Saturday, November 1, 2014

Accusation: A Short Story

Image courtesy of Jack Sparrow at
Well, I realize it's a day late for scary stories, but I hadn't posted anything in a while and I felt like I ought to.  I had one story I was working on, but simply didn't have time to finish.  Perhaps another time.  However, I remembered a short story I wrote back at Community College as a school assignment, and since it was a response to a literature assignment with a speculative fiction spin, I thought it would be perfect for Lamps and Mirrors.

In my class "The Short Story and the Novel," we read Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung). Now if you ever want an intersection of literature and speculative fiction, there it is. I absolutely loved it.  For our assignment, my super awesome teacher Doug J. gave us two options: write a brief response paper, or, using Jane Smiley's "Gregor: My Life as a Bug" as an example, write a "sequel" or continuation of The Metamorphosis.  If we chose the latter, we were to use it as a sort of explication of our understanding of the story.  So, preferring creative writing to academic, I chose the second option.  The following short story is the result of that assignment.

 © A.L.S. Vossler

Her screams jolted him out of sleep for the sixth time that week.  She often behaved like this at night, seemingly deaf to her own screeches—and anything else around her—for despite his attempts to wake her, her eyes remained tightly shut and she continued to moan in terror or pain.  Her flagellating arms and legs could not be made to lie still, and combined with her swollen belly, she reminded him forcibly of insects that, once laid upon their backs, cannot right themselves. 

The first convulsion had happened on their wedding night, and it had frightened him to be certain, but he was of the philosophy that auspicious beginnings were a luxury in this day and age, and a working man simply had to take what he could get.  He occasionally prided himself on his courage—after all, any other man would have already divorced the fragile young thing; but he, ah, he would stay beside her and somehow make everything right.  He had watched her convulsions again and again, night after night; never seeming to come closer to discovering the cause behind them.  She would always awake as her phantasm left her with a final shriek; trembling, she would cling to him and weep, all the while whispering, “Forgive me, forgive me.”
He always forgave her.  But this was not the cure.

When he had first met Grete Samsa, she was a rosy-cheeked, beautiful creature: the daughter of an associate at the office.  Mr. Samsa, by all accounts, had recently escaped some kind of medical misfortune; for where he had seemed wan before, he now appeared to be the picture of health.  His once-rumpled uniform was now pristine daily.

“You look well as of late, Mr. Samsa,” he told his colleague one morning shortly after this peculiar metamorphosis.

“Thank you, Mr. Anklage,” replied Mr. Samsa, with a wide grin.  “We have had a recent happy event at my household.”

“Might I inquire as to what that might be?” Anklage asked congenially.

A shadow crossed Mr. Samsa’s visage.  “Well, perhaps it is of little consequence after all.”  The lines that traced his brow furrowed, as though he was straining after a memory, but age or some other agent prevented it from being recalled.  It was at that moment that Grete entered the scene, her rosy cheeks glowing with all the vitality of youth, carrying a basket which presumably contained Mr. Samsa’s midday meal.  She kissed her father as she passed him the basket, but her eyes lingered with a bashful curiosity on Anklage’s face, and her rosy face turned a deeper crimson shade.  Mr. Samsa smiled knowingly, and with a charming smile proceeded to ask Anklage to dinner.

Things between Anklage and Grete proceeded in clock-work fashion, and within months their marriage was in order. Everything seemed perfect, and Anklage could do nothing but predict for himself a happy and fulfilling marriage.  But hardly had their blissful lives together begun when these ferocious dreams began gripping Grete during the early hours of the morning; after she awoke, she could say no words other than “forgive me.”

During their waking hours together, Anklage was loath to bring up the matter, for if he even mentioned the nighttime outbursts, Grete would cry out, bury her face in her hands, or in the most extreme case, take her fingernails and dig them into her own flesh until her blood, dark with unbalanced humors, formed stains of penitence on her white blouse.  At times like these he attempted to restrain her, but she would not be appeased until the blood had successfully made its mark.  Fearful of her reaction, Anklage kept the matter to himself. 

