Not What You Think

Paradigm, noun: a cognitive framework

Paradigm shift, noun: a dramatic change in the paradigm –

I’ve been reading Cop Hater by Ed McBain, written in the 1950s. It’s graphic and brutal (and reminds me why I’m not a fan of noir and gritty urban novels) and totally not what I expected in a novel written 60 years ago. I expected euphemisms and suggestion and “Leave It To Beaver”.

I’ve done some research into the 1930s for an idea I have for a series and uncovered things that, again, were a lot less “genteel” than I expected.

I’m sure we can all think of examples where someone wrote/directed/painted/created something we enjoyed and we later found out that person was a creep.

My question for my fellow Missdemeanors: In your reading, writing research, or other area of your life, what “thing” turned out to be far different than what you thought/believed?


I have an example from real life that changed my perception about the lies people tell. And, let’s face it, much (all?) of domestic suspense and mystery writing depends on the lies people tell. Here’s the real-life example:

In a casual family discussion, we were remarking that my father’s grandfather moved from Missouri to Texas after he and his wife divorced (scandalous at the time, leaving behind three very young children). I knew this because I’d seen the census records as part of genealogical research. My father has two brothers and he shared with me that his father told a far different account of this to his youngest sibling. My grandfather wanted to make a point about hard work and how he didn’t have a chance to do all of the advanced education he’d wanted to because his father died leaving him partly responsible for caring for his family. This was supposed to make his youngest son feel the good fortune of attending college with the support of his parents. When I heard this story my (mis-informed) uncle was in this late 40s or 50s. To this day no one has told him what really happened, and they don’t plan to (if he’s reading this blog, yes, your grandfather abandoned his family. He didn’t die young.). The depths of this ‘secret’ in a town with a population of less than 2,000, where all generations still lived, amazed me. This lie depended on the young man never hearing this from a family friend, and even when he was older they decidedly kept the secret. Why? How? I won’t go into detail here but the life lesson backfired and, in fact, the truth about what had happened would have been a better life lesson.

The end point: when secrets are revealed, long kept and nurtured among a small group of people, I believe it. In this community when it was whispered: “We don’t talk about that.” People didn’t.


Tracee, you may have a book in your family tale!


Tracee, that’s an incredible story.

A friend of mine was telling me about her father, who had died some time ago. He was suffering but couldn’t let go. There was something on his mind. Everyone assumed he had some terrible secret he was protecting, but in fact he felt guilty about a small and trivial unkindness that he had commit decades earlier. He had felt guilt over this episode for years, and he could easily have apologized but he felt so ashamed. I guess because I’m always drawn to stories of guilt and forgiveness, it made me realize that small wounds can carry very deep repercussions.


What came to mind oddly enough was my disappointment when one of my first cooking heroes, Jeff Smith, was accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct. The Frugal Gourmet was a great early cooking show without the rabid competition we now see. Smith seemed to be a gentle soul; his cookbooks thoughtful and were among my favorites. They lost their flavor and my joy was gone after that.


Michele, I had a similar reaction to learning of the allegations against Garrison Keillor.


Alexia, He was another great disappointment.


That made me sad, too. I loved “A Prairie Home Companion”.


Tracee, my mind went straight to family, too. Mine has/had so. many. secrets. Uncovering them through various means over time has shown me that the truth will always come out, one way or another. My family history – the secrets themselves, who hid them, and how they’ve been revealed – is rich fodder for stories and subplots. We’d make a great Southern Gothic series.

One example is that I found out at 9 years old that my dad had been previously married and I had half-siblings. My parents told my brother and I about them just hours before the kids, then teenagers, showed up to see my dad for the first time since they had been small children. That’s a day etched in my mind in great detail.

The circumstances around that marriage and breakup were mired in secrets and lies for most of my life. My dad had been portrayed as the villain and it turned out that he was actually the victim. His first wife cheated on him with his best friend. They eventually married and fought my dad to relinquish his parental rights. Not quite sure what that part was about, but what makes the age-old cheating story interesting is that all of the “grownups” involved lied about it to many of us. The stories we heard were variations on the theme that my dad had deserted his first family. The truth came out at a family function a couple of years ago. One of my cousins found letters from the woman who raised my dad (that’s another story, or several) to another family member, mentioning the aftermath of the scandal. My aunt, who had been married to my dad’s oldest brother while my dad was married to his first wife and saw it all unfold, filled in the details of what really happened. At the time I got the whole story, my dad had already passed away years before. I asked my mom why they didn’t tell us the truth. She said she left it up to my dad – she was a big believer in people making their own decisions. He never got over the shame of feeling betrayed and preferred my brother and me to think of him as the bad guy rather than a fool. Apparently, it didn’t occur to him that we’d be anything but grateful – if his first marriage worked out, we wouldn’t be here.


I was told there were no polygamists in my family. Then, while doing research for book 2, found a headstone with my great-great-great grandpa and his two wives (at the same time, not consecutively). Hmm.

Never trust family lore.


Alison, Ancestry’s DNA test cast serious doubt on family lore about some mixed-race ancestors being African American and Native American (Lumbee Indian, specifically). More likely, they were African American and European–which has some uncomfortable implications, given we’re talking about Jim Crow-era South Carolina.


I know so many families where a DNA test like those at have revealed all kinds of family secrets, Secret siblings, different fathers, the list goes on and on. So much so that part of me is afraid to do it myself LOL.


Funny how a little ole question of the week sent on a Thursday can reveal so many family stories and secrets within twenty-four hours! I wonder what this says.

How about you? What did you think was true that reading or research or a DNA test or a conversation forced you to re-think? Leave a comment on the blog or join the conversation on Facebook.

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