Monday, May 12, 2014

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Chatur Rev 1

Name: Nurin Chatur
Genre: New Adult Contemporary
Title: The Incoherency of Now

Hudson, Ruth Constance. Born July 4, 1916-(insert date). Mrs. Hudson of New York City passed away on Saturday (date) at the age of 97. Mrs. Hudson leaves behind five children (Delia Johnson, Jim Hudson, Matthew Hudson, Josephine Grant and James Hudson), 10 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren as well as many other relatives, friends and members of her community. She will be sorely missed. Donations to her family may be made to the American Heart Foundation.

Tick tchick, tick, tchick goes the old battery powered clock that hangs in the New York Post’s Offices, marking the painfully slow passing of the work day. I read the obituary over again, jaw grinding in a yawn. I’ve been doing this for over a year now and even though I’m often bored to tears, it still sometimes strikes me that what I’m writing right now is the last time someone’s name will appear anywhere. For some, it may be the only time that they’ll have any sort of public recognition of their lives.

Sure, Google may be everywhere now and our names are plastered all over the internet but let’s be honest. Most people don’t amount to anything significant. Your name might be linked with that award you won in high school or maybe they still have that record of your university grad year when you were on the Dean’s List. No one except for maybe our mothers, cares about any of this. The world doesn’t care, doesn’t even notice as people fumble through graduations, marriages, divorces, children, promotions and even their ultimate achievement, of sorts, death. That’s why, even though I hate my job, I try to take notice of the person’s whose obituary I’m editing and find a way to respect their passing.

It’s strange how the obituaries don’t seem to be about the person who died but really seem to be a proclamation about their family. Take Mrs. Hudson, for instance. Sure, she’s left behind this massive progeny who will hopefully continue to procreate until the end of time. That’s her mark on the world. Still, I’m uncomfortable with how we focus on the work of her reproductive organs instead of on her own personal thoughts, fears and dreams.

For example, I’m confused about the intent of mentioning her great-grand children. Is it important to tell the world about her great-grandchildren in this short blurb? Why? Is this to console us by saying that there’s part of Mrs. Hudson still alive and traipsing around New York City in a stroller?I guess we’ll never know the intent since she’s dead and other people get to decide what will be written in her obituary, write the ending of her life narrative, if you will. Pondering these things makes work pass by, while simultaneously reinforcing my existential crisis.

I rub my eyes, trying to stave off a headache. If this is how the ideal obituary is supposed to look like (and I won’t lie, most of the old folks who kick the bucket get something that looks somewhat like this), then mine will be sorely lacking considering how I don’t have mini-me’s wandering about. I’ve had to work on some pieces about younger people who have died. Those ones always include a line about a loss of someone with a lot of potential due to their academic achievements or varsity success.

As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m a tad over that potentiated age group now, so what will they say about me? Used to be kind of intelligent and did well in college? Can run for maybe 15 minutes without passing out, maybe? I wipe some sweat off my brow, even the thought of running is making my heart race.

Yeah, Ellie was a great girl. Supremely unremarkable. Oh god, I hope they won’t mention my thrilling job as an obituary editor in my death announcement. I think the cringe would kill me again and I think death is something that is best experienced once.

If the deceased could read their obituaries, would they be happy with what was left? I’d want an accurate representation of myself out there. That way if some bored soul waiting at the doctor’s office ended up skimming over it, they’d leave with some idea of me lingering in their minds, letting me live on for a few moments more. I chew my unnecessary pen—no one writes anymore, it’s all about the wireless keyboards!—what would I want left in the world when I’m gone?

Moore, Eleanor Ellie Scott. Born September 11, 1989. Ms. Scott, formerly of Therie, PA passed away (hopefully not today..) in New York City at the age of 24. Ms. Scott leaves behind those who are forced to love her which include, her parents- also known as those who participated in her making- as well as her Aunt Susannah Elis and the stray friends she has picked up during her rather stunted life. Ellie also leaves behind a pile of student loans, dreams of a successful journalism career and her life companion, her dog, Rufus. Memorial donations will be gratefully accepted at the Save Rufus from the Shelter fund.

Since you pay by word and because my current worth is like $0 (thank god for scholarships that kept me from being in the negative for too long), I think it would be unfair for me to take up space that someone with more accomplishments (and money) could have. Besides, I wasted fifteen minutes on that. The NYP just paid me to write my own obituary but whatever. Even though the journalism industry is in the shitter, it’s not like they’ll miss the cash. After all, it’ll save the lackey hired after me from having to write it.

Sierra pokes her head over my cubicle. She’s frowning again. I guess obituary writers aren’t supposed to be bright and chipper.

“Eleanor,” Sierra says as if she’s my superior instead of the other lackey they hired a mere 4 months before me, “are you finished with your pieces, they have to be run at four you know. We don’t want our department to submit them late!”

She’s huffy with importance, thin lips pursued. Not sure what got her panties in a wad. She’s at least on the Classifieds section instead of the Obituaries, so it’s not like she’s thinking about dead people all day. However, some of the ads that are submitted are for items that should be six feet under. You know, like at a dump.