As the months of their marriage progressed, Grete seemed more and more plagued by her nighttime visions, which now occurred six nights a week.  Sometimes, she burst into silent convulsions at the breakfast table after a peaceful night; every muscle in her body grew tense, and her jaw locked; until a small trickle of blood (from her tongue which she had managed to bite into) emerged at the corner of her mouth.  Then, only then, the fit passed.

Anklage’s alarm only continued to grow with Grete’s announcement of her pregnancy.  He begged that she see a doctor for the convulsions, but she refused and started clawing at herself so fiercely that he was terrified to bring up the subject again for fear of his child’s life.  As the baby grew inside her, the visions came with a startling new frequency; sometimes twice a night. 

Now, as he watched her, swinging her arms about wildly as always during the paroxysms, he could do nothing but pray for the preservation his child and his wife.  Her time was expected any day now, and he was afraid that she might go into labor at any moment.  He spoke soothing words and stroked her swollen belly as the spasms racked her body, forever hoping that he might reach her.  He could feel his unborn child too, suffering from the same agitated dreams that plagued its mother.   The characteristic final shriek shook her, and she opened her eyes, terrified, and looked up into her husband’s eyes.

“God Almighty!” she cried.  “Gregor, open up!  I’m pleading with you!”

The atypical words affected Anklage with such shock he could barely react.  “Who is Gregor?”

“I—” Grete’s eyes darted to and fro madly.  “I don’t remember!” she screamed, and began digging her nails into her large belly. 

With a bellow of terror, Anklage grabbed his wife’s hands away from their defenseless child.  But only blood would appease her, and she fought him with preternatural strength.  He allowed her nails to scratch deeply into her legs until she drew blood, yet even after this she still screamed as madly as ever.

“I killed him!  I killed him!  We all killed him! And did we weep in his passing?  We were overjoyed!  And he delivered us from debt, from brother...!   Forgive!  Forgive!”

“I forgive you!” shouted Anklage, over the noise of her shouts.

“Your forgiveness has no power!  His blood is on me, my children!  We who destroyed him!”  She began to scream unintelligibly, her body shaking as it had never done before, her voice attaining an unearthly, inhuman pitch; until with a snap, barely detectable amidst the chaos, her womb burst, and a cascade of polluted amniotic fluid spilled onto the bedcovers.  Silence struck the room, as Grete’s panicked face froze.     

Something inside of her distended body was stirring, ready to leave its prison.

Comments or constructive criticism are welcome in the comments.

Lamps and Mirrors is updated sporadically, so if you are so inclined keep up with my literary (or other) musings, use the form in the sidebar to subscribe.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Exercise in Speculation

Since Lamps and Mirrors is a speculative fiction blog, I thought we could engage in a little speculation exercise today. 

Imagine, if you will, a world where the single most common birth defect is a horrible, debilitating disorder.  This irreparable defect manifests itself in many ways.  For some, it results in physical deformation; sometimes slight, sometimes significant.  For others, it results in crippling mental disorders, including developmental delays and mood disorders.  This defect prevents the sufferers from understanding cause and effect.  Their mental age is roughly half their physical age, and that’s at the most.

For the most unlucky, it results in a combination of physical and mental defects. 

There is no therapy to make this defect go away.  No surgery to correct it.  No treatment will ever repair it, not even the most advanced technology there is.

Imagine also that this birth defect, while impossible to repair, is one hundred percent preventable. 

You might be imagining a world like that in the movie Gattaca, where people can order genetic designer babies with absolutely no defects.  No, this scenario is much simpler than that.  Instead, imagine that doctors have developed technology that will guarantee that no baby will ever suffer this particular birth defect.  It is the simplest thing in the world: all that a pregnant woman has to do is carry a small, powerful box that prevents the defect. 

She has to carry it with her every day.   She has to have it on her person at every moment, from conception to delivery.  As long as she has this box, she will be guaranteed that her baby will not develop this devastating disorder.

Imagine further that this technology is provided to women absolutely free of charge.  There is no cost.  There’s no excuse not to get one of these anti-defect boxes, because there are free anti-defect box vending machines spaced every three feet no matter where you are in the world. 

It’s practically a paradise; a world where mothers have total control over protecting their children from this one particular birth defect, no matter what.

