Wednesday 3 August 2011

From the dark and twisted alleys of my unrecognizable brain ...

So, I've concocted the idea for my third novel and I'm sorta afraid to write it. The working title is called MUTED and it's based on the short story I wrote for the Tiny Dancer Anthology. Sinking my teeth into this baby is going to be an experience I'll never forget. It's going to be one of the darkest, most twisted tales I've ever written.

Here's my current blurb:
It's illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” now living in Arles, France, breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river clothed in a dress stained with performance memories. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as savior? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain?

I have a ton of research to do for this, such as read up on totalitarianism, Arles, and Van Gogh, who cut off his ear there. I've been to Arles, but I was only 12 so can't remember much. Doing extensive research is quite new for me, because the previous two books I've written I've basically used the knowledge I already posses. I'm looking forward to making a trip to Arles when I can afford it. (Katie, wanna come? :o)

The first thing I did, though, research-wise, was ask Lydia, the blogoshere's most desired medical expert, how I would go about Concetta's punishment, for her to end up mute and deaf. Here is what she said:

I think you have a few choices on how you want this to happen (becoming mute). The cords are small and live within a protective, very strong cartilege. The perpetrator wouldn't necessarily be aiming for the cords, but to destroy the structure that surrounds it. To crush it,  a strong blow directed right at the larynx would work. You could use a knife too, but you'd risk causing paralysis or cutting through some major arteries. To maim but not kill, a crush injury would be better, I think. If you do that, you'd have to consider that her airway would be almost closed and she'd almost lose her ability to breath; this could be supported with a breathing tube or something until she recovers.

Another option would be this. The nerves that innervate the vocal cords (called the recurrent laryngeal nerves) run on each side of the trachea, or big breathing tube of the neck. One good slash to either side would do the trick (again, the perpetrator would have to be skilled--big slashes would hit the neck arteries--a well-directed few slashes would make her mute.). There might be injury to the esophagus and a lot of bleeding for this type of injury, but it would do the trick.. 

 ... any crush injury to that area will cause inflammation and injury to the esophagus. She'll have trouble breathing and wheeze a bit, swallowing (probably will only be able to do liquids for a while), and her whole neck would be really sore and stuff. If it's just the cuts, her swallowing probably wouldn't be affected.

As for the ears, a simple perforated ear drum could cause damage but they often heal; so you'd have to make it pretty traumatic, and not just perforate the ear drums, but maybe damage the inner ear structures (the bones) as well. Ouch, it makes me cringe just thinking about it. But it would do. Also, you could have them do it with a dirty instrument, so that she gets a horrible ear infection on both sides that takes out her hearing on top of the perforation. There's a lot more leeway here for hearing loss ...

She can be conscious when this all happens (you are so mean! just kidding) but the pain will be pretty bad if it's a crush injury; the knife slashes would definitely hurt but not as much as a blow to the neck. The ear stuff though--man, talk about torture! She'd be screaming her head off. And then she'd only be hearing the screams in her head, like she was underwater. OMG, how awful...

Wow. I kinda feel sick. I'm pretty nervous out about writing this scene ... what inspires us to be so cruel to our characters??? And on another note, what lengths have you gone to for research? Travel? Library books? Or just the good old internet?


  1. Oh my goodness, that sounds extremely brutal--and painful to write as well as read. Best of luck with it, Jessica. The whole story sounds fascinating, rich in detail, and potentially heart-breaking.

  2. Good luck Jessica, if anyone can write this and make it a success you can.


  3. But sometimes that cruelty endears us to the character b/c we can't believe that happened to her. Have fun researching!

  4. Great title. I would stick with that. Short. Punchy. Yes.

    Have you ever seen the Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie play? She’s deaf. Wasn’t born deaf but went deaf at the age of twelve. She feels the music and she’s fascinating to watch. There are a number of videos on YouTube. I saw her live in Ayr many years ago and she was mesmerising. The one thing I noted was at the end of one particular piece for solo marimba she waited for absolutely ages at the end obviously ‘hearing’ the final notes for much longer than the rest of us who only had our ears to help us out.

