Thursday, February 28, 2013

Secrets and lies

My next Tracy Eaton mystery, Revenge on Route 66, will be out in March. The central theme of that book is secrets, and the lies characters tell to keep those secrets.

That got me thinking about the lies real people tell. Are they all the same? How about the ones we call “white lies”? Some people maintain those are merely the grease that make sticky social cogs run more smoothly. But are they really harmless?

I mean, if a woman asks her mate whether her jeans make her look fat, does she really want a true answer, especially if they actually do make her look fat? Isn’t she really asking her significant other to help her engage in denial to boost her self-confidence? Wouldn’t telling her the truth just be cruel and unnecessary? Shouldn’t her SO want her to feel better about herself even if it means telling a little fib? Still, it is a lie.

How about lies of omission? What if a friend wore something in a color that made her look sickly or blotchy? Would you tell her she should avoid that color at all costs? Me, I probably wouldn’t. It seems unnecessarily mean, even though some people might prefer to know it. I also probably couldn’t stretch the white lie limits by going so far as to tell her she looked good in that wretched color. However, I would make a note of it, and the next time I saw her wear a color that was especially flattering to her, I’d go out of my way to make sure she knew that was her color. What would you do?

Maybe the key is that lies told to avoid hurting someone, or truths held back for the same reason, are easier to justify.

But what if the lies were more serious? What if the person they could potentially hurt — is the actual liar? If there was something in your past that you felt sure would make people look at your differently, what would you do to keep that hidden? How far would you go? Those are the kinds of lies that are central to Revenge on Route 66. I won’t tell you everything my characters did, but like most real people my characters go to great lengths to keep their pasts from rising up to haunt them now.

I so enjoyed dealing with the secrets and lies in my characters lives, characters I’ve known for a very long time, who kept those secrets even from me! Mysteries are often rooted in secrets and lies, of course, but rarely to this degree. Personally, though, I’m more convinced than ever that I enjoy a cleaner past than my characters. I’m not sure I could handle the pressure of keeping such whoppers under wraps.

Besides, doesn’t the truth have a nasty way of coming out eventually? And it’s often worse for having been kept hidden for so long.

How about you? What’s your take on the harmless white lies? And how about the others, the ones told to hide the secrets that could make or break a life if they came out? What do you think about them?

Do people have a right to keep their secrets hidden?