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?

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

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

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… 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!

Unreliable Narrators, ‘Pet Themes’, and Other NaNo Miscellanea

Warning: the following post is long, self-indulgent nonsense I basically did to check off another box on my list of¬†100 Ridiculous Ways To Procrastinate. If you want to read any of it… I think the quoted bits are pretty good; that’s why I included them. I don’t reckon the rest of this makes much sense, tho…

Going over my notes in preparation for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and parsing out my ideas for Where The Light Gets In with you guys last post,¬†I’ve noticed a pattern that’s manifested itself in all 3 full drafts I’ve produced since becoming “serious” about publishing. Fair warning! I’m probably overindulging my own gross self-fascination with this post ūüėČ . But I’ve found it interesting to think about how layers of our subconscious shape the way we produce art, and how looking over our own work with critical distance can provide insights into our psychological makeup– when we notice odd repetitions and mirror-images, draw lines of connection, find ourselves returning to the same elementary concerns again and again with an obsessive drive.

What I’ve picked up on in this case is how each of my would-be novels, while in slotting into wildly different genres (gothic fantasy, mystery, and erotica respectively) actually share an identical structure. All three pieces focus with intimate detail on a central relationship, between the protagonist and a male friend with whom they are (consciously or subconsciously) romantically and sexually obsessed. Much of the novel is then spent exploring the nature of the connection between the principals: its development, its deepening, the obstacles it faces. And then, at a critical moment, it is revealed that the viewpoint character was deceived, in some fundamental way, about the nature of his/her friend, whose motives are revealed to be darker than they could have ever fathomed. They are then left to process this new information, and attempt to confront the woundedness at the heart of¬†their own character, which, up until that point, they had been (ineffectually) bandaging with the positive feelings they’d derived from their relationship with the other lead.

…What does this say about me?!?!¬†lol~

I’ve always been consciously playing with the idea that all narrators (or viewpoint characters) are, by their nature as human beings, unreliable, and using that unreliability as a tool to explore their existential loneliness/isolation… but I’ve never realized until now how deeply the similarities between my projects ran. Not that this is a bad thing. I don’t know that it would be that obvious to anyone unless it was pointed out; they all read¬†very differently, I think. One of my favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, has a similar approach, in that he explores the similar themes again and again, but through different lenses, different genres, with different prose styles, and (to my mind at least) he does this effectively. I think most artists have preoccupations that will crop up across their works– but perhaps not as blatantly as mine have so far…

For anyone who’s curious, I’ll include some snippets about the central “couples” in each of my projects, going from most developed to least.

I’d advise you not to read further¬†if (for some reason, since these aren’t really real¬†books yet) you don’t want to be “spoiled” on crucial plot points, or,¬†more importantly,¬†if you don’t feel comfortable reading about abusive relationships, sexual assault, or graphic violence.

Heaven Beside You

POV Character: Gareth

Object of His Affection: Justinian

Gareth is an orphan in Pseudo Medieval Europe who, at age 16, is conscripted into the military and forced to wage war in a foreign land. He’s one of those types who seem to crop up more commonly in fiction than real life; a pacifist at heart who nevertheless finds he has the potential to be a talented killer.Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.22.42 AM

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… BAMF…?

Through a series of plot conveniences, he ends up working as a servant for the Lord Commander– Justinian– and, being an isolated individual with a weakness for kind, attractive dudes (especially authoritative types), he develops an overpowering crush on the commander, despite their considerable difference in age (Justinian’s 24 when they meet), social position, romantic experience, religion (Justinian’s Christianity is central to his identity, while Gareth doesn’t believe in god and is pretty smug about it)… aaand pretty much everything else.

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“Gareth + Justinian = <3,” he scribbled furiously in his algebra textbook…

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/facepalm

Despite these obstacles, over the course of about a year they form a deep attachment that eventually blossoms into mutual love, and they feel comfortable enough with one another to confess their ~feelings~Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.23.50 AMIt’s all very cute. But while the two of them enjoy their Jane Eyre-style (b)romance, the reader knows something’s going to go very wrong, because the chapters about the romance are flashbacks, framed by chapters in the “present day”, less than five years later, when Gareth’s being held prisoner, awaiting his execution… and has been informed that Justinian’s the one who will carry out the sentence (gasp!!!)

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(Yes, I know, it’s all¬†dreadfully¬†melodramatic, isn’t it? But in my defense, it’s a gothic romance, so it’s mostly on purpose. ¬†And I’ve tried to make all the heavy Plot! Coincidences! seem naturalistic in context.

I shan’t go into every twist and turn, but the moral of the story (insofar as there is one) is basically that those swooning romances in the style of Jane Eyre (not to shade Jane Eyre, it’s a masterpiece!), with couples who overcome the¬†gaping power differentials between the two parties (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, I’m looking at you) are totes unrealistic, not really romantic at all, and often downright¬†abusive when you closely examine the dynamics at play.