    As far as being cruel to my characters I’m pretty cruel to all of them but never physically. I’ve never really analysed it but there's probably a blog in there somewhere if I can ever be bothered.

    As regards research other that the library in the pre-Internet days the only effort I’ve made was a trip to Dublin in 2004 to soak up the atmosphere (which was disappointing European) and buy some books. I set my last novel in a version of the flat I’m living in so there was no need to go gallivanting anywhere and everything else I found online.

  5. Oooh, I'd love that! OMG-Lydia's descriptions gave me the heebies just reading them! This sounds so thought provoking and full of depth Jess- I know you'll do a great job!

  6. Research for great settings is no more than a one tank trip for me. Along with the tour books and internet, I'm in my perfect settings.

    That is one dark work you've got percolating there. I see a can't put down novel coming from you.

  7. I cringed several times and was relieved when I saw that Lydia had too! Being in the medical field I wondered if they still cringed at things!!!

    I think you have the makings of a BRILLIANT novel. I'm already intrigued on how she'll handle it all. What a path to be given to you at the hand of someone else. Rough.

    For research if I'm unable to travel to the land I choose I use to search in the library or ask friends (thank you blogging buddies)!!! I asked Christina Lee about the depths of New York City and what train I'd take for certain places. She helped me immensely!

  8. I loved the short story, and I think it sounds like it would make a fascinating novel. I've done some pretty intense research for my writing in the past, but never so far as to actually travel somewhere. That would be awesome.

  9. Definitely a cringe-worthy scene, but I'm sure you can pull it off! And talk about an amazing resource--Lydia gave you some awesome info. It'll be tough to write, for sure, but at least you have some realistic medical guidelines to work with. Best of luck with your new project! Oh, and you should definitely meet up with Katie in Arles~ we'd all love to hear about it :)

  10. This sounds like a cool story, though I'll skip on the image of the naked people thanks. ;)

    Have a blast with the research. So, um, are you planning to walk the streets naked?

  11. I'd say after a scene like that, you'll definitely have a sympathetic character. Poor thing! Scenes like that are killer to write, but I know you'll do it well. My research is primarily on the Internet. You know who my primary source for all things Greece has been. LOL And you also know my plans to do some in-person research there. All for the sake of the books. ;-)

  12. Good Lord girl couldn't you just deafen her with loud noise or an illness? Couldn't she lose her voice through trauma? Does it have to be so painful? Sheesh!!

  13. I just want you to know that I'll be back to comment on this post later. It's a very important post and I want to be able to put my mind to it. Be back soon!

  14. OMG! Your head is a scary place. But the story sounds like it has fascinating possibilities -- best of luck with it! :)

  15. This punishment is a bit on the savage side! I say write it and get it out of your system and your head! Good luck with the research. Sounds like that will be fun.

  16. That is completely unlike anything I've ever read, but it does remind me of some of my nightmares. Your blurb is very compelling. I know that publishers want story lines they've never encountered before. I can see why you're afraid to start this one. It certainly will take you into some dark places, but I think I see some hope peeking out around the edges. Best wishes with this.

  17. Thanks all! And Doralynn, welcome to my blog! Great to see a new face! :o)

  18. The blurb is amazing! But the thought of having to write the scene makes me feel a little queasy. That being said, I'm so glad your writing it and I can't wait to read it!

  19. Oh, wow! Sounds like a great book! So exciting to have your idea going! Very curious about this naked society though... I would think people who were naked would be free ad happy, not oppressive...

  20. LOL! Yeah, not so happy in my story. Lack of individual expression gets them down ... :)

  21. Oh, my gosh! AlliAllo! You and I are destined to find some common ground yet!

    Don’t you know that in my late teens and early twenties Van Gogh was one of my three great idols? I could completely relate to that man’s intensity.

    It was my good friend Pooh who nicknamed me “Mister Intense” – so, I’m not just making this stuffs up. I know I seem like nothing more than a cranky, goofy old man now (life'll do that to ya), but sister, back in my day, dark storm clouds gathered in my eyes, and that was when I was in a GOOD mood!

    OK, researching Van Gogh. I suggest you start with the letters he wrote to his brother, collected in the book titled “Dear Theo”.

