Everyone Hates a Tell-Tale

The wonderful editors at The Chattahoochee Review today published my ‘Tell-Tale Table’ to their blog. The table reveals the approximate percentage of actual, real-life events depicted in every story published in Hard to Say.

Hard to Say won the 2010 PANK Little Books Contest and is now available in print and on Kindle. Despite the thrilling and humbling advance praise and the excellent reviews thus far, this tiny collection of fifteen linked short-short stories has not sold well.

With hindsight, part of the low-sales problem is the book came out much too soon after Cut Through the Bone and hasn’t thrived in the shadow of the latter’s widespread promotion and success. There’s more to the problem though.

The truth is that because I did draw on parts of myself and my past in these stories, I’ve tried to hide this book from so many, afraid of who the stories might reach and who they could shock, upset, and hurt. I’m afraid of my own little book and that’s a terrible place to be.

I don’t know why I suffer these sometime bursts to draw attention to myself and bare my soul in my writing. It goes against the grain of my Irish culture and my preference for privacy and grace. I pay an awful price emotionally for such revealations. Yet by the very nature of writing and writing well, every time I pull words out of myself, the onus on me is to be as honest as possible about what it is to be human–and by default what it is to be me. Even if I write stories that are 100% fabrication, I reveal myself. We artists all do.

In the worst of my terror, I worry Hard to Say most betrays my mother and belies my deep love and compassion for her. In my strongest moments, I believe the book is a tribute to girls and women everywhere who have suffered and journeyed and who refuse to be silenced.

Today someone dear to me read my post at The Chattahoochee Review blog and felt appalled. I’ve allowed that person’s horrified reaction make me want to crawl into bed, hide under the covers, and never show myself again.

I’ll share two of the best kernels of wisdom I ever received: “It’s none of my business what anyone else thinks of me,” and “Everything gets back to our intention.” My intention in writing Hard to Say was not to shock, upset or hurt anyone. My intention was to write out of me the best stories I could around the real and the fabricated that have long haunted, fascinated and compelled me.

Maybe you’ll help a girl out and buy a copy of Hard to Say from PANK ($7.50), or on Kindle ($4.50), or a signed copy at AWP? Maybe then the right someone will read this book and let me know everything’s okay, tell me I did a good thing in writing and publishing these stories, and reassure me this little book won’t injure me or anybody else, if we don’t let it.

Wait, of course, that right someone is me.

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15 Responses to Everyone Hates a Tell-Tale

  1. Dawn. says:

    I’m honestly surprised Hard to Say hasn’t done as well as Cut Through the Bone. I loved them both, as you know. I actually preferred HTS, if my memory serves me right.

    Also, I love that Tell-Tale Table. Well done. I’m surprised that Robbed contained the highest percentage of truth. I would’ve guessed it was one of the more fabricated ones. That must have been terrifying! Really kick-ass story. I can remember the ending so clearly and I haven’t read it for months.

    Now I’m off to recommend HTS to a few people. 🙂

  2. Erin says:

    Ethel, it has been a real privilege to read along as you’ve sought the truth that writers strive to show the world, and to read about the struggles you’ve faced along the way. Thank you for that.

    Your Tell Tale Table and Hard to Say make me think of a music box. It’s interesting to look at the mechanisms, but what I think about most is what comes out when I flip it back over again.

    • Ethel Rohan says:

      How beautiful is this: “Your Tell Tale Table and Hard to Say make me think of a music box. It’s interesting to look at the mechanisms, but what I think about most is what comes out when I flip it back over again.” Thank you, Erin.

  3. tanita says:

    Ironically – hugely ironically – someone just told me yesterday that piece of advice, “It’s not your business what others think of you.” It’s not my business what people think of my work.

    It’s always hard to see that we are sometimes the one who get in our own way the most. It’s painful to realize that WE are the ones who have stood or who stand in the way of our success, and moreso, even, for a book we loved and feared. I so, *so* understand being motivated by that fear – of hurting people or confusing or upsetting family, and it has made me at times be less than honest about the people I write about. We can all canonize the grandmother who was in the WAC because of my award-winning book. The mean drunk she ended up as? Doesn’t get airtime. Was that wrong of me, to sweep that reality under the carpet? I’m not sure. Still.

    Ethel, I just admire you so much for your honesty, and the fact that you’ve weighed the psychic toll that honesty takes, and have decided that it’s worthwhile.

    You have…haven’t you?
    Say yes.
    Say yes.
    Say yes.

    • Ethel Rohan says:

      Thank you, Tanita. I’ve received such a wonderful response to this post, mostly I think because it resonates with others and their own fears and struggles. I can’t say the honesty and its resulting psychic toll have proved worthwhile. They’ve proved terrifying and painful, but also empowering in a strange way too. I think (hope!) I’m a better person and writer because of that honesty and taking these risks. You are such a great support and a true rock.

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  6. You did a good thing in writing these stories! Jill McCorkle says something like this: You have to lock your mama in the closet before you start to write. Maybe that goes for publicizing, too.

    • Ethel Rohan says:

      Thank you, Sarah! My closet is bursting with all the bodies I have to stuff in it before I can write. It’s my darkest fears I have to lock away before I publish.

  7. valerie says:

    ‘Hard to Say’ resonated with me, having had a similar upbringing. I valued its honesty and I didn’t see betrayal there, only a struggle to understand. I’m glad you were brave enough to say what’s hard to say.

  8. Louise says:

    Well if it is half as good as Cut Through the Bone-then it’s a book which needs to be out there. Going to order my copy later today.Good writing is hard, and honesty even harder at times. XXX

    • Ethel Rohan says:

      Thank you, Louise, for these kind words and your interest in Hard to Say. I truly appreciate your support.