Interview and Book Giveaway with Jane Isay, Author of Secrets and Lies

Monday, February 17, 2014
Secrets, large and small, are a fact of human life. Jane Isay's book Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives explores the impact of keeping secrets and the power of truth. Secrets can damage our sense of self and our relationships. Even so, Isay has found, people survive learning the most disturbing facts that have been hidden from them. And secret keepers are relieved when they finally reveal themselves—even the things they are ashamed of—to the people they care about. Much depends, Isay writes, on the way of telling and the way of hearing.

Isay was both a secret finder and a secret keeper. After fifteen years of marriage her husband admitted he was gay, but together they decided to keep it a secret for the sake of their two sons. Building on her personal experience, sixty intimate interviews, and extensive research into the psychology of secrets, Isay shows how the pain of secrets can be lightened by full disclosure, genuine apology, and time. Sometimes the truth sunders relationships, but often it saves them.

Powered by detailed stories and Isay's compassionate analysis, Secrets and Lies reveals how universal secrets are in families. The big ones—affairs, homosexuality, parentage, suicide, abuse, hidden siblings—can be ruinous at first, but the effects need not last forever, and Isay shows us what makes the difference. With specific guidelines for those who keep secrets and those who find them out, Isay's book reveals the art of surviving a secret.

Photo courtesy of Sara Karl
About the Author:

Jane Isay is the author of two previous books, Walking on Eggshells about parents and their adult children, and Mom Still Likes You Best, about adult siblings. She lives in New York City.

Visit Jane's website at, and connect with her on twitter @janeisay, and Facebook:

Book Review of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives
Review by Renee Roberson

“As human beings, we live the stories we tell ourselves. This internal narrative makes up the core of our identity. Every day, and in every circumstance, we tell and retell our story. As we encounter new information, the story adjusts just a little bit. It is altered as we move through life.” –Jane Isay, Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives

It was the story of how and why Jane Isay remained for decades in a marriage that was a façade that first hooked me into reading Secrets and Lies, but it was the numerous other stories also laid out in the book that kept me turning the pages. Just about everyone you know has a secret, whether in their own life or woven into the fabric of their family. It is such a universal topic that Psychology Today recently featured the topic of identity-warping secrets and lies on the cover of their January issue and ran an excerpt from Isay’s book.

The author interviewed more than sixty people who lived either with their own secrets or the secrets of their family members, a style that appealed to my inquisitive nature as a journalist. In Secrets and Lies, Isay seeks to explore the hopelessness we feel when we learn of a secret (Finders) and why we sometimes continue to cover up such secrets and work hard to keep them from being discovered (Keepers).

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, titled “The Book of Revelations,” tells the stories of adoptions, secret siblings, and infidelity in marriages and staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of children. The second part “The Book of Resolutions,” explores how keeping such secrets can affect a person’s entire life and offers suggestions to acceptance and ultimately, the chance for recovery.

Isay grew up with a psychologist for a mother and lived for decades with a husband who worked as a psychoanalyst, so she takes an analytic yet thoughtful approach while writing about the repercussions keeping, telling and recovering from secrets. Even though this is a work of nonfiction, Isay does a great job of telling the stories in a manner that keeps the reader interested and intrigued. Because of this, I think readers of both memoir and fiction would enjoy this book.

Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 2014)
ISBN-10: 0385534140
ISBN-13: 978-0385534147
Hashtag: #SecretsAndLies

Secrets and Lies is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Interview with Jane Isay
-----Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: We are so happy to have you here with us today, Jane! Secrets and Lies is a such fascinating read and I can't wait to find out more about where you get your ideas. You have now published three books--Walking on Eggshells, Mom Still Likes You the Best and now Secrets and Lies--and all focus on family dynamics. Can you tell us a little about how you became inspired to tackle the topics found in each of these books?

Jane: Like most authors who write about families and their problems, I chose the subjects of these three books as a way of understanding issues that plagued me in my own life.

Walking on Eggshells emerged when my sons were in their late 20s. They were making good lives for themselves, but I felt that I had moved to the periphery of their lives. And furthermore, they didn’t return my phone calls. I wanted to map out the relationships between parents and their adult children. As I did, discovered the love that our grown kids have for us, and how much they don’t want our advice!

Mom Still Likes You Best explored some of the questions that marked my complicated relationship with my older brother. I wanted to find out what makes some siblings feel like they are best friends, what drives some siblings apart, and how brothers and sisters can find each other as adults. By the way, my brother and I are very close now.

Secrets and Lies started with my need to understand what makes people keep secrets, how the revelations shake reality, and what it takes to continue a relationship ruptured by a revelation. The reality of my first marriage was the spur for this book.

