Words in their own words

Here’s another way to look at it — from the point of view of the Words themselves.

We are organisms living in colonies in the brains of human hosts. We reproduce asexually by inducing our hosts to makes sounds that resonate in the ears of other potential hosts. The resonance moves through the audio nerves to the brain where it recreates itself as a pattern in the neurons. As this pattern establishes in the new brain, it becomes the reproduced word. Sometimes the process is flawed slightly, something in the pattern is different, the word changes, but mostly the reproduction process works well enough. We can follow the genealogy of an individual back to the parent, the parent’s parent, and so on. A vigorous word can spread itself through humans, indeed through all humanity, like a benign virus.

The relationship, words to brains, is symbiosis of the mutualism variety – both organisms benefit. Without words human brains are unable to lift their attention to the level of cogitation; they are a gardens with nothing planted. Without brains, words are dormant seeds, frozen, ultimately meaningless. It’s fortunate we found each other, I suppose.

The process of reproduction for words is sometimes simple propagation, cell division of the mitosis variety, asexual and producing ultimately an exact duplicate of the original. Sometimes, though, two words mate to produce a third. Portmanteau is one form. This is common among Germans and for them the mating is often casual and temporary. In English the process has produced many long-standing words. Smog[i], and motel are examples made necessary by circumstances of the 20th century. Brunch and liger as well. Sometimes the coupling involves a foreigner, as, for example, Velcro, a word made by sticking the French velours to the English crochet. With these sexual reproductions the result resembles both parents, and one presumes there was some foreplay involved before coitus was achieved. Which parent will appear first in the offspring? Smog might just as easily come out foke and motel might have been hotor. Shakespeare is renowned for creating new words, sometimes from parts of old ones. There was no hobnob before Twelfth Night, Act III Scene IV, no courtship before Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V Scene II.

[i] smog (n.) 1905, blend of smoke and fog, formed “after Lewis Carrol’s example.” Reputedly coined in reference to London, and first attested there in a paper read by Dr. H.A. des Voeux, treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, though he seems not to have claimed credit for coining it.

At a recent health congress in London, a member used a new term to indicate a frequent London condition, the black fog, which is not unknown in other large cities and which has been the cause of a great deal of bad language in the past. The word thus coined is a contraction of smoke fog “smog” — and its introduction was received with applause as being eminently expressive and appropriate. It is not exactly a pretty word, but it fits very well the thing it represents, and it has only to become known to be popular. [“Journal of the American Medical Association,” Aug. 26, 1905]

Footnote is from The Online Entymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, an excellent resource.


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Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

“Why is there something rather than nothing?” Martin Heidegger famously asks in his Introduction to Metaphysics, and then goes on to tackle the question assiduously, stretching language to the point where phrases become fingernails on blackboard, as in:

  1. Does the Nothing exist only because the Not, i.e. the Negation, exists? Or is it the other way around? Does Negation and the Not exist only because the Nothing exists?
  2. What about this Nothing?—The Nothing itself nothings.
  3. Anxiety reveals the Nothing…. That for which and because of which we were anxious, was ‘really’—nothing.

Heidegger2Rudolf Carnap makes good fun of the complicated language postures Heidegger adopts to address this question but, like ballet, touchdowns, and coitus, sometimes what is worth doing requires pressing mundane components into bizarre configurations.

More recently, The BBC takes up the question and frolics through recent work in physics to find the answer, after acknowledging it has been philosophy’s question historically, not physic’s. But, no problem; philosophy has lots of questions. Unfortunately, the answers all seem to be extrapolations from the BIG BANG, a theory named, and roundly criticized, by Sir Fred Hoyle.  The BIG BANG, as you know, is that explanation of the beginning of the universe in which, at a time before there was time, in a place where there are no places, a singularity so tiny we needn’t worry about the fact that the whole idea of size doesn’t work in this timeless/spaceless situation, and so dense as to contain all that is or ever will be, explodes. The premise of the BBC article is that now that we know how the universe came to be we can use that information to determine why.

I should stipulate at the onset I admire the BBC for taking up questions like this so courageously, and, I admire the energy, persistence, intelligence, and creativity that has gone into honing the Big Bang Theory. I regret these efforts focus on the material, presuming, I presume, the spiritual can be derived from there. This hyper-focus is perhaps understandable in this era of attention deficit disorder, but I prefer Edgar Alan Poe’s work on this topic, Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe, which, though it science has never taken it seriously, has the spunk to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of reality needs explanation as much as the physical, and moreover, arms itself with a larger conceptual toolbox to deal with it:

To the few who love me and whom I love – to those who feel rather than to those who think – to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities – I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem. – Preface to Eureka, by Edgar Allan Poe

 Two points I would make with regard to the quest to understand the origin of everything. The first, is, Parmenides was right, being doesn’t come from not being. There is no origin; the universe in some form or other is eternal. This is a matter of logic. Nothing doesn’t become something. It may well be that particles emerge from empty space, as the author of the BBC article, Robert Adler, reports:

Their admittedly controversial answer is that the entire universe, from the fireball of the Big Bang to the star-studded cosmos we now inhabit, popped into existence from nothing at all. It had to happen, they say, because “nothing” is inherently unstable.

