THEMA it isn’t for everyone…

After twenty years of publishing THEMA, we received our first piece of hate mail (email) in November 2008. The disgruntled writer was enraged and outraged (a whole lot of rage was seething every which ’way) over the idea of a journal that offered themes to inspire the imagination. He claimed it was like a grammar school assignment.

If your mind tends to confuse fourth-grade schoolwork with a literary challenge, then THEMA is not for you. There is an enormous difference between the two.

In a school assignment, you are stuck in a classroom and must write even though you might rather be playing, and a teacher is demanding results. In some cases, you and your classmates, of whom perhaps only 10% enjoy writing, must complete the assignment within an hour. In other cases, you must turn in your assignment on the next day. Either way, you will be judged on something you might not have wanted to do in the first place.

We are not your fourth-grade teacher. We are not pressuring anyone to write anything. We give you, the writer, the challenge. It’s as simple as that. If a theme appeals to you, let it roll around in your head and see what thoughts emerge. Sometimes amazing plots are born by suggestion, whether it is our premise, or an article you read in the newspaper, or something you observed.

Apparently, something most unsettling must have happened to the disgruntled author when he was a grammar-school student and he has never gotten over it. We’re sorry that THEMA brings back wretched memories for him. He should indeed eschew theme-related journals. If you would rather be climbing a tree than writing, then by all means do so.

For the rest of you… welcome!  Dare to take a challenge?  Check out our upcoming themes.

NOTE: No fourth-grade teacher was harmed in the writing of this article. In fact, many grade-school and high-school teachers are tremendous inspirations for budding authors. My gratitude goes to Mrs. Chapman, my sixth-grade teacher in Abilene, Texas.

A writer responds:

I would like an opportunity to share my feelings about what the "hate mail" individual said... in regards to the idea that a theme is supplied  for authors and this showed a lack of imagination and was compared to  a "4th grade school assignment." 

I think he has taken for granted his easy access to a "listening ear." That perhaps all of his doors are open and he does not realize that the majority of people don't even know where the door is... let alone how to open it. That maybe he has forgotten how glorious it feels just to have a place to send a story with the knowledge that someone will actually read it. 

Each person's situation is different. For me, the desire to write a story, make a book, paint a picture were my passions since the very beginning of me. But my path took me a long way from my passions. I did not have college and I did not always make the best choices in my life. When a person moves away from their passions, then everything they do feels like "settling." Settling for something less than their dreams.

My problem has not been in lack of imagination or story idea, but in where to put it, how to use it, how to bring it to fruition so it can be shared. How do I do it? Where do I send it? What hoops do I have to jump through? Am I good enough? Can someone with no creative writing experience participate? And with all these questions in my brain for the last 30 years... all of those ideas, all those bursts of imagination went into boxes and stacks of dusty papers. 

It was totally by accident that I found THEMA. A friend told me that she sends off stories just for fun and she sent me the information. The minute I saw the first theme my mind wrapped around it and I had a story. It was a story I already had inside me but the theme pulled it out of my storage unit brain. The theme gave me permission to go into my stored- up collection of stories and pull one out that worked with that particular theme and customize it... take it seriously and have fun with it. It gave me permission to play with the idea and what was best... was that someone might actually read it. The most wonderful thing for me was... that you guys actually accepted it and I got to see it in print. I am going to buy multiple copies of this edition when I can afford it. But for me... the theme did not create the story... it allowed me to customize my already existing thoughts around the idea. 

My issue is not lack of imagination... but in having too much imagination and nowhere to put it. Being bombarded for 30 years with idea after idea and having no idea what to do with them. I could not choose or narrow them down or select just one. Where to start, which do I pick? The theme allows me to go into that basket and pick, and that feels really really good. 

A few years ago I got to start taking painting classes at the local community college. That has been a real blessing. In class 30 people will sit around a still life and paint it. Not one of those paintings will look the same even though we are looking at the very same still life. They all look completely different. 

Maybe a theme is like that. It is a still life that many people will sit around and come up with something completely different, totally unique. 

One last thing, and I apologize for rambling, but I think that anything... absolutely anything... that allows people to discover their creative side and explore and share that... is a good thing. It makes no sense to take the time to throw a negative at a positive. What good does it do?

For me and my overabundance of unbroken imagination, being able to participate here has been a dream come true. And it's fun.

Sky Andrews Gerspacher



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