Now imagine that there is a woman who decides not to use one of these boxes.  It’s scientifically proven that her baby will be born with this disorder if she does not carry the box with her at all times.  Even if she puts it down for just one day, her baby could suffer serious consequences.  

But she doesn’t want to use this box.  None of her friends have to carry a box around.  Life is so much more fun without the box.  Still, she feels guilty about not using the box, so she tries to use it at least occasionally.  This still won’t protect her baby.  Every time she goes a day without the box, her baby becomes worse and worse.  Even hours without the box can hurt the baby. 

She doesn’t like the box.  She can’t take it to parties.  Plus, being pregnant is stressful, and not using the box helps her to relax.

Imagine this world.  This world where the single most common birth defect is the only completely preventable one.  Now imagine that mothers everywhere are refusing to do what will prevent it, for whatever reason.

Open your eyes.  This is not the Twilight Zone.  This is not speculation.   

This is our reality, and it’s our reality today.  The only thing speculative about this is the anti-defect box.  In reality, the answer is not a magical box; it's abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the single most common birth defect in the world.  It, and birth defects caused by other substance abuse, are the only birth defects which are one hundred percent preventable.

The only ones. 

And all that the mother needs to do is not drink any alcohol.  It’s totally free.  There is no excuse for drinking while pregnant. Not because it makes you uncomfortable at parties, not because drinking relieves stress, not because it’s inconvenient. 

Everywhere, women know that drinking hurts their babies.  Everywhere, there are women who still choose to drink while pregnant.  Everywhere, babies are being born into a lifetime of disorder and distress because their mothers couldn’t stop drinking alcohol for forty weeks. 

September is FASD awareness month.  And even though we are moving into October, this is something we cannot forget during the rest of the year.   Encourage the women in your life not to drink while pregnant.  Tell the women (pregnant or not) who suffer from alcoholism or other substance addiction that they can overcome their addictions.  Help and support them.  Encourage them.  They can’t undo the drinking they’ve done already during their pregnancy, but they can prevent their baby’s FASD from becoming worse than it already is.  Tell them that they are valuable and loved, and that you will help them while they struggle against their addiction.  Help them get through their pregnancies without one more drop of alcohol, one more puff of marijuana, or one more line of cocaine. 

For those women who have FASD children, whether biological or adopted, help and encourage them in their struggle to help their child have as normal a life as possible.  For the guilt-ridden woman who drank during pregnancy, offer forgiveness and aid.  Befriend any children and adults who suffer from FASD.  Let them know that they are valuable and loved. 

Together, we can prevent FASD and be a balm to the hurt of those who already suffer.

It’s not speculative. 

Image courtesy of
Learn more about FASD at these websites: 

Please help me spread awareness of this important issue by sharing this post on your favorite social network.

In the comments, give a shout-out of support all those who suffer from FASD and addiction.

Lamps and Mirrors is updated sporadically, so if you are so inclined keep up with my literary (or other) musings, use the form in the sidebar to subscribe. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: "Vines"

Late night sleeplessness and jasmine oolong tea seem to be good for the poetic muse.

© 2014 A.L.S. Vossler

Branches vine together;
twist and turn, turn and twist—
Fantasy, Reality:
symbiotic, synergistic,
distinct, yet intertwined—
different leaves and different blossoms,
with thorns both tangled tight.
One reflects and One defines,
One a host, the Other guest.
Dual trees of single root—
for what we label 'fantasy'
springs up from reality,
but what we name 'reality'
was once Creator's fantasy—
which is tree and which is shoot?
One a guest, the Other, host,
One defines and One reflects.
Both tangled tight with thorns,
different blossoms, different leaves,
intertwined yet so distinct—
synergistic, symbiotic,
Reality and Fantasy:
turn and twist, twist and turn—
Branches vine together.

As always, constructive criticism is welcome in the comments.

Lamps and Mirrors is updated sporadically, so if you are so inclined keep up with my literary musings, use the form in the sidebar to subscribe.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

347 Things You Should NEVER DO in Writing or Your Work Will SUCK Because I Said So!

Have you ever noticed that lots of writing websites and magazines are full of advice?  They dole out instructions as though ex cathedra, all with the smarmy superiority that comes from knowing that what they say is how all writing should be.

