What writers don’t say

Look for what writers don’t say and you’ll find their greatest truths or, if not that, important clues to what the story is about, indications that beyond the shallow waters of the obvious, there’s depth and knowledge for readers to discover, and a prickly feeling on the back of your neck that your subconscious mind is being visited by things half-remembered that when found shine a steady light on what the writer didn’t spell out.

Those reading my short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” in the short story collection Widely Scattered Ghosts know that the main character takes a dim view of the state of our mental health system, in part the fact that the centers using the group home approach (that was working) gave way to the cheaper “let’s turn the mentally ill out into the community where, in reality, few people will help them.”

My view, as I wrote the story, was that those released from group homes were basically left for dead. I assert this in the story’s opening lines (copyright (c) 2018 by Malcolm R. Campbell):

“THE LIGHT OF the harvest moon was brilliant all over the Florida Panhandle. It released the shadows from Tallahassee’s hills, found the sandy roads and sawtooth palmetto sheltering blackwater rivers flowing through pine forests and swamps toward the gulf, and, farther westward along the barrier islands, that far-reaching light favored the foam on the waves following the incoming tide. Neither lack of diligence nor resolve caused that September 1985 moon to remain blind to the grounds of the old hospital between the rust-stained walls and the barbed wire fence, for the trash trees and wild azalea were unrestrained, swings and slides stood dour and suffocated in the thicket-choked playground, humus and the detritus of long-neglect filled the cracked therapy wading pool, and fallen gutters, and shingles and broken window panes covered the deeply buried dead that had been left behind.”

One thing I didn’t say in the story was that the hospital was real, one I’d visited in one of its earlier incarnations when it was brightly lit and clean and well staffed but then, as funding cuts showed our true feelings about the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled, the care and facilities ran into a downward spiral until the facility was eventually abandoned. Later it would be razed and the property turned into a neighborhood of upscale homes where it’s my profound hope that the residents hear ghosts on quiet nights.

To reinforce the focus of the story, the opening lines quoted here are a close paraphrase of the style of the opening lines of  “The Dead,” a 1914 short story by James Joyce, a favorite writer of mine. My intent was not to gain notoriety by paralleling a famous writer’s work but to drop a subliminal guidepost into my story.  Goodness knows, folks like T. S. Eliot said “The Dead” was one of the greatest short stories ever written. It would be vain of me to compete with that, but more likely that a few people who read my story might have read “The Dead” and would see that my intent was to reinforce my main character’s belief–and my own as well.

Such clues are left for readers to find. Those who “get it,” “get it.” Those who don’t find the clue don’t lose anything as they read other than a clue they won’t miss. Writers do this a lot and then English teachers (unfortunately) tell students what they did not see. So it goes.

Nonetheless, I think I’ve mentioned here before that writers often conceal the most important parts of their work.



New Blog Theme – No Longer Contains Subliminal Messages

No, I’m not turning over a new leaf with this new blog theme, nor launching a series of books that knocks James Patterson off the bestseller list. I get bored with themes fairly quickly. When products come out with new packaging, they write something like “NEW LOOK” on the packaging often followed by “SAME GREAT STUFF.”

Makes me wonder why the new look. Perhaps the manufacturer removed something bad from the product. If so, they can’t really say, “No longer with traces of mercury.” Or, “No longer infringes on patents of three competing products.” Maybe they just wanted to attract the younger generation.

Years ago, we worried about subliminal messages, primarily at movie theaters when we learned that some theaters were flashing messages on the screen so quickly that the eye couldn’t register them, stuff like “BUY POPCORN.” I can’t remember how effective those messages were. People took a dim view of them because behind the fairly harmless urge to rush out to the concession stand, there lurked darker possibilities.

Those were the days of the BIG RED SCARE. Or, as the McCarthy hearings thought: “There’s a communist in every pot.” Or maybe it was a chicken. Whatever McCarthy thought was in the pot–and I don’t mean marijuana cut with oregano–it all led back to Stalin, Lenin, Marx, spying, and other nefarious stuff that might be hidden in those subliminal messages.

Even today, hidden code lurks amongst the pixels of the graphics in the PR and ADS we get via e-mail. They mainly tell the sender whether you opened the e-mail or not. That seems a bit intrusive to me, but I’m not worrying about it unless the code in the graphics is telling me to buy popcorn, join the communist party, or cheat in Angry Birds games.

If I stooped that low, I’d say “BUY MY BOOKS” and you would have a sudden urge to buy hardcover editions of all of my novels. Or, possibly, “SEND MALCOLM $1000000 TO LEARN THE SECRET OF LIFE.” There are endless options here.

I do suspect the major political parties of using subliminal messages, and they sure as hell aren’t “BUY POPCORN.” There’s a lot of weird stuff happening these days that can’t possibly be attributed to fate, rogue conjure women, or haints. But that’s a subject for another post, and possibly somebody else’s blog.

I just wanted to set your mind at ease that there’s no hidden agenda behind this blog’s new look. Of course, if there were, I’d say there wasn’t.