He cites, as confirmation, the view of quantum mechanics the particles emerge from empty space all the time:

Quantum mechanics tells us that there is no such thing as empty space. Even the most perfect vacuum is actually filled by a roiling cloud of particles and antiparticles, which flare into existence and almost instantaneously fade back into nothingness.

Which helps explain where all the stuff that fills space came from if only we can explain where the empty space came from.

One thing they have found is that, when quantum theory is applied to space at the smallest possible scale, space itself becomes unstable. Rather than remaining perfectly smooth and continuous, space and time destabilize, churning and frothing into a foam of space-time bubbles.

All this, while interesting, only extrapolates what might happen to nothing from what happens on the tiniest scale in (or to) space and time. Yet, as the previous quote acknowledges, space-time isn’t nothing, it’s something, and a busy something. Nothing is something else altogether. Nothing isn’t vast (else it would have dimension, which isn’t nothing), nor is it eternal (else it would be temporal, which isn’t nothing), nor, of course, is it busy. It seems apparent to me, in this realm where appearances are deceiving, that the universe must be eternal in some form or other, which is to say, it has time in it, and isn’t in time.

My second point is similarly grounded in what seems apparent to me. Why does the universe exist? is not a question answered by explanations of how it came to be the way it is, clever and interesting as they may be. The ‘why’ question can only be answered with explanations involving purpose, which is to say, the spiritual dimension of reality. Without purpose there is no why. It is possible, of course, the universe is without purpose insofar as its existence is concerned, but that only leads to the same questions about its character.

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Ortega’s Circuit

Bitter OleanderI learned earlier this year that Paul Roth’s The Bitter Oleander will publish my short story, Ortega’s Circuit, in their fall edition. The magazine arrived last week. Bitter Oleander is a journal of poetry mainly, some short fiction. Contributors for this issue hale from Spain, Philippines, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, France, Switzerland, and many US states. Non-English work appears with original and translation juxtaposed. I spent most of this morning reading beautifully crafted poetry.

Roth talks about his preferences when selecting poetry and fiction for Bitter Oleander in Inside Bitter Oleander, his interview with Andrew Tobia.

Fiction should have a great sense of mystery where things are not always solved but rather act as springboards to the imagination…I’d rather be confronted with the unknown and then allowed to find my own way. I really want the writer to build a reality for me to live in without any preconceived rules, that way I’m always surprised, delighted and inspired. 

The story, Ortega’s Circuit is in a style I call Mexican Gothic – desert location, opaque time period, short, clean sentences, plenty of symbolism, characters faced with moral dilemmas.  I picked up the Mexican Gothic bug riding in a bus from Oaxaca to Mexico City, across the magnificent Mexican desert, reading Eduardo Galeano’s Walking Words, (with woodcuts by Jose Francisco Borges), a beautiful little book of fables told with humor and sensitivity. The proprietor of the bed and breakfast where we stayed in Oaxaca traded Walking Words for a novel I happened to have with me (might have been Passing through Paradise). I found Galeano’s style infectious, and fell into writing that way occasionally. Several of the stories in Double Exposures are Mexican Gothic. Sometimes, perhaps when I remember Oaxaca, or Mexico City, or the desert in between, the infection returns and I write something in that style – so came to be Ortega’s Circuit. It’s like Montezuma’s Revenge, except, an infection of the head, not the stomach, and delightfully benign. 

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Putting the Magic into Magical Realism

bloghopSome of my favorite books are standards of magical realism and I especially enjoy the magical narrative elements. But, for narrative devices,  some magic works better than other magic, and much of the supernatural in fiction isn’t the sort of magic I associate with magical realism – not just any magic will do. There’s something special about the magic in the best of magical realism – something…well…magical.

To clarify this idea, I collected some favorite magical elements in magical realism stories, intending to look for common characteristics. This list is terribly limited, of course, and subjective to boot, but it’s a beginning. I’m interested in others’ favorites too – please post comments below.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, José Arcadio II comes home after work, goes into his bedroom, closes the door, a gun goes off, and…

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. “Holy Mother of God!” Úrsula shouted.

In Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate, heroine Tita despairs because her lover marries her sister, and worse, she’s responsible for much of the wedding preparation. Predictably, her tears fall into the ingredients while making the wedding cake, and…

When she finished beating the meringue, it occurred to Nancha to lick some of the icing off her finger to see if Tita’s tears had affected the flavor. No, the flavor did not seem to have been affected; yet without knowing why, Nancha was suddenly overcome with an intense longing.

Finally, in Linda Hogan’s short story, Descent (also her novel, Power), the one-legged old woman, Janie Soto, is so full of life…

…she has a wooden leg that is made of a tree that used to bloom I heard after she first started wearing the leg, it leafed out and blossomed.

