My fingers trembled as I hammered out a first-person story on a manual typewriter at my kitchen table one sleepless night in 1984. The resulting tear-stained account of my toddler’s burn ordeal sat in a drawer for months until it dawned on me that sharing our family’s heartache might prevent a similar tragedy from befalling another child.
After reading A Moment of Carelessness; A Lifetime of Regret, a local newspaper editor agreed not merely to publish the piece, but assigned me to research and write a pair of related burn prevention and recovery sidebars, including one about play therapy.
The resulting feature was subsequently picked up by Canadian Press Wire Services, and soon appeared in periodicals across the country. This led to an additional burn prevention assignment for a national parenting magazine where I eventually became a regular columnist and feature writer.
I may never know if any burn accidents were prevented as a result of baring my soul to strangers. But the story that was initially intended for my eyes only ultimately enabled me to connect with many kindred spirits who enriched my life in ways I’d never imagined. In addition to receiving comforting letters from people I’d never met, I was called upon to address many audiences, the smallest in a Southern, Ontario classroom; the largest being an international convention of Shriners in New York’s Catskills.
So, how does a writer decide whether or not to submit true stories of a sensitive nature for publication? Being factually correct and fair to all concerned simply isn’t enough. True tales that are having a tough time making it from heart to typing fingers are often stuck in literary limbo because they involve unresolved negative emotions linked to painful memories. Yet, these can become healing agents for the writer — and sources of inspiration for the reader — IF approached from the teachable moment standpoint.
Keeping the adage “You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it” posted by my keyboard never fails to bring me back to Square One where I ponder WHO might benefit from reading my story? (Picture yourself in a support group.) WHAT lesson or lessons do I yearn to impart? (Is this about acceptance or perseverance? Seeking justice or inner peace?) WHY do I wish to share this experience? (It makes a whale of a difference if your motivation is remorse or revenge.) When motivated by a desire to make amends for past regrets, I apply the advice of a loved one who lives by The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Step 9 advises recovering substance abusers to make amends to persons harmed “EXCEPT when to do so would injure them or others.”
At a time when print and on-line markets for tell-all tales abound, I’ve also devised a submission safety net with the headings “Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light” that comes into play as follows: Red Light — STOP! Just because you can share with the world doesn’t mean you should. That’s what journals and confessionals are for. (Hint: Anything motivated by the aforementioned “revenge” belongs in this category.) Yellow Light — CAUTION! Sharing needs to be delayed until more time has passed in the interest of gaining a greater perspective and/or so that editing precautions can be taken to protect the innocent. Green Light — GO! Sharing the true story now will assuredly benefit others. The sooner you can get it out there, the better.
On the threshold of my 40th year as a journalist, it’s uplifting to note that it’s never too late to set the record straight. My own most recent sale occurred after I summoned the courage at age 62 to reveal details of an out-of-body experience that took place when I was believed to be dying of spinal meningitis half a century ago. Since my own parents had been skeptical of the verbal account I shared as an elementary school child (they suggested I’d imagined it), I’d kept silent partially out of respect for my elders and partially out of fear of ridicule by others. When at the end of 2014 I finally shared a copy of the written account of my 1962 memories with my parents and the priest who had administered The Last Rites to me, all gave the piece their blessing.
The truth really does set you free!
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Ann Hauprich has had articles published in Adirondack Life, Bluegrass Unlimited, Chatelaine, GRIT, Today’s Parent, Toronto Star, Vermont Magazine, Women’s Circle, Woodshop News, Writer’s Digest, and a diversity of other periodicals. Other credits include founding Saratoga Living in 1998 while home schooling three children. After selling the regional magazine in 2004, Ann published a pair of local history books and a collection of humorous essays titled Deadlines, Headlines & Porcupines: The Laugh Lines Behind the Bylines. Chapters for a forthcoming fourth title, The Prayer Lines Behind the Bylines, include many Green Lighters. Among them are “The Softer Side of Andy Rooney” and “Thanks for the memories, Aunt Mary . . . and David Hyde Pierce.”
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My earliest published books back in the 1980’s and 90’s, were true stories of life as I’d experienced it. Topics involved my husband’s adultery, our divorce, debt, my middle daughter’s drug addiction, her healing and ultimate death five years later in suspicious circumstances (the last, A Painful Post Mortem, originally published by Booklocker, and still available on Amazon as an ebook). I asked myself exactly the questions raised above, and I knew my purpose was a genuine desire to ‘comfort others with the comfort I’d received from God’. Nevertheless, I had no desire to embarrass others, so I wrote under a pen name The mail I received from all over the world – before the days of the internet – convince me to this day that I did the right thing. Nowadays, I turn those real events into fiction – still under my pen name, Mel Menzies.