Ramifications of Writing a Tell-All

Brenda PerlinGuest Post
by Brenda Perlin

Writing fiction is hard. Writing fiction that is not really fiction is even more difficult. In my case, I wrote a story that is 100% from real life and hoped I could avoid being sued by changing the names. Possibly getting sued felt to be my biggest hurdle, but what I learned was that was the least of my concern.

After my book Shattered Reality (formerly known as Home Wrecker) was released, I had to confront the issue that many people were not going to be pleased with me or my story. What did I expect with such a title? There was judgment, criticism, and plenty of hatred spewed my way. Part of that disdain was from friends and family members. When you write a story about your life and go as far as to have it published for all to read, there are going to be some pretty unhappy people.

I think the biggest fallout was with my oldest sister. I shared some family secrets that even she didn’t know about, or at least she claimed to know nothing about. Worse than that was how this story was going to affect her children. To be completely honest, I thought about the ramifications when I had the choice to take that part out, but I made a conscious decision to go with the total story. Maybe it was selfish, but I figured if I was going to be real and share my life story, I was going to come clean. Call it “true confessions” if you will, but I felt it necessary to share the good, the bad, and the really ugly. And there is plenty of ugly. I do not frame myself or my decisions in a pretty light. Basically I throw myself and others down the river. I did that without looking back. I was on a mission to tell this slice of life as honestly as I could and that is what I believe I did.

Besides my oldest sister, I told stories that probably should not have been in the book. The story of my life was really a story of so much more than just me. When I was married, my husband asked me not to share anything. He would say, “I don’t want people to know what brand of toilet paper I use.” I was married, and now divorced, to an extremely private man.

Can you imagine how mortified he had to be when he learned I had written this book? I am just glad I wasn’t anywhere close to him when he found out this book existed. In that way I am a coward. I can write about it, but if I had to face him I would run. If I saw him on the street, I would avoid him at all cost. But then, that relationship would have been severed whether there was a book or not.

There were a few other people who were not so pleased with me and my book. My closest friend said I hurt her feelings even though I thought I shared a funny story. Most of my friends haven’t read the book, which causes me pain. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I believed the people in my life would be interested and share in my enthusiasm. That has not been the case. Many people are not readers. Some do not read unless it’s written by Danielle Steele. It’s been a rude awakening, but this is the reality of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, and thinking everyone is going to jump up for joy.

My biggest supporter was my sister-in-law’s mother. She couldn’t get enough of my story and ate it up in one night. At 85 years old, there wasn’t too much I wrote that shocked her. In fact, she loved it and we spent many afternoons together talking about stories from the book.

The most rewarding part of writing the story of your life is having total strangers relating and even connecting to it. That is the best feeling in the world. There is nothing more gratifying than a positive review and knowing my story touched someone.

Now that a few years have passed, my friends seem to have gotten over the shock of my divorce and the telling of my story. Life has fallen back into place and I have learned to alter my expectations. Even though I am still not talking to my older sister I did see her at a funeral and she gave me a hug which I was grateful to have received. I am no longer disappointed when friends and family don’t show their support for my books. The good thing is I am supported in other ways. Ways that are much more relevant than the story of Brooklyn and Bo. It feels good not to harbor bad feelings.

When I look back I can’t believe I had the nerve to write some of the things I did. Talk about revealing. I was naked in a packed stadium and yet I would do it all again.

If any of you are teetering on the idea of writing your story I would highly recommend it. For me, it was something I felt I needed to do. If anything, writing my story has helped me come to terms with the decisions I have made and has allowed me to see that there was a good person inside there. She was there hiding but ready to be discovered.


Brenda Perlin is an independent adult contemporary fiction author. Brenda evokes emotional responses in her readers by using a provocatively unique writing style. Her latest book in the Brooklyn and Bo Chronicles captures the soul-wrenching conflicts of a personal struggle for emotional fulfillment. Learn more about Brenda on her website and her Author Central page.

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55 thoughts on “Ramifications of Writing a Tell-All”

    1. Thank you Karen. I wrote it while at a doctors appointment on my phone note pad. I was driving Ron crazy because he was trying to talk to me but I was on a mission.
      The Internet is killing relationships! Hey, that could be a great topic to write on!

  1. Very interesting piece. Whether you go all out or not, writers have to make choices that they know will bother some if they want to honor the work. As many have said, your life is yours.