    Totalitarianism? Well, you won't likely find anyone who knows more about Communism (the greatest example of totalitarianism in the 20th Century) in your circle of writer friends than I do. You might consider acquiring a copy of the heavy tome “THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM: Crimes, Terror, Repression” by Stephane Courtois.

    Alright, last thing . . .

    In my twenties, I used to wear a leather motorcycle jacket. But this was no ordinary leather motorcycle jacket. I found it selling on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, where I lived. (The store had only ONE like it. Fortunately, it was my size.) Melrose was this street with funky shops selling all kinds of unusual things you wouldn’t find anywhere else in L.A. or, in some cases, anywhere else PERIOD!

    I spent a boatload of money for that jacket, but I had to have it because it represented two things for me: 1) A red jacket is one of the most recognizable symbols related to James Dean, and 2) the jacket’s shade of red was identical to the shade of red that Van Gogh used to create the walls in his famous pool hall painting.

    Click the link HERE to see the Van Gogh painting I’m referring to.

    The moment I saw that jacket in the shop, my mind said: James Dean meets Vincent Van Gogh. I GOTTA have it!

    And yes, I was so familiar with Van Gogh’s works that I actually recognized that shade of red as a perfect match for the pool hall painting even without having to fetch a print of the painting to compare them.

    AlliAllo, I KNEW you and I would see eye-to-eye one of these days. Ha!

    Good luck with the new story! I'm interested in its development.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

  22. Wow! Im very interested in this story Jess, it spiked my curiosity.
    In my case, I go for the good and old internet, since most of my settings don't exist : )
    Still, absolutely loved the concept of your new story, as cruel as it may be.

  23. Ah, your poor character! Yes, Jen, I do cringe when I answer these questions because some of the stuff we do to our characters is just horrible! Eep. The story sounds cool Jess and I love that it takes place in Europe. So glad I could help!

  24. Man that is some major torture you have to decided on how to inflict. Remind me never to upset you. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  25. Wow--powerful stuff, Jessica. Lydia is so good at the medical stuff!! :-)

  26. Very intriguing idea. Lydia is fab. I was researching shin implants today for one of my stories ... I didn't expect to find out you can actually, really get them. Gads. My husband has raised an eyebrow at the centaur research. lol

  27. Lydia knows her stuff. Wow, that is rough. I couldn't do it.

  28. The medical description really did churn my stomach. It's really cruel and unusual punishment. Could you maybe just pick one for the punishment instead of both. I think she might die from shock. Wow, if you write this story, it will be a story few will forget.

  29. Oh, this sounds like such a sad story. I'm curious as to how she will be able to cope and continue to have the joy of music in her life and how this society will learn from it's own forced cruelty. (I interview people for characters, sometimes they know it, sometimes they don't. We call that eavesdropping.)

  30. I hope you have some lighter stuff on the side - to read, or write, or listen to - when you write this novel. It sounds compelling - potentially gruesome in parts - but a page-turner.

  31. I'm not so sure it's a question of what makes us place horrific circumstances on our characters, but proving to ourselves that we could survive horrific circumstances. Reassuring ourselves that someone will help guide us back to life when we've lost our will to breathe.

    There are so many people who have actually experienced unimaginable pain, torture and abuse. To have that hope to hang desperately to is the only thing that helps heal.

    I think your story might travel the path of darkness and macabre, but there is hope when Concetta is pulled from the water. There is a chance for happier ending. Go for it!

  32. Oh man! This is dark! I'm wondering what inspired such seemingly bizarre laws. Will definitely be looking out for more of this one.

  33. For some reason, I like the idea of this book...

  34. This is awesome. I love the premise. I'm sure you can pull it off. I can envision this story as a very moving piece. Wow! What a project!

  35. Wow, Jess! The concept for this new novel is fascinating! Would this be a post-apocalyptic story? I think this is the perfect direction for you to go in, too. I've read some of your darker stuff and you really have a sensibility that makes your work unique and engaging. You write in a way that makes readers turn the page, even while they squirm. Best of luck with this new project!!!!!


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris