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    Subject Matter and Theme

    michelleMichele Karlsberg: What is the difference between subject matter and theme in your work?

    Steven Cordova: Subject matter is a stepping-stone on the way to theme. Without subject, there’s no theme. This is true for all writers, but if you ask the difference between subject matter and theme in my work, one answer I can offer is that HIV/AIDS is often my subject matter, mortality my theme.

    I’ve recently written a poem entitled “Accelerated Aging Syndrome.” I segue into the poem with an epigraph from a medical journal. “We propose here,” the epigraph reads, “that the premature and accelerated aging of HIV-patients can also be caused by adverse effects of antiretroviral drugs…” Okay, then, my subject matter, my stepping-stones on the way to theme, are aging (I’m 52), retroviral drugs (I take Triumec), and retrovirals’ effects on some patients (I, for one, am chronically tired).

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    Just as climbing stairs isn’t always an easy task, these aren’t always easy subjects to write about. While I’m not ageist, I’m ageist enough not to want to highlight my age. I also fear HIV/AIDS, once the social issue du jour, may fall deafly on some contemporary ears. Finally, I don’t want to bore you complaining about my health. Following the stairs up, however, I arrive at a theme–mortality! The dark circles under our eyes, our diminishing energy levels and failing memories–we worry about them because they’re all variations on the theme of mortality. I feel like a Debbie Downer here, but I hope I’ve shown how specific, seemingly trivial matters can lead to big universal themes.

    Steven Cordova is the author of “Long Distance” (Bilingual Review Press, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

    Craig Bennett Hallenstein: The Dolphin is a psychological thriller set in New Orleans against a backdrop of our nation’s one-size-fits-all sex offender registry. Sean Jordan, the protagonist, is an innocent who, when forced to register as a sex offender, is persecuted as if he were a violent predator. Like all stories, The Dolphin is a hero’s journey, with a central character who must overcome obstacles to reach his goals. Sean makes his way in a hostile world, attempting to survive as a precursor to realizing his out-sized potential. His journey is the subject matter of the book.

    The theme of The Dolphin is standing one’s ground, rather than being swept away by hysteria, perpetrating horrors on others. In The Dolphin, fear emanates from two sources, TV news and talk radio–both sensationalizing stories to earn ratings and cash. The cautionary tale recalls the “missing kid” era of the 1980s when the nation was gripped by a pervasive hysteria, fueled by emotion-laden images and false information. Instead of demanding facts and standing their ground, most parents succumbed, reigning kids in, restricting their movements, and impeding their development of independence. Demanding that legislators keep kids safe at all costs, parents led the charge that resulted in a sex offender registry that fails to protect children while destroying young people’s lives.

    The Dolphin’s secondary theme: even when struggling with one’s own adversities, a person can choose to live life with an open heart, loving and ministering to all who show up.

    Craig Bennett Hallenstein is a psychologist, writer, and father of five. “The Dolphin” is his first work of fiction.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBT community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates twenty-seven years of successful book campaigns.