Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Secrets We Keep

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well. This was a surprise. A long time ago, I invited Donna Galanti, an ITW debut author,  to come chat on Jungle Red. She's very talented and a real powerhouse and a great pal, and I was delighted to introduce her to you all..

But today's blog I did not expect.

Because my new book THE WRONG GIRL deals with adoption and foster care and the possibility for deception and fraud--in THE WRONG GIRL, an adoption agency might be reuniting birth parents with the wrong children--I've been hearing from a lot of readers (and thank you so much) about their  searches for their birth parents or the children they gave up for adoption .

But true life is far more complicated and unpredictable than fiction could ever be. And that's why I am so honored--and so touched--about what dear Donna is sharing with us today.
      by Donna Galanti

First, many thanks to the Jungle Reds for having me on today and super congrats to Hank on the release last week of THE WRONG GIRL!

The topics of Hank’s newest book–adoption, secrecy, and corruption–grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. You see, I am adopted and secrecy has been part of my real life tale, as well as my fictional tale, A HUMAN ELEMENT.

Donna Galanti
In my paranormal suspense novel three characters are connected by events. Laura Armstrong is adopted and raised by loving parents. Ben Fieldstone is abandoned to live a lonely existence in foster homes. X-10 is raised alone in a government facility, unloved as a science experiment. The common thread that connects them is that they grow up separated from their family wrapped in secrets–until those secrets come to light.  

These three similar characters grew up in different ways with different outcomes. It begs the questions: 

Can they overcome their genes through environment? Or will their environment be their downfall? And how did secrets change their lives?

And this got me thinking about the secrets in my own life, hidden and revealed, and how we may never really know someone or the stories behind their secrets.

Secrets kept. Secrets revealed. Secret doors opened, leaving you to wonder about the truth.

I was a black market baby.
My birth father killed himself.
My birth mother murdered her own mother.
Or none of the above.

My own life began in secrecy.

Secret #1: My birth mother didn’t know if I was a boy or girl. That’s how fast they took me from her.

Secret #2: The day my adoptive parents took me home from foster care they were instructed to cross the county line and wait by a cornfield for the social worker to hand me over to them. What small town secrets warranted this action?

Me as a foster child, on the right, with another foster child

Secret #3: An adoption agency worker on her last day before retirement flung privacy to the wind and handed over my records to my pleading birth mother. And so, at 18, I met my blood family for the first time.

Secret #4: For 40 years I believed my birth father died in a car accident. An innocent search one day for his name revealed a newspaper article detailing his suicide. The truth, kept from me my entire life by my adoptive parents and birth mother, was revealed–and confirmed upon question.

But could both of these “truths” be  lies?

Secret #5: Did my birth father really commit suicide? My birth mother shared her conspiracy theory for his murder. She believed his ex-wife and her husband, both police officers, staged his suicide to cash in his life insurance policy and collaborated with other law enforcement to cover it up. My own research led to the discovery of the lawsuit (taken all the way to the Supreme Court) brought against this couple over the questionable cashed-in policy and their actions on that fatal night.

It makes me wonder about this secret door. Which one holds the truth?

Secret #6: My birth mother whisked her aging mother secretly away to a nursing home in another state. When my birth mother was finally tracked down, she had disappeared leaving her own mother dead and cremated, her money taken–and with no evidence left behind of how she truly died.

Did my birth mother murder her own mother for money?

Sounds like a novel doesn’t it? One I may write someday. I guess the truth is stranger than fiction. Hank discovered that when a news tip gave her the idea for THE WRONG GIRL.
My father may have committed suicide. Or he may have been murdered by conspiracy.
My birth mother may have murdered her own mother. Or she may have not.

This doesn’t mean I will commit suicide or commit murder. Genes do not dictate who we are. We can overcome them. I am proof. My son is proof.

It does mean that adoption has played a large part in my life, and continues to play a part. The new novel I’m writing features a girl who never knew she was adopted, and what happens when secrets are revealed. Secrets also wind themselves through my short story collection, THE DARK INSIDE, featuring characters from A HUMAN ELEMENT and its forthcoming sequel. On sale now for only $.99!

Meanwhile, more secrets in my life continued to unfold.

This time with the family that raised me. After my adoptive mother died I discovered a locked-away restraining order she had against a man who later was convicted of two murders. She never told me or my father. In shock, we wondered about the truths this court document held. My father could only say “There are things about your mother will we never know.”

Can’t that be said of all of us? And at what point do we stop seeking the truth to live our life in peace?

TRUTH: In life, there will always be secrets. Some that may never be shared. And I’m okay with that. They do not dictate who we are. We can overcome them too–whether we discover the truth or not.

Did adoption play a role in your life? Did your family or someone you know hide secrets? Did you learn about a secret that changed your life?


Donna Galanti is an International Thriller Writers Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She’s lived from England as a child to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. If she couldn’t write she would bike, hike, and kayak every day. Donna lives with her family in an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs but sadly no ghosts.

About A Human Element:

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.

Praise for A Human Element:
“Be afraid. Be very afraid. And be utterly absorbed by this riveting debut that had me reading till the wee hours of the night. A thriller star is born. Don’t miss A Human Element.”  –
M.J. Rose, international bestselling author
A Human Element is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart.  Highly recommended.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author
“Lyrical and creepy, Donna Galanti’s A Human Element tugs on our heartstrings and plucks the gut-strings of horror. This debut thriller author is a true storyteller, highly reminiscent of Dean Koontz.” -Dakota Banks, award winning author

Purchase A Human Element here:

Purchase The Dark Inside here:


  1. What an unnerving story . . . and what a compelling novel you have created from all of this. Sometimes it would seem that we can never know the complete story; secrets often have a way of making themselves known and the truth can oftentimes be very elusive . . . .

  2. Hank and the Jungle Reds, thanks so much for having me on today! THE WRONG GIRL did indeed open up a well of thoughts on adoption and my experience. When I was given up for adoption back in the 1960's often the mother never had a chance to meet her child. I can't imagine how traumatic that would be. Today I know many people who have open adoptions and I am fascinated by the stories that come of that. And it's fascinating how true life stories drive fiction! -Donna

  3. Joan, right indeed! And at some point I find we have to accept that we may never know the truth, or simply fashion our own truth in order to move on.

  4. Donna, I am stunned by the many revelations here. Wow. You have enough material for many books, but I admire your father for (what seems to be) his acceptance of your mother's secret. I don't mean to be trite, but your adoptive parents did a good job with you. :-)

    Side note: Donna and I met at The Write Stuff conference, which I highly recommend. It's a great group of writers. I also recommend sitting with Donna at lunch. She is fun!

  5. Ramona, you are a doll!! My adoptive parents were great indeed. My mom was quite a character and I miss her every day. And I certainly hope to sit next to you at lunch again soon! :) And yes, writers out there, The Write Stuff is a wonderful conference in PA to attend.

  6. Wow, that's a wild story! No wonder you are a writer...

    And your mother's story is amazing too. But don't you think that every person has secrets, even the ones who seem to be open books?

  7. Lucy, I often wonder about the real truths behind the faces of people I know in passing, or even close to me. I agree, every person has something they hold close to themselves. And we can have different faces - public one, private one. I am so intrigued by the stories I continue to learn behind people's lives when they do share. Everyone is a book!

  8. Donna, you are brave and we praise your honesty here... I'm revising a novel I did a few years ago about a racket run in the South several years ago re stolen children who were then sold to wealthy childless couples... I'll let Jungle Red know when I get it ready for publication.. Thelma in Manhattan

  9. My daughter was born in 1970, and after her dad and I split up I vowed to keep a secret about him so it would not affect their relationship.

    In the last year I've learned that HE made up a wild tale about ME that makes me sound downright evil, and she believes it.

    I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't pay to keep the truth away from anyone. It can only bring pain, and in this case way, way more than the truth would have done.

    Live and learn.

  10. Sitting right now in the Columbus Ohio airport looking f around at strangers and wondering "what's your secret?" Do I have any? They're all in the books!
    Terrific post Donna.

  11. What a jangled mass of secrets, Donna! How have they changed the ways you look at different aspects of your family--birth and adoptive--as you've learned each of them?

    Growing up, I was always being tossed around by some ugly secret or other coming out about my father or mother. Just recently--a couple of years ago--after I'd thought all the revelations were long over, I learned, quite by accident, that my paternal grandfather was Choctaw. I'd always known my grandmother was Cherokee and my dad hated her for "giving him Indian blood." His father, I'd been taught, was Irish. I only met the man himself a few times and he was a dark-skinned, taciturn hermit. While researching something for a book on my grandmother's family, I ran across my grandfather's enlistment papers in WWI--"full-blooded Choctaw." Could have knocked me over with a breath. Did my father know or not? One more family mystery to parse my way through.

  12. Adoption is a huge subject at our house. I have three teenaged daughters from China who are now trying to get their adoptive father, my ex-husband who has little communication with them, to allow my husband to adopt them. They are in a secure, loving home, but what a tangled web adoption can weave.

    People often ask whether I love my kids as much as I would have a biological child. I want adoptees out there to know that the answer is a resounding "yes". I would never trade the girls for anything, and I mean anything.

  13. Donna, what a riveting story! Thanks for sharing it with us. And I hope someday you will write it with your own answers.

  14. And one more thing I thought of--when I was working as a therapist, it often turned out that the people who had secrets had kept the secrets from themselves as well. I know, it sounds weird, but it's true.

    And Hank has emailed from Seattle to say she's on the wrong time zone and will be over as soon as she can!

  15. I understand secrets in families as well, although nothing so dramatic as yours! Just little stuff, like never having met my birth father, and my mother absolutely not wanting to talk about him.

    But there was that one moment when I was headed to England, and she said I should look up a Major Kidd there. When I asked why, she got dreamy-eyed and said, "He could've been your father." And again, that's all she'd say. I have no idea who he is/was or what their relationship was. But it does raise some interesting possibilities, doesn't it?

    Your book sounds fabulous! Congratulations!

  16. My husband was in his late twenties when he learned that the father he was told had "gone to war and never came back," had actually survived the war, gone to Duke, married somebody else and had 4 children. After being an only child all his life, Barry was pleased to eventually track down and meet his two half brothers and two half sisters with whom he has developed close, loving relationships.

  17. Oh, Donna, your life IS a book! Thank you for being so honest and sharing with us.

    Your mother's secret sounds like the basis for a book on its own. Makes one wonder.

    We don't have any secrets - that I know of. Boring.

    Thanks, Donna. I'll look for your books.

  18. Hi all, what wonderful comments and stories here today! Sorry I've been off having fun in Philly all day. I've so enjoyed hearing about your secrets kept, and secrets kept from you.

    Marcie, your story is a secret with a happy ending that you wish most sort of secrets like that had! I am an only child and would have been ecstatic to learn I had other brothers and sisters (well, who knows - maybe I do!)

    And Fran, I do think you have some investigating to do there...or at least a story to create on your own.

    And Karen, what a twist there for you, unfortunately. You are so right, I have also learned telling the truth is a short term pain compared to the long term that a lie revealed can bring.

  19. P.S. Marcia, sorry I typed fast with "Marcie" and meant to type "Marcia!"

  20. Marianne, I betcha if you dig around you could unfold some tantalizing secrets there...but then again, maybe boring is better some times. :)

    Sherry, how wonderful you've adopted three girls! And even with the turmoil you're facing right now, at least you are all together. How lovely you love them as you would your own.

    Hallie, oh what a fabulous line! "My secrets are all in my books!" I hope you don't mind if I borrow that when I need to. :)

  21. Linda, what a colorful tale you do have to tell. There is so much richness behind what you share here I am sure.

    And you ask an interesting question I haven't gotten before, honestly. But yes, with all these events I am even more grateful that I was given up for adoption. And I was glad to have met my blood family, as my questions were answered - but even gladder to have been given up. And the lovely thing that came of it is that I have a first cousin the same age as me who now lives close - and we just spent the day in Philly with him today! It is quite neat to meet people for the first time who finally look like you.

    Regarding my adoptive mom in finding the restraining order she had against that man, it hit me that she did indeed keep many things to herself and we are all complex creatures that not one person will ever fully know. I thought she was an open book but not so. And I realized she probably faced many other hardships I was never aware of, and I feel more compassionate toward her because of that, especially being a mother now myself. We shall all take some secrets to the grave.

  22. A couple of years ago some cousins on my dad's side of the family and one of my sisters and I got together a few times to share photos and family stories. A beloved aunt had just died and in conversation after the funeral we discovered that there were family secrets that some, but not all, of us knew. Some thought that ALL of us knew some of those secrets and didn't realize that they were even considered to be secrets The youngest cousin didn't know ANY of these things and there was one night we got together when her mouth dropped open and pretty much stayed that way all night! I think she went home in shock!

    The most shocking one for me and my siblings is something we learned in the early seventies: an elderly woman who was a customer at my dad's store told him he looked familiar and asked his last name. (He and his brothers and father all looked very much alike.) It's a common name in our home town. So she asked what street he grew up on. When he told her, she said "I knew your parents and your grandparents! I remember when your grandfather killed your grandmother!" My dad was stunned for DAYS after learning this. He said his mother always told him "your grandfather killed your grandmother" but he always assumed she meant that his grandmother died young from the stress of living with an abusive alcoholic. It turns out many of my cousins grew up knowing this story and believed that ALL of us knew it. A few years after my father died, my mom and one of my siblings and I were at the cemetery on Memorial Day and decided to take a walk over to the older part of the cemetery. We discovered graves of relatives of our dad, including our great-grandmother's grave - and that is how we found out that she died on Christmas Day. My grandfather, by the way, was 13 when she died. He had an older sibing and three younger ones. My dad always said my grandfather hated Christmas but he didn't know why. I think we know the answer now. It's too bad my dad never knew. It would have explained so much to him.

    There are more stories. Even though I know that this one was not the secret my siblings and I thought it was, it IS hard to talk about it. One of my cousins...the one who knew NONE of the stories...said she didn't know if she wanted to tell anyone. What would they think of her? My flip answer is "tell them the rest of us are nice people and we're not about to kill anyone!"

  23. Running in..jjust back from an amazing book signing..and I'm in California and so the time zone is not our pal today .

    YOUi know how fascinated I am to hear all your stores. We sit at our computers and try to make stuff up..but it just cannot come near to reality.

    MArinane in MAine, nuthin' wrong with boring.

  24. And Donna... you are such a treasure to share this with us today. I am so honored to hear your story.

    And I'm intrigued ,too ,with the moment when a person decides to create a new history for a son or daughter..when they decide to tell them something that's not true. And know they'll believe it. They think "it's for the best," I guess, huh? But is it?

  25. Hanks, congrats on the fab book signing!

    And yes, what power we wield when we create a new truth for someone to believe as part of the foundation of their life - what happens when that truth is shattered? Many more secrets have come about that I could write here - things my parents kept from me that truly shook me up. But they thought in not telling me it was best. I do have to wonder though. What other choices would I have made with my life if I new a certain truth from the beginning? Hmmm. I think that's a premise for a story!

  26. Deb, what a twisted tale you had to tell! And I have, too, been on the receiver end of shocking news kept from me that others knew the truth all along, and thought I did as well. Your advice to your cousin "Tell them the rest of us are nice people and we're not about to kill anyone!" may be light hearted, but does hold the truth that most people are normal and trustworthy and good, and that is what you must go on.

  27. What choices you would have a parallel universe. I like it! "The Other Donna."

  28. Sorry to be so late reading this, but wow, what a tale Donna, and so compellingly told! You wrote: "I often wonder about the real truths behind the faces of people I know in passing"—I think that's the hallmark of a fiction writer, and for that matter, an artist. That we believe in the uniqueness of all things, even while seeing the patterns of similarity.

    Ann Patchett said that modern technology is hurting storytellers because with smartphones, forensics, and digitized records we have access to too much information to keep the secrets that drive our stories! Interesting, right? Maybe that's why the rush of YA apocalyptic fiction—the destruction of tech? Ha!

  29. Kathryn, great comment about what Ann Patchett said and your take on it. Interesting to decipher how society's evolution could be changing the face of fiction in more ways than are truly visible. And thanks for thinking I have the hallmark of a fiction writer!

  30. A relative adopted two of her daughters kids but they didn't know. One of them found out and she accused my mom of telling. She was livid. We kids kept trying to tell her, but she just raged and wouldn't speaker to my mom for years. We begged her daughter to tell her. She was a grudge holding teen and not speaking to her mom. The truth is the mother was discussing it with my aunt with the kids in the house. She overheard the whole conversation. My Granny finally found out and MADE the mother listen. She never apologized to my mom. Just suddenly started talking to her again like nothing happened.

    Pen M

  31. Wow, Donna. I just read this. Thank you for sharing such intimate details of your adoption story. I am on the other side as a birth mother. I gave up my daughter in 1980 and she found me in 2003. Lots of stories to tell. Glad you found an outlet.