Have you ever noticed how many great books flagrantly ignore these rules?

I am not saying that all of the rules are bad.  Some are helpful.  For example, avoid using adverbs and a weaker verb when you can use one stronger verb.  That's helpful.  That's good advice.  Many take that and say, "do a search through your document and eliminate every thing that ends in -ly." (Lovely and only are exceptions, since they are adjectives and not adverbs.)

That, my friends, is bull crap.

At least in my opinion.  Eliminating your weaker verb-adverb pairs, if you can, is a good idea.  To flagrantly label all adverbs as some kind of satanic force lurking in your manuscript, causing you to suck as a writer, is stupid.  Adverbs add flavor.  They are good.  Like spices, you don't want too many of them.  But saying that all adverbs in writing are bad (and there are some who literally believe this) is like saying that putting spices in your food ruins your food.  There is such a thing as too much spice, or the wrong kind of spice, but your food will be bland without it.

Again, all of this is my opinion.  But then again, I haven't fed on the honey-dew and partaken of the milk of paradise that gives all of these writing magazines their divine authority to declare all things must be a certain way.  Therefore, my argument is invalid.

Another helpful rule is to avoid flowery writing.  Once again, this is a helpful notion.  You don't want everything to be poetic to the point of being florid.  However, some unilaterally impose the rule of ALL flowery writing is bad ALL the time NO MATTER WHAT.

Once again, bull crap.

Do I need to pull out the spice analogy again?  Maybe a home decor analogy would be better.  You don't want too much of a certain thing in your decor because it gets cluttered and over-the-top.  But saying to get rid of all flowery writing in every instance is like telling someone they should live in a sterile white home with no color.

But hey, I'm not God like those writing mags, so I'm probably wrong.

There are hundreds of rules like this. Never use exclamation points.  Use speech tags as little as possible. Don't let your characters become overly emotional more than once per book, because real people don't have multiple emotional outbursts very often. (That last one should win awards for the least accurate advice ever.)   They go on and on and on, and articles on writing perpetuate them as though they are divine rules written by God Himself onto stone tablets at Sinai.

The end result of all writers following all of these rules exactly will be the single most boring period of literature heretofore in history.

Literature innovates.  It breaks the rules.  I'm not talking about flagrantly disregarding good advice, because all of these suggestions have some wisdom to them.  It's the difference between saying, "wearing black has a slimming effect" and demanding that everyone must wear black or they are complete fashion failures.

Why do I use a fashion analogy?  Because fashion changes from time period to time period.  Why does it change?  Innovators change it.  Fashion would be boring if people didn't introduce new ones or experiment with it in some way.

That's what most of these 'rules' are.  Fashion.  It's not 'stylish' to do x, y, or z, so don't do it.

Funny how the people who make these rules are the ones profiting from them.  They take something that one or two successful authors did, make it a rule, put it in a magazine, slap a price tag on that sucker, and then rake in the moolah as thousands of writers pay to learn how they too can NOT SUCK. (Oooh, that last one was a run-on sentence.  Kick me out of the real writers club, because I broke a rule.)

With writing, there aren't rules.  There are good practices that make sense, and in general, should be adhered to.  There is plenty of wisdom to be obtained from the experience of others.  But writing is not math, people.  If you want a career field that is dominated by HARD and FAST RULES then you should be studying mathematics.

Even in math, though, innovators experiment to find new ways of solving problems.  Do the 'rules' change?  No.  But mathematics still evolve.

If you're desperate for writing rules, I can't offer you any.  But here are some suggestions:

1.) It is useful and important to know the 'rules'.  You have to know them in order to break them.  It's the difference between ignorance and intention.

2.) Take writing advice with a grain of salt.  Trust your gut.

3.) Well-behaved women writers seldom make history.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Continuity Error

Heroes in a half…..whatever.

In order to begin today’s blogging adventure, I am forced to admit that yes, I do, in fact, watch Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  However, the subject of today’s blog really is not so much about the show itself, but rather what the show exemplifies: the “willing suspension of disbelief.”

