Thursday, January 08, 2009

New Beginning 593

“How many times have I told you-stay away from the corpses!” Mr. Pasternak stood behind Seth, his arms crossed over his chest.

Seth hadn’t heard his father enter the freezer. He was too busy zipping and unzipping body bags, looking for somebody whose nose was bigger than Morie Sorenson’s. He’d been looking for three years. He wished he would’ve taken a picture of Morie’s nose while he had had the chance. His memory of it was beginning to fade.

“But Dad, nobody cares.” Seth motioned to the rows of dead bodies on both sides of him. “Except maybe Mrs. Heffinger.” Seth smiled and patted her on the head. “She likes me.”

The freezer Mr. Pasternak and his son stood in belonged to the Pasternak Funeral Parlor. Its cold, gray walls were lined with three rows of shelves, four columns deep. When filled to capacity, it could hold twelve corpses on the left side, and twelve corpses on the right side. There was just enough room for medical personnel to carry in a stretcher and maneuver it into an empty shelf. Everyone, excluding the Pasternak family, entered the freezer in a plastic body bag.

Mr. Pasternak waved his son out of the way and looked at the body. "Yeah, well you'll like her too, once she's prepared. Now let me get to work, the oven's almost ready."

Everyone, excluding the Pasternak family, left the building in small steel containers with Hormel labels on the sides.


Opening: Chris Eldin.....Continuation: Anon.

64 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


"Watch her!" shouted Mr. Pasternak.

Seth turned, just in time to see Mrs. Heffinger bite into the head of Mr. Trewny. With a long, satisfied slurp, she sucked the brain into her mouth. Tossing her head, she crouched next to Seth.

"Get her out of here!"

Seth left the freezer, Mrs. Heffinger happily lurching along beside him. --khazar-khum


Mr. Pasternak threw up his hands in defeat. It was useless. He stormed out, mumbling as he went.

"I should have bought a sheep farm."--BBJD

Jennifer said...

This is excellent. Interesting and really well written. I would absolutely read on.

Evil Editor said...

Though I spend as little time as possible around the dead, a search for funeral home terms has found lists that call the dead "the deceased," "remains," and "bodies." I didn't find any calling them "corpses." You hear that used more with murder victims. Not that it's not a good word, but if Mr. Pasternak uses it around Seth, Seth may use it in the presence of the bereaved. "Hi Mr. Heffinger. You here to see your wife's corpse?"

Anonymous said...

There was just enough room for medical personnel to carry in a stretcher and maneuver it into an empty shelf. Everyone, excluding the Pasternak family, entered the freezer in a plastic body bag.

My only real nit-pick here is that the second sentence is inconsistent with the first...

Anonymous said...

Cool name -- Pasternak. I was using that in something I'm working on but now I have to change it!

AC said...

I like this, too. The Mrs. Heffinger bit was priceless.

freddie said...

Everyone, excluding the Pasternak family, left the building in small steel containers with Hormel labels on the sides.

And possibly the people who come to the funerals?

I think this is really well-written. Just a few minor errors to be fixed, it looks like.

fairyhedgehog said...

Nice opening, Chris.

I read "excluding" as "including" which resulted in few interesting moments as I tried to make sense of it but that is down to reader error and nothing to do with your writing!

This has a great first sentence and is odd and intriguing. I like it.

benwah said...

This is quite good.

I somewhat agree with EE re: "corpses," except I think that word makes the opening line stronger than "bodies." I'd keep it.

Well done.

Evil Editor said...

I think "dead People" is as strong as corpses, and even if it isn't, who would say "Stay away from the corpses" to a little kid? If no funeral parlor owner would refer out loud to the deceased as corpses (I have no idea if this is true, but suspect it is), then I'm thinking, Here's an author setting her novel in a funeral home, and she has no idea what goes on there. Next.

JLR said...

