I’ve been making a video for each story in Black Cloud and releasing one every month or so. There are currently eight videos. I have four more to go.
So far, it seems like people look at the videos and see them as some sort of creative act of promotion for the book. This is true. But if this was the only reason, the videos would be a lot shittier because I wouldn’t care about them as much.
The main purpose of the videos—in my mind, at least—is to create a window for each story. Some of these videos illuminate, showing the groundwork beneath the story—the things that I, the author, experienced which caused the creation of a fictional world. Some of the videos open the story up and give it more room, elaborating on a theme or prevailing emotion in a way that words can’t do.
I’m not a cinematographer. Making videos was something entirely new to me. I found it to be immensely satisfying, though, and something I want to continue to do—another tool I can use to tell stories. The progress of the videos charts not only my development as someone using this medium, but also my life for the past year—and it’s been an interesting and eventful few months. I guess you could say that the following is a window into the windows of the stories in Black Cloud, which is a confusing metaphor so maybe it’d be better to call the whole thing a hall of mirrors.
VIDEO #1: FEAR
I’ve always loved music videos. I’m old enough to remember back when MTV played music videos almost exclusively. This was back before Spotify or Pandora or even AudioGalaxy, back when your options for listening to music were limited to buying CDs and tapes or listening to the radio or watching MTV. I remember waiting around for “Heart-Shaped Box” to come on. I remember waiting around for “November Rain.”
I conceived of this video as the story version of a music video. I had no idea what I was doing when I made it, no video editing experience to speak of, no real “vision” of what I wanted the end result to look like—I just wanted something that looked cool and conveyed what I felt when I wrote this story, which was like an emotionally messy freak.
I asked Sunny Katz, my best friend, to come over and help me shoot the footage. I put on a lot of make-up and a slutty dress that I used to wear when I worked in nightlife. Sunny and I drove around San Diego, taking footage in canyons and shopping malls and freeways. Then I went home and started editing. It took me a really, really long time to edit this because I didn’t understand how the software I was using (which is the free version of VideoPad Video Editor & Windows Movie Maker; fuck Macs) worked yet, but I’ve always been good with computers so I picked it up fast enough.
My ex-boyfriend, David Rogers-Berry, is a musician, and we’ve been able to remain friends. When we lived together, he and our roommate Steven and their friend Jorge used to mess around with a bunch of turntables and tape decks and records and weird instruments, recording it all under the name “Princess Peter.” I’m not a music nerd the way they are, but I liked what they were doing and thought it would be a good fit for the video. The video uses a shortened version of one of their tracks. It all felt fortuitous because the explosion sound that comes in at 2:20 coincided nicely with me jumping in the air without needing to edit so it did that.
When I posted this video, Black Cloud wasn’t finished yet. At this point, I planned on making two or three story-videos total. But everything about making this video felt like a good omen.
Shortly after posting the video, I finished the collection and sent it around, including the link to the video as part of my pitch. One of the first people I sent it to was a literary agent who had contacted me a while ago, when she and I both thought that I was working on a novel. I didn’t foresee the collection as the kind of thing that would interest a big publisher or an agent, but I figured it was worth a shot. Because the goal didn’t seem realistic, I figured it was okay to lie to her and I told her there would be twelve videos, one for each story. After that, though, I decided I liked the idea. It seemed insane to me, insane in the good way, so my lie became a truth.
VIDEO #2: POWERLESSNESS
I started taking Seroquel in January of 2013. At first it made me puke almost every day, and then the puking slowed down to a couple times every week, and then once a week, and then a couple times a month. I started recording myself taking it every night. I decided I would record myself puking from it too. Except then it stopped making me puke altogether, so I only recorded one vomiting session. I’d like to confess to this—Seroquel doesn’t make me puke anymore. I am a big fat liar.
I can’t stand this video. It makes me embarrassed. I think I sound like an idiot. I think I look stupid. I tell myself that this is good, that the embarrassing things are the ones worth talking about, but I’m not really sure I believe this. I also hate the thumbnail, but it got way less plays when I had it set to a shot of the spilled pills. (Obviously part of me doesn’t hate it if I’m still concerned with the number of plays.)
