Monthly Archives: June 2015

Only Breath by Dennis Vickers

Cover for novel Only Breath

Today (June 19, 2015) novel Only Breath is released to general availability. It is the first book in a trilogy called Language of the Gods. The second book will be Only Words, followed by Only Hope.  Only Breath is a ghost story; Only Words will be set (in part) in Neolithic/Mesolithic  times, the vicinity of the Black Sea (now Bulgaria); Only Hope will be…well, we can only hope.

Some important characters: At the beginning of the novel, protagonist William Kepler is a thirty-year-old virgin living with his parents. He has trouble relating to people and doesn’t believe in ghosts. All that changes before the last page. Joe Creek is an omni-capable sixty-five-year-old handyman who was blinded twenty years before by an angry ghost. Lisa Hart is a librarian writer-wannabe who gets very excited when men read to her. Marci Moore is a lusty lover of life who gets excited when men…whatever. Oh, and the ghost is trapped in a cement statue of Saint Francis, and he’s not happy about it.

I don’t want to defuse any of the narrative tension, but (in a nutshell) there’s a mystery to be solved, insights into the nature of communication and the role of words,  several characters resolve what troubles them, the world becomes a happier place, and doors leading to the second novel in the trilogy are left open. Likable characters grow, and remain likable; unlikable characters get what’s coming to them. The narrator asks some questions at the very end that you should be able to answer easily if you were paying attention all along.

The title comes from a line from Sappho (probably from Sappho – it appears only on a broken, Roman-era vase dug up in Poland): θεοί· ἠερίων ἐπέων ἄρχομαι ἀθανάτων –My words are ONLY BREATH, yet they live forever. I don’t know…sounds like Sappho to me.

The video trailer, with creepy music from the Internet Archive (//archive.org) is here. Only breath is available from Amazon in kindle or paperback and Barnes and Nobel in paperback and nook.

Here are a few quotes:

  1. The world of literature is a sacred mirror that shows not the reality around us but the dreams and fears that reality stimulates: It’s not where we live, but life itself.
  2. Sometimes, like a shaft of sunlight suddenly showing itself from an overcast sky, an insight that has waited behind the curtain for its moment on stage appears suddenly. Perhaps such insights, like crust on toast, egg white turning milky, are transformations of what is already there, brought out by the heat, or perhaps they simply appear from unknown places like swallows of spring. Whatever the origin, William suddenly saw himself in new light. He was no longer a lingering adolescent trapped in this day, this hour, this moment, a single, isolated, vulnerable, living being. He was a lifetime.
  3. Emma’s solace in her belief that William could now overcome his behavioral abnormalities originated in her anxiety that she or Alan had passed on some sort of gene-based malady, though neither exhibited any symptoms. In fact, she alone was the cause of his do-called disorder, but through nurture, not nature. When William was a baby, from birth to the time she first noticed his reluctance to engage others, Emma sang the same ditty to calm him, often to coax him to sleep. Because it seemed to have remarkable calming effect, she repeated it whenever he was agitated, or whenever she was agitated, or whenever the world seemed agitated. Her soothing words came through his baby ears and into his baby brain, where processing them helped him learn to recognize sounds used in his native tongue – ooo, iii, ess –and helped arrange the very structures of the circuitry.
  4. The first time William missed powerful signals of this sort he was thirteen years old, sitting alone in a movie theater, waiting for the feature film. Rita, a girl in his class, took the seat next to him after the previews, though the theater was nearly empty. “Do you mind if I sit here?” she whispered, bringing her lips so close to his ear he felt her warm breath on his earlobe.
  5. Marci took a copy of Cosmopolitan from her desk drawer, lifted her butt from her chair, and leaned far over her desk to pass it to William, watching his eyes carefully as she did. If they went to her gaping blouse, she’d know there was a spark to kindle; if not, then he was gay and she needn’t waste any further effort. At least he’d appreciate the Cosmo. “It’s August’s,” she whispered hopefully… His eyes focused first on the magazine, then the hand holding it, and then drifted up her bare arm to her shoulder and grinning face, eyelashes fluttering like hummingbird wings. Tucked under her chin two bulging globes vied to emerge from the straining blouse neck, creamy white and speckled like chickadee eggs, but larger, much larger. “Sorry,” he blurted. “Guess I’ve got the job injerview titters.” He took the magazine, vaguely aware he’d said something wrong.
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Living in Walkerland

Mad Hatter“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Americans who live in states other than Wisconsin, especially those of a conservative persuasion, may be wondering what life is like living under Governor Walker. Here’s a taste.

