked down at me over a pair of bifocals, and that is when the truth spilled out, “I’m sorry. It was a mistake. I didn’t know. It will never happen again.”
And on that day I swore that I’d never, ever…forget to renew my vehicle registration online before the expiration date. And that was my first and only run-in with the law. In my life as a mom of four, you’d be more likely to find me in the pick-up line at school than watching a line-up, and the crucial decisions in my day usually include some “edge of your seat” problems like…is it too close to dinner to have a snack?
Though my search engine history would leave an NSA agent shaking his head and putting me on a watch list, the stories I write exist solely on the page and in my mind. I’ve always been drawn to mystery, thrills, with maybe a dash of blood and betrayal in the mix. I like to think/hope that this proclivity for the morose comes not from sociopathic tendencies but from a curiosity that started long ago.
When I was younger, my mom, sister and I would watch that crime TV news magazine shows about real-life mysteries. I’d watch the beginning of the story with fascination as the happy pictures scrolled across the screen, and family members shared memories of a loved one lost, or maybe a loved one accused of a terrible crime. Though allegiances would change with each interview, the pictures didn’t. The smiles on the wedding day, the tender snuggles with newborn babies, the laughter recorded on a grainy video in a crowded room, all remained the same on the face of the victim or the suspect. In that fuzzy opening of the program, it was impossible to know, perhaps by design, who to trust.
And that’s how it works, right? Every good mystery starts with a secret and at least one person who is willing to go to great lengths to cover it up. And that is what I like to write about, this thing we all have in common—secrets. I think at first we all might say, “Secrets? What Secrets? I’m an open book!!” But they are there, deep down, things either no one knows about us or only our very trusted friends and family. Those are your secrets. And maybe you wouldn’t murder someone to cover them up, but that’s because you are you. My characters aren’t always as nice—’cause where is the fun in that?
So many of the questions I get when I talk to book clubs center around the “why” of these lies. Why didn’t she just tell the truth? Why did she hide this or that? Why? Why? Why?
As readers, we are far easier on fictional characters than we are on humans in real life or, gosh, even ourselves. Think about it—we clear away the clutter and unfolded laundry to take that picture of our kid for Instagram. We tweet about our blessed ten-year anniversary and not how we’ve thought about a divorce every day for nearly a decade. We post a grand thank you message on our birthday when most days we feel utterly alone. And these are the garden-variety secrets of our lives. Think of the vitriol and judgment that so much of social media and other online outlets vomit out at the slightest provocation.
Gosh, no wonder we are afraid to be real.
But, if I’ve learned anything from writing stories about people with secrets it is that hiding is not worth it. Though it makes for great, page-turning fiction, the only way to resolve the chaos, mystery, and turmoil in my character’s lives is to uncover the secret. Only then, when their greatest shame and fears are exposed, can there be growth and resolution in the story.
As social scientist Brené Brown explains, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.” I like to watch my characters run from their less than perfect pasts, but that’s because they are figments of my imagination. In real life, secrets end in shame, loneliness and worst case scenario—a true crime documentary. So let’s read about those juicy, tense, mysteries that come from scandalous hidden truths, and maybe even sneak in a show or podcast to keep our brains twisting. But as for me, I’ll leave that excitement on the page or screen and instead of running from my story, I plan on living it out in the open for everyone to see. I hope you will join me.
Emily Bleeker is a former educator who discovered her passion for writing after introducing a writer’s workshop to her students. She soon found a whole world of characters and stories living inside of her mind. It took a battle with a rare form of cancer to give her the courage to share that amazing world with others. Emily lives in suburban Chicago with her family. Between writing and being a mom, she attempts to learn guitar, sings along to the radio (loudly), and embraces her newfound addiction to running. Connect with her or request a Skype visit with your book club at emilybleeker.wordpress.com