    That said, everything I write is fiction. 😉

    1. Hi JD. You know even if you are writing fiction you are still putting yourself on the line. It is still a reflection of YOU! Gosh, I would love to read some non-fiction JD Mader. That would be a real hoot! 😉

  2. So timely for me, I have been brewing a book for years about a situation involving a person who would most definitely have sued. I put it off and put it off and people joked that I was waiting for her to die. She died last year and everybody is bugging me, ‘you can write it now’, but I feel even worse about it now than ever. Your post has given me the courage to revisit what the hold-up is and which decision to go with. Very appreciative. Great post.

    1. I am so glad you said what you did. This makes it so worth it to me. Putting this story “out there” was not an easy thing to do but I have to tell you Carolyn it was better than any kind of therapy I could have received. It wasn’t that I just wanted to share this story. On the contrary. I felt I had to do it for my well being. And if anything, I am so thankful I had the nerve to follow through. If you don’t write this story I think you may always have regrets.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am grateful. 🙂

  3. Excellent Brenda! I, as you know, am one of your fans. I loved your books. I don’t think I will ever be as brave as you are. However, I appreciate your honest revelations. Though I have not been through what you have, I could relate. Thank you for sharing your life with me and others. I wonder if what makes those around you the maddest is not the honesty, but that your brought something dark into the light. Just a thought.

    1. You are such a love and always inspiring Tamy Burns. You are very brave! Maybe you don’t realize it yet.

      I appreciate your support. I faced quite a bit of judgment but generally people have been really kind. Actually, kinder than I expected. I read some of those reviews and they make it sound like Brooklyn is a heroin which is far off but I loved what you said about bringing something dark into the light. I might have to make that a tweet 😉

      You are the best and what you do in your writing and as a person blows me away.

    1. Thank you Lauire. Thank you for reading this post. I am not an inspiration (at all) but I feel that there is something inspiring in my story. At least, I hope there is.

    1. This is a girl (me) who shared private information on the Internet while I was still living with my husband clueless to the fact that he would be able to break into my email account. It was not smart.

      It’s not about having guts Lynne. I had gone though a lot of loss and felt I had nothing else to lose. That is the real deal.

  4. Brenda, I don’t know which impresses me more – your book or this post – both written with such a level of honesty that is rare to come across.

    Your novel has been on my TBR list ( just 3 down from the top now) but I’ve read the blurb and it makes me think of a small poster that I have seen that said, “Sometimes we have to be with the wrong person so that when we meet the right one we will know to be grateful.” Stay true to yourself.

    BTW, it was a great disappointment and slow realization to me as well that friends and relatives quickly lost interest in my writing and my books after the initial buzz was over. I have read of several authors saying/feeling the same thing. That’s why our author-friendships are so valuable. We don’t give up on each other. We’re in it to support each other for the long haul.

  5. Brenda I am very happy you wrote that book. I hear you on the family and friends not being as supportive as you would have hoped. Yes our book is of a different genre but since we aren’t well educated and college graduates or at the very least come from a good background, most people just see us as going on a lark. We are proud of you for your courage to put your story out there like that.

    1. Thank you Wendy. I loved your book and not everything is about being a “college graduate.” My mom always said to me, “See your cousin, she is so smart but who do people come to for advice?” Of course, everyone went to her because she was so smart in other ways.

      Actually, I had a very good upbringing. My parents put their kids. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

      Maybe I was as brave as I was to write and publish this story because the people I cared about the most had already passed. Not sure if I could have put anything like this out if my parents were alive. Never really thought about that. Boy, if they were alive, that would have been extremely damaging. Ouch. Can’t even imagine the repercussions.

    1. Ha ha… I had to look up “roman a clef” 😉

      I figure if these people want to sue then I am ready. I have considered this a possibility. In the second book I actually share real correspondences. Just not from the lawyers. I wanted to keep this “fiction” story as authentic as possible. Of course, I would prefer to stay away from the legal system but to me this is worth fighting for. Let’s hope it’s not a battle I will have to fight.

      Thank you Linton. I appreciate your comment.

      “Roman à clef or roman à clé (French pronunciation: ​[ʁɔmɑ̃ a kle], Anglicized as /roʊˌmɒnɒˈkleɪ/[1]), French for novel with a key, is a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction.”

      See, I am constantly learning!