This is a subject which has been hashed and rehashed since the phrase was first used by none other than my good Romantic buddy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  “The Phrase Finder,” a delightful British website that explores the origins of various idioms, offered this succinct explanation:

This term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions:

"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours [sic] should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."

The state is arguably an essential element when experiencing any drama or work of fiction. We may know very well that we are watching an actor or looking at marks on paper, but we wilfully [sic] accept them as real in order to fully experience what the artist is attempting to convey.

The expression has since been hijacked beyond poetry to any number of different applications, one of which, most notably, is the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre.  In many respects, this makes a good deal of sense.  If one is going to be reading about wizards, vampires, alternate realities, and various other things which do not exist or are simply impossible, one needs to overlook these absurdities and accept them as real.  Ursula K. Leguin, in the introduction to her excellent novel The Left Hand of Darkness, humorously notes that when one reads a story, one temporarily becomes insane and believes in things that are not real.

This is why I think that the lean, green ninja team is such a good example of the willing suspension of disbelief.  I mean, for crying out loud, it’s a show about teenage mutant ninja turtles! The title alone requires one to put reality aside. Of course, as fan of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, this is second nature to me.  I am able to put the absolute ludicrousness of the show’s main premise and enjoy it a great deal. 

At the same time, the threshold for the willing suspension of disbelief is highly individual.  As with pain thresholds, each person has a certain level before they start screaming in agony.  For example, my father, a lifetime reader of speculative fiction, absolutely cannot stand Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I asked him why, and his response was, “They make my brain hurt.”  He is, of course, absolutely scandalized that his adult daughter watches and enjoys it.  By the way, this only makes me enjoy it even more. 

Perhaps it is the childishness of the show that turns my father off, but I think also that the premise itself strains his willingness to even try suspending disbelief.  I can relate to this—for me, it’s the Twilight saga.  The premise itself does not appeal to me, and therefore things that fans readily overlook drive me batty (vampire pun noted).  In other words, Twilight makes my brain hurt.

This is something that all writers of fantasy need to keep in mind; sometimes the premise itself strains the imagination of the readers.  Is your premise so strange that most people won’t be willing to give it a go?  Given the wide variety of tastes in this world, you’ll never be able to win everyone, but a good premise should still appeal to quite a few people.  However, even a good premise can tank if the execution is poor. 

The biggest culprit for ending the suspension of disbelief is continuity errors.  I don’t mean problems with the continuity of the plot line itself, though that is something undesirable as well.  I mean continuity errors in the rules of the imaginary universe itself.  For example, I am able to accept all of the silliness of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in all its goofy green glory, but one thing that drives me absolutely insane is the fact that there never seem to be any people in New York.  If we are to take this universe that is set in reality but has supernatural elements like aliens, rat ninja masters, and talking turtles, we still expect it to follow the other rules of our “real” universe.  One of these rules is that New York is absolutely packed with people, day and night.  The idea that the streets are largely vacant at night is silly.

Note that it is this that strains my credulity, not, you know, the whole teenage mutant ninja turtles taught ninjutsu by a rat.  It’s because I can suspend the disbelief in mutants; I can’t accept that in an otherwise “normal” universe, New York City magically seems empty anytime the turtles need it to be. I have an entire laundry list of things that bug me about that show—another of which is the whole “heroes in a half-shell” bit.  They have an entire shell, people.  I know you’re trying to be clever and cute and catchy, but the turtles have their whole shell!


The point is that continuity and consistency is crucial.  If I’m supposed to believe that a=b and b=c, then I darn better well find out that a=c.  If it doesn’t, it’s going to make me mad.  In many cases, this will be a total deal breaker for the reader or the viewer.  In the case of TMNT, I am willing to deal with my complaints because I like the show enough otherwise.  I also accept that it is a kids’ show and kids have a much, much higher threshold than grown-ups. 

Thus, while the topic of the willing suspension of disbelief has nearly been beaten to death, it is absolutely crucial that authors always keep it in the back of their minds.  I like this thought that the website "TV Tropes" offers:

Any creative endeavor, certainly any written creative endeavor, is only successful to the extent that the audience offers this willing suspension as they read, listen, or watch. It's part of an unspoken contract: The writer provides the reader/viewer/player with a good story, and in return, they…accept the reality of the story as presented and accepted that characters in the fictional universe act on their own accord.