Love the voice. Thought it was hilarious. But this paragraph really derailed the pace and seemed to lose its voice: "The freezer Mr. Pasternak and his son stood in belonged to the Pasternak Funeral Parlor." Also, it took me a bit to untangle that line (if "they" replaced "Mr. Pasternak and his son", I wouldn't have had a problem). Overall? I love the voice, but is there a way to take the description in the paragraph "The freezer Mr. Pasternak" and pepper it throughout the story?

Jodi

PS: Continuation was hilarious too :-)

freddie said...

Oh wait. I criticized the last sentence as part of the opening. My bad. I was reading it here in the comments section under "Show Original Post." Sorru!

Xiexie said...

This is a great opening (and continuation!), but I have to agree on corpses.

Having a best friend who lives in a funeral home, attached to his house, I've seen embalming first-hand. They usually say "the dead", "bodies", "dead person/people", not "corpses".

Any story involving death or the dead automatically gets points from me. :-D

Whirlochre said...

This was so wonderfully creepy, my flesh undulated over my body without me realising it, and later, when I took a peek in the mirror, I looked like someone else.

So — I'm yours with this one.

freddie said...

Sor-ry. Something is clearly wrong with me today.

Dave F. said...

I agree with the minions who say not "corpses." Possibly use "our guests" or "the deceased" or "the beloved" anything like that. I know a paramedic/fireman who was fired because the Coroner overhead him say "crispy critter" when referring to a body taken from a burning car wreck. Some of those Medical Examiner and Coroner types demand PC stuff like this. And I can't say that they are wrong.

I also don't think Seth would say "nobody cares" because the families do care. I think he would say "nobody will know" which would cause less trouble if anyone overheard.

I like the statement "She likes me." It's subtle. It leaves a question that Mrs Heffinger's ghost might still be hanging around.

I like this and I think it's good stuff. I just keep seeing things like "When filled to capacity" and thinking "At capacity," is compact. But that's my style. I keep condensing stuff.

BuffySquirrel said...

But are funeral directors as carefully euphemistic among themselves as they are with the bereaved? I remember someone I used to know who worked in a hospital mortuary, and he pretty much indicated that black humour was the order of the day there, just to make it possible to do the job at all.

I know from arranging my mother's funeral last year that funeral directors have training to avoid ever, ever upsetting the bereaved with Inappropriate Remarks (one telephone conversation I had would make tremendous black humour written down, as the poor chap at the funeral director's tried desperately to avoid stepping on sensibilities I don't have). But surely in private they can relax?

Evil Editor said...

Two morticians can probably use black humor. Mortician and child is asking for trouble down the road. Corpse (unlike crispy critter) doesn't equal black humor anyway.

Xiexie said...

I wouldn't say that they're as carefully euphemistic, but "the dead", "bodies", "dead person/people/etc.", "Mr. or Mr/s. Whoever" don't count as euphemisms for "corpse".

Personally my favorite term is cadaver.

Dave F. said...

I will tell you one thing I learned when the place I used to work at decided to give an entire division Media Training even though most of us would never appear before the media - Do not get in the habit of saying what you cannot or should not say.

This meant that certain words - like the F bomb, the N bomb and all of those questionable non-PC expressions that might offend, had to leave your vocabulary. The reasoning was that a person cannot be "ON" all the time and once you slipped into being yourself, those unfortunate phrases would appear. It was the difference between casual speech and formalized speechifying.

I suspect that Funeral Directors and Undertakers do something similar. They only consciously say those things that can get them in trouble. They do not let those things creep into casual conversation or become daily vocabulary. That way, they remain "casual" without offending.
All of us can tell when a person is struggling to find words and not say things that we know they are thinking.

Judy said...

Ooooh, this one was good!

chelsea said...

Very well written opening. I would read on with the hopes that "She likes me" doesn't turn out to mean anything nasty.

My only advice is in regards to "The freezer Mr. Pasternak stood in" sentence, which has already been mentioned.