“Don’t worry, Sierra” I grit my teeth into a superficial smile, “they’ll be done by 3:30.” Her lips almost de-purse, but they’re so sunken into her hollow cheeks that I can’t be sure.

“Well, since you’re almost done,” she pauses for a second, looking at me intently, “Do you have ink in your mouth?”

So that’s the bitter taste that’s been swirling. I gulp down some more coffee. “Nope, it must be the lighting,” I lie. “So you were saying?”

“Right. Have you, no you probably haven’t, heard about the contest? I mean, there’s no way you’re entering it”

My heart sinks. She’s only talking about the NYP’s famous Young Writer’s Contest, the one that all would-be-journalists dream of winning. I’d thought about entering this year, but I feel even more unprepared for it as I did during my undergrad. There at least I was writing essays, pieces for the school journal and other assignments. Now I spend all my time rewording the phrase, “It is with the greatest sorrow that we announce the passing of..”

“Um, it sounds familiar but I haven’t heard of any details,” I lie. I can’t imagine entering against her. Despite all of her uppity-ness, Sierra has a fancy Ivy League Journalism Degree while I’m from a random liberal college upstate.

“I’m going to enter,” she whispers like we’re co-conspirators, not co-workers who tolerate each other.
“That’s great!” My voice is falsely chipper, she smiles and starts to move back to her desk. ‘So am I,” I finally say. She doesn’t hear me.


  1. Love what you’ve done here!

    Lately, I’ve seen a lot of variations of “Tick tick” and so on and so on in many recent books and it’s beginning to be another “I took a breath I didn’t realize I was holding” / “…didn’t realize I was crying” aka an overused element so I’d be wary of using any variation of the “tick” bit.

    Favorite lines:
    1) If the deceased could read their obituaries, would they be happy with what was left?
    2) Ellie also leaves behind a pile of student loans…
    3) You know, like at a dump.

  2. Hi Nurin,

    I still love the voice in this. You did a much better job of keeping it consistent through the entire 5 pages. Last time, it started to fall flat in the last couple of paragraphs.

    I think there’s a fine line between sounding bitter about life and sarcastic. I think Ellie could very easily pass over to the bitter side and end up making her into an unlikeable character. Right now, she’s complaining about her job. She’s also doesn’t sound too thrilled on life in general. She’s one of those characters that need a redeemable quality…”A save the cat” moment, if you’ve read that book by Blake Snyder. I think the writing contest might do it, but I don’t know.

    Can’t wait for the next revision!

  3. Hi Nurin,
    Again, this is a great read with a strong voice. However, there's something I noticed this time that stood out more. I realized I felt more a tug into the story when I got to the paragraph that begins with this line, "If the deceased could read their obituaries, would they be happy with what was left? "

    After reading it once, I read it a second time, only this time beginning with the paragraph I just noted. I found it to be a rather striking way to begin the story, moving more immediately into the MC's strength of voice. That might be a bit steep of a revision to consider but I wanted to mention it.

    I look forward to what you'll do next :-)

  4. Oh, this is much smoother and easier to read. Good job! :)

    It still feels a bit padded to me, like there are places where you are telling or explaining things that you could just show us. I'd say look for places you can tighten up a bit, and also watch out for having too much interior thought clumped together. The story is easier to follow now, but I still go lost in a couple of places, mostly where she was thinking to herself for a long time.

    This was a great revision!

  5. Hi! First of all I owe you an apology for being so late to the game. I've had some personal issues get in the way of my writing/editing time, but I'm here now! So... I like that she's a young obit writer. I think you spend too much time delving into her introspection on obituaries and what they mean. I would pick one part to showcase her character and then cut the rest. I know that's tough, but I think it will improve the pacing. You want the beginning five pages to set up the character and the problem. If it's the writing contest, great! If her internal struggle is doing something meaningful - wonderful! But, I do think you can get to a bit more here if you make that extra space. I'm assuming that being NA, you have romance in here? I'd like a single hint - even a mention of a past relationship or something. Otherwise, it's reading great. I like the character reveal you've done for her. I just want more up front plot movement to keep the reader's interest. Something pressing would be good. Her deadline feeling more cumbersome? IDK. Just a thought...

  6. Hello!

    I think this is a much tighter revision than previously, I really like that things are more defined between your MC and her co-worker, I get a better sense of why I should dislike her. I think the mentioning of the contest is a little out of nowhere, however, I don't know where else you could fit that in. I think perhaps some more emphasis should be placed on how snide the co-worker is when she mentions it, like she's "holding it over her head like she's already won". Just a suggestion.

    I agree with the thoughts that the internal thought here might be a little clumped, it wouldn't hurt to add a little space. I also think that you put in some great thought-provoking sentences, but is that the intent of the story? I guess that's maybe a future thought, in case you are planning on dropping thought-provoking lines like "what would I want left in the world when I’m gone?" again. As a reader I tend to love anything that makes me think about what I would want or do if I was the MC instead. I guess that's what you call being dragged into a book.

    Anyway, great five! I think this is an interesting piece.