Camp Nano Day 2

Day 2’s in the bag! I’m happy with what I did today… better enjoy that energy while it lasts. I’m sure by next week I’ll be here complaining what I terrible writer I am, haha.

Anyway, my tank’s empty, so I won’t say much more. I’ll include my favorite passage that I wrote today. It’s a bit on the long side, but it’s a key insight into Jace’s character, whom the audience never meets in person in the present day, getting to know him only through other characters’ memories and interpretations of him and (as in this passage) the various stuff he left behind when he disappeared. Plus I’m kinda proud about how well it turned out ūüėÄ It was difficult to write.

Adult content warning, kiddos

Chapter 2: Still Life

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Day 1, July Camp NaNoWriMo

Hey all. I know I’ve semi-disappeared from WordPress the last couple of weeks, but I’m going to try to update TC&TL daily during July to chart my progress for nano, keeping track of any issues I encounter throughout the month. I’m also going to finally catch up on all the commenting I haven’t been doing! I made sure to keep my schedule as clear as possible for the coming weeks, so there should be plenty of time for everything.

I’ve completed my goal for today, which was to rewrite all of Chapter 1. It’s still far too long (about 13k) but I’ll focus on making cuts when the month’s over and it becomes more clear which details are necessary to keep. While I made significant changes (adding new characters, deleting others, altering the setting, changing Bernard’s background, planting clues early on) I also ended up transposing some passages word-for-word, or nearly so, so I decided to cut the wordcount I achieved in half for nano record keeping. 6.5k is a more accurate reflection of the amount of¬†new material I generated today.

I’m eager to burn through the early chapters, which I’ll be rewriting in this fashion, so I can break through to uncharted territory. I’m eager to jump ahead, but I don’t trust myself to write this one out of order. Too many picky details to lose track of.

At this rate, by day 4 I’ll be free to write entirely new passages, which will be exciting. I expect at that point I’ll start racking up extremely high word counts less often.

Here’s the first page of¬†Where The Light Gets In !!! wooooo~

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For any readers who’re also camping this July: how’s your first day going? What kind of projects are you working on?

Friend Fiction // ‘Chalice’


Haha, OK not really. But I was at the wedding of a good friend yesterday and spent most of today (instead of working on Camp Nano outlines, of course) writing wedding-themed poems and things. And whenever I write anything that’s semi-inspired by friends I always think of this episode of Bob’s Burgers.

Because I AM Tina Belcher.

Since also I’m myself, though, which is to say, a relentlessly depressing person, I ended up returning to my favorite theme of unrequited love instead of like, marital bliss or whatever, by imagining that one of our other friends was in love with the groom, and writing from his perspective. So that’s where the friend fiction bit comes in.

On an unrelated note, I wonder why I don’t have more friends?

So yes. Prose poem!

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Establishing a Milieu. Or Trying, Anyway: A Tale of Much Woe

Thus far in planning¬†Where The Light Gets In, I’ve had a good grasp on the friendship between Bernard Flynn


I’ve cast Richard Ayoade as Bernard in my mind. Though he’s way too dreamy for the part, if I’m being honest…


… on the other hand, this could be a quote from Bernard. I stand by my choice


and Jace Brock

—¬†the backbone of the novel. My primary concern has always been, most broadly, the matter of the salvation of Jace’s soul. When he goes missing at the outset, this places him in a metaphorical purgatory while Bernard unearths the sins that led to the disappearance. The deepest questions I’m hoping to explore are ones such as: How do people become strangers to themselves as they age? What leads them to stray from the path of goodness? If you’ve lost the most important parts of your own self, how do you maintain relationships? Which kinds of secrets, held tight in the fist of the heart, seep into our blood like poison and corrupt? How do you continue to love somebody who has done unforgivable things — or cease to love them?

I’m good on that stuff. But the fact is that this is a mystery and, even if it’s not a traditional one, I still need the basic scaffolding of mystery plot elements to lend this thing shape. Otherwise it’s just a long, meandering story about two repressed college guys trying subtly to figure out whether they want to bang or not.

