Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and numerous short stories. Her newest series, Los Nefilim, is from Harper Voyager Impulse, and the Los Nefilim omnibus contains all three novellas: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death in one convenient book.
What the Ears No Longer Hear, The Brain Remembers
by Teresa Frohock
Writing about sound when I’m deaf is a tricky thing at times. When people ask me how I do it, I always tell them that what the ears no longer hear, the brain remembers. You see, I wasn’t born deaf. I began to lose my hearing in my early teens, and it has been a gradual loss over the years. I can still hear sound, but not in the same way others can.
High pitched noises, for example, go completely out of my hearing range. I can no longer hear crickets or birdsong, flutes or violins. So when I listen to a musical arrangement, I lose the higher pitches, but hear the bass tones still available to me. My brain, on the other hand, recalls the sounds, so that from an author’s perspective, I can describe the melodies from memory.
Even so, I don’t write as much about pitch and melody as how the music makes us feel. Song is not simply about the arrangement of chords. Music is passion made manifest in all of its myriad forms, and capturing that passion on the page is no easy matter.
I rely on the power of words to convey rhythm. No one likes to talk about poetry, but all writing is poetry. One of my favorite reviews of Alex Bledsoe’s works was by Charles Stross, who commented that Alex writes in plainsong–a beautiful form of expression–and it is the poetry of that plainsong that carries Alex’s works.
My stories are more ethereal in that respect. When I imagine the angels singing, I hear in my brain the sounds that NASA discovered in interstellar space. Likewise, the Nefilim can shape those same notes, but with the addition of the human vibrations of their vocal chords.
Yet when I’m writing, I have to think of some way in which to convey those sounds to my reader. I have to work within the familiar to deliver a magical experience the reader can enjoy. I used flamenco, a dance form native to Andalusia, except I must use words to carry the beat of the dancers’ feet. In the end, it looks a lot like this:
Before he could doubt himself, Diago took his place in front of the skull. “And now, my beautiful Amparo, you will knock on Heaven’s door while I break down the gates of Hell.”
She grinned sweetly as he raised his arms over his head. He cupped his right hand and used the fingers of his left to strike his palm. His wedding band flashed streams of silver in the air. The beats grew faster as he closed his eyes. Reaching deep within himself, he thought of the stars and the endless void. He sent forth a cry, both wild and sweet, and as he did, he kicked his heel against the floor.
Green fire flew between the skull’s teeth. Amparo’s bones vibrated with the fury of Diago’s song. As they clacked against the concrete, the last remnants of her magic flew free and took the form of a glyph. The music rose upward through the floors until it reached the upper levels of the asylum—high-pitched like whale song, the perfect tone for an angel’s ear.
With the remnants of Amparo’s voice entwined with his, Diago danced around her bones. His feet moved him without disturbing the arrangement. And as he leapt, he drew on his daimonic nature and sang a lament aimed at the caverns beneath the earth. His voice resonated through the vaults.
The power of his desperation blew out the naked bulb overhead. In the corridor, the other light exploded in a shower of sparks.
Other than the silver glow of Diago’s wedding band, the basement cells were plunged into darkness. Diago didn’t pause. He danced by the light of Miquel’s love and sang for his son’s soul.
I relied not on notes, but the familiar: a cry “wild and sweet”; “high-pitched like whale song” (indicating a tenor for the Heavens); “sang a lament”; “his voice resonated” (indicating a lower vocal range for the depths of the earth). All of those words trick your brain into hearing things.
Like all writing, it’s a form of magic.
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I haven’t spoken too much about my disability. Yet I have.
My characters live in a hearing world, so I have to adjust my work to encompass that world. I do that with words.
You will find evidence of my deafness in small matters within the text, too. For example, if you read my stories, you’ll notice that I spend a great deal of attention to the body language of my characters. This is because as a deaf person, I take numerous cues from people’s body language. At the same time, I must remember that hearing people take their cues from the sound of another person’s voice.
So when my ears fail me, my memories save me. Being deaf can be extremely stressful at times, but it also gives me the unlimited means to use my creativity to problem solve, and I translate that problem solving ability into words that trick your brain into hearing music. That is the magic of stories.