My concern is that, up until now, the story seems to be from Seth's point of view, so I felt the paragraph would more naturally be, "The freezer Seth and his father stood in," or even "The freezer in which Seth and his father stood."

Or, honestly, you could just say, "The freezer belonged to the Pasternak Funeral Parlor," leaving out Seth and his daddy-o completely.

I also felt this switch from easy-flowing conversation to direct exposition was a little sudden, and I wonder if there's a way to work the description of the freezer into Seth's thoughts.

Otherwise, no issues. I won't comment on the "corpse thing." I think it's been beaten to death. ;)

Chris Eldin said...

HOLY COW! Had no idea I was up.
Man, I did six loads of laundry and ran around like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs today!

Thanks so much for all of your comments. Never thought about the term corpses being associated with dead bodies, but you're right. I've a big CSI fan.
Dave, you crack me up. That's all I can say right now.
I have to tweak and tighten this, and I'm glad you all found the areas I was questioning. I've been told several times that I need more sensory detail in my writing, but I need a balance. I think this is a tad too much.

Thanks EE! And evil helpful minions!!

One day I want EE to get drunk and say we're allowed to send in chapters. That would be cool.

:-)

Chris Eldin said...

And Dave didn't say anything about "had had." And since he didn't, Buffy wasn't there to rebuke.
Wow.
I'm kinda deflated.

Anonymous said...

Chris! I liked this and would read on (closet YA reader that I've become) but I agree with those who object to corpse. I believe "loved one" is the term. BTW, I hope you get a chance to read "The Loved One" by E. Waugh -- it's a hilarious, well-written story about a pet mortuary and would be good background, I think. I also have to agree with freddie (even tho she rescinded the comment) about "everybody, excluding. . ." because the medical personnel do not leave in a body bag. Also, I think the staff of the funeral home are the ones doing the unloading, not medical personnel. (Mom's prepaid funeral specifically called for the funeral home to pick up the body, er corpse, er, I mean loved one).

Meri

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, yes, I knew very well that the poor funeral director guy was struggling....

Xenith said...

It doesn't do anything for me, although I'm not sure why. It's nicely written. It introduces the characters in what should be an interesting way. There is a pause in the story to describe the freezer/funeral home (that's supposed to be in the third paragraph, haven't you read the rules?) but it's an interesting description. I'm not sure what is wrong.

It might just be a case of "not for me" but after reading it three or four times, I think it's because this seems like a fairly commonplace event for the characters. Seth's been looking into body bags for 3 years. Seth's obviously been caught at it by his father before. None of them seem to upset at this latest occurence, so far. If they are upset or someting out of the ordinary for them is about to happen, could you put that in for the fourth paragraph?

(Nit picks: Is "would've" the right word there? Couldn't you have found a way to get rid of 'had had'?)

wendy said...

Okay, my first post seems to have gotten lost in space, so I'll try again. (More than likely I simply forgot to push publish.)

Gotta admit, I'm with the hedgehog! And I really never thought I'd ever get to say that.

However, I too turned "excluding" into "including" and spent a good amount of time trying to make that make sense.

"Everyone, excluding the Pasternak family, entered the freezer in a plastic body bag."

Jussayin'

Overall, I think this would make for a good read. I'm a little leary of the kid wanting to remember what someone looked like. It seems there is a story building around Seth missing Morie and this part is forshadowing. If I am correct it kind-of hits me over the head (as in too much)and is distracting from the otherwise delightful nature of this unusual tale.

Everything said, it looks fun. I'd read on.

RW Glover said...

I liked it very much in toto. The nose bit is great. I do agree that ‘corpses’ does not roll off the tongue -- too many S’s together sound like a sibilant snake with a stammer. I think that even the slang ‘stiffs’ would work better. It is irreverent but then workplace euphemisms are often used outside of the public sphere without malice and in an affectionate tone. The rest of the piece is light hearted and could support a little word invention. How about the personalized plural of kaput? Kaputniks --People who are finished, broken, unresolvable, fucked.