An author's work, in other words, does not have to be realistic, only believable and internally consistent…When the author pushes the audience too far, the work fails.

This is why consistency and continuity are so crucial to successful stories.  Not all members of one’s audience are going to be that forgiving.  Orson Scott Card reiterates again and again how vital rules are in speculative fiction.

Before you can tell a meaningful story, you have to hone and sharpen your understanding of the world, and that begins with the fundamental rules, the natural laws.  Remember, because speculative fiction always differs from the knowable world, the reader is uncertain about what can and can’t happen in the story until the writer has spelled out the rules.  And you, as a writer, can’t be certain of anything until you know the rules as well (36). [Emphasis original]

So, while “world creation sounds like a marvelous free-for-all” (Card 36), it is actually an affront to your audience to be inconsistent.  Some might be generous enough to accept the “a wizard did it” argument, a phrase which originated in the popular TV show The Simpsons.  A lot of people don’t, though.  "TV Tropes" defines the expression thusly:

The standard all-encompassing explanation for any continuity errors noticed by hardcore fans of any given fantasy show: If it doesn't make sense, A Wizard Did It. […] However, using it to excuse major Plot Holes that the creators really should've caught beforehand will make people rightly angry.

Think about that for a moment. “Rightly angry.”  Not “angry,” or “nit-picky,” but “rightly angry.”  There is another phenomenon that can be insulting, known as “Bellasario’s Maxim.” It is: “Don’t examine this too closely.” According to TV Tropes it was

Said by producer Donald P. Bellisario on March 17, 1990 at an SF convention in response to a persistent fan with very specific questions about the way things worked on Bellisario's series Quantum Leap. An unashamed admission of handwaving details unnecessary to the enjoyment of a show, and an exhortation to not let the obsession with those details get in the way of the story. Implicit in the Maxim is a request to understand that the story is being told by a small production team that (due to the limitations of the medium) has to work quickly, with limited budget and tight deadlines, and has to dodge Executive Meddling, all while trying to turn out the best product it can.

Okay, maybe we all have the urge to ask our audience to overlook errors, but when we don’t, they still will be “rightly angry.”  Granted, I also like Quantum Leap in spite of its absurdities.

The willing suspension of disbelief is something which all authors rely on, but one must be careful not to rely on it too much.  Never ask more suspension from your readers than you yourself are willing to give—and even then it’s important to stop and think about the rules of your speculative world from every angle. 

As Card so beautifully sums it up, “The rules you establish don’t limit you; they open up possibilities.  Know the rules, and the rules will set you free” (45-46).


Works Cited

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990.

Martin, Gary. "Suspension of Disbelief.” Phrase Finder. 17 Mar. 2014. [ ].

TV Tropes Foundation, LLC. “A Wizard Did It.” TV Tropes. 16 Mar. 2014. [].

---.“Bellasario’s Maxim.” TV Tropes. 16 Mar. 2014. [].

---. "Willing Suspension of Disbelief." TV Tropes. 16 Mar. 2014. [].

Friday, March 21, 2014


To set the context for today's Poetry Friday, I have had a few things published.  A couple of short stories made the cut for my community college’s webzine, and a few of my poems were published in my university’s humanities journal.  I also worked for a newspaper for the better part of a year, where I wrote a weekly column and also wrote several articles.  I have done movie reviews, book reviews, and even a couple of pieces of creative non-fiction.  Then, of course, there is this blog, though a debate exists amongst the writing community as to whether a blog counts as being published.  Regardless, a smattering of my work has appeared in various publications; therefore I suppose I can say that I am a published writer.

It has been my life’s dream to have a novel published, however.  Since I was fifteen (which is rapidly becoming longer and longer ago) I have worked on one novel or another.  Now, I am closer than ever to being completely done with one—I tried to garner some interest with a publisher by sending them the first few chapters.  Naturally, I received a very polite form letter, but that hasn’t discouraged me.

