What Secrets do you Keep?

As a writer, you’ll collect a great deal of information from others. You can hear a lot, if you’re listening. If you’re asking questions, you’ll hear even more. What you use from what you gather is for you to decide.

Absent an agreement to the contrary, here are the rules I follow:

  • If someone says it’s a secret, it is.

  • If someone suggests it’s a secret, it is.

  • If someone should suggest it’s a secret, it’s a secret.

That last one, I learned the hard way. I was writing for a newspaper then, an article on the tough financial times of the day, and one of my sources told me some very private information that put her in a difficult light. I asked her: Are you sure you want me to know this? Are you okay with this in print?

I believed her assurances, the article ran, and indeed she came to regret her decisions.

I take the blame for that. I knew better and should have insisted.

The only good thing about the situation was that it was short-lived. The news in the morning was eclipsed by noon. Still, and though decades later, I remember the ashen-faced figure who turned up at my door, the newspaper clutched in her hand. I don’t remember her name, but I’ll never forget those eyes.