  6. Awe… thank you Dianne. You are a love. Thank you for sharing.

    It is a shame that everyone in our lives can’t value our accomplishments. It has been a real learning experience for me but in a way it has made me more understanding. Everyone has their own things that feel important to them. I am just grateful for the support I do get. We can appreciate each other on a different level and it is okay.

    You are so kind and value your great talent. I am blessed to be surrounded by such greatness.

  7. Bravo, but knowing you a little bit I expected nothing less. You’re a class act, my friend and at the end of the day you shall have no regrets. Fantastic article. Sharing.

    1. Thank you Martin. Ha, takes one to know one! I appreciate that. Glad to have the opportunity to be such a “class act.” 😉

  8. Brenda – just wrote a long comment and lost it – damn! Here I go again:your post is excellent, honest and a timely one for me – for I am in the throes of writing my own daring expose of a time in our community’s history — my second novel — partly about the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa — where my ancestors were tortured – burned alive, destroyed in every other way — for their wealth and the spice trade etc. The inquisition was conducted by the Portuguese Dominican monks (!!!!) backed by their monarch and the Vatican. Lovely lovely. Anyway, no one today wants to look at that terrible time…and one of the major themes of my current novel (work-in-progress) is the reaction of my protagonist Pia to these old traumas that are still destroying her family. I know I am going to be in for it — if they even bother to read it — thanks again for sharing your experiences. We are only as sick as we are secret, as the saying goes.

    1. This is very personal for you. Puts added pressure on you as a writer but remember Mira, don’t write it to be a people pleaser. Write it how you want it being told. It is dear to your heart and you have opinions. Don’t hold back or edit back those opinions. That is what will make it great.

      I doubt if written well that people would be “sick” of this subject. If people thought that way then there would be hardly anything to write about. Some of the best stories come from over-used subjects. 🙂

      If you do the story justice and put your own spice into it then it should stand out. I would not let those negative thoughts stop you or get in your way.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my little posting and to writing. That means a lot to me. I am touched.

      I agree, we are only as sick as we are secret. Good saying!

  9. I totally understand the need to write out your torment, Brenda, I really do. My first book ‘Surviving the Battleground of Childhood’ was a memoir that healed the inside of me I had spent a lifetime fortifying (but all just hiding the hole). I figured ‘damn the cost’ in regard to perhaps someone suing. I was actually hoping someone would (you know: publicity for the book), but I guess no one wanted to attract any more attention than there already was.

    Excellent post.

    1. I am right with you on that! Good for you. I bet you wrote a great story. Memoirs are not easy sells unless you are famous. I give you credit.

      “Damn the cost.” I agree. Sometimes you have to fight the good fight. Battles worth taking on.

      Sounds like you have a very interesting story there. I am glad you were not sued. The legal system sucks the life (and money) out of you. Not worth the publicity. In my opinion.

  10. I admire your spunk and determination. You had to write it, otherwise it would be sitting in a file somewhere. The best part, you knew the cost and was willing to face consequences – bravo. Thank you for sharing your experience of walking the line.

    1. Ha, thank you so much Elisabeth. I lost some of my zest for life there for a while but I will never lose my determination or spunk. You are kind!

  11. When writing this kind of book you need to begin by asking yourself precisely why you want to write it, and then examine your motivations very critically. If it is for vengeance, self justification and to expose felt wrongs, you are certainly on dangerous ground and will almost certainly invite and provoke strong negative responses.

    If you’ve already managed to get all the steam out of your system you may be able to look at your subject more objectively, but it still needs careful management. Asking some of the people who were involved to contribute their perspective may help you maintain the balance and reduce the risk of a backlash. But you’re still on dangerous ground.

    I write memoir, which is what a book such as you originally describe is, so this gives me some small right to judge this matter. But my motivation in writing is never vindictive, critical or to seek any form of redress. It is merely to tell the tale. So far (and after six books) all the reactions I have received have been positive.

    1. Ian you are so right about that regarding “dangerous ground.” Actually I wrote this story for all those reasons you mentioned, “vengeance, self justification and to expose felt wrongs.” But most of all it was something I needed to do for my sanity. It was most definitely a need. More than that, I had a story to tell. There were times that I thought, I may be crying now but one day I can write about it all. I look at it as a survivors story and that makes me proud. Even with all the obstacles there is a girl that finds a silver lining. This should be a story of inspiration even if it deals with a couple of cheaters and a crazy ex-wife.

      I think if I made the conscious decision to put my story out there, you have the right to judge or whatever you need to do. We all judge in our own ways and that is just fine.

