muted: a short story in verse
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More About This Title muted: a short story in verse


Note: This cyberpunk/dystopian short story is an experimental work of fiction written in verse. Page count: 30. Word count: 2000. It's illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing. Concetta, a famous Italian a capella singer from before "the change," 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 deterred, when she is distracted by a busking harpist with gold eyes and teeth. Will he show her how to sing again, or will the LEO on the prowl for another offender to detain, arrest her before she has the chance?


If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she'd give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a 30-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, award-winning poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she's written.

Being the daughter of a semi-famous rock 'n' roll duo from Melbourne, she grew up surrounded by song. For a while it seemed logical to travel the musician's path, especially when her first band, spAnk, hit it off in the Melbourne indie music scene back in the late 90s. Although she spent her years writing and recording dozens of songs she decided she also had a love for the written word, and began to pursue a career as a writer.

She started as a poet, drawing from her musical background and etching her thoughts and feelings into verse. Those stanzas soon turned into sentences and paragraphs, and eventually into published books. Her literary voice is said to overflow with "lyrical descriptions, unique metaphors, tight dialogue, and an abundance of sensory detail." She has also been told she has the ability to take a seemingly ordinary three-chord type story and turn it into a main stage event.

In addition to her novels, her poetry collections (including FABRIC, which was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2012), and her pocket writing guides (WRITING IN A NUTSHELL SERIES), she has published a variety of works in online and print literary journals and anthologies, including Australia's Cordite Review, and the anthologies 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND and SHADOWS AT THE STAGE DOOR, both released through Australia's, eMergent Publishing.

Additionally, she is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and makes a living as an editor/writer for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Note: Check out the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop she annually runs. In 2012 she had Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest, this year, 2013, she has Katharine Sands, New York literary agent as the main instructor.



"Muted" follows the personal revelation of the maimed Concetta amid social critique of the sterility and arrogance of the futuristic state. I cannot add to the story description provided by the author without spoiling plot points and character development. I do not wish to mar a first reading; or subsequent readings that will uncover greater depth. As Amie McCracken noted, the melding of minimalist language, striking metaphor, and rapid yet measured pacing, all are superlative.

"Muted" would work as short fiction or short story. It would capture the reader’s attention. It would provide residual thought long after finishing. It would be very good. However, by ennobling "Muted" to verse, Jessica Bell has elevated the agony and redemption of Concetta to literary art. Lines such as: “thriving on nude routine,” underscoring plot as well as the emasculated distinctiveness central to the story; and such as “the note softens / into a vibrato / like the flutter of butterfly wings” provide acoustic and literary reinforcement. The care of craft is evident throughout. This works!

Finally, I cannot end this review without remarking on the necessity, no – the pleasure, of reading this twice, or thrice in my case. Multilayered, multifaceted, Jessica Bell’s "Muted" provides far greater world building, emotional intensity, and psychological intrigue than works of far greater length or higher pretension. It is an inspiring and successfully aspired work to which I will return!


I think the word "wow!" (including exclamation mark) really sums this one up nicely. It's almost a horror story but there is sure something beautiful about it. The story takes place in a world where it's illegal to wear any sort of clothing that isn't the temperature-controlled fetus-membrane bodysuit issued to all citizens. Also illegal is singing - unless you're an employee of the Queen (who's a dude). The punishment for singing is, some might say, a fate worse than death - vocal chords slashed and eardrums surgically perforated.

I think it's amazing that a writer can create such a rich world full of potential in one little poem (well, okay, 2k words isn't that little for a poem, but still...). In a way this work reminds me a bit of the Japanese novel GROTESQUE, which I read and loved even though it was horrible. The main reason for my comparison there is that the storyline is at times incredibly ugly, but the description is incredibly beautiful. Sheer beauty and ugliness all rolled into one work of literature (or in this case, verse).


I started to read this short story in the morning, I didn't knew it was that short. I really love the beginning, it tells us a piece of Concetta's harsh life.
The story is really, really short, that's why I can't tell you a lot about it.
It's written in verse, which I really loved because it was a different way for me to read a story, and it was amazingly written, I loved the words she used and the way she arranged them.

“What’s the fucking point?”

You have to admit that the plot is really original and tough. It's a dystopian world, and it's hard to live in it.
The beginning, as I said before, it's wonderful. It leaves you with your mouth opened and saying "Oh my God, what a shock".
The cover is pretty cool and I think it's perfect for the story. It really has a potential.
We don't get to know that much Concetta, but we get to know the important things about her and some of her ideas.
Also, we get to know somethings about the Queen and the LEO men. And of course, we get to know a bot of the harpist, and I think he's marvelous, the way the author describes this man is just… magnificent.
And finally, the whole scenario. The world where wearing clothes it's illegal and singing is too in some streets. The world where the singer can't talk or smile, just sing. That world it's original and really creepy. I wouldn't survive a day in that place, I guess the author really capture the scent of a futuristic, scary, awesome world. I'm really thrilled and I want to know more about that world, about the Queen, about Concetta, and of course, about the harpist.
Finally, I can't say much about this short story without spoiling it, so I'm just saying that I loved it and I really recommend it, it's very original and I think it's worth a try.
Beside, I will love to read a book about all this if Jessica decides to write it, it will be awesome.


Intensity and emotion blended with masterful wordage, a stunning story, and minimalist vocabulary. Every moment and word in this short story written in verse is filled with impact and strength. I savored reading through line after line, rereading some of my favorites, and cascading with the flow. I felt Concetta's pain. I wanted to belt out in song with her. I was frustrated by her inability. I was intoxicated when the harpist ran his hands over her. There was not one flaw in the world-building though this story is so quick. I could imagine it all; I was there. Amazing work, yet again, from Jessica Bell.