Going into the dark

“The space Hunt’s fiction inhabits is the dark dark itself, which, she writes, is ‘unknowable, unlit, mysterious, and disappearing.’ ‘You can have one foot in a spot that’s grounded,’ she says, ‘and one foot out there in the dark, the night, the unknown, which is so tempting, and for me is the place where mystery is sighted. I can’t not go into the unknown. Where the scary music is playing and people say, ‘Don’t go in there,’ I’m the person who says, ‘What’s in there?’ I must know.”

Lucas Loredo, interviewing Samatha Hunt (“The Dark Dark”) in Kirkus Reviews

Going into the dark, I think, is the author’s first duty. That’s where our stories come from, from truths that are greater than logical, everyday world truths because they include dreams, imaginations, ponderings, and whatever goes bump in the night.

When Hunt writes in Mr. Splitfoot, “These woods are where silence has come to lick its wounds” she’s not stating anything logic can support. But we know what she means and what she means changes us the minute we consider it and know it. Perhaps, thinking of this quote, we go into the woods, hear silence at work. and understand something knew about our world, or at least, ourselves.

The writer either has to go into the woods first and discover this “truth” or s/he has to imagine going into the woods, almost like a shamanic journey, and discover what silence does. Then s/he places this discovery into a poem, essay, or story. This is not to say that writers must think and write like Samantha Hunt (though it helps); but writers must go into the unknown one way or another. That’s where the new stories are.

Whether you literally or figuratively go into the dark woods to listen to the silence or to the occasional screams and pleas that shatter that silence, you are doing something chaotic, uncontrolled, fearful, and possibly dangerous. The greater the chaos and danger, the more spectacular–and potentially transformative–the story. No pain, no gain, as people say.

The resulting story, as author Jane Yollen says–echoing Emily Dickinson–is truth told on the slant. In other words, “All storytellers are liars. We make up things to get at the truth. The truth of the story and—if we are lucky and have revised well—the truth of the world as well.”

You have probably heard–or discovered in a physics class–that when a tuning fork is struck with a hammer, a nearby tuning fork will vibrate at the same frequency. As I once wrote in a review of a book about the blues, and why that music is so powerful, “In his 1967 inquiry into the nature of man, Man in Search of Himself, physicist Jean E. Charon writes that inasmuch as the material in the unconscious is in archetypal form, works of art communicate it via an innate knowledge shared by artist and viewer in a language which ‘awakes unconscious resonances in each of us.'”

Hunt – Wikipedia photo

When a reader finds silencing licking its wounds in a poem or story and is the kind of reader attuned to such ideas, s/he will see the truth of those words at a slant, so to speak. They will convey a truth, an idea never considered, bring forth a new way of looking at wounds and woods and silence that was–in this reader–waiting to be born. Thinking of Yollen again, this is what she calls “life in truth” rather than “truth actual.” Truth actual is the apparent logical workings of the everyday world, what we expect in credible news reports and expert testimony and scientific studies. Life in truth includes the realities behind the ever-addictive illusion of a logical world.

Darkness, the place where seeds germinate to create the flowers we will one day observe, is the same place where writers’ stories germinate. As Hunt says, writers want to go into the dark to see what’s happening there and then write a story or a poem about it. Or, maybe even a blog post.

Writers seem to learn at an early age that the ability to see in the dark is a prerequisite to telling a good story.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, magical novels that are on sale on Kindle on 7/21/17 – 7/23/17.




Review: ‘The Seas’ by Samantha Hunt

The Seas: A NovelThe Seas: A Novel by Samantha Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Yet when she comes to earth she comes to seek for that without which her beauty will be forever cold, cold and chill as the surge of the salt, salt sea.” — Mary MacGregor in her telling of “Undine.”

Samantha Hunt’s dark, yet often whimsical, 2004 novel “The Seas” draws on the classic mythology of mermaids and mortals. The alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1521) theorized that Ondines were elemental water nymphs. According to legends, Ondines (or Undines) had no souls unless they married mortal men. Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué drew upon these legends in his highly popular German novel “Undine” (1811) as did Hans Christian Anderson in his classic “The Little Mermaid” (1837).

In “The Seas,” a nineteen-year-old protagonist whose name we never know is convinced to a certainty that she is a mermaid because her father told her so before he disappeared at sea years ago. She falls in love with a shell-shocked veteran almost twice her age who drinks and hides from his war experiences. Jude, however, is the only person in this despairing, northern coastal fishing and tourist town who cares for her. Like everyone else in town, Jude and the prospective mermaid are trapped in a life where alcoholism, boredom and a bit of fishing are the primary pursuits.

As the prologue explains, “If you were to try to leave, people who have known you since the day you were born would recognize your car and see you leaving. They would wonder where you were going and they would wave with two fingers off the steering wheel, a wave that might seem like a stop sign or a warning to someone trying to forget this very small town. It would be much easier to stay.”

She has few social skills, is viewed as deeply disturbed, if not retarded, by everyone else in town including her own mother who waits, and will probably always be waiting, for the return of her husband. Our young protagonist, who narrates her own story and–it appears–believes that we (as readers) are understanding and humane enough to be taken into her confidence, knows the mermaid legends. She fears her love will end up killing Jude.

“The Seas” is awash with water, with bleak satire and bleaker images. The writing is lyrical and precise, blending reality and fable in a way that blurs the littoral zone where the sea and the land meet, where reality and fairytale collide, where sanity and obsession become twisted together. If “The Seas” has failings–other than being darker than we can bear–it’s the occasional overly robust presentation of the author’s and/or the main character’s anti-war and society-without-pity themes.

Our narrator wants to return to the sea. Perhaps she does. Perhaps she dies. Perhaps she loses the last vestiges of her cold and chill sanity in exchange for all that she loves.

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Coming April 22 – “On Writing as Entertainment,” a guest post by Lauren E. Harvey, author of “Imperfect”