On June 2 Frontier Communications (our local telephone provider) accidentally cut off our phone service. No, they weren’t digging a trench or reconfiguring a switch and made a mistake. I could understand that. They misprocessed my wife’s request to move us up to the next level of Internet service (we subscribe to Hughes satellite network through Frontier) and discontinued out voice phone service intentionally. So, I got in touch with them through their online chat (couldn’t call them, of course). The respondent said she couldn’t restore service immediately, but she’d see that it was done by 7:00 pm that evening. It wasn’t. I got back in touch the next day and the new respondent told me restoring service would require a visit from a technician, and I could expect to have service back on the 23rd. Do the math-that’s a three-week outage.

Did I mention we don’t have cell phone service at our house? We have cell phones for the car and can get a signal a mile or two up the road, but at the house? No.

I told them we were without access to emergency services and three weeks was too long. She agreed and said she’d try to get an earlier date. Indeed, service came back on today, so it turned out to be a day short of a two-week outage. This is our second two-week outage this year; the other involved a buzz on the line so loud it was impossible to hear anything else.

Oh, back to Walkerland. While our service was out, I filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission to see if they’d help move the restoration up, or perhaps take an interest in the level of service being provided by a utility they regulate. This is from their response:

“On May 24, 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed SS SB 13, Telecommunications Regulation Reform into law. Under the bill, the Commission no longer set telecommunication rates, performs audits of providers, or investigate consumer complaints. The Commission does not have regulatory authority over the matter you contacted us about.”

I’m certain you know the arguments – regulations only increase the cost of doing business and ultimately drive up prices. Consumers are better off relying on the free market – i.e. choosing providers who offer the best services. Competition takes care of everything. Except, here there is no competition, service is lousy, and there are no alternatives.

To be fair, there are places in Wisconsin where the communications infrastructure is ample, grossly overbuilt in fact. The providers go where the potential for profits are large, and customers in Madison, Milwaukee, etc. have plenty of choices. Here, in the North woods, there aren’t sufficient cell phone customers to warrant extending coverage everywhere. So, here we are in Walkerland. Our governor’s naive confidence in the beneficence of business leaves us literally with no dial tone and no one in government who gives a damn.

“The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Quotations Kick off Each Chapter

In several novels now I’ve inserted quotations at the beginning of chapters. It’s becoming a habit. In my first novel, Witless, these were from fictional sources. For example, one of my favorites, from Witless:

 “There are two skills worth cultivating: learning and forgetting. Once you have mastered both you are prepared for the future by the former and the past by the latter.” Arthur Woodaepfel: Lectures at the Witless School, Randall Jacobs, editor (Chicago: Progressive Press, 1911), p. 73.

I must say, I enjoyed the irony of a quote from a fictional work of fiction appearing in another work of fiction. But, in my last novel, Only Breath, (available from Amazon and Barnes and Nobel) I included genuine quotations from literature. The narrator, who is a bit of a bibliophile, insisted. Here are all fourteen of them:

  1. A beginning is that which is not a necessary consequent of anything else but after which something else exists or happens as a natural result. – Aristotle, Poetics
  2. I know not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. – Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher
  3. License my roving hands, and let them go; Before, behind, between, above, below. – John Donne, To His Mistress Going to Bed
  4. No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. – John Donne, Meditation XVII
  5. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains; Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend; More than cool reason ever comprehends. – William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream
  6. There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors, and looking them piteously in the eyes – die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will not suffer themselves to be revealed. – Edgar Allan Poe, The Man of the Crowd
  7. Beauty sat bathing by a spring; Where fairest shades did hide her; The winds blew calm, the birds did sing, The cool streams ran beside her. – Anthony Munday, Beauty Bathing
  8. Intermittently she caught the gist of his sentences and supplied the rest from her subconscious, as one picks up the striking of a clock in the middle with only the rhythm of the first uncounted strokes lingering in the mind. ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
  9. The function of muscle is to pull and not to push, except in the case of the genitals and the tongue. ― Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks
  10. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, all very good words for the lips, – especially prunes and prism. – Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Book The Second: Riches, Chapter 5: Something Wrong Somewhere
  11. What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.” ― Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  12. A very great part of the mischiefs that vex this world arises from words. – Edmund Burke, Letter
  13. Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long. – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
  14. Truth may seem but cannot be; Beauty brag but ’tis not she; Truth and beauty buried be. To this urn let those repair; That are either true or fair; For these dead birds sigh a prayer. – William Shakespeare, The Phoenix and the Turtle