“How many times have I told you-stay away from the kaputniks!” It kind of goes with Pasternak’s eastern european- Polish origin :>)

Robin S. said...

Damn good, Chris. Extra damn good.

...looking for somebody whose nose was bigger than Morie Sorenson’s. He’d been looking for three years. I can see this as it happens, and I love that, Seth doing his zip-unzip down the rows.

Corpse, cadaver...either way, I see dead people.

EE, are you seriously saying if you saw this (Robin said alliteratively), that you'd pass simply because 'corpse' was used rather than 'meatbag' or something?

P.S. That is one fine continuation, 'anon'!

Robin S. said...

Hey. Where's my comment? Did I mess up?

Robin S. said...

You just had to pop that second one, yeah?

Evil Editor said...

It's like this. I phone a couple funeral homes. I ask if they ever call the deceased corpses. They say no. I ask what they call the room where the bodies are kept. They say refrigerator. I say, Not freezer? They say refrigerator. I say if I want to look at noses of dead people, do I walk around unzipping and zipping body bags? They say, No, we remove them from the body bags when they get here.

I think, this author hasn't done her research, why should I do it for her?

If the mortician says We call them corpses, it's a freezer, and bodies are kept in body bags at all times, I'm more likely to stick around.

I'll still be bothered by the claim that everyone who enters is in a body bag when one sentence earlier it was claimed that medical people enter carrying stretchers, but that's an error of carelessness, and more forgivable.

Robin S. said...

What if it's a book for boys - you know, a kid's book?

And you know (intimately well, I'm guessing, having been a little boy way, WAY back when) how gross little boys are, and also, how they wouldn't give a rat's hiney about the proper words being used, but would, instead, laugh at the image of the noses being inspected. And other stuff.

Any license given for the youth genre?

Evil Editor said...

Kids are the ones most likely to spot mistakes, point them out to their parents, who call the newspapers and the story makes the AP about the eight-year-old who knows more about the subject than the author and editor. I don't need the humiliation.

Robin S. said...

You were ready for my question, weren't ya?

Someday I'm going to come up with a question that will surprise you. I will.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh...my. EE takes this very seriously!

(yes, I'm awake)

Xenith said...

I've been told several times that I need more sensory detail in my writing, but I need a balance. I think this is a tad too much.

I wouldn't say it has much sensory detail at all. Now maybe that's what is missing. (This is something that bugs me a lot, so I'm been trying to brush up on it so I'll share what I'm been finding out.)

Hmm. Sensory detail is supposed to evoke something in the reader, like a image of the setting or an emotion. Vision, even though it's used the most, seems to be the hardest to use -- it's easy to overwhelm with too much information, or use details that don't work or fall back on overused phrases. Sound/smell/touch can be more effective in small doses (think how a single noise in a room you thought empty makes how you react). They seem to get straight to the subconcious/emotional part of the brain.

In all cases, a couple of well-thought out concrete details are much more effective than a long, detailed description. (You want to evoke a reaction, not painstakingly recreate the setting -- think of a theatre set where a bit of painted background and a few props can set the scene.)

Also, keep in mind what the point of view characters would notice/care about and use those details. They are usually most effective.

ril said...

I say if I want to look at noses of dead people, do I walk around unzipping and zipping body bags? They say, No, we remove them from the body bags when they get here.

Okay, so then where do they put all those noses?

writtenwyrdd said...

This really did grab me, made me wonder what the situation was. And then I read the continuation and boy was that a shocker. *still laughing*

I really did like this, Author.

writtenwyrdd said...

Corpse could equal humor, however, if the kid is a younger kid and has discovered teh word corpse and keeps using it while he father tries to get him to stop. Just sayin'.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't think it would matter what words you used in front of this kid, as for damn sure you're not letting him anywhere near the bereaved! not with that attitude!

Anonymous said...