I know where I want to end up. Whodunnit, so to speak. I have the motive. I’ve identified groups of people close to Jace who are hiding things: his sisters, his ailing mother, people he’s slept with, a coworker, his frat bros. I’ve intimately explored the backstory of his friendship with Bernard, the slow dissolution of that bond, and how the history of their relationship actually holds vital clues to the circumstances of his disappearance, and subsequent murder. What I’m missing is the connective tissue. In my first draft the parts that are dismally, dismayingly bad are the actual “sleuthing” bits. Bernard just sorta wanders around until someone tells him something useful, instead of following compelling clues and leading readers purposefully, inevitably towards the denouement.

Boning up on the genre the past two months has led me to identify the main problem here: there’s no¬†milieu¬†in early versions of the story. There are people Jace knows, and people Bernard knows, but they are not connected to¬†one another, which makes it difficult for the plot to have any cohesion. The best mysteries in the tradition I’m emulating have a deep sense of place, culture, history, secrets, and a web of relationships and interconnected motives that the detective-figure must unravel in order to identify the secrets relevant to the case. It’s also important that, even while misdirecting the audience, a red herring will lend something vital to the plot: relevant information in disguise, character shading, atmosphere, etc. Preferably it will accomplish several of these goals at once, even while leading the reader down the garden path.

Anyway, my problem’s been that there’s no easy way to connect these people, or create a sense of a closed community amongst whom it would be natural for Bernard to begin making inquiries. Jace’s sisters are much older than him, and therefore not likely to be friendly with his frat. It’s also necessary that they, his sisters, not have been in close contact with Jace for years (at least not to Bernard’s knowledge). Two other important characters live on the other side of the country, and whatever knowledge either of these women have of him, or how they’d have acquired such knowledge, is left in shadow for 75% of the novel.

What’s become obvious is that I need to move the frat to the foreground much earlier than I did originally, but to do so in a way that doesn’t arouse reader’s suspicion that Jace was¬†a major part of any shady dealings Bernard suspects some brothers to have had a hand in. This could prove difficult… I feel anybody reading with awareness of mystery tropes will be on the lookout for clues that Jace was up to no good himself. I’m relying on Bernard’s tender affection for Jace to overpower readers’ good sense. Their relationship is often adorable; they’re funny; they look out for one another through difficult times. If I play my cards right, nobody will think that Jace could have done something¬†too¬†bad– that, at worst, he was a good kid who got in over his head by making a couple of stupid mistakes. I think the fact that the book’s more litfic than mystery will help me here. The manner in which Bernard relays the story will, hopefully, put people off guard and therefore not realize the type of story they’re reading until the ‘final revelation’.

But yes. The frat.

I like the idea of making these guys more central to the entire novel, because the frat itself is the type of inherently interesting, deeply historied, incestuously close community within which one should construct a delectably dense mystery. It’s associated with some of the larger concerns of the novel: toxic masculinity, gender and sexuality, homophobia, male friendships, old money and privilege, Southern culture, family, religion, community, closely-guarded secrets, growing up. And so on. The one thing my characters have in common is their ties to the university, so placing the frat so it’s woven into the college town’s culture is a good start in figuring out how Jace’s family and coworkers would be connected to these guys.

One of Jace’s sisters — Avery Brock,¬†whom I’m hoping to cast in a suspicious light early into the proceedings —

has a history of drug abuse, and of dealing, so it’s easy to imagine how she might have come to know a few of the brothers. Also, while¬†the Brocks¬†are a large, poor family (Jace has seven sisters), I’ve always imagined that they come from old money and have lived in the town for generations. If the fraternity mostly consists of good ole boy types, and Jace is welcomed because of the Brock name, despite being a total nerd as a teen, I could establish some old ties between their families. Maybe some are the Brocks’ close neighbors. They see each other at church, at restaurants, community functions, football games. Many alums stick around after graduating and have children who go to the university, graduate, and do the same. It’s the kind of small town atmosphere that’s hard to escape from, even if you’ve gotten your degree and have the freedom to go anywhere.

If many of these guys are still around it also fits my portrait of a generation of young people who have stagnated, and in some way are stuck in time: unable to move on from their old, tired obsessions; the beloved objects of their childhoods.