Michael J. Seidlinger (the publisher of CCM; he also designs book covers) chose a still from this video for Black Cloud’s cover without my consent, but I loved it when he showed it to me. Seems funny that the cover came from the video I like the least.
VIDEO #3: SELF-LOATHING
I live a block away from the beach. This video was shot in August, and it was the first time I’d been to the beach that summer. For me, it is way more fun to go to the beach with your friends if you bring a giant spotlight, an ax, two bunny masks, and a camera rather than sunscreen and beer or whatever it is that most people bring to the beach these days.
This is the second video that involved unusable footage of me jumping around while Sunny threw glitter at me. It turns out that this just doesn’t look cool. It also gets glitter everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I looked like this when I got home:
What isn’t pictured is the glitter that had found its way into my pubic hair.
VIDEO #4: APATHY
This video is currently tied for my favorite. It’s very intimate, but in a way that is different than “Taking Antipsychotics and Puking.” It involved me putting words on a bunch of my friends, a bunch of people I like and love. There’s a photo of my mom in it, and, if you look closely, you can see her and my dog reflected in the door of the oven in the baking cookies shot. My terrible handwriting is in the video, too.
Most of the footage was taken at my house. I threw myself a birthday party, which was a thinly-veiled excuse to bring a bunch of people together so I could put words on them. I’m not a particularly affectionate person, and it was very strange for me to touch so many people in so short a time. I felt super uncomfortable at first, but then it became sort of nice—touching people in a way that had nothing to do with romance or sex or even comfort. It made me realize how strange it is that we—I—tend to avoid touching other people as much as possible. I’m pretty sure most other mammals aren’t like this.
The footage that wasn’t taken at the party was taken at Scott McClanahan and Chris Oxley’s apartment. (Scott and I are now engaged.) I was on a break between quarters (I teach college), and I stayed with them for most of it. When I watch the video, I remember what those couple of weeks felt like, exactly. Scott and I were really starting to fall in love hardcore, which was something that had been in the works for a while but still surprised me. I wouldn’t let him say anything specific about me anywhere publicly yet, and I refused to put any pictures or direct mentions of us together up on social media because of a bunch of different reasons; the easiest one to explain is that I am superstitious and I thought that doing these things was bad luck. It feels okay now that we are engaged. I am typing and including this sentence and the two preceding it not because I think they are interesting or necessary but because I hope that doing so will perhaps dissolve the bad luck that would come if I didn’t write them. I think I might sound insane right now, oopsie!!!
The trip was a good one, but strange, too. Kendra Grant Malone and Matthew Savoca were visiting for part of it, and at one point, we decided to drive to Matthew’s great-grandfather’s grave, which was a couple hours from Scott’s house. He’d died in a coal mining accident, and was buried in an old forgotten graveyard on a hill off the side of the road in a very poor part of West Virginia, which is saying something because it is a very poor state. We had some weird experiences on the way, the kind of stuff that will probably be perfect for some piece of writing someday so I will just leave it at that. Thinking about the whole trip is making me want to cry right now, in a really nice way.
The music is by a group called Narrator, which is Nathan Keele Springer, Scott Riley Irvine, and Nicholas Lowery. I was stressing out because I didn’t know what to use for music for this video, and finding just the right song seemed pretty essential. I found Narrator through a writer friend of a writer friend, and it felt perfect immediately.
VIDEO #5: ENVY
I spent a ridiculous amount of time on the last video, so I was determined that this one would be simple. All of the footage was taken by me at my house (except for the last shot, which was actually a leftover from an earlier video) over the course of about an hour, which simplified things in itself.
This video makes me really miss smoking. (I quit a couple months after this was shot.)