Shakespeare appears three times, Poe and Donne twice. My favorite is Leonardo’s (nine), which carries particular weight because of his study of anatomy. I also like Donne’s first one (three) because it amuses me to think of sixteenth/seventeenth-century people horny. What’s your favorite? Post in a comment and I’ll run a tally.

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A Sonnet? The Chapter Headings Form A Sonnet? WTF?

Cover for novel Only Breath

Cover by Becca Vickers

The chapter headings in Only Breath (coming June 19, kindle pre-orders available here) make up a sonnet in the Shakespearean tradition, namely 14 lines in 3 4-line stanzas (quatrains) and a two-line unit (couplet), all iambic pentameter. The couplet turns attention inward and usually is indented slightly to set it off.

Some who read Mikawadizi Storms thought it had too many chapters (45, each for a separate character). These readers will be delighted to hear Only Breath has 14. Okay, why twist the entire structure of the novel into a sonnet? Good question.

A deep theme in Only Breath is the ‘inner voice’ and it’s role in self-consciousness, especially as conflicted spirits work through their troubles using internal dialog (or monologue, depending on how you count). There’s a theory out there, springing from Paul Oppenheimer’s 1989 book, The Birth of the Modern Mind: Self, Consciousness, and the Invention of the Sonnet, that modern thought and literature were born with the invention of the sonnet in 13th-century Italy. According to Oppenheimer, the sonnet is the first lyric form since the fall of the Roman Empire meant not for music or performance but for silent reading. It is designed to portray the self in conflict and to explore self-consciousness. Other interesting developments came about in Europe (very generally) around the same time – writing in the languages of everyday speech, more general literacy and access to written works. Some say the very idea of reading in one’s head (not aloud) developed early in the middle ages. St. Augustine reports in his Confessions that he was surprised to see St. Ambrose reading to himself – this would have been around 383 AD. Can it be that ancient Europeans all moved their lips when they read? It’s hard to picture Plato doing that.

So, on Oppenheimer’s theory, Petrarch lusts after a beautiful married woman, and the sonnet structure provides him the perfect canvas for the churn in his head as he watches her in church. The same lyric structure works for Shakespeare as he mulls over his feelings for his handsome young friend and later the dark lady. In the process emerges the modern concept of self, intimately associated with the monologue (or the speaker of the monologue) in one’s head.

Since I wanted to explore the inner voice and self-consciousness in Only Breath, arranging the chapter headings into a sonnet seemed a fun idea and a fitting tribute to this lyric form. So, here’s the poem

HIS INNER VOICE WHISPERS SOLILOQUY,
HIS SEETHING BRAIN IS FILLED WITH COVERT WORDS,
WHILE LOST HIS HEART CONVERTS TO MELODY,
THIS TEEMING FLOCK OF SWARMING CACKLING BIRDS.
WHEN WORDS ARISE INSIDE TO TEST THEIR WINGS,
TO WHISPER SINS NO OTHER EARS CAN HEAR,
WHOSE MOUTH IS THIS WHO SPEAKS THESE FADING THINGS,
THAT RATTLE INNER AIR THEN DISAPPEAR?
WHOSE SECRET VOICE IS THIS THAT DARES TO TALK,
AND BRINGS THESE AIRY THOUGHTS FROM MUTE TO BREATH?
WHOSE SECRETS FALL WHEN INNER DOORS UNLOCK?
WHAT LONG SUBMERGED IDEAS FROM THIS DEPTH,
RISE AND FLY LIKE LIBERATED BIRDS,
WHEN THOUGHTS TRANSFORM TO BREATHING BURNING WORDS?

It’s all in CAPS because these are the chapter headings.

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