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At my bed and breakfast, the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, each of our guest rooms is named after a children’s storybook. In the main house, we have On the Banks of Plum Creek, one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” series, NeverNeverland from Peter Pan, Sherwood Forest from Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Secret Garden, and Heaven to Betsy, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy series.
We call the circa 1951 cottage where my husband and I live A Wrinkle in Time, after Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, because it is sandwiched between a Victorian house (The Blue Belle Inn), built in 1895, and a giant arts and crafts built in the 1920s. Four years ago, when we bought and renovated a new little house just to the north of the Blue Belle, we christened it Anne’s House of Dreams, from the Anne of Green Gables series. Upstairs is Green Gables and downstairs is Four Winds.
The theme of each room is loosely in keeping with the theme of the book it is named after, with a lot of whimsy thrown in for good measure.
In the case of Four Winds, part of that theme is a staircase that quotes John 8:32 – The truth shall set you free, with one word painted on each step as you climb upward.
If you’ve read Anne’s House of Dreams, you know that there are several characters in the book who are keeping secrets. The offending characters think they have very good reasons for keeping their secrets to themselves and hiding the truth, but in the end, we learn that as long as duplicity is present, there can be no resolution, no contentment, no fulfillment, and no happy ending.
The truth shall set you free. Falsehoods, no matter how nobly intended, create a prison that binds you.
In my new book, Merry Go Round, slated for a late April release, the characters have a few secrets of their own. Trevor has kept the fact that he is gay a secret for almost 20 years. His duplicity and belated honesty have impacted his wife’s life in many ways. And because Tracy is determined that no one else learn the truth (especially not her children), she is left without a way to process the ramifications of those events. Because she’s chosen not to reveal Trevor’s sexual orientation, she’s cheated herself out of the listening ears and supportive arms she would otherwise have had.
Like a bottle of a champagne with a firmly plugged top, the pressure is mounting on the inside, and you know that eventually, someone is going to come uncorked. Things are going to blow up in your face.
But as much as we may believe in our heads that “The truth shall set you free”, many of us grew up in stoical northern European homes where we were taught to keep our thoughts to ourselves, and hide our true feelings lest we offend or make everyone uncomfortable.
In her song, Don’t Cry Out Loud, Rita Coolidge sings:
Don’t cry out loud
Just keep it inside, learn how to hide your feelings
Fly high and proud
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all.
If the truth intrigues you – the wisdom of sometimes withholding it, and sometimes, conversely, letting it all hang out – I encourage you to read Merry Go Round when it comes out later this spring. It’s easy to think that we should always tell the truth – until you know what’s at stake. Only then can you know what you would do. Are some secrets worth keeping? If so, to what lengths would you go to camouflage the real story? Or is honesty always the best policy?
“I can’t keep living a lie.” Trevor’s voice sounded far away and tinny, maybe because her cell phone was the cheapest model on the market, and maybe because he was calling from California. Regardless, it didn’t dampen the impact of his words.
It had been almost three years since Trevor had told her the truth, and she still had a hard time believing it.
“I can’t keep pretending I’m someone who I’m not,” Trevor said.
“You most certainly can. You have to.” She lowered her voice for fear of waking the children. “If you can’t do it for me, then do it for them.”
from Merry Go Round, by Sherrie Hansen
It would have been very convenient if Tracy, the main character of my new book, Merry Go Round, had turned out to be a fan of Blood, Sweat and Tears. It only makes sense that her favorite song should be the 1969 hit, Spinning Wheel. The song is one of my favorites, and it’s full of merry go round imagery. My readers know how I love weaving in double meanings, even triple meanings that speak to or reinforce the theme of my books.
As an author, you would think that I could just make it happen. If I want the main character’s favorite song to be Spinning Wheel, then that’s the way I write it. End of story.
Unfortunately for me, and I’m assuming other authors who get deep into their characters POV, this is rarely the way it happens. It’s almost like magic, as you get into writing a book, the way characters acquire minds and thought processes of their own – and have ideas that often take you by compete surprise.
As I was working on Merry Go Round a couple of nights ago, I suddenly discovered that Tracy has a thing for Rita Coolidge’s music. I was re-writing a scene near the end of the book when the words to “Don’t Cry Out Loud” started floating through my brain. Then it was “Fool That I Am”, “We’re All Alone”, “Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher”, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, “Words”, “Fever” – a regular hit parade of Rita Coolidge songs, each one a perfect match with what was going on in Tracy’s life.
I know this may sound odd, but stay with me for a moment… Tracy went on to tell me that she had loved Rita Coolidge’s music from the time she was in junior high after being invited to a concert by a friend of hers. As usual, Tracy had only told her parents she would be staying over night at her friend’s house, not what they would be doing while she was there.
Her strict parents hadn’t let any of the Jones girl listen to rock and roll or popular country music, but after the concert, when Tracy told them that Rita grew up singing gospel in her church choir, her mother let her buy a cassette tape of her greatest hits (obviously, without looking at the song list). Tracy was always of the opinion that what her mother and father didn’t know, didn’t hurt them, and in this case, like so many others, kept the rest of Rita’s story to herself. I mean, isn’t that what headphones are for?
Then Tracy revealed the truly sad part of the story – at age sixteen, when Tracy started dating Trevor, her childhood sweetheart, she stopped listening to Rita’s music (because Trevor though she was too country) and started listening to Bette Midler, who was his his favorite.
Fast forward twenty years – when Tracy starts to reclaim her life, part of her journey is re-embracing Rita Coolidge. Thankfully, she’s learned that you don’t give up the music of your heart – for anyone.
Suffice it to say that when you read Merry Go Round (coming from Second Wind Publishing in late April), the song “Spinning Wheels” is never mentioned. But you will find snippets of several Rita Coolidge favorites. I’ll leave you with one:
As pretty as you are,
you know you could have been a flower.
If good looks could be a minute,
you know that you would have been an hour.
Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to,
and I can tell the way you do the things you do.
The way you do the things you do… The way you do the things you do.