This is also a good, subtle way to create an early schism between Bernard and Jace. Because even though Bernard is the more apparently privileged of the pair (his parents are wealthy and attentive, he’s a bright sociable child, he makes better grades, he’s always having to help Jace avoid bullies and navigate the rungs of high school hierarchy), he is an outsider. His parents are Yanks (NYU alums both) and work in academia. His dad’s Irish, from a lower-middle class family in NYC; his mom’s black, family from the affluent suburbs of NJ. Bernard’s at a twin disadvantage: because of his race, and because he reeks of being “not from around here” despite living in SC since he was 5 years old, because his family lacks that deep Southern rootedness. The fact that the Flynns are Catholic doesn’t help matters.

Bernard’s never quite able to¬†get some of what drives Jace, because he’s not invited to be a part of the culture that shapes him. He never is subject to the pressure to¬†conform (and, really, the desire for conformity at all costs is Jace’s fatal flaw) because, however subtly, Bernard gets the message his whole life “You’ll never be one of us, so don’t even try.” At an early age, he comes to peace with the fact that people will always regard him as a bit of a weirdo, and stops caring. If anything, he leans into his natural eccentricity as he ages. Jace, on the other hand, craves normalcy and acceptance after years of being bullied by the kids at his school, and by his own family.

It’s fitting, then, that choosing to join the frat should be the action that leads Jace down the path which ends in him becoming — ahem — a huge asshole. It’s something that literally only happens because of his privileges as a Southern white boy. Bernard never was given the choice. And that’s where their paths begin to diverge.

More to come. Off to do additional research on frats. God preserve my soul.

Storybird Poems 3 & 4

Still ineffectively plotting my great surrealist mystery novel. Watching Twin Peaks, reading some Murakami and Tana French to try and inspire myself. Unfortunately, the answers I’m looking for don’t seem to be the kind that strike like lightning bolts, but rather the kind that can only be unearthed through careful, methodical thought. But there’s only so many times you can turn over the same set of facts in your head before feeling like the process is fruitless, and needing a break.

Writing’s hard, y’all.

For now, I’ll share a couple more poems I created on Storybird. It’s been a lovely, stress-free way to expend a little creative energy while I’ve been too depressed to approach more serious poetry writing.

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Once Camp NaNoWriMo‘s done, I’ll probably return to posting daily poetry. Maybe keep a haiku or tanka journal to stretch my wings. I find working in smaller forms is soothing. It helps clarify my thoughts.

I may throw up another post later tonight, trying to work through the awful knot of all Where The Light Gets In‘s¬†convoluted plot threads. It’s less than two weeks til July now. Crunch time!

Social Anxiety, Depression, and Writing

Sometimes the worst thing about suffering from mental illness as a person harboring artistic ambitions is the banality of the whole business. At best, being riddled with neurosis seems like something to add to your list of writerly credentials. Mostly it’s a tired narrative. At least, that’s how I feel when I try to imagine myself as others see me (something I do far too much, thanks to said neuroses).

Oh, great. You’re some kind of tortured artist. How boring.

(Complaining about how cliche it is to be a depressed writer is also an unforgivable cliche.)

Especially since my perception of my talent is that I have very little of it. Some. Not enough. Not enough to outweigh the fact that I only write in fits and starts. When I’m in just the right mood where my desperation to practice and improve my craft is enough to overcome the fear and the inertia. Or the rare moments when I have genuine inspiration.

An embarrassing admission: it’s a disappointment to me how unpicturesque, and uncompelling, my mental health issues are. There’s nothing poignant or darkly beautiful about being depressed. I haven’t become unable to eat or sleep; I haven’t wasted away, become pale or thin like a Victorian consumptive; I haven’t gained insight into the human condition. I’m not mysterious, quiet, tortured. I’m just dull, dull, dull. Nobody would know I was sick if I didn’t mention it, which I don’t like to (even while entertaining shameful Hollywood-tinged baroque fantasies¬†about finding a friend who begs for me to pour my heart out to them).

Instead, I disappear from my own life for months at a time, and then come back when it’s become more unbearable to be so lonely than it is to face what I can’t help but see as the scrutiny of my friends and acquaintances. I don’t try to hide my condition, but don’t elaborate on it either. Because really it’s just a list of ridiculous complaints.