Each of these depicts life force so intent it cannot be thwarted, though the rules of everyday experience must bend a little to allow it. By life force I mean the underlying stuff of life that is the font of creativity, love, all intense emotion. Substitute soul, spirit, vital energy, vitality, élan vital, if you prefer. Janie Soto is so full of life her wooden leg sprouts leaves. Tita De La Garza’s sorrow is so profound her tears infuse the wedding cake with inexorable longing…

The moment they took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing. Even Pedro, usually so proper, was having trouble holding back his tears. Mama Elena, who hadn’t shed a single tear over her husband’s death, was sobbing silently. But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication-an acute attack of pain and frustration-that seized the guests and scattered them across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love. Everyone there, every last person, fell under this spell, and not very many of them made it to the bathrooms in time those who didn’t joined the collective vomiting that was going on all over the patio. Only one person escaped: the cake had no effect on Tita. The minute she finished eating it, she left the party.

José Arcadio II is so full of vitality his blood flows from his dead ear all the way across town to inform Ursula of his demise. Judging from her reaction (“Holy Mother of God!”) Ursula understands how extraordinary is this event, but she treats it as a natural expression of the life-stuff that makes José Arcadio II the extraordinary man he is.

I didn’t present my last novel, Only Breath, as magical realism though (arguably) it fits Zoe Brooks’ definition: “Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Instead, I called it a ghost story. The ghosts who haunt the pages of Only Breath are supernatural, extraordinary, otherworldly, and slip into what is otherwise realistic fiction without explanation, but they don’t seem magical to me in quite the right way for magical realism. In my opinion, the transition of the old man, Wesley Dubois, into a butterfly in Mikawadizi Storms better fits the bill. Wesley is so intent to engage the evil seeping from the depths of the open pit mine, he undergoes metamorphosis:

Orange and black butterflies began to swarm around him as Wesley moved through the woods, with each step more butterflies. Soon a cloud of butterflies the size of an open parachute followed him. He looked over his shoulders as he walked and laughed to see the orange cloud filled with flapping wings. As he approached Patriot mine, the thunderous noise grew louder and more menacing. A cold wind blew into his face, scattering the butterfly cloud for a moment but they quickly regrouped and moved forward behind the old man. Wesley lifted his arms and pointed his fingers straight out. His feet fell lightly on the ground. He turned his shoulders like an airplane banking and swooped to his right. His feet left the ground altogether. The swarm of butterflies grew thicker and larger. Flutter of a million wings filled the air with a feint hiss, which grew in volume as this orange cloud moved over the parking lot outside the main gate.

Wesley’s transition into a butterfly is the sort of magic I look for in magical realism, as are other magical elements in that novel – the whore house where residents age slowly, the mining engineer whose hands won’t stop growing, the explosion of darkness from the depths of an open-pit mine — so, I classified Mikawadizi Storms (and Zoe Brooks reviewed it) as magical realism. Though I often use magical elements to boost the intensity of the narrative in my writing, I’ve classified most of my other work differently – it’s just not the right sort of magic.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.


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Desert Chimera by Leigh Podgorski

Six eclectic characters converge on an isolated desert cafe; powerful thunderheads close in, wolves howl in the distance.

Desert chimera“As evening deepened into night, the rain became a steady drumbeat tapping against the roof and pattering and sliding across the windows of the Desert Inn Cafe. The moon and her entourage of stars were hidden once again behind rolling clouds, and the sands shifted in wet dark waves of midnight black.”

If this setting suggests to you there’s about to be an epic conflict engaged and resolved, you’d be right. Protagonist and antagonist, both complex characters fashioned through remarkable back-stories, engage in a classic confrontation of good and evil, but also young and old, innocence and experience, apprentice and master. Dramatic tension inside the cafe mirrors the energy in the storm outside. As the inside conflict escalates, the storm intensifies, the howling increases, the pace accelerates. I swiped Kindle pages faster and faster as the action progressed, eager to learn what comes next.

Desert Chimera’s main tension is character-against-character but there’s also conflict internal to the protagonist, extending the novel’s overall focus on its characters. Some characters are sympathetic (in fact most are). One is deliciously evil, though even there the back-story hints at a tragic past giving explanation, if not exculpation, for the wickedness.

A chimera is (1) a fire-breathing monster or (2) a thing hoped for but impossible to achieve. The first meaning is the oldest, going back to ancient Greek Χίμαιρα and Homer’s story about Bellerophon’s slaying of the lion-headed, goat-bodied, serpent-tailed monster whose “breath came out in terrible blasts of burning flame.” It’s surprising one word has these seemingly unrelated meanings. Which sort of chimera do we have here? I think an argument can be made for either (or both). I won’t go into details, but suggest it’s something to keep in mind as you read this intriguing book.

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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


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

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Only Breath – Illustrations and Characters

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]

Only Breath: A Ghost Story, to be released June 19 (pre-release copies available here),  includes pencil drawings of characters.













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