VIDEO #6: RESENTMENT
The video looks nothing like I had originally imagined. I had intended for it to be really ugly, but it turns out that even when you’re trying to make San Diego look ugly, it’s still pretty (boo hoo, poor me). Despite me failing at my original intention, this is my other favorite. I know some of me liking it has to do with the song. It also seems pretty obvious that, by this point, my video-making skills had increased. And then there’s the spitting-blood-in-bikinis business. Fake blood: A++ would recommend.
For whatever reason, the monologue parts don’t annoy me the way they do in “Taking Antipsychotics and Puking.” This is either because the stuff I am talking about here is less recent, or because the content is unscripted, or maybe it is because I am vain and I think my eyes look pretty.
VIDEO #7: CONFUSION
I was concerned about what type of video to do for this story because both New York and wintertime have such a central role in it, and those things are hard to fake in Southern California, so I decided to focus less on the content of the story and more on the emotional undertones. These have to do with being confused about one’s own motivations and actions, and feeling estranged from both yourself and the world around you. So getting abstract seemed to make sense.
I had been planning on going to Joshua Tree, and I knew that I wanted to shoot stuff for a video while I was there but I didn’t really know what, exactly, I’d shoot or what I wanted to do with it. Joshua Tree is one of my very favorite places in the world, but I’d never been to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, which is where it was shot. I got out and was walking around for a while before I realized that duh, this shit was perfect. But I still didn’t know what kind of video I would make.
Then I got home and started messing around with the footage, treating it more like a collage than I had with the others. I’d been talking with Katelan Foisy about Gysin/Burroughs’s cut-up method, and that seemed to fit. The voicemail thing was added in last. I think it makes the video feel a little more desperate, and I like that.
People seem to think it’s unbecoming to speak favorably about your own work (which is stupid but people are stupid, so what do you expect?), but I fucking love how the whole thing looks. I want to live in a world that looks like this always. This video has the lowest views of all of them and that pisses me off. Guess I should have worn less clothing.
VIDEO #8: GUILT
I took an extra two months in between videos because I was stressed the fuck out. I felt guilty about this at first, but then I decided I didn’t care because the only person who ever said I was doing one video per month was me.
I was getting sick of myself as a subject. I also like the stories that people tell about drug experiences, because they always have this weird mixture of bravado and vulnerability, sadness and humor. It made sense to me to get other writers to tell their heroin stories, but I also got some of my non-writer friends to tell stories too, because it seemed impure to only have it be writers. I’m not entirely sure I can explain this line of thinking, but it has something to do with the fact that you don’t have to be a fucking writer to tell a good story.
I had a couple internal crises while making this video—moments where I was certain that the video was going to turn out shitty. The first was because it was harder for me to find subjects than I’d originally imagined. I thought that because I had stories about heroin and was open to discussing them publicly that of course everyone else was the same way. This is poor logic, obviously. So then I started targeting people that I knew had heroin stories because they wrote about drugs (Jamie Iredell, Sean H. Doyle, Mira Gonzalez), and I also put out a call on Facebook, and that was that. Crisis averted.
The second had to do with editing. I figured I could take all the individual videos and cut them up into the parts that I liked the best, and then glue it all together and everything would be good. But the resulting video was really, really bad.
I started over. This time, I took each video and broke it down to its core beginning, middle, and end—although some of the videos had two middles or ends or whatever. Then I put them all in an order that felt akin to making a mixtape; I wanted the stories to all feed into and move against each other. I liked the result this time. They’re all telling different stories, but they’re also all the same story.
For the next four videos…
I bought a waterproof case for my iPhone because I want to film some stuff underwater, and I also asked Carabella Sands to help me with some illustration. This will be video #9, Spite.
Chris Uphues is a former roommate of mine. He read the collection and liked it and asked if I was interested in collaborating. He is an amazing artist so of course I said yes. This will be for Disgust.
I have an idea for Shame, but I’m not sure I want to execute it because it might borrow too much from the book I’m currently working on. I have no idea what I’m going to do for Resentment. Like, literally not a single one. If you have an idea, you can email me at julietescoria at gmail.com. Please keep in mind that my budget is around $0.