One of the many joys of my high school creative writing class was anticipating the daily writing prompt. Our teacher would surprise us every day with a unique topic to write about for five to ten minutes. The excitement and challenge of responding to these daily writing prompts showed me how skillful writers can take any theme and craft it into a well-written essay or poem. If you also know and appreciate the joy of exercising creative writing muscles, then you would enjoy reading THEMA, the theme-related journal. Every issue of THEMA has a distinct theme, which, according to their website, serves three goals: “One is to provide a stimulating forum for established and emerging literary and visual artists. The second is to serve as source material and inspiration for teachers of creative writing. The third is to provide readers with a unique and entertaining collection of stories, poems, art and photography.” The theme of the autumn 2016 issue is “The Neat Lady and the Colonel’s Overalls,” which was inspired by the poetry editor’s visit to a shopping mall. Talented writers answered the call to this quirky theme and present an offering of exciting short fiction and poetry.
For example, at the heart of V.J. Hamilton’s short story “Tidy Dry Clean and Mend” is Seoyoon, a Korean woman who runs a dry-cleaning business in America. Hamilton does a masterful job at bringing this character to life and I was drawn into the story by the second page:
Few customers thought to ask after Seoyoon’s family. She had one teen-age son, the slightly blemished apple of her eye (“he play too many video game!”), and fewer still knew she had an unremarkable bus-driver husband (“he watch sport channel alla time!”). Absolutely no-one knew that Seoyoon had once dreamed of becoming a botanical illustrator; in fact, she had pretty much forgotten it herself. Such was the maelstrom of immigrant life.
Seoyoon is preparing to leave the country for a month to visit family in her home country, but cannot leave her shop until her customer picks up an order of overalls: “Seoyoon pictured a brown-sleeved arm pounding in vain on the door of her shop, the owner of said arm angrily vowing never to bring business to such an unreliable shop again.” In addition to the struggle of waiting for her tardy customer, Seoyoon worries about reconnecting with friends and family in her home country: “Old friendships would be rekindled with gusts of pity, envy, and self-conscious nostalgia. Old obligations, loosed like a thousand anonymous worms, would burrow under her skin.” Seoyoon’s conflicts build on each other and her seemingly average life becomes a type of heroic struggle against the world and herself.
Another strong writer in this issue is Dean Scelec and his short story “Spilt Bleach.” Scelec’s tight, staccato prose delivers an emotionally powerful story about how far one person would go to save another. This one is about a volunteer nurse from America who travels to Turkey to save the lives of Syrian refugees fleeing from their civil war. While volunteering, she meets Mehmet, a young boy who has an immediate impact on her life: “A young Kurdish boy dressed in rags, idly seated against a building. Crying. Knees in his chest, arms folded over the shins. Red eyes swollen. A balled-up piece of clothing on the ground between his feet.” The narrator learns that he is upset because he accidentally spilled bleach on army clothes he was hired to clean and is afraid he will lose his job. The volunteer nurse learns more about Mehmet’s life and discovers that he lost his parents in the war and has to provide for his brother. She is told by the other volunteers to not get attached, but she cannot let go as the sheer magnitude of human suffering spills over her conscious like bleach on overalls.
Future issues of this journal promise to be just as innovative and exciting. The theme of their Spring 2017 issue, which is currently under production, is “Drop the Zucchini and Run!” Manuscripts accepted for the Summer 2017 issue is “Second Thoughts,” and the Autumn issue for next year is “The Missing Letters.” If you enjoy the unpredictable thrill of creative writing, then you should add this journal to your reading list.