Hiding In Plain Sight (by Maryanne Fantalis)

The prompt for this month is do you hide secrets in your books?

Well, that's a really good question.

I do not deliberately hide anything in my books, but apparently my subconscious mind has other ideas.

It's funny, because people will spend huge amounts of time with the work of famous authors trying to figure out how much is drawn from their real life. Take William Shakespeare, for instance. So little is known about his life that a whole industry has sprung up where people mine his works for clues to his biography. Could Prince Hamlet be named for his son Hamnet? Could certain lines show his secret support for Catholics or even -- gasp -- reveal his own Catholicism? Maybe that reference to pigs, to pork, to ham, is a clue that the REAL Shakespeare is in fact Sir Francis Bacon.

Okay, calm down everybody.

Sure, sometimes writers draw directly from their own lives. We take conversations we hear, situations we witness (or are part of), or even people we know, and play with them until they become fiction.

I mean, they don't make journals like this for nothing.

Redbubble design by Cloud9hopper
But fiction is still fiction. Most of the time, everything you are reading springs entirely from the mind of the writer.

And yet, I am always shocked to discover that my secrets get hidden in plain sight, in spite of that.

Before I started working on Shakespeare's plays, I wrote young adult fantasy. The novel I almost got published, called The Lost Duchess, was about a young woman who discovers she's not who she thinks she is.

My mother-in-law read the draft at one point and commented, "I love how you reflected the main character's secret identity in the buildings."

"Hmmm. What do you mean?" I said, trying to seem wise and all-knowing when I had no idea what she was talking about.

"You know, how the tower looks round from far away, but when you get close you can see that it's actually got lots of angles. And the same with the walls in the temple, how the painting shifts from one scene to another and fools your eye so you can't tell exactly how it's happening." Fn 1

Why, yes, of course. My main character looks like one thing -- the illegitimate daughter of a lord, raised with his biological family -- but really she's something else -- the legitimate daughter of a royal duke and deliberately kept away from knowledge of him and her magical inheritance. Just like the two most significant landmarks in the book look like one thing, but really that's just an illusion. I absolutely, 100% intended to write that amazing symbolism into my book.

I'm not even going to tell you about all the nasty step-mothers in that novel. You think maybe I had some unresolved issues with my mom?

My subconscious keeps busy, apparently.

It happened again as I was reading through a draft of my current novel, Loving Beatrice. I suddenly recognized one of the characters. I groaned out loud. "Oh no," I said. "That's my grandmother."

Here's the tweet I sent at that moment:

I just hope no one else in my family recognizes her...

Do I set out to hide secrets in my novels? Absolutely not. But my mind has a way of sneaking them in there anyway.

Fn 1

The idea of a round-looking tower with many angles was, in fact, taken from reality. It is based on the Multangular Tower in York, England, a Roman ruin from the Fourth Century.

The Multangular Tower in York, from my trip in 1996


  1. I love that Tweet. Also love that you just ran with it, even after you realized who your character was...

  2. She was just such a great character! :D


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