WOW: You started your career in publishing by working at Yale University Press and also worked as a book editor in New York City all throughout your career. How do you think your experience as an editor helped shaped your own personal writing process and style?

Jane: When you start writing a book you have to put the editor’s head to sleep at first. Otherwise, criticism blocks creativity. But then, when something is on paper, you can reactivate the editor’s brain and evaluate the ideas and the clarity of expression. I write in one room and edit in another, and that helps me keep the two activities separate.

When I am an editor, I am smart and quick. I can evaluate writing--even my own--and see where improvements are needed. When I am a writer, I have to put up with feeling dumb, as I search for understanding, struggle with hard subjects, and reach dead ends. I find it more pleasant to edit my own work, but more satisfying to wrestle with the hard issues I write about.

WOW: I love the idea of writing in one room and editing in another! I'll have to put that practice to use in my own work and see how it goes. I'll be honest--when I first heard about Secrets and Lies, I thought it was strictly a memoir. Instead, it contains numerous stories, which are the result of interviews that you conducted with dozens of people. What made you decide to layer in all these different stories and approximately how many hours do you think you spent on the research and interviewing portion of this book?

Jane: I started the book with interviews. I was fortunate to find dozens of volunteers who agreed to share their experiences with secrets. It was only after I finished the research and the first draft that I was persuaded to tell my story in full to begin the book. I came to believe that my own struggle would give the reader confidence in my understanding of the issues people face when they encounter the world of secrets.

I spent two years doing the research for this book. It goes slowly and sporadically, but the time when I’m not actually doing the interviews is the time when the ideas and experiences I have heard about marinate in my mind and heart.

WOW: That's impressive. The two years you spent researching and interviewing for the book really paid off in the end, with the variety of stories you were able to capture and share. In Secrets and Lies you discuss the idea of the "Secret Finder" and the "Secret Keeper." Can you tell us a little more about these two ideologies?

Jane: The Finder, the person who learns the truth, faces the task of rethinking the past and reimagining the future. We live by telling ourselves the stories of our past and thinking up scenarios for the future. These stories come to a full stop when a secret is revealed. Imagine yourself in the driver’s seat when someone comes with a baseball bat and batters the windshield. Your world is shattered, and in addition to the misery of learning the facts, you have to deal with the web of lies you have been told by someone you love.

The Keeper, the person who has been hiding a shameful fact, is not such a happy person, either. The Keeper has to be on guard all the time, worrying that if an incriminating fact slips out, there will be trouble. The Keeper learns to dance around the truth, and that is no fun. The longer you keep a secret, the harder it is to come clean, because then you have to explain away the years of lies.

WOW: You personally lived as a Secret Keeper for many, many years. How would you describe the impact keeping that secret ultimately had on your and your children?

Jane: First I was a Finder, when my husband of 15 years confessed that he was homosexual. My life plan disappeared before my eyes. The decision we made to keep the secret from our sons and the world was painful for us both. I found myself increasingly sad and lonely because I couldn't share the most important fact of my life, and my husband suffered terribly from denying his true identity. We survived those nine years, and when we told our sons, they were shocked and unhappy, but over time they accepted the facts.

They grew up to be admirable husbands, fathers, and professionals. They were loving sons to their father, and they are marvelous to me.

WOW: What are some of your favorite fiction and non-fiction books that tackle the topics of family secrets?

Jane: I have been a dedicated reader of quality mysteries all my life, and this genre kept me alive in the hard years. Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys is a great novel about how a secret infects a family, and Frank Pittman’s Private Lies is my favorite work of nonfiction on the subject.

You might want to visit my website, for other works that have influenced my thinking.

WOW: Thanks again for such a great interview, Jane. To find a copy of Secrets and Lies, visit, Barnes and NobleIndieBound or visit your local bookstore. To connect with Jane online, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @janeisay.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Courtesy of Doubleday/Random House, we have ten copies of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives to give away. Just enter the Rafflecopter form below to be entered in the drawing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!


Sioux Roslawski said...

I like the idea of writing in one room and editing/revising in another room, too.

Renee--Thanks for doing this interview and Jane--good luck with your newest book. (The cover is quite clever.)

Marjorie/cenya2 said...

The storyline of this novel say read me. I call it a novel and not a book because I feel that is what it is.

Margo Dill said...

Jane: I found all three of your book titles and how they came to be interesting. ALthough I write mostly fiction at book length, my own life makes its way into those books all the time. It's a way to work things out. Thanks for the interview!

Tricia316 said...

This looks like a really great book. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our own story that it gets warped. I'd love to read this.
Tricia Andrews

Audrey said...

Jane, your book and life reflect the reality of trying to keep our true selves hidden. As I've become older(64),I've become more aware of the times I'm not being true to who I really am. The difficulty of trying to maintain a facade always causes pain and misunderstanding. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

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