Writing about What Matters to Me
January 6, 2014
After battling the flu for a hard week, Stephen Woodfin wrote a blog on Caleb and Linda Pirtle Sunday (https://calebandlindapirtle.com/blog/in-sickness-and-in-health/) and confessed that his whole writing world is abruptly changing to a new direction.
He wrote: In the few months since I completed my last novel, I have started and stopped two new works.
I did this because of a sense of malaise, a sense that two things needed to happen in my version of the writing gig. First I needed to get better at it, and second, I needed to write about things that mattered to me, things that had troubled or interested me since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.
Maybe it was the hallucinations endemic to OTC cough medicine, the long hours in the nether world between sleeping and waking, or my inability to run my usual traps. I’m not sure. But a couple of days ago, I embarked on a new work, one unlike any I have written.
And I’m back in the game.
He words rocked me. His is a simple formula, one we should all follow, but usually we don’t.
Write about things that matter to me.
Stephen Woodfin is the consummate storyteller. He writes legal thrillers. He writes the kinds of novels that those in the trade like to refer to as page-turners. They are hardly ever roller coasters. It’s downhill all the way. Downhill and fast. Hard to catch your breath. A thrill a minute.
Now Woodfin may be drifting away from genre novels – mysteries and thrillers – and moving into novels of distinction, novels that may well be classified as literary fiction. The style and the talent are certainly there.
And I applaud him for his decision.
It takes guts. If nothing else, Woodfin has guts.
His new direction, however, made me look back at my writing and the kinds of novels I am producing. They are pure genre novels: thrillers, mysteries, and now I find out that I am writing historical fiction because the stories are set against the dark, foreboding backdrop of World War II.
Should that make a difference?
In my case, it doesn’t.
I am writing about things that matter to me.
I was a child during World War II but remember vividly the reports from the front that came each night on radio. In the far recesses of my mind, I can still hear the voices of Walter Winchell and Edward R. Murrow and H. V. Kaltenborn.
My father worked at a bomb plant, and I can still see him sitting on the porch and talking to the men who worked with him, the ones who put the bombs together and then wrote sarcastic notes to Hitler, usually laced with profanity, on the sides of them.
The war happened a long time ago. But the war and the raw, explosive emotion of men dying for a country mattered to me then. They still do.
Not long ago, I was watching a late night documentary either on the History Channel or the Military Channel – I don’t remember which – and the story dealt with those strange and disturbing mind control experiments during the 1930s and 1940s.
The Nazi doctors were the best. They had been practicing the science of mind control for centuries.
Some of the human guinea pigs died along the way.
None would ever be the same again.
By the 1930s, our own doctors and psychologists were working in places no one knew about doing things that would have frightened, sickened, and appalled the world if anyone had found it. But as one of the doctors said, the enemy threat was more important than a person’s constitutional rights.
In the name of science and the military, these doctors were learning how to break down a person’s mind, then rebuild it, using hypnotism, behavioral, and biological drugs, sensory deprivation, electro shocks, electroconvulsive therapy, and brain electrode implants.
They were creating multiple personalities. One part of the brain belonged to a good, honest, decent human being. The other part triggered an unsuspecting assassin or courier sent behind enemy lines. The government controlled the brain. The subject never knew what was happening to him – or her.
It was the stuff of science fiction.
It was real.
I created a protagonist for Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark, whose mind had been erased by electrodes placed on the brain, whose mind was again erased after each mission. Eliminate the memories, and a government could eliminate fear. Ambrose Lincoln lives in a make-believe world. Nothing is ever as it seems to be. He simply does the job he is asked to do and never asks any questions because he has no questions to ask. He is little more than a number. And one day, he – like his mind – will be erased with no traces of every having walked this earth.
I write about the reality and cruelty of mind control for one reason.
The novel is a thriller.
A World War is raging.
It’s troubling, it’s interesting, and it matters to me. It matters a great deal.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels. Secrets of the Dead is also available on Audible, narrated by Stephen Woodfin.