First, I agree with Evil. Writers have to do their homework. Anyone who's watched any amount of TV knows bodies are refrigerated, not frozen. That's not a small mistake and the only reason to defend it, would be to protect the right to be lazy. But really, it's not that hard. Google what you don't know. Really, you can find answers for everything. You don't even have to exert the energy of dialing a phone.

Research isn't the only problems with this piece.

It's divided into roughly three sections: conversation, back story, and description.

Everything is separated. The writer does one thing, break, next thing, break, next thing. Nothing is intertwined. Paragraph three could be whittled to one sentence and placed in with the dialogue.

This has some good things, but it's hardly great. And I'll bet a hundred bucks those who requested more would be disappointed by page five for the reasons stated above.

Combined with the lack of research, it's just not good.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow. Um, Chris - I liked this a lot until I read all these comments. You've got a really good kernel of a story here and I can see how it can be a lot better taking all that's been said into account. Allow me to add a little to the mess.

I think a bit of the smell could be a good addition. Maybe even talking about how keeping the bodies cold keeps that smell from becoming overpowering, but it's still there.

It can be good to add in as many of the senses as possible without overwhelming the storyline.

If you talk about the smell of death, you don't even have to mention corpses or whatever. You can have Dad just say 'get out of there'.

My 2 cents.

Robin S. said...

Chris is traveling right now, but she read the comments quickly while whiling away time in an airport, and asked me to pop on, on her behalf, and say that she did, in fact, absolutely do her research. She talked to a guy who used to live over a funeral home in Australia.

As to other research, she's doing ongoing schnoz research, so please, EE and others, please send pics of yours.

Thank you.

Chris Eldin said...

To Anon 3:47---

I did do research, so don't call me lazy. I interviewed a very nice author who spent time describing in great detail (because he's an author he knows what details are important)--the funeral home his family owned, and the apartment above in which they lived. I hardly think all funeral homes are the same, nor do I think all lingo is the same. There are regional differences yanno.

Plus, the visual that a kid gets from a refrigerator is something stuffed with food. Freezer is used, and it works better.
Not sure about corpses. Will probably change that.

Anon, bite me.

Robin, Thanks for posting. Will try to check in.

Chris

chelsea said...

"Anyone who's watched any amount of TV knows"

Oh god I can't stop laughing at that one. Thank you, Anon. I needed that.

Xenith said...

Anyone who's watched any amount of TV knows bodies are refrigerated, not frozen.

I hope anyone who's watched any amount of TV knows how unreliable it is as a research source :)

Google what you don't know. Really, you can find answers for everything.

No, you can't. I'm happy to offer up a list of question I haven't been able to find answers for in recent months too, just to prove it.

Jennifer said...

40 posts later and...wow.

Anon is this the backstory you think is separate?

"Seth hadn’t heard his father enter the freezer. He was too busy zipping and unzipping body bags, looking for somebody whose nose was bigger than Morie Sorenson’s. He’d been looking for three years. He wished he would’ve taken a picture of Morie’s nose while he had had the chance. His memory of it was beginning to fade."

This is not separate. It is part of the zipping and unzipping. Which is, you know, action. Further, it is actually interesting. This is a better weaving of backstory than most new beginnings display. And it's actually interesting.

This piece does not read like the work of a lazy writer. Not even close. It reads like the work of a good writer.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Well, *I* liked it and wished I could read more. I didn't have a problem with corpses at all but I'm obviously in the minority here.

I'm surprised at the detail in which EE would go about calling around to funeral homes for specifics to see if they match the story. And would he call the homes in the area in which the story takes place to take into account regional differences? That really threw me for a loop!

Chris, anyone who knows you at all also knows "lazy" is about the last label that would ever fit you. Hugs!

Robin S. said...

It is kinda funny, expecting to read/hear The Truth from Googling and from TV.

Also, not taking into account that you don't know where the story takes place, what country, what era, whether the story is a fantasy...

Chris Eldin said...