      Good for you. It sounds like you have done things right. I appreciate your comments and time. I love that you shared your true feelings. That is awesome!

      Good wishes with all your books.

  12. I have been encouraged to write my memoir and I have thought about it. The two primaries are now dead but that is not what held me back. I feel I am now past most of the pain I experienced and that writing about it will only bring it back. The other reason is that I would question my motivation. Who am I writing it it for? I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing that might motivate me to write it, now, would be if i thought it might help others in similar situations.

    Kudos for finding the courage to write yours and to stand behind it. I hope you mend your relationship with your sister.

    1. Thank you and thank you. One day, I hope my sister and I will be on better terms. If they were good before writing the book we would have worked it out by now. More to the story. For sure.

      Maybe you think you are over the pain when it is actually stored or locked up someplace deep? You have a good heart and that is a very giving motivation. Though I think it would surprise you how much it would be “motivation” for you too Yvonne. I hope youput it out there.

  13. Brenda,

    It’s wonderful that you had the courage to write your story. I imagine it’s a cathartic process and one that’s brought you more peace. Writing is an excellent way to work all that out.

    I would just want to caution others that publishing your memoir could lead to lawsuits. I went to a seminar last year on legal issues in publishing, and one of the most fascinating things the lawyers said was that people are entitled to a right to privacy. So, if you want to write your story, you need permission to include information about these other people’s lives, because they have a right to keep their life private. While the attorneys had mainly worked with traditional publishers, I think their advice was still good. They said, if you’re concerned about lawsuits, you should secure permission from every person who is alive who is mentioned in a substantial way in the book.

    You mentioned in a comment possibly including correspondence. With that, you have to consider copyright. If you plan to include just your side of the correspondence, you own the copyright to that, so no problem (copyright wise; you may still have privacy issues). If you want to use a letter someone sent you, you don’t hold the copyright to it, so you’ll need permission from the person who wrote it (the copyright holder) to use it in your story.

    Now, bringing a lawsuit is expensive and people may not sue you. But, if someone has truly had a contentious relationship with you, they may sue you for spite, and based on what the lawyers said, if you don’t have proper permissions, they’re probably going to win.

    This is the blog post I wrote immediately after the conference: http://rjcrayton.com/2013/05/21/legal-issues-for-authors-from-copyright-to-contracts/ . It has a couple of other legal issues and even mentions E&O insurance, which you can get to protect you from lawsuits in a nonfiction or memoir book.

    1. Timely advice! Off to read your blog right now, I have always had explicit permission until now (or names etc get changed) but the next one will be trickier. Very glad you added this comment RJ.

    2. You are so right RJ. This is very good information for people to consider. And it was a big concern to me but I took the risk or leap of faith. Also did make some changes that seemed to blur the line a bit. No legal documents or things of that nature. Still, there is a chance I could be sued but I was willing to take the chance. You really have to consider all the angles and if it is worth it. For me, it feels that it has been. Let’s see if I still feel that way ten years down the line.

      All your information is very helpful and I considered it before having the manuscript on the publishers desk. Thank you for your kindness and wanting people to protect themselves from law suits. A legal trouble is a terrible mess to find yourself in.

      I didn’t go into this blind and knew I would be rolling the dice by taking a chance. The burden is on me.

      1. The legal aspects can sometimes be worked around by changing names and claiming “work of fiction” and also by embellishing the antagonists a bit. To me, I can’t imagine anyone suing, stating “I’m the horrible person who did those heinous things to her and I want recompense for mentioning me!” Really? Why would someone admit to that? And my very wise publisher, Arline Chase, once told me Give the man a small [wee wee] and you won’t ever hear him say “I’m suing! I’m the guy with the small wee wee in that book!” Makes sense!

        1. Did all the above. Well, maybe not the small (wee wee) actually I gave myself one in so many words. Ha ha!!! Lot’s of insults blown my way. For sure. Thank you KS Brooks. I feel pretty safe.

          You are a funny devil. Let’s break out the HoHo’s and dance on tabletops. I feel good about my story and this highlight. Thank you for sharing this part of my complicated life story.

          1. You should feel good. Writing it is therapeutic. You are a gutsy lady and should be proud of what you have accomplished. 🙂 Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. If you have read Brenda’s books, you might have wondered about her. I had the honour of meeting Ms. Perlin and her ‘Bo’ last year when they came to Vancouver and they are two of the best spirits I have ever met.