The other day I was thinking about how much of my life I have poured into my writing; it has occurred to me before that the amount of time an author puts in is gargantuan in respect to the amount of time a reader does.  Particularly if that reader is like me, who demolishes books more than she reads them.  I can read a 600-page novel in under a week, as long as I don’t actually sleep very much.  But even if I take my time, the most time I will spend is probably one or two months.  One or two months of my life is all it takes to consume something that the author spent years crafting.  Some authors can churn out a novel a year—but even then it’s a year versus one or two months.

So, when I think about the prospect of my novel being published, the idea is bittersweet.  It’s weird to think that something I put years into might be read in a month or less. 
But this is the nature of all art.  


(c)2014 A.L.S. Vossler

Here between these pages,
I have spilled ink
like droplets of black sweat,
like dark splashing tears,
like a pouring out of blood,
a pouring out of life,
of years of careful crafting,
obsessing, perfecting.
Hours and hours of labor
are typeset and reproduced
as easy as pressing a button,
as swift as a bird in flight,
as myriad as a flock of doves
bursting from their long-shut cote,
only to be caught a moment,
admired briefly, and released.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Apologies for the Hiatus

If any of you read this blog on a semi-regular basis, you may remember that one of my goals for the New Year was to post weekly on Lamps and Mirrors. 

Ha! Hilarious, aren't I?

So, I offer my deepest apologies for my long absence.  Life has been rather hectic, and as you may be aware, my last post was about lacking a certain inspiration.

I plan to resume posting more regularly, but every week will most likely be an endeavor I will not be able to attain--notably with Poetry Fridays.  I can write about writing on demand far more easily than I can write poetry on demand.  Poetry really does require a certain attention to detail and nurturing that does not lend itself well to deadlines, which is part of the reason that most creative writing courses give you a drafting deadline for your poetry and then focus primarily on revision over a course of multiple class periods.

That being said, I do have a poem prepared for this Friday, but it may be the last Poetry Friday until I am once again taken over the poetic muse.

I do have multiple exciting topics planned for other posts, though. This weekend I'll be exploring my own take on the idea of "the willing suspension of disbelief." For future posts, I will be discussing some other articles that have been written about writing, as well as writing up a review of William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope.

(Go ahead.  Let that title sink in for a moment. Let the pure, unadulterated nerdiness wash over you. Besides, it's not like I'm reviewing my sister's copy of Hamlet translated into Klingon.)

In conclusion, don't let my long absences dash all of your hopes for future posts. 

Come back this Friday and Saturday and don't miss out on all the literary fun!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Hail...Muse?

Poetry is not exactly something which can be forced.  Okay, it can be forced, but in general, the result is terrible.  Hence, you are reading this today instead of the regularly scheduled Poetry Friday. Instead, I want to talk about something poetry-ish while not actually writing poetry.  Okay, so maybe I’ll write some poetry; it is Poetry Friday after all.  I mean, limericks technically are poetry…technically. 

Sculpting Don Juan like Myron, 
“Hail, Muse! Et cet’ra,” wrote Byron.
What poets invoke
He saw as a joke
‘Midst the Romantic environ. 

(My scanning is not wrongly done.  Byron pronounced Juan, “JOO-ən.” Professors do say that this is the way it is, judging by his scansion.) 

That was my semi-poetic introduction to today’s semi-poetic topic: The Muse.  

George, Lord Byron was considered a bit of a Romantic era apostate for his view of the Muse (amongst other things).  One of my very favorite lines of Don Juan is when Byron opens the section by writing, “Hail Muse! Et cetera.” This was a bit of a stab at those Romantic era writers who still employed the invoking of the muse as part of their poetry.  

Back in the good ‘ol days of Greek yore, the Muse was a semi-deity who supposedly came to the poets and gave them their inspiration for writing.  Greek writers frequently invoked the Muse.  Later, the invoking of the Muse fell into disuse, particularly with the advent of shorter poetical forms such as the sonnet.  The decline of polytheistic religion and the rise of Christianity’s prominence throughout the Western poetry-writing world also contributed to the poetic Muse’s demise.  By the time the Enlightenment rolled around, the idea of the Muse was laughable. 