Thanks everyone, for taking the time to comment! Many of these have been very helpful, and I always learn a lot here!

Thanks so much!!

Anonymous said...

I hope anyone who's watched any amount of TV knows how unreliable it is as a research source.

Your point is that the several hundred crime, forensics (reality and otherwise), movies and all those other shows who never once call a morgue a freezer are wrong? Yeah TV can be unreliable, but it can also be a great resource. In this case it's a really great resource, because TV has made the information in this discussion common knowledge.

No, you can't. I'm happy to offer up a list of question I haven't been able to find answers for in recent months too, just to prove it.

Through great detective work my diabolical plan to promote Google has been unearthed. Without your help, hundreds of unsuspecting blog readers would have never known "everything" is an overstatement. However, while you were busy ferreting out the truth, you missed the point- good research isn't hard (see below).

I'm surprised at the detail in which EE would go about calling around to funeral homes for specifics to see if they match the story.

I think you mean effort, and if you really think dialing the phone to ask a few questions requires effort, here is a little fact I Googled: You can burn more calories eating a grape.

And would he call the homes in the area in which the story takes place to take into account regional differences? That really threw me for a loop!

Australia is soooooooooo different from the West. It's like planet mars. They freeze their dead and the morticians wear arctic gear to drain frozen blood.

But freezer does sound so much better and they are the same thing after all.

"John, where's the milk?" Said Sue
"I put in the freezer," Said John.

Sue threw John a look.

"They're the same," he shrugged and reached over sue for a cereal box off the the shelf, "The popsicles are in the vegetable drawer."

Robin S. said...

Anon 9:45 am, you can't expect to be treated all that well when your 'helpful critique' was so very unhelpful. I don't think anyone who submits an opening here, submits it expecting absolute adoration, but there's a difference between an honest critique and an anonymous self-gratifying slam.

And I'll bet a hundred bucks those who requested more would be disappointed by page five for the reasons stated above. What a dicking rude thing to say.

And by the way, why are you anonymous? Is it because it's easier to be a dick that way (male or female version)?

What make this whole thing funny - you can't take what you dish out.

Evil Editor said...

For the record, a Googling of mortuary equipment brings forth both refrigerators and freezers, possibly the same units with temperature controls. Also, those I viewed online were separate units with their own temperature controls and pull-out drawers; so presumably the entire room is not a refrigerator or freezer. In any case, no more comments about the accuracy of this opening. Let's move on.

BuffySquirrel said...

Anon, if you're going to come here and kvetch, please learn how to distinguish parts of other people's comments that you're quoting from your own comments. It's not hard--use quote marks or italics. Thanks.

fairyhedgehog said...

Buffy: it has to be quote marks. Italics don't work in here.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yeah they do.

:)

(blogger uses HTML rather than BBcode)

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Geezus, now even our quickly typed comments are being critiqued?

Robin, I'd rather he/she/it stay anonymous. I don't want a name and face to go with the visuals I've already created that fit its personality all too perfectly.

fairyhedgehog said...

Buffy: I didn't know that. In the past when I've used html in here it hasn't worked - maybe I was emailing EE or something. I know I use italics on comments on other Blogger blogs, I just thought this one was different.

Thanks, I'll use them in here now I know I can.

freddie said...

Robin, I'd rather he/she/it stay anonymous. I don't want a name and face to go with the visuals I've already created that fit its personality all too perfectly.

You know, it could be your librarian. : )

BuffySquirrel said...

lol

The librarian could become a useful member of the community if they cut out the kvetching and remembered that newbies don't have the same privileges as the regulars.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Freddie: Laughs! My librarian here in God Spit, TX is the kind who hisses at electronics. I stepped foot in there once and I shant do it again anytime soon, so I'm safe either way!

Robin S. said...

I love these ongoing things...
buff, do you remember the one last year - you and blogless? More than 80 comments of you two going back and forth. I think you won that one, right?