  15. Sorry about your family’s and friends’ reaction to your book, but if it makes you feel any better, it happens to most of us. No one in my family has ever read anything I’ve written (fiction, poetry, nonfiction) in the last 30+ years I’ve been publishing. That hasn’t stopped them from calling me names (“Showoff”, “KnowItAll”, etc) just for writing the books that they haven’t even read, however. So, most authors lose either way.

    My memoir is coming out next month, and I’m guessing that may be the only thing some of them might read because they think they’ll be in it. Fortunately, having been with traditional publishers for most of my career, I had extensive advice from my agents’ attorneys on how to write a memoir and protect yourself at the same time (legally, not emotionally).

    I wasn’t too surprised that none of my family read any of my published books since they actively obstructed me at every turn when I was younger; I don’t imagine anyone in my family will read the memoir either. But I didn’t write it for them.

    You were brave to have written your own in the first place, to have published it, and brave to have written this post on it.

    May you have peace.
    Keep writing.

  16. Thank you Alexandria. I hope I have been brave and not foolish.

    Good wishes on your memoir. It is a shame that your friends and family haven’t valued your writings either. We adjust. Still, keep writing.

    This was something that was very important to me. I can’t say what the future will bring but I am grateful to even have this golden opportunity to talk about my stories with you all. That is a luxury. I try not to have regrets with the choices I have made.

    If I were that brave I would have kept the names and called it a memoir but that would have made me stupid.

    Getting these stories out there in the public eye has given me new life and new hope. For me, I feel this is a blessing whatever the ramifications.

    1. I heard a comment about regrets once: that they are useless since they concern things in the past that cannot be undone. You can only change the future.

      At least you didn’t use their real names. One novelist used his fiancée’s real name and description for a fictional character. By the time the book came out, they’d broken it off, acrimoniously, but he’d forgotten about using her name, physical description, hometown, family members’ names, etc. She sued him because, she claimed, everyone thought she was the drug-using prostitute, when she was a kindergarten teacher. She won, and got a huge settlement, as I recall.

      His advice at a conference was Never use anyone’s real names, and always insist it’s fiction.

      Of course, with a memoir, one can’t do that, thought my agent’s attorneys gave me plenty of good advice to protect myself from any lawsuits.

      I’ll protect myself emotionally the best I can. By writing my next book.

      Keep writing, my dear.
      Are you on the twitter? Would love to follow you.

      A

        1. What a story. W O W !!! Well, all the names have been changed and it’s called fiction but I say that and at the same time say it is 100% true. My side of the story. I put myself out there so I am willing to deal with whatever comes my way. I have reasons to think I am safe. Time will tell but your advice is good. Change the names and call it fiction. If only I stuck to the second part. Although I think calling it fiction makes my story a bit less intriguing. Since I tell everyone it is the real deal people are curious.

          Thank you Alexandria once again. You are awesome!

          So far my present is pretty darn good.

          Yes, please follow me on twitter @brooklynandbo. I would love to follow you too!!! Such great comments today. A bit hairy at times but really very compelling. Love the Q & A. 🙂

    1. I heart you too my sweet friend! Lucky to know such a kind, thoughtful, generous and talented person. You are rocking my world and I don’t say that lightly!!! xo

  17. I’m always amazed at how much of yourself you’re willing to share in such an explicit way. Perhaps it’s just a factor of my personality, but I could never imagine pouring that much of myself or others for that matter onto the page for everyone to see. Hidden behind fictional character, sure, directly exposed, not so much. I like that you used words like, courage, bravery, selfish, and vengeance all to describe the same act of writing your book.

    I’m not a Buddhist, but your story brings this quote to mind:

    “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

    Buddha

    I think the true words of your story prove both sides of this quote. I wish you all the best as you continue your journey.

  18. Love that Buddha quote. Beautiful and rings true. Thank you Armen for your kind words of wisdom.

    I was with an extremely private person for so many years. I had to alter my chatty out-going personality for him. It was challenging at times but I was respectful.

    At this point, I have survived so many loses and gone through so many lows that I am literally an open book. I no longer have ANYTHING to hide. In a way it is liberating.

  19. Thank you KS Brooks and Indies Unlimited for your support and having me here. This was a fun little conversation. I appreciate the invite. Hopefully if I am invited back it won’t be my story of how I was sued for writing a fiction book that was not really a fiction book. Ha! 😉

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