Enter the Romantic Poets.  The Romantic movement was largely a pendulum-like reaction to the Enlightenment.  The Romantic philosophy saw a return to nature and the ‘primitive man.’  Much of the poetry of this era is characterized by pantheism and the idea of the poet as semi-divine.  Whereas for the Greek poets, the Muse was an actual deity, to the Romantic writers, the Muse was in fact part of the whole natural universe, flowing through each of us.  Of course, some were especially tuned into this, so they were elected by the divine spirits to be poets.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the earlier Romantic poets who subscribed to this; in “The Eolian Harp” we see him as the harp (poet) played by the wind (the divine pantheistic Muse).  Likewise, in “Kubla Khan,” we see the poet as one who has been elected by the powers of the earth.  (Apparently brought on by feeding on honey-dew.  Your individual results may vary. )  

So, the Romantic poets returned to the custom of invoking the Muse—though not as such.  Instead, you see nature taking the part of the Muse.  Part of the reason Wordsworth and Coleridge (particularly his earlier works) are such a pain to read is due to their rambling on and on forever about nature before they get to the actual point of the poem (I’m talking about you, “This Lime Tree Bower, My Prison”). 

Even Byron’s fellow Romantic apostate Percy Bysshe Shelley still subscribed to this semi-divine poet business.  Though they both saw nature in decay rather than in glory, if you read “Ode to West Wind,” you will see a very depressed Shelley calling on the spirit of the wind to inspire him. (I knew an English professor who referred to Shelley as the emo kid of the poetry world.) However, Byron’s delightfully satirical writing mocks the idea of an all-inspiring Muse (not to mention a few less-than-friendly jabs at Wordsworth).  “Hail Muse! Et cetera” is his flippant rejection of such a concept.
After the Romantic era, the idea of the Muse once again fell into disuse, except for the occasional reference.  Saying “the Muse is upon me” is just a way of saying you’ve had a brilliant idea.  Heck, that’s even where we get “to muse,” as in to ponder or think about. 

So, now that you have read this little introduction to the notion of the Muse, I want to ask:
Is there such a thing?

Granted, I don’t believe in a Greek semi-deity or a pantheistic, milk-of-paradise-dispensing spirit that inspires people to write, but I have to admit, there are times that a writer just gets those I-have-to-write-it-now-or-I’ll-explode moments (mostly at terribly inconvenient moments).  Contrast these with the “meh” moments where you can’t seem to put a single word on the page, and even if you do, you strike it out. 

Think about it.  We call it writer’s block, or the writing doldrums.  Doldrums are places without wind; a place where you get stuck while sailing.  It seems as if a lot of writers feel like their ideas are beyond their control, just like being a leaf blown around in the wind. (Hmm, where have I heard that idea before?)

I know that I feel this way.  Sometimes, I’ve got nothing, and then I feel “inspired” and just write and write and write.  On the other hand, I am capable of forcing myself to write without feeling inspired, and frequently do.  I admit that the quality is diminished in these cases, though.

Now, if you read Writer’s Digest or similar types of things, you will frequently hear people support the idea of writing whether you “feel like it” or not.  Waiting for inspiration will get you nowhere.  The best thing to do, so the advice generally goes, is write whatever and then go back and fix it.  And this is sound advice.  I have used that advice on multiple occasions 

There is something to be said for the “you can’t edit a blank page” camp, but without the inspiration, without the Muse, is what you’ve written even worth editing? At least, this is how I’ve been rationalizing my lack of writing lately.  In all honesty, I think there is something to be said for waiting for inspiration; on the other hand, the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy is useful as well.  

But I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it doesn’t ever work for writing poetry.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even work for prose.  It does work for blog posts, though, which is mostly why this one is so terrible.
Perhaps I need to feed on some honey-dew.  Now, do you think that's the melon or some kind of nectar?  And where can I get some milk of paradise to chase that down with?

What do you think of inspiration versus perspiration in writing? Does it work for all forms or just some? If you write poetry, do you have to feel ‘inspired’ first? Did you find the second limerick hidden in the post? Did you like it?  Why am I asking so many questions?  Leave your thoughts or pleas for me to shut up in the comments.