Explaining that I’m almost always exhausted. Explaining that my attention span seems to get shorter and shorter as the years go by. That I struggle to express myself. That my vocabulary is shrinking with my memory (it took me 10 minutes to remember the word ‘inertia’ a few paragraphs up). That sometimes I’m so damn worried about how I’m coming across, I don’t listen to other people the way I should. That I’m worried I’m becoming a worse person, but that worry itself is what’s making me so selfish, so unbearably image-focused.

Unfortunately, all the things one has to do to launch a writing career these days align with those things that set off my social anxiety. Twitter, Facebook, message boards, WordPress — they’re perfectly calibrated Anxiety Production Engines. Social media is like a giant Skinner Box designed to condition me to satisfy my worst narcissistic desires. You know. Compose a poem, post a comment, tweet a ‘clever’ observation, cross your fingers, wait and pray for the likes to pour in, feeling like you might shatter if they don’t ever come. Going back, re-re-rereading what you wrote, analysing it, wondering — was it good enough? Did you put it right? Will people like you? Will somebody affirm your worth today? Or will you curl up in bed and try not to cry while you remember every awful, humiliating thing you’ve said or done since first grade?

There are plenty of days where you¬†do get plenty of likes; plenty of praise… and you still can’t fight the nagging feeling that people are lying to you, or there’s something underhanded about their compliments. Or that you’re bothering people by posting at all. And you consider that it would be best for everyone if you just retreated back into silence. Because, really that’s what you do best.

Not sure what I’m trying to accomplish by writing this today. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said more eloquently by a thousand others.

I’m trying to be an active member of WordPress and the NaNoWriMo forums who contributes useful things, genuinely, out of a desire to share my passion with fellow writers. That’s who I am deep down, I think. Or who I was, once. But most days I feel so removed from my genuine self (if such a thing ever existed) that I feel I’m playacting at being that person. That there’s something unforgivably false about the way I interact with people.

I keep telling myself that if I just push through I’ll get past my fear. Put myself out there. It’ll get easier. I’ll develop relationships with enough trust and genuine regard between us that I won’t need to have… this gap… between what I feel and how I express it. But the more I participate in these online communities, the more my anxiety mounts. Every day I wake up and feel like more of a fraud. I don’t have enough perspective to distinguish whether that’s true or not, but I’m convinced that everybody I talk to and can see right through me, to all these glaring flaws that I’m not even aware of, despite how vigilantly I monitor myself for anything objectionable. It’s that very desire to please that, I’m sure, in the end, gives me away…

I know the pattern I go through, and I’m beginning to suspect that I’ve defeated myself before July’s even started. By the time it gets here, I might be at the point that I can’t bear to open my computer because I’m so sick with shame for imposing myself on others.

I guess I’m hoping my getting these thoughts out there I’m purging the poison in my system. Maybe having put them into words, they’ll lose their power over me, some of which comes from their vagueness; their unspeakable, unnameable quality.

Maybe if I don’t help myself, I’ll at least have helped some person reading this feel less isolated. I know plenty of you who follow this blog must have experienced similar emotions at some point, whether due to chronic mental illness, or just the demands of creating art for public consumption, which can be plenty burdensome in of themselves.

kk, bai

StoryBird Poems 1 & 2

According to WordPress, this is my 100th post on Thunder Clouds & Tea Leaves! Huzzah! With all of my blog commitment issues and propensity towards procrastination, I never thought I’d get this far. I better go buy myself a drink. I deserve it.

Haha. Anyway.

I’ve put my poetry efforts aside for the time being, to focus on my planning for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That said, I’ll probably still find inspiration to write some small pieces here and there.Screenshot 2016-06-11 at 9.20.13 PM

I’ve been messing around on StoryBird¬†in my spare time. It’s basically a site that lets writers pair their words with visuals created by a variety of artists. They’ve got a page for poets that’s like doing magnet poetry, except you build your poems around the illustration you chose from their artists’ page. It’s pretty nifty, and a lot of fun. I’d recommend checking it out.Screenshot 2016-06-11 at 9.21.28 PM