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Like here…

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… and here :/

Gareth’s smart, he’s got a strong sense of self, he’s gone through more at 16 than most people in our day do at 70, and he and Justinian have a lot to teach one another. But their relationship is unhealthy and Justinian, despite the best of intentions, manipulates, controls, and wears away at Gareth’s sense of identity, because he has literally¬†all¬†the power. Not only is he much older, but he was born with every advantage over Gareth, and has nothing to lose if their relationship doesn’t work, whereas Gareth can’t help but grow to rely on him utterly, because he quite literally has no one else to depend upon. And, although he fancies himself quite the grizzled cynic at 16, he’s utterly naive to the world and its ways, especially where it concerns affairs of the heart.

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Gareth… dialogue like this is why you can’t have nice things.

Where The Light Gets In

POV Character: Bernard

Object of his Affection: Jace

Bernard and Jace have been best friends since kindergarten.¬†Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.25.43 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.25.55 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.26.07 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.26.15 AMThey gravitate towards one another because they’re both more than a little socially hapless, although, in their younger years, Jace is definitely the more vulnerable of the pair.

Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.27.00 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.27.16 AMBernard considers himself a natural empath. Certainly, he is an intensely nurturing individual. Throughout their friendship, he’s extremely protective of Jace: attentive, helpful, emotionally available, endlessly understanding and forgiving. He takes an irrational pride in offering literal, unconditional friendship– asking nothing, giving everything, never dealing out guilt or judgement. To fall short this ideal of selflessness, to his mind, would be a failure to love truly, or well enough.Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.26.39 AM

Both guys are repressed. Bernard is blind to the fact that his feelings for Jace as they develop over the years are romantic in nature. If you asked him, he’d just say he’s a Very Good Friend. He’s also asexual (although he doesn’t identify as such/know that the orientation exists for most of the novel) which makes it easier to for him to deny to himself that he wants a romantic relationship, since he’s never stricken by sexual attraction. Jace is bi, but unfortunately also quite homophobic, so he never admits this even to himself– so Bernard doesn’t have a clue.

At one point in college they drunkenly make out, and Bernard begins to get an inkling that he might be in loveScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.27.28 AMbut Jace shuts the whole thing down emphatically when they sober up, while Bernard can’t bring himself to even attempt to express his own feelings…Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.28.02 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.28.49 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.29.54 AM… and the two spend the next couple of years drifting apart as Jace spends more time with his fraternity brothers, then away at an internship, and with a variety of short-term girlfriends. When they’re both 25, he lashes out at Bernard for being too clingy and codependent. Bernard moves across the country shortly thereafter.

Most of the novel takes place 5 years after this fight, and the pair haven’t communicated in all that time. The action begins when Bernard finds out that Jace has gone missing. Desperate to find his friend and set things right between him, he spends most of the novel trying to unravel the mystery of his disappearance. Over the long course of the investigation, he learns that he never knew Jace as well as he thought, and, ultimately, that the people responsible were seeking to punish Jace for a past crime (filming the sexual assault of a young woman at a frat party, and then refusing to come forward with the evidence that could have helped convict the others responsible.) Bernard is left trying to understand what his life means, in the aftermath of discovering that his most important relationship was with a person flawed in ways he would have never imagined,

[I’d include some quotes here, but I haven’t written a draft this version yet!]

The moral of this story (again insofar as there is a moral?) Probably that you should be wary if you’re in a largely one-sided friendship with someone who’s emotionally withholding and closed-minded, rather than romanticising their objectively unkind behavior. In a relationship where you’d rather try to erase your own emotional needs than admit they’re not being met? That means the other person’s not treating you well… and they’re probably not as great as you’re making them out to be

oversimplification for the win! lol

The Sea Is Not Full

POV Character: Yukiko

Object of her Affection: Sebastian

I’ve only got a bare bones, flawed first draft completed for this manuscript, so this won’t be nearly as detailed, lucky for you, theoretical reader who’s made it this far ūüėČ

The main difference between Yukiko and my two male protagonists is that Yukiko is not an innocent — actually, she’s the clear antagonist of the story, even while she has some sympathetic qualities. It’s a role-reversal of my earlier projects, in a way, because it’s Sebastian’s doe-eyed naivete that attracts Yukiko to him. Ultimately, though, he’s made of sterner stuff than she anticipates.

She¬†spends the majority of her time preoccupied with the constructions of her decadent, romantic inner world, mostly because reality does not live up to her aspirations. It is when she solipsistically attempts to impose her vision of the ideal on actual human beings, like the impressionable student Sebastian, that the main conflict of the novel arises. Her attraction to the tragic, a source of endless erotic fascination and beauty in her imagination, leads only to Sebastian‚Äôs degradation and eventual ruin. As she discovers too late, it provides her no fulfillment, no catharsis; only the most fleeting and hollow of pleasures.Screenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.31.03 AMScreenshot 2016-06-10 at 6.31.09 AMA question I plan on exploring is why we gravitate to characters who suffer ‚Äď why is beauty so often found in the saddest of stories? Why are we fascinated by tragedy?

Or, more particularly, why do I find myself repeatedly writing novels where my sweet, hapless main characters get emotionally tortured for 300 pages, and then betrayed by the people they trust the most? It’s a fair question! So in some ways, Yukiko‚Äôs character is a comment on my own propensities as a writer, putting my protagonists through hell for the sake of pathos.

By the end of the novel, however, the audience realizes that, not only has Sebastian caught on to the fact that Yukiko’s been manipulating him for kicks, but he’s essentially been deceiving her for half the novel, and by the end has beaten her at her own game. By allowing Sebastian to finally triumph over manipulative, sadistic Yukiko, I hope I‚Äôm giving the long-suffering naive protagonists of my prior novels a chance at revenge.

July Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, so I figured I’d stop by give an update on what I’ve been working on since I wrote last.

Currently, I’m mired in indecision when it comes to selecting which project to take on for Camp Nano, which somehow is already less than a month away. Out of the two manuscripts (Heaven Beside You¬†and¬†Where The Light Gets In)¬†I’m considering revising next month, I’m leaning towards the latter because there’s a lot more actual rewriting that needs to happen.¬†Heaven Beside You¬†needs some tweaks for historical accuracy and tightening– more finicky, less fun.

On the other hand, I’ve got a much clearer vision of what needs to be done to polish up HBY, and it would be nice to push through and get that taken care of once and for all. I still haven’t landed on a consistent tone for¬†Where The Light Gets In, figured out how much magical realism the story requires, hammered out all the plot details, or grappled with (after all the changes I’ve made since the first draft) what exactly the book’s even trying to¬†say¬†anymore. Both books deal with a lot of heavy material, but I’m more confident that HBY deals responsibly with the issues it raises.

Where The Light Gets In¬†has a reveal 3/4 through the story that one of the main characters (presented in an extremely sympathetic light by the narrator until that point) is actually a criminal who’s done some despicable, unforgivable things. The idea behind the reveal is that it makes the narrator/MC confront the fact that he’s never been as perceptive as he’s fancied himself, and grapple with his existential loneliness; the unknowability of others’ minds, etc. He realizes that he’s been making excuses for behavior on the part of this other character that, in light of this revelations, was quite apparently unhealthy and harmful, and struggles to come to term with the fact that he’s spent years of his life loving an idea of this person that didn’t reflect reality.

You know what, I was going to avoid specifics because “spoilers,” but none of y’all care, lol, so I’ll elaborate on what I mean.

In light of the Brock Turner case that’s been getting so much attention in the news that past few days — and the statement given by the woman he raped, who articulates with devastating honesty how vile his attack on her was, and how warped it is that throughout the trial the case was consistently framed as being¬†about him and how the “mistake” he made would affect¬†his¬†life, rather than that vileness — I’ve become concerned that the story, as I’ve conceived it, will be playing right into this warped narrative our culture has on rapists. Does the POV of the novel inherently do disservice to rape victims, since it’s all about the guy who committed the crime, and cannot by its very nature give an equal voice to the woman whose assault he is a party to? (I’m not mincing words for the heck of it; he films the assault and makes dismissive, joking comments about it, but doesn’t actively participate. He’s basically a coward who uses his passivity and indifference as a shield from criticism/blame throughout his life.)

The book is supposed to be, in part, about toxic masculinity and misogyny, so I’m scared of undercutting my intentions by writing a book that just amounts to excuses for a young man’s cruelty towards women. Am I subverting expectations by setting up this character as a tragic figure and then exposing his true nature, or am I basically inviting people to identify with him at the expense of the woman whose life he rips apart? If so, how do I fix this without scrapping the entire project? I’ve thought about working in some scenes where we get to know the woman, and to also hear her perspective on the assault, but that just seems kind of ham-handed. And like I’m frantically scrambling to cover my ass. (Which I suppose I am). I dunno.

And entirely by coincidence, this character’s name is Jace¬†Brock. Which I may have to change now.

Beyond that, I’m still having trouble working out the structure of the mystery portion of the novel, weaving it in with the more personal/nostalgic elements of the flashbacks (which¬†are important to the plot– but it doesn’t become obvious why until more than halfway through), and figuring out how to tie all the disparate elements together in a satisfactory way without making it¬†too¬†neat and cute.

Waiting patiently for a breakthrough… *ahem* *nudges muse*

“His Borrowed Light” (first kiss)

Day 7

Cheating a little here by posting a rewritten passage I’ve been laboring over all day. My excuse is that I approached this particular edit more like I usually do my poetry, the result being (to my mind) rather heightened/poetic. I dunno. You think?

If I have time tonight, I’ll try and cobble together something more resembling a poem. But I doubt I will be as pleased with it as I am with this.

OMG you guyz, it’s Gareth’s first kiss~~

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It’s two boys!