Should You Reveal All Your Family Secrets to Your Readers

By Astrid Ferguson

As I was sitting minding my own business, as I do most days, I receive a random call from one of my girlfriends. It’s the usual girl talk of catching up with one another. However we somehow found ourselves discussing our dreams and our fabulous future! If you don’t have girlfriends that allow you to dream and also snatch you by your weave back down to earth, get you some.

What stood out to me most out this conversation is a comment she made after I shared my news/plans for my now Afergtale LLC publishing business (shameless plug and news bomb). She says with a sarcastically yet serious tone, “As long as you don’t become like the Nova tell-all girl airing out all her family secrets in her memoir…” At first I was stunned because I haven’t watched the series. Sorry, I honestly just haven’t had time for TV, lately. That’s a whole other post/story, I won’t bore you with my nagging.

I heard about the series, I mean how could I not hear about Queen Sugar? Hello!? It’s on own and directed by Ava DuVernay! Let’s take a moment to give this KWEEN (Queen in slang terminology for all the grammar police experts reading this).

She is one of my favorite producers. So to catch you all up to speed I figured I would reach out to the expert film writer/producer. Shondaland! I mean I didn’t really reach out to her. I don’t even have her WhatsApp link (you think she has one?). I don’t even know if I’m following her real twitter. Ok I typed in google and found her blog, which is the next greatest thing to coming close to knowing Shonda Rhimes. So there I said it! Ugh! If you do know her, hook up a talk over some tea or a quick grab cheese from the break room hi-bye situationship, because we all know I am not getting any kind of talking time with the queen. Just saying I need new friends.

Ok continuing on with this train of thought. If you’d like to learn more about this wonderful own tv drama click here. Then come back and read the rest.

Assuming you’re back from the wonderful Shondaland, I didn’t give my girlfriends comment much thought. However, my other friend tagged me on a post that raised the question surrounding a writers ethical lines for sharing the families personal stories. Honestly, I didn’t know that we as writers had any ethical lines (assuming you’re writing fiction) besides making sure we copyright that thang. Nonetheless, the post brought up valid thoughts/questions as to how much should we share within our stories, poetry performances and open lines of creativity about ourselves and families. Are your wheels spinning because mine kicked into full gear after reading it. With a raised eyebrow, it definitely alluded to the question of having complete ownership of our (writers) stories and naming those who have traumatized us in some way.

Now I couldn’t ignore the Nova tell-all comments and thought process any longer. I mean as a person who shares very vulnerable and raw experiences to promote awareness, apparently my fingers were on fire with a long winded response on deck. Unless you’re new to Afergtale, The Serpent’s Rattle is a poetic memoir I wrote that encompasses stories about language barriers, domestic violence, rape, abuse and overcoming it all. It is a very dark and personal story where I air out (most) of my families dirty laundry involving these topics. However, I created the metaphor (the serpent) to represent the vast oppressors/predators the women of my family faced. I don’t exactly point out everyone but I am brutally honest about my relationship with my mother. I felt it was necessary to speak about the affects adult trauma have on children as they/I grow/grew into adulthood.

Now that I have given you some background on my memoir below are some of the points I decided to make about telling all your family secrets:

1. Start The Conversation with Family Prior to Publishing

If you are like me and you’re hella close to your family aside from all the trauma, start the conversation with them prior to publishing your memoir. These conversations are necessary and should be had prior to giving your readers all the goods. It shouldn’t alter your manuscript because you are still the writer and owner of your story and you have a message in need of sharing. However, it may alter the genre of your book. Maybe you’ll create fictional characters to preserve your family members identity. Maybe you’ll create a metaphor as I did to protect those you love most.

2. Have Your Readers Go on The Emotional Rollercoaster with You

If you’re writing about a traumatic time in your life as I did, write it in a way that displays the high and the lows of the trauma. Take your readers on the journey instead of focusing just on the negative connotation of the event. Always think about the why and for who you are writing this story. Are you writing this story out of spite and anger? Are you writing this story to spread awareness and possibly develop a community around a particular subject? Are you trying to promote dialogue around painful but needed topics? Are you trying to start a movement to change normalizing abnormal behaviors? And- are you truly ready to talk about these stories? Because both your family members and readers will have questions along with positive and negative comments.

3. Why Tell Your Story for Free When You Can Sell It?

I mean honestly, think about it. How many times haven't we sat with friends and dated some person who we told them a little too much about ourselves? Or the times we’ve been in uncomfortable conversations and it just happened to come out? We are constantly telling strangers about ourselves. I mean hell, there are no secrets between you and the internet. Yes boo-boo if you’ve ever shopped online Google may know more about you than your momma. So if you’re going to tell your story you might as well make some money out of it. Why not be like Beyonce and Jay Z? They create platinum selling cd’s about their personal tea and we pay to sip every last bit of it. Ok?

4. Maybe by Writing This Story You and Your Family Can Finally Close Old Wounds

Sometimes drastic situations like writing a memoir for the world to read, is what’s needed so the family can finally come together. This may be what it takes to finally have that open conversation without being shut down before getting your point across. Writing it all down means they have to read it all. They have to sit with it and digest it. Think of it like the salt and pepper exercise in the therapist office and you are holding those suckers for a long time. So don’t be afraid to tell your story, even if your family says otherwise.

As writers we are always bringing pieces of ourselves and families into our stories. Some of us choose to write in fictional genre, others choose to be more straight forward with a memoir, biography or autobiography style. It’s really a writers choice, story and love for family members involved that should be balanced. I feel like there aren’t enough raw and authentic stories in the world. Especially stories by people of color because we are still seeking permission, acceptance and the right “platform” to tell our truths our way. We always have to take into account someone else feelings and we can’t please everyone; not our families and definitely, not all our readers. So the choice is yours.

What will you choose to do? Comment below and let me know your thoughts. Have your friends join the conversation by sharing this post with them.