Writing About Forbidden Themes



In writing my stories, I have to keep in mind that certain themes are forbidden.

I’m not talking about pornographic material or sex scenes that might be too explicit for some readers. And I’m not talking about political correctness in my choice of words for describing different ethnicities and groups of people. I’m talking about certain cultural and historical themes, which in some countries, government censors would not allow, and which in this county, could cause my book to get “black listed” among certain groups of readers.

In Turkey, the use of the word “genocide” in connection with Armenians and the First World War, and a book exploring this theme, could cause the novelist or historian to be thrown into jail. Among Israelis and American Jews, if I use the word “holocaust” to refer to anything other than what happened to Jews in the Hitler era, and if I explore what happened to any other ethnic or national group and call it a “holocaust” by analogy, my book would get in trouble with those readers. Polish American readers would be deeply offended if I suggested in a novel that the Polish people and the Polish government had any knowledge of, or participated in the rounding up and execution of Jews living in Poland during World War II. If I made a trip to Poland carrying the translation of such a book, I could end up in jail.

And in this county, in the Old South, including Texas, the theme of Confederate statues and memorials is very problematic. Recently, in Austin, the Texas governor agreed to remove and place into a museum, as being erroneous, the plaque in the state Capitol that states: “... one of the most important [truths of history] is that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

And in Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, there is an on-going controversy over the statue of a Confederate soldier that has been standing in Ellwood Park since the 1930s—to remove it or not to remove it.

For me, this issue of Confederate memorials and statues is personal. So personal in fact that I have the draft of a manuscript in which the central character is a Confederate soldier, whose spirit is trapped inside a statue that is standing in the central park of Mackenzie, my invented city in the Texas Panhandle. Underlying this ScifFi tale is the idea that this soldier was in the wrong army—he was in the Confederate Army, instead of the Union Army—and until he accepts that fact, his spirit is doomed to remain inside this statue and will not rest in peace in the cemetery at Gettysburg, where he died in battle as a member of the army that was defending the wrong cause of slavery.

Has the South and Texas changed enough, so that I dare write about this long-forbidden theme of the possible immorality of the Cause for which so many Southerners died? I had ancestors on both sides in the War. Can I publish a story in which my main character comes to the conclusion and freely makes the admission that he died in the wrong army and on the wrong side, while fighting for the wrong Cause? Is the Texas